If you think you have a controlling mother, then I am going to assume that you are not concerned about an aging parent who is leaning on you a little more in their old age. Nor are you in a situation where your mother has developed some illness or is grieving or has some other big recent change and because of the emotional upset she is more demanding.
You may very well be in a position where other people make excuses for her when you complain to them about her, pointing out to you that things are really not that bad, she is just overly protective, she might be lonely, she cares for you, or even that old chestnut, 'she does really love you, just in her own way.' But you know that there is something wrong, it has always been like this and you know that you are actually dealing with a very controlling mother who is a very serious problem.
You probably knew from a very young age that there was something wrong but as a child you didn’t have the vocabulary or life experience to be able to understand what was going on and you just knew you couldn't tell people outside the home about it.
This woman has always been involved in every aspect of your life. She has no problems telling you what you should do. In fact, she thinks that she knows better than you what you should do and gets upset if you don't follow her advice. Which is not really advice, it's more like instructions, or even orders!
She knows how to make you feel 2 inches tall with a look, she has a particular tone of voice which makes you wish the ground would open up and swallow you and some of the things she says and does are unbelievably cold and cruel.
And yet, when she is dealing with people outside the family, she seems like a different person. Others think she is marvelous, such a great mother, such a kind and caring person, doing all these things for her children, pleasant, helpful, friendly...
But you know that behind closed doors she is a tyrant. She screams and shouts at you. She calls you names. She makes you feel worthless. Nothing is ever good enough for her. It doesn't matter how hard you try or how well you do, she manages to find fault with something. She always manages to take the wind out of your sails. All you ever wanted was someone to love you and tell you nice things and enjoy your successes, but she manages to twist things around and make it all about herself all the time.
You may have been expected to do a lot of housework, to take care of her and to listen to her problems even as a young child. If there were other siblings, your controlling mother was always the center of communications where everyone had to tell her things and she decided who else needed to know the information. She would often lie to others about you or lie to you. This put her in a very powerful position because she was the only one who knew everything that was going on.
And as you grew older, your biological desire to separate from your parents was squashed at every available opportunity. You were not allowed to have your own opinions, make your own decisions or spend much time with your own friends. You were kept close and dependent on your controlling mother. You may have realized that you have missed out on many experiences that those around you have had during their normal, healthy upbringing.
And as an adult, you may feel that you are still not allowed any privacy. As a child, you may have not been allowed to lock your bedroom door and now you are not allowed to lock your front door. Your controlling mother is involved in one way or another with your relationships, your children and your home. There are snide remarks and nasty comments made about how clean your house is, how you are bringing up your own children, your friends, your partner and so on.
You may wonder what you have to do to get rid of this woman but society says that we should respect our parents, we should take care of them in their old age and, of course, we should love them. But because sometimes you hate yours, you wonder if there is something wrong with you, but you really know that there is something wrong with her. She hasn't really been a mother, or even a mom, to you. She has treated you more like an object than a person, as something to make her life easier at the expense of yours.
You may have tried spending less time with her, but your controlling mother quickly notices and she has a way of drawing you back in again. She makes you feel very bad for not giving her attention, or she complains about being ill, she makes herself out to be the victim (she's probably very good at this one!) or she knows exactly how to make you feel that you owe her. A controlling mother can also be very good at creating drama that she needs help with. Either way, you feel that it's impossible to stay away. There is always one thing or another that keeps you going back. And all you get is more abuse, rarely a thank you or any sign of appreciation.
Obviously not every one of the things here has to be present to know that you are dealing with a controlling mother. And, of course, there may be things that are present that I have not listed here, but you get the point about being able to recognize a controlling person.
And even now, though you may be married with your own family, this controlling mother still manages to make herself the center of your life. Much of what you do is organized around her, in particular around not upsetting her, and she manages to be in your head for a large amount of time every day. So how does she do that?
Children learn by what they see and hear around them. If you tell a child, or even an adult, something over and over, they will come to believe it. Just think news channels; they have the same news showing time and time again throughout the day. People hear it several times, so then they think it must be true!
Children in normal, healthy families receive lots of positive encouragement and praise as well as constructive criticism that allows them to grow up and be independent, happy contributors to society with the ability to make decisions and exercise their free will.
A controlling mother gives different messages to their children.
These messages may not be verbalized as such, but these are the messages that the controlling mother sends and these are the messages that the children receive. These messages mean that the child is not allowed to develop and become independent. The child is not allowed to choose for themselves and they are very much molded by the controlling mother.
