Over controlling parents in adulthood can be a nightmare. As a child you wished the time away so that you could be old enough to be free and allowed to make your own decisions. You dreamed of the day when you would be independent and not having them interfering in every aspect of your life.
But, unfortunately, they never let go. They never allowed you to separate. Even when you moved out of their house, you were still not allowed to be in charge of your own life. They find ways to keep you engaged. They make you feel guilty if you don't give them enough attention. They make you feel embarrassed if you don't keep them informed. They make you feel like a disappointment to them if you make a mistake. They make you feel like you are a bad person if you don't follow their advice.
There are lots more signs that you already recognize or have read about:
You have probably tried all the usual stuff, telling them what you want from them, letting them know that what they do upsets you, setting boundaries (which they promptly trample on!) and you have found that nothing seems to work.
So with all this in mind, what can you actually do about it?
The first thing that is important to establish is who are you dealing with.
Many people make sense of their controlling parents behavior by labelling their parents as strict, insecure, they had poor role models as parents, their own parents were abusive, they love me underneath it all, or "that's just the way they are!" The label, or combination of labels is then used to justify (and put up with!) the parents controlling behavior. But what if this list of labels is incomplete? What if there is another category of controlling people, people who control for the sake of controlling?
There are people whose relationships are built on domination and exploitation. They are driven by power, power over other people. They can be cold and callous. For them, the end justifies the means. If they want something, they feel justified in doing whatever it takes to get it, despite the cost to others around them, including their own children. They consider themselves special, superior beings, who deserve whatever they want.
This might seem a bit far fetched if you have not come across the idea before. However, if you are dealing with someone like this, you really need to know about it!!!
The rules you have to use are different, for one thing...
The idea you have of a psychopath or a narcissist might not fit with your parents and this idea is a shock. But what if your idea of a psychopath is not very accurate? Not all psychopaths are knife-wielding maniacs that are instantly recognizable. The vast majority of them are actually hidden in society. They disguise their true nature and they can fool many people into thinking they are nice and caring people. Have you ever seen your controlling parent be as nice as pie to people outside the house and they create this image in other people's minds of being fantastic parents? And at home they were complete tyrants? If you have witnessed this, then you are dealing with a full on manipulator...
Let's back up a moment. A psychopath is someone with a personality disorder, which means their relationships with others are disordered in many ways. These people have no emotions, no guilt, no fear, no shame, no remorse, no embarrassment, no love, no empathy. What does that mean? It means that they can do anything they like to others and they never feel bad about it. Let that sink in for a moment. They never feel bad about anything they do. They can lie, cheat, con, bilk, steal, abuse, humiliate and destroy other people's lives, and it does not bother them! This is why I suggest that if you are dealing with someone like this, then you really do need to know it.
On top of all that there are other features of these people that you have to keep in mind at all times.
This last one is important. No amount of wishful thinking on your part, promises on their part, therapy or explaining things to them is going to make any difference in how they treat you. You are going to suffer.
If your parents are still controlling you as an adult, understanding the dynamics of the relationship is fundamental to being able to do something about it.
I have mentioned already that controlling parents control your emotions. They also control the information you have (lies, withholding information, distorting information). As with all parents, they also control your behavior. They heavily control your thinking, too, so that you believe the ideas they want you to believe.
They do not allow you to think for yourself, make your own decisions, figure out how the world actually works, discover your own likes and dislikes and so on. And, of course, they keep you dependent on them.
If you change somebody's perceptions, their thoughts, their decision making, their emotions and their behaviors, you are basically giving them a new personality, a false personality or pseudopersonality.
This is what happens in cults. The cult imposes a 'cult personality' on the members so that they all think, believe and act similarly.
The same dynamics occur when a psychopath is manipulating 5000 people in a cult or 5 people in a family. The manipulator molds the personality of the people around them to think and act in a particular way. The difference in a family situation with over controlling parents is that the real personality of the child is never given a chance to develop at all. Someone who is recruited into a cult may have 20 or 30 years of normal personality development before the cult leader gets their hands on them.
A child of abusive parents does not have this period of normal development. This complicates things because the child thinks that this pseudopersonality is the real person. The child does not realize that who they are has been so manipulated by their parents that many of the characteristics of themselves have been imposed.
For example, needing to please others, the inability to say no, feeling unworthy of saying what they want, difficulty making decisions, being afraid of making mistakes, not knowing who they really are, feeling less than others and high levels of anxiety are characteristics that are very common in pseudopersonalities.
