To discuss the effects of a controlling mother it's important to define what a controlling mother is, because there are different categories.
There are mothers who are more strict than others, for example, but they have the best interests of their children at heart. Their children typically grow up to be happy and healthy. Other mothers may have mental health problems, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and for this reason may be controlling. In general, their children also grow up healthy, recognizing that their mother had an issue, it was her issue and everyone has found ways to cope and deal with the situation. If you are reading this, then it's unlikely that your mother was in either of these groups.
Another category contains the mothers who control for the sake of controlling. I am going to focus specifically on this group in this article.
These are the mothers who control the behavior of their kids, their beliefs, their thinking, their decision making and even their emotions. They control the information that their kids have access to. They manipulate the perceptions of their children and they will lie, deceive and distort facts in order to dominate and control those around them.
These people often fit the profile of psychopath or narcissist. All the control is for their own personal benefit with little or no consideration given to the best interests of the child.
Here is a list of the effects of a controlling mother in no particular order:
Identity issues, feeling that you don't know who you are.
Difficulty making decisions. Frequently second guessing yourself.
Feelings of dependency.
Lots of shame, guilt and fear, even to the point of phobias.
Panic or anxiety attacks.
Difficulty getting or keeping a job.
Difficulty making friends, or creating intimate relationships.
Difficulty trusting other people.
Difficulties trusting yourself.
Feeling of worthlessness, of being inferior or useless or defective in some way.
Thinking you are inherently a bad person for no real reason.
Not liking yourself.
Being overly concerned with what everybody else thinks of you.
Being afraid of making mistakes.
If anything goes wrong around you, you believe it's your fault and you end up apologizing a lot. People tell you not to say sorry so often.
You also say thank you a lot because you want people to know that you really appreciate the nice things they do for you. People tell you not to say thank you so much.
Sleep disturbances, difficulty getting to sleep, waking during the night and unable to get back to sleep.
Nightmares, often about being trapped with or by the controlling mother.
Strong contradictory feelings towards your mother. You love her and hate her. You feel you need to look after her but you are very angry at her. In your head you want to break away but you feel that you could not survive without her.
You know your mother lies to you a lot but you still get caught out sometimes.
You have emotional problems of one sort or another; you find it difficult to express emotions because you feel you will get into trouble for it, or you are extremely sensitive to others emotions and moods or you suffer from sudden, uncontrollable floods of emotions.
You seem to attract all types of manipulative people and you may have had some abusive relationships. Or you look at your spouse and you think you have "married your mother".
You may consider that you were not meant to be happy in this life, or you will never get what you want, or you have to settle for second best every time.
You put other people's wants and needs ahead of your own.
You can't say no.
If someone asks for a favor you say yes before you even know what the favor is.
You end up doing things for other people that you don't want to, or that cause you problems.
You feel indebted to people who do you even the smallest favor.
You feel that you can't speak up for yourself. You have difficulty saying what you want.
When people point out that you made a mistake or criticize you, you feel like you are bad, not just that you did something wrong or bad, but that YOU are bad.
When things are going well for you, you expect that at any moment things are going to go horribly wrong.
You can't sit still. You have to be doing something or you feel guilty.
You take everything that people say to you personally.
You believe almost everything people say to you without questioning things.
You criticize yourself and call yourself derogatory names for making the smallest of mistakes.
You reveal too much about yourself to others.
You don't actually know what you like in terms of food, clothes, music movies etc. It's easier for you to ask other people's opinions and go with that.
You have justifications for your mother's behavior, but they don't fit all situations. She doesn’t know what she is doing, she had a difficult childhood, she has difficulty showing emotions, she loves me in her own way, she doesn't realize the effect she has on others etc.. These justifications mean that you have put up with years of abuse from her.
You feel inadequate.
You have difficulty connecting with people. You may have decided not to depend on others so you don't get hurt and you keep others at a distance, or you are too clingy, or you even alternate between these things.
You can compartmentalize very well, doing very well at work but having a home life that's chaotic and unpleasant.
Obviously not all of these effects of a controlling mother need to be in place to be able to say that your mother is, or was, controlling!
