The psychological effects of controlling parents are determined by many factors.
This last one is interesting, and is often given little attention. A parent who is controlling because that's the model they learned from their parents is not in the same league as parents who control for the sake of controlling, for example. You can read more in this article about the reasons why people are controlling and abusive.
If you are reading here, the chances are that you consider that your parents were not just strict but there is something more intense going on. You may be struggling with one thing or another yourself and you think it may be connected with your upbringing. With this in mind, I am going to talk about parents who are pathologically controlling in this article.
There are people whose relationships are based on controlling and dominating others. They exploit others for their own benefit. The relationship becomes all about their wants and needs. They care little for the well being of others. They want what they want and they want it now. They can be cold and even cruel to those close to them. I will talk in more detail about such types later.
But first, as a way to explain the various psychological effects of controlling parents, I am going to give a little background about the dynamics in controlling relationships.
A controlling or manipulative relationship has a power imbalance built into it, obviously with the controller having the upper hand. In an abusive marriage, for example, the abuser tricks the victim into committing to the relationship, then systematically takes control over every aspect of the relationship, making the victim subservient and dependent.
In a parent child situation, this power imbalance is already built in because, in our species, children are born totally dependent on their parents to survive. Children need their parents to provide, warmth, food and emotional support. Without any one of these things, there are problems.
In normal families, the children are given the opportunity to explore the world. If they run into difficulty, they return to the safe haven that are the parents, they are comforted and then they move away to play and explore again. They are encouraged to make decisions, pick and choose things that they like, make friends, have hobbies and do sports and so on. The parents want their children to be happy, healthy, independent individuals who contribute to society in some way.
This is not the case with controlling parents of the type I have referred to. They want to control their children. They control their perceptions of the world, their thinking, their decision making, their emotions, their behaviors and their time. The child is basically not allowed to develop. Their personality is molded by the manipulative parent(s). Their real personality is not allowed to mature. A false personality is forced upon them. Read more about this false personality, or pseudopersonality and how it happens with toxic parents.
This pseudopersonality is programmed in various ways by the manipulator. It is programmed to trust and believe the manipulator. It is programmed to take care of and not upset the manipulator. It is programmed to be dependent on the manipulator. It is programmed to want the approval of the manipulator.
You will have noticed that all these things already apply to any young child. This is more or less the natural state of young kids. The thing is that controlling parents maintain this state over time. They do not allow the children to grow up, in a sense.
Normal, healthy parents change their relationship with their kids as they grow. They allow more freedoms, more independence, more opportunities to separate from the parents.
The controlling parents, however, continue to tell the children what to do, how to think, what emotions they are allowed to have, what beliefs are permissible and so on. They are often very critical and harsh with the children, too. Name calling, physical punishments, withholding care and love, criticizing the child's desires and decisions, unpredictable responses, using shame and guilt to coerce and frequently changing rules are all too common in such situations.
This means that the parent is a source of fear and terror for the child. But wait a minute, you say. The parents are supposed to be a safe haven, a source of comfort, for the distressed child. And you would be right. The controlling parent is, at one and the same time, a source of terror and comfort for the child. The child wants comfort but knows that moving towards the parent may cause problems. They may or may not get the comfort, or the situation may actually get worse. This obviously affects the child's ability to form loving bonds with others. So, it's no wonder that later in life the child has difficulty in relationships.
There are lots of double binds in abusive situations, too. These are the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations. If the child follows one rule, they are breaking an even more important rule. Read more examples here in the article about parental narcissism. Oftentimes in such situations there are so many double binds that the child does not recognize them as something abnormal. (How would the child know about them? They have little life experience, they have no normal experiences with which to compare and they seem 'normal' because life has always been like this for them)
What the child does experience is an ongoing anxiety because they never know when they are next going to upset the controlling parent with the consequent punishments.
So, in summary, the child with controlling, manipulative parents has a false personality imposed them. They are trained in what to think, what to believe, how to make decisions, how to act and they have a large helping of emotional manipulation to keep everything in place. They are ridiculed, humiliated and belittled, and they do not receive the care, love and approval that they so desperately need.
With this background, let's turn to the psychological effects of controlling parents...
Children brought up in such environments often have identity issues. They feel that they don't know who they are and often depend on outside sources for some clues about this. They may feel that they somehow don't fit in, they feel isolated and may have many internal conflicts and consider that they are basically flawed human beings.