A controlling mother is influencing the beliefs of the child, the thinking of the child, the decision making and the behaviors. They will also manipulate very strongly the emotions of the child. The information available to the child is also filtered through the controlling parent. This is a lot of control. Of course, this also happens in normal situations but as I pointed out above, healthy parents make sure that the child is allowed to grow and mature with their own personality intact.
In a controlling mother child relationship, the child develops the characteristics that the parent wants. Subservient, unquestioning obedience, loyalty, servile, submissive, uncritical and fearful are some that immediately come to mind. The child also get used to being blamed for everything to the extent that they come to believe that they are even responsible for things that couldn't possibly be their fault. The child is used to being made to feel bad and guilty on a regular basis. The child becomes hyper-vigilant, always watching the controlling mother with one eye to check on her mood so as not to upset her. This is actually a high stress environment and living with such high levels of adrenaline takes a toll, not just as a child but later in life there may be many physical problems and illnesses as well.
With the controlling mother the child's own personality is not allowed to flourish but rather the child develops a personality that the mother imposes upon them. It is a false personality or pseudopersonality and it is programmed to be dependent on the controlling parent, it is programmed to believe the manipulator, to care for and to put the needs and wants of the controlling mother first, second and third, with the individual's own needs a distant fourth. This pseudopersonality is very much controlled through fear and guilt.
In cults, this same thing happens in that the cult superimposes a 'cult personality' on the members. People often recognize that a friend has been drawn into a cult when the friend starts acting differently, thinks differently and has different beliefs. The pseudopersonality never destroys the real personality but rather it just dominates it. When this person leaves the cult, and starts to work to undo the pseudopersonality, they are able to compare the cult personality with the precult, real personality and this helps them to see what exactly what was done to them.
A child brought up by a controlling mother is not able to make such a comparison for obvious reasons. This is an added complication for someone born into an abusive situation (a family with a controlling mother or father, or in a cult) and means that the individual has to learn how to build their personality, their identity, almost from scratch. This explains why children of controlling mothers often say that they don't really know who they are or what they like or what they want to do with their lives. These issues can wax and wane depending on whether the pseudopersonality is very strong or weak. When it's strong, the programming leads the person to think that they do know what they want but when the pseudopersonality is weaker and the real, underdeveloped personality is more prominent the person may feel at a loss as to what they want.
You can read more about the pseudopersonality in this article about the signs of verbal abuse.
A double bind is a situation of being damned if you do and damned if you don't. Basically by following an instruction you are going against an instruction that functions at a more global level. For example, a controlling mother says to her child, 'Tell me what you are thinking. Answer me!' The child in that moment is actually thinking that the mother is wrong and hurtful. If the child says that, he or she is breaking the more fundamental rule of 'Never criticize or challenge your mother'. If the child speaks up, they get into trouble. If they don't speak, they get into trouble. This is a double bind and with a controlling mother there are typically many, many double binds in the child's life.
The difficulty is that a child does not have the wherewithal to deal with such situations, (most adults don't either!) and it leads to a sense of helplessness quite quickly. As the child gets older sometimes they may recognize that there are situations in which they lose either way but they still don't have a way to manage them. It is quite common that there are so many of these situations that they are 'normal' for the child and they don't even spot them. For the child it seems that the world is this way. Double binds actually have to be pointed out to many victims to help them to understand how they were being abused.
Children are particularly vulnerable to these double binds because they cannot just leave the environment. They have to stay and put up with them. This can lead to distorted thinking and confused communication later in life.
The people that I have been describing as a controlling mother usually fit the profile of someone with a personality disorder, that is, a psychopath, a sociopath or a narcissist. If you hadn't already worked this out, this may be a bit of a shock so let's have a closer look at what it means.
Many people think that a psychopath or a sociopath is a serial killer or a serial rapist. This is not accurate but it is a common misconception because of the way these types are portrayed in films and books.
A psychopath is someone who has no conscience and a big ego. This is a personality disorder and not a mental illness. The person basically has no (or extremely shallow) emotions. There is no guilt, empathy, fear, remorse, embarrassment, shame or love. What this translates into is that they can do anything they like and they never feel bad about it. They can be cruel, manipulative, hurtful, abusive and destroy people's lives and it does not upset them. This is very difficult for normal, healthy, feeling people to wrap their heads around but that's the way it is for a psychopath or a sociopath.
Adding in the big ego means that the psychopath or sociopath believes they are superior to others and so should be treated in a special way. They want preferential treatment, they want people to take care of them and they believe that they should be the leaders with unquestioning followers.