In healthy families, the child, when threatened or upset, attracts the caregivers attention and is comforted. Once settled, the child then changes it's behavior and moves away to explore the world again.
In controlling and abusive families, this system is disrupted. The abusive caregiver is simultaneously the source of the threat and the source of the comfort. The child is caught between wanting to approach the abuser for comfort and wanting to move away to stop the fright. In general, children choose physical closeness over running away. However, they are caught in a persistent loop where their withdrawal and approach systems are active simultaneously, and in conflict.
In order to try and prevent threats from the abuser, the child attempts to appease them. The child will try and figure out what the caregiver wants, what they don't want and will modify their behavior accordingly. In this way, the child becomes good at assessing other people's moods and habits, basically as a way to survive in the situation (because leaving is not an option for children).
A controlling mother will train their child to be the way she wants them to be. She will control their behavior, their thoughts, their beliefs, their decision making and their emotions. A controlling parent will not allow the child to become independent. They are kept dependent on the family or on the domineering parent as much as possible.
For this reason many children report a lot of arguments with their controlling mother when they reach the teen years. The drive to separate from their parents and do their own thing is thwarted by the controlling mother. They are not allowed to make their own decisions or express their own preferences. They are expected to go along with the wishes of the abuser.
In other words, the personality of the child is not allowed to develop. They have a false personality imposed on them. This false personality, or pseudopersonality, is programmed by the abuser. It is programmed to trust and believe in the abuser. It is trained to put the abusers wants and needs first. It is not allowed to challenge the dominance or criticize the abuser in any way. It is kept dependent on the abuser. This pseudopersonality is one of the major effects of a controlling mother.
This is the same end result of the brain washing used in cults to indoctrinate the members. Cult members think the way the leader does, they act the way the leader wants and they spend their time making life easier and more comfortable for the leader. They all have pseudopersonalities.
The difference between someone recruited into a cult at the age of 30 and a person born into a cultic family is that the cult member has had 30 years of normal personality development before being recruited into the cult. The family member's real personality was never allowed to develop. This adds a layer of complexity to the recovery of the family member because what the individual experiences as a child seems 'normal' for them. They did not know they were being abused.
This idea of a pseudopersonality is a very useful way of thinking about the effects of a controlling mother.
The real personality is never totally repressed by the pseudopersonality. The pseudopersonality dominates the real personality most of the time. Occasionally the real personality runs the show. This helps to explain the internal conflicts that victims of controlling mothers often have.
The child may want to leave the abusive situation (real personality) but they feel that they must stay (pseudopersonality). One part of them believes that they are defective and things are their fault (pseudopersonality) and another knows there is something off with their mother (real personality).
Many children of abusive parents end up in abusive relationships as adults. It is often said that the child seeks out abusers because they are used to it, or they are dependent so they are attracted to 'strong minded' individuals. I don't believe that anyone goes looking for an abusive relationship, not even 'subconsciously'.
What actually happens is that other manipulators, who are predators, are actively seeking out targets. They will recognize the patterns of behavior in someone who already has a pseudopersonality and they will target that person. In this way someone who was abused as a child may end up in several abusive relationships. Remember the treatment in the family is 'normal' for the child so later in life when they are being abused in an adult relationship there may be little difference from when they were children. As an adult they don't recognize the abuse as actual abuse.
The mother child relationship has a natural power imbalance built in. This is useful and necessary, for obvious reasons.
Controlling mothers (and fathers!) don't update their relationships with their children as the children grow and mature. The power imbalance in maintained on purpose in order to continue to control and dominate the children.
Even as an adult, the child is made to feel immature, stupid, incapable and so on, as well as afraid and guilty. This makes it difficult for the child to make decisions that are not approved by the controller.
The children's perception of, and response to, authority is distorted in such a situation. This is another significant effects of a controlling mother and gives rise to a range of issues, blindly doing things when told to do so, feelings of inferiority, weakness and helplessness, inability to stand up for one's rights, self doubt, lack of self confidence and so on.
Learning about what specifically was done to you and dismantling the pseudopersonality is fundamental to undoing the effects of a controlling mother so that you can take charge of your own life.
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.
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