The characteristics of a controlling parent are many and varied and there is no stereotypical controlling parent. There is a spectrum, from the control freak who micromanages every aspect of the child's life to the negligent one who has little or nothing to do with the child's upbringing (even when they are living in the same house) and everything in between.
Recognizing a controlling parent can be difficult for the child and some children don’t figure it out until they are well into adulthood. There are many reasons for this, a major one being that children are raised in an environment that they consider 'normal'. There are many abuses that they live through on a regular basis and they simply become accustomed to such treatment. Unlike someone who is recruited into a cult at the age of 20, they don’t have a before and after between which to make comparisons. Many children notice that things are different in their friends homes but they don't have an understanding of the framework of mind control to be able to make sense of those differences.
It is often when such a child has children of their own that they begin to realize how abnormal their own childhood was. They remember how they were treated in various circumstances but they cannot do the same to their own children, and it begins to dawn on them that their own parents were not treating them very well at all.
Ok, so let's look at the characteristics of a controlling parent that are indicative of something sinister...
Was your parent(s) a source of comfort and at the same time a major source of stress? Did you feel that you wanted and needed their love and attention but you were also very afraid of them? Did you spend time trying to do things to impress them but you never got the recognition you really craved? And at the same time they could do awful things to you that left you upset, confused and wondering were they really your parents?
Children, being dependent, need the love and care of their caregivers in order to feel safe so that they can begin to explore the world while their identities develop. Controlling parents offer themselves as a safe haven but also create huge stresses and traumas in the child's life. The child is at one and the same time drawn to the parent for comfort but also terrified of approaching the parent for fear of how they will be treated.
Usually the need for proximity wins out and the child stays close to the parent(s) while simultaneously wanting to get away. This obviously causes many conflicts for the child, and even for the adult child of controlling parents.
There are typically much more punishments than rewards coming from controlling parents. The punishments are many and varied. Criticisms, insults, withholding attention, belittling, comparing to others, physical punishments, threats, removing toys, ridiculing your opinions, decisions, actions and so on.
These punishments are doled out frequently and often for little reason. Of course, they also continue into adulthood.
If anything goes wrong, they are blameless because they have reasons and justifications for why it's not their responsibility. They are right, superior, the best, they know everything.
Whenever anything does not go their way they have an ability to twist and distort the situation to lay the blame on your shoulders.
Controlling parents rarely apologize (because they are never wrong!) and even if they do apologize, they don't mean it. They will do the same thing all over again within a very short time.
One of the important characteristics of controlling parents is their ability to be callous and cruel. They can do things that are shocking to the point of being unbelievable.
And the children typically don't reveal these things to outsiders because there are unwritten rules in the family about not discussing things that happen at home.
There is lots of criticism from such parents and it is of a particular type. They will usually criticize the children at the level of identity rather than at the level of behavior. Instead of "that was a stupid thing to do," they will go straight to, "you are stupid for doing that."
These criticism are repeated over and over so the child often comes to believe that they are useless, ignorant, worthless, less than others, ridiculous, a fool, crazy, a whore, a sinner, a waste of space, a joke and so on.
The repetition of this level of criticism has a profound effect on the developing child (as well as on adults in abusive relationships).
Controlling parents are the judge and jury in all cases. You are not allowed to question or challenge them. Whatever they say goes.
You are not allowed to have your own opinions or decisions or wants or needs. These will be ridiculed and dismissed.
Of course, they will question you as they wish because they want information about you in order to continue to control you.
If you do question them, they will typically get angry enough that you end up backing down and you may even end up apologizing for upsetting them.
Controlling parents need the children to believe certain things and one way of doing this is to repeat things a lot. If you frequently hear things about how good your parents are, how they do things better than other families, how they punish you for your own good and how other people are wrong, stupid, lazy, ignorant and so on, then beware!
The flip side, as mentioned above, is that they repeatedly tell you how bad you are, that you don't measure up to your cousins or your friends. This sets up in the child's mind a constant comparison to others, a comparison in which the child typically comes off worse.
Some children even grow up thinking they don't want to have children of their own because they will never be as good a parent as their parents were. (Others decide they don't want to have children because their own childhood experience was so awful or they feel that they would not know how to be a parent.)
Many children of controlling parents hate their parents to varying degrees. Some hate their parents at particular times because of the way they are treated but consider that they love their parents in general. Others get to a point where they have been treated so poorly that they hate their parents enough to move away from them and have no contact at all.
This causes a lot of internal conflict because the rules say that you should love and respect your parents. This also causes a sense of isolation, too, because the children, even as adults, cannot easily talk about this to others. If or when they do, the listener, who does not understand psychopaths, narcissists or mind control, will often suggest that the child give their parents another chance or that the child just needs to be patient with their parents. The classic thing you hear, of course, is that "your parents love you but they just have difficulty showing it."
The types I am referring to in this article are those with a personality disorder. If your caregivers exhibit the characteristics of a controlling parent, it is very important to establish if you are dealing with a psychopath, a sociopath or a narcissist, because if so, the rules you have to play by are different.
Important considerations include:
Obviously, these ideas significantly change the way that you need to manage any dealings with these people.
A major difficulty is that it can be very tricky for a child of a psychopath to determine on their own if the parent is indeed a psychopath or not. Speaking to an expert can be invaluable.
Children of controlling parents often have little to no privacy. In general manipulators want information from their victims because the more information they have the easier it is to maintain control. The small child, therefore, is not allowed to have their own space or time. The parent may enter the bedroom without knocking, the parent may read diaries or access mobile phones at any time.
They are expected to tell the parent everything. This pattern is often so ingrained that even as adults the children continue to share everything with their parents, often to the point of needing the parents approval before making decisions. This obviously causes problems when the child is actually married but continues to check with the parent before taking certain steps.
Speaking of relationships, another significant characteristic of a controlling parent is the influence they have on their children's relationships. This can be intense in childhood where they may completely isolate a child from their friends or insist on choosing each of the child's playmates.
In adulthood, the controlling parents can be every bit as manipulative, involving themselves in the child's relationships, disapproving of certain relationships, making life so uncomfortable for the new friend that the friend decides it's not worth it, spending a lot of time in the child's home, giving instructions to and criticizing their child's partner and so on.
Have you thought, from a young age, that there was something off about your family but you couldn't put your finger on it?
This is very common among children of manipulators. But because they don't have much life experience or even the vocabulary, children don't know how to explain the problem to themselves. And growing up in a mind control environment, the abusive nature of their parents just becomes normalized over time. The children don’t actually realize how abusive their upbringing is until later in life, sometimes much later.
Have you realized that much of your decision making is organized around not upsetting your parents? Or you deliberately keep information them on a regular basis because you know you will get into trouble if they find out?
This is not normal and often indicates that your parents are indeed selfish and manipulative.
Another of the 'dead-giveaway' characteristics of a controlling parent is the fact that nothing is ever good enough for these people. It doesn't matter how much you do, how much effort you put in, how much money you spend, how much care you take, it's never enough.
They want more, better, extra. They want perfection. No matter how well you think you have done, they can find something to criticize about it. You haven't done it fast enough, or you didn't have the right attitude (how do you measure that anyway?!?), or they would not have done it that way, or the process you used was wrong, or it would be even better if you had just (blank)... You get the idea.
You spend so much of your life trying to get their approval, trying to get them to recognize you for who you are, or trying to get them to acknowledge that you do care about them and there is always the sense that if you just get it exactly right they will give you what you most want. But it never quite happens in any satisfactory way.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?