The children often have difficulty making decisions. They don't know what they want or what they like. This makes sense when you think that their own personality is not running the show. Of course, they don't know what they want because their real personality has never been allowed to find out such things. Everything has been decided for them.
The humiliation and disrespect along with the constant criticism at the identity level gives rise to low self esteem and a feeling of being less than or unworthy. People often report that they have a general feeling of not being as good as others.
They can be real 'people pleasers'. In order to basically survive with controlling parents, the child learns to pay close attention to the moods of the parents, so as not to upset them and get into trouble. The child can often be very good at reading others moods. They also learn how to do what is expected so that they can please the parents. And once the parent is placated, the child can relax somewhat. This pattern of behavior is carried over into other relationships later in life and the individual tries to make everyone around them comfortable so that they themselves can then feel comfortable. The problems here show up as 'the inability to say no', being busy taking care of others before themselves and not being able to even decide on boundaries not to mind set them and keep them in place.
The disorganized bonding arrangement with the parent (who is the safe haven and source of terror at the same time) obviously affects the attachments in future relationships. The child may switch between being very clingy to pushing people away as well as disorganized and disorientated behaviors including confusion, fear, freezing and other odd behavior. They have often never had the experience of being able to depend on someone to give them comfort so in times of difficulty in relationships the child's behavior can be erratic and rarely even aggressive. The child may also have problems with dissociation in such circumstances. Their thinking and feeling become separated and the person cannot think about what they are feeling. Needless to say, this does not bode well for resolving relationship difficulties!
Destructive double binds are considered to be a cause for problems in communication and learning, as well as creating chronic stress and a sense of learned helplessness (It doesn't matter what I do, I can't win so I may as well just give up trying).
I think it's clear from what we have seen so far that the likes of anxiety, depression, emotional insecurity, poor adaptive skills and difficulty regulating one's emotions are easily understandable as psychological effects of controlling parents on their poor children. Delinquency, drug and alcohol use and bullying behavior have also been noted to be more frequent in children who were raised in abusive situations. (It's important to note that most abused children do NOT go on to bully others!)
Another important consideration is the contradictory emotions that children with abusive parents can have. They are supposed to love their parents but they may hate them for the way the parents behave. They want to please their care givers but may be very angry at them at the same time for being punished unfairly. These contradictions obviously cause a lot of internal conflict for children and even adults. The individual, programmed to believe that they are personally to blame for anything that is bad or wrong, frequently ends up believing that there is something seriously wrong with him or herself.
Ok, back to the types of people who do these kinds of things to their own children...
A study done in the US showed that upwards of 80% of parents who were ordered into anger management therapy in the family courts had a personality disorder. That's a lot!! That amount cannot be easily ignored.
So what is a personality disorder? It is a condition where the individual has problems in relating to themselves and to others and have pathological personality traits. Their self esteem is based on personal gain and power and they have little consideration for others, in other words, no empathy.
"That's a bit harsh!" some of you may be thinking. "My father/mother/ husband/etc. is not a psychopath!"
The problem is that many people don't know what exactly a psychopath or a narcissist is. They do not know that there are people who do not have normal emotions, who live to control and exploit others and literally do not care what damage they do to other people.
I am not saying directly that your parent is a psychopath. I don't know them. But what I am saying is that if they are, you need to know about it. You have to understand what you are dealing with. Having a psychopath in the family is not the same as having a parent who is very strict, or a parent who didn't have a good role model for parenting.
Either way, you need to be sure, because with personality disorders, the rules you have to play by are different.
These people are professional liars.
They have no emotions.
They are not going to change.
They do not care about other people.
You cannot reason or negotiate with them. They have no sense of responsibility.
Study this topic. You owe it to yourself.
The first thing is to recognize that you are in this category. That in itself, accepting that you were controlled, manipulated, abused, is a major step.
The second major thing is to undo the pseudopersonality. This means learning what was done to you, how specifically it was done, what tactics were used, how these work, what effects they had on you and so on. The more you understand about manipulation and mind control, the more the effects of the techniques wear off and the pseudopersonality disappears while your own personality is allowed to flourish and develop and take back control of your life. It's definitely not easy, but it is worth it. And get professional help! That is worth it, too.
At some point you have to stop the abuse. This often means limiting contact with the controller in some way. Again, no easy feat but very important.
Read more about toxic families, abusive mothers, controlling mothers, what is a controlling relationship, more details about the effects of childhood abuse on adult relationships, other considerations for adult children of narcissists, how to leave an abusive relationship and recovering from a narcissistic relationship.
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