A narcissist is similar to the above but these people crave praise, adoration and compliments. This is called narcissistic supply and they will do anything to be the center of attention. They tell tall tales about themselves and if anyone tells a story, they have one better. They will manipulate, coerce, and pressure others into giving them compliments. They will also play the victim, create dramas to attract attention to themselves and guilt those around them into giving them praise.
There is lots written about the differences between psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists but I am not going to go into that here. The thing is that each of them use destructive mind control techniques to control and dominate their victims and in the process they impose a pseudopersonality on their victims. There are some general principles to keep in mind when dealing with these types.
These people have no conscience so they will be cold, calculating, callous and incredibly cruel. A normal, emotional person often cannot understand how or why they can do what they do. Basically they do such things because they can, because they are psychopathic or narcissistic. They know the difference between right and wrong, they just don't care.
Persons with a personality disorder do not change. There is no treatment for psychopaths, and while narcissists may change after years of therapy, very, very few of them stick around long enough. If you thought you were perfect and superior to others and nothing was your fault, would you think that you needed to change? Well, they don't either!
If you are in a relationship with a psychopath or a narcissist, you will lose. Even if you think there is some advantage for you, very, very rarely is that advantage worth the price they will extract from you.
There is much written about managing them, dealing with them, standing up to them and telling them that they are upsetting you and putting your boundaries in place with them. The fact is that they are much more sly and cunning and manipulative than you can ever be. They will not be told or controlled by anyone, often not even by the legal system. And they are way better at destroying your boundaries than you will ever be at putting them in place.
And as for telling them that they are upsetting you, do you not think that they know this already? Upsetting you is the goal and that is precisely why they say and do those things to you!! They are very good at reading people and know exactly how to press your buttons. In fact, when you learn about mind control you will realize that they actually installed most of those buttons! And they have no qualms about pressing those buttons over and over again when it suits their purposes.
These things apply in any relationship with a psychopath or narcissist, including, for example, an intimate relationship with a psychopath that you met when you were in your 20's, 40's or 60's. Now consider a controlling mother who starts with a defenseless, totally dependent, uncritical, unthinking, new baby, and you begin to see the enormity of the problem for their children. It's no wonder that many people who have a controlling mother decide to cut off contact with the psychopathic or narcissistic parent.
A husband to such a woman will also have a pseudopersonality, unless, of course, he is also a psychopath. There is much written about how such a husband is an enabler, but this is not accurate. He is also programmed to do what the manipulator wants from him. If someone is observing the family from a distance and they do not understand mind control it may seem that he is complicit in what she is doing. But because the invisible psychological influence is not seen, the husband may be blamed when, in fact, he is as much a victim as the children.
Effects of childhood abuse on adult relationships.
The good news is that you can undo the pseudopersonality, get rid of the influence of a controlling mother and start making your own decisions and living your own life again. And it's never too late to do so. I have worked with people in their 70's and 80's and they are thrilled to have the (now dead) psychopathic parent out of their heads and out of their lives.
However, it's not easy. It takes time and effort. To undo a pseudopersonality takes about 12 to 18 months (not years!).
The time it takes depends in part on the amount of contact with the controlling mother. Reducing contact or having no contact will speed up the process, because every time the person has contact with the controlling mother, the controlling mother will be reinforcing the pseudopersonality, forcing the old patterns of thinking and behaving back into place.
At the same time as removing the pseudopersonality you will also be building your own personality, developing strategies for thinking, making decisions, perceiving and dealing with the world, making friends, creating (or reorganizing) intimate relationships and sorting out your career.
As we have seen there is a lot going on when you have a controlling mother that is a psychopath or a narcissist. The effects of her abuse are profound and it's never a matter of 'just have nothing to do with her, forget about it and carry on with your own life'.
It's better to have professional help to deal with complex trauma like this. I know it's not fair that you should have to work to get yourself out of the situation while she makes out to everyone that you are the nasty one and she is the poor victim of an ungrateful child. But life is not fair. Bad things happen to nice people. The bad guy doesn't always lose.
An expert in the field will speed your recovery up a lot, will help you to avoid the common mistakes and pitfalls when dealing with the abuse of psychopaths and narcissists and will also help you to question things that you may not think to question on your own. It is a very specialized area and trying to undo a pseudopersonality on your own is, for all practical purposes, impossible.
Some beliefs about controlling mothers that may be holding you back...
You can read more here about mind control, the signs of verbal abuse, more effects of a controlling mother, the characteristics of a psychopath, narcissistic behavior and dealing with a sociopath (the same rules can be applied to dealing with a controlling mother!)
Return from Controlling Mother to What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder
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