When such a person says something along the lines of "Oh, I am not very good at making decisions," they are actually describing the pseudopersonality and not their real personality. Why? Because their real personality has never been allowed to grow and develop. In such circumstances it's very common for people not to know what they want or what they like.
It may seem silly to others, but often children of over controlling parents of this type do not really know what food they really like, what type of movies are their favorite, what hobbies or sports they would like to participate in. It's because their real personality has never been in the driving seat, the (preprogrammed) pseudopersonality has been driving and all decisions are made in relation to what the controlling parents would want. (Remember the thing about "If they wouldn't like it, I won't do it...??)
Many children of psychopaths and narcissists report that they would have loved to follow such and such a career but their parents wanted them to do something else. Or they really loved this sport but as a child they were forced to do what the parent(s) wanted.
You can read more about how specifically this pseudopersonality is put in place in this piece about toxic parents.
"Well, so what?" you might ask. "So what if I had a pseudopersonality as a child? I have moved out and no longer spend so much time with them."
If only it was so easy! The problem with the pseudopersonality is that it does not disappear on it's own simply because you moved away. It was put in place using techniques that you were not aware of which means that you were not able to mentally resist these techniques. In fact, there were times when you thought you were making your own decisions. This is one of the tricks of mind control.
Therefore, the pseudopersonality persists even if someone separates completely from their parents. The beliefs and ideas continue to inform thinking and decision making. Sometimes, for example, a person wants to do one thing but the pseudopersonality creates so much fear around it that this person ends up doing something else, even things that are detrimental. The person then thinks that there is something wrong with themselves and maybe their parents were right about them being a mess after all!
The conflict between the real personality and the pseudopersonality (the pseudopersonality never destroys the real personality, it just represses and dominates it) can show up in situations where the person has the experience of one part of them wanting one thing and another part wanting the opposite. Or the person thinks one thing mentally but the feelings are contradictory. For example, the person knows in their mind that the best thing is to move away from the abusive parent but they feel like they won't be able to survive without them. This contradiction between thoughts and feelings is very disconcerting and oftentimes the person feels like they might be going crazy. And, of course, they can't tell anyone because the listener might actually think they are crazy. This adds to the sense of isolation and the feeling that no-one understands their particular situation.
Very briefly, this pseudopersonality is programmed to trust and believe the manipulator. It is programmed to take care of the manipulator and postpone it's own wants in needs in deference to the wants and needs of the manipulator. It is programmed to be dependent on the manipulator. It often needs the manipulator to know if it is ok or not. "If my parents give me attention or a compliment, I know I am ok. When they criticize me, I feel flawed in some way."
Children need their parents approval, for various reasons. This is used against the children of psychopathic parents. The psychopaths and narcissists don't give the child approval very often and even as adults, many people are still trying to do many things to get approval from their parents.
This can lead to problems in relationships, where the adult child can be dependent on their partner, they can push them away at times, they can feel very unstable in the relationship, and they may even have problems forming and maintaining healthy bonds with partners and friends. This is a direct result of how the parents treated their children when they were small. At one and the same time the parents were the source of comfort for the child and a source of terror.
Ok, after all that, there is good news!
The good news is that the behavior of the pseudopersonality is learned. The child learns how to behave towards the parents in order to stay in the situation and basically survive. They have no choice. They have to stay. So the child learns how to behave in order to minimize the suffering.
If the child has learnt to behave one way, they can learn how to behave differently.
However, it's usually not enough to have someone tell you, "Hey, instead of doing it that way, do it this way instead!" You have probably had the experience of thinking to yourself, "Oh, I did that again. The next time I will do something different." But come the next time, it's not so easy to do something differently.
The reason is that the patterns of the pseudopersonality run deep. The pseudopersonality was built with strong influence techniques applied daily for years. Switching simply because you want to do something else rarely works.
The trick here is to learn how the pseudopersonality was created. What techniques were used against you? How exactly do the techniques work? What specific effect did they have on you? How were your emotions controlled? How were your beliefs built?
You can read here about reciprocity, for example, and how the manipulators use this against their victims.
Once you recognize the influence patterns, then you begin to have choice in how to respond to them. In this way, the techniques lose their effects on you, the pseudopersonality disappears, your real personality can take over and you regain control of your life.
It's not easy. But it's worth it!
And get professional help. It makes a world of difference.
You can read more about controlling mothers, what makes someone a psychopath, more ideas for adult children of abusive parents, a quiz to check if your parents are emotionally abusive and dealing with toxic families.
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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