The Burden of Being Over-Controlled as a Child

If you as a child have had an over-controlling parent or other authority figure, the chances are you have developed some personality traits and psychological patterns that make your life more or less difficult. Over-controlling parents watch a child’s every move, tell them what to do, seek domination, constantly criticize them, teach unhealthy boundaries, have unrealistic or impossible standards and expectations for them, and use active or passive abuse to manipulate them and make them comply. It’s hard to breathe around such a parent – both mentally and sometimes even physically.

A child who grows up in such an environment often becomes a neurotic adult. Because they were under a magnifying glass for so many years, they have learned to adapt and monitor themselves. What was external, at some point got internalized, and such a person learned to treat themselves as their caregivers treated them. Hence now, as adults, they feel the “need” for constant vigilance and self-monitoring.

They may feel chronic anxiety or a constant sense of alertness. Because for most of their lives they in fact were in a constant danger of being controlled, manipulated, criticized, and punished.

They may have developed strong perfectionistic tendencies. Because such unrealistic standards were inflicted on them.

They may tend to control others. Because they’ve learned that if you want something from the other person, the only way to get it is to manipulate or bully them into it. Also, controlling others gives you a burst of control and power that lets you to briefly escape the psychological state of chronic helplessness.

They may be afraid of making mistakes. Because they constantly were actively or passively punished for it.

They may be unenthusiastic, passive and tend to procrastinate. Because, by being over-controlled for so long, they’ve lost their intrinsic motivation, true self-esteem, and the sense of self-interest.

They may be dependent on others. Because of their learned helplessness and dependency on their controller – or because of their “need” to control others.

They may tend to harm themselves and act self-destructively, i.e., to punish themselves for being “bad,” “worthless,” “incompetent,” “lazy,” “stupid,” “selfish,” “imperfect,” and for million other reasons. Because they were constantly harmed and punished – in a physical or mental fashion – and didn’t learn how to love yourself.

The controller, the person who controlled your life, your body, and your mind for many years, is not there anymore. But if you haven’t processed what happened physically, psychologically and emotionally when you were a child, you still feel and act as if he or she is there. Therefore you tend to compulsively recreate the same emotional and psychological state you were in when you were a child. Either by getting into situations and relationships where there is a power disparity, or by over-controlling yourself.

Psychologically, this pattern serves two purposes: It’s a repetition compulsion that represses the original suffering by indirectly recreating the same situation or dynamic. And it’s a defense mechanism that is “needed” because part of you believes that the danger of a controller is still there.

However, the truth is that these people, who controlled and harmed you when you in fact were helpless and dependent, bear no power over you anymore. This defense that indeed helped you to survive is not needed anymore. The jailer is long gone. The magnifying glass is not there. Nobody is watching you. Nobody is going to attack, neglect, or abandon you for existing – because you are an adult now. You are not helpless for a long time now. You can finally relax and breathe freely. The only person who really is in control of your life is YOU. And you have so much more freedom and options than you realize….

Yes, it’s not that simple. It may take months or years to overcome this psychological pattern. But, as always, the first step is awareness: to become aware if/that you have such a pattern, and why. Then, it becomes possible to slowly overcome it by doing therapeutic self-work and teaching your body to react differently – all of which leads to a healthier self-esteem, psychological freedom, inner serenity, and true happiness.

Did you have over-controlling parents or other authority figures as a child?

What was the most problematic thing you had to deal with regarding people who over-controlled you?

What is the most difficult thing you are dealing with as an adult as a result of being over-controlled in the past?

As always, you are welcomed to share your thoughts and answers in the comment section below or contact me personally.

Have a magnificent day,
Darius
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14 comments

  1. Yes. I was controlled by my father when I was a child. And my mom was codependent of him. I felt like if I was alone in the whole world. He told me that he loved me but something would tell me that isn't true. Now I don't speak with him. It's like if he is dead. I don't want anything to do with him because he'll never change. I am free now. I used to hear that I was a privileged child because my father and mother did everything correct, they are married, he is a good man, she is a dame, but everything is a LIE. He is violent, always humiliated her and she never did anything to change it. I don't want to see him, I don't want to talk to him, and is not a punishment to him, I don't even care what happens to him. Is for my own health. Now I AM FREE.

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  2. All is clear, I have all the problems, now how do I fix myself? I am stuck in a bubble waiting for the punishment or I punish myself sabotaging any chances I happen to have to escape from the situation. Please help. Thank you for the article.

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  3. I am 48 and still a prisoner of her control and manipulation in some ways. I can't get rid of the emotional control.

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  4. I don't try to control others and I'm not particularly dependent (actually almost fiercely and neurotically independent), but I definitely have all the other traits. I was extremely controlled (and abused) as a child. I have completely cut off contact with those who once hurt me for my own benefit. The biggest challenge to me is the perfectionist tendencies and the hypervigilance. It's a day-to-day battle.

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  5. This is one of the most direct and helpful articles I've read- THANK YOU. Our world needs more people spreading the awareness of emotional development. Keep sharing your knowledge- you are making the world a better place. ^_^

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  6. I have a habit of asking permission to do EVERYTHING. My parents aren't as controlling as before, so when I do ask permission, they often ask me why I ask so much. For example, I should know that I'm allowed to eat the food at their house. I know I'm not controlled anymore, but the habit of asking all the time is still there.

    Another think I noticed, is that I don't really talk to people, until they directly address me. I'm currently in college, but I don't talk when the professor asks questions to the class (no matter how nice they are). I don't asks questions, even if I have one, unless the professor walks around the class during practice problems, and directly asks me if I have any questions about the current thing.

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  7. I'm 41 and married and visit my parents every other weekend.
    Mom was, is and always will be over-controlling.
    She's an incredible pain in the neck.
    But ... I love her. Because I know she doesn't know any better.
    Also, I know what a horrible childhood she suffered with her own mother.
    This was far, far worse.
    In turn my mom tried to do things radically different (and in certain aspects she succeeded).
    She really did her best. She is soO much better to me, infinitely even, than her mom was to her (not just by her own account, but I know from my 2 aunts how their childhood was).
    Turns out that mom isn't perfect either.
    But she has come such a long way.
    She's a pain in the neck, but I forgive her and after my wife, she and dad are the people I love most.
    I just try to ignore it now when at every single cookie I eat, every cup of coffee I drink, every ... [fill in your favourite vice], I'm being lectured for the umptieth time (with no new relevant information compared to the previous cookie I ate or coffee I drank).
    So I even try to control my desire to sigh, raise my eyebrows and say she should stop whining.
    It won't help. Nothing will ever change this broken record.
    So I just shrug it off and try to avoid a 15 minute argument over health risks.
    The day she dies, I'll miss her for all the good things and all the good intentions. Because she's full of them and she DOES love me more than anyone.
    Over time, the memory of her whining and nagging will fadeaway and if ever I have kids, I'll tell them that grandma was a wonderful mom, always concerned about my well being.

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  8. I'm 15 and my mom has a problem. She is too controlling. I think it's her fault that I am socially awkward, afraid of my own shadow. She is very controlling and can often become violent. I have noticed myself controlling others and I have seen a lot of what this article has talked about. I applied and was accepted into a highschool in which the students live on campus so I will be leaving home. She warns me that I'll have to call her everyday and come home every weekend, but I want to get as far away from her as possible. I plan on keeping my grades up so I will be able to study abroad and then I will be free. I'll never see her fat-ass again or hear her call me over or criticize me and tell me I'm not good enough. I don't want to grown up to be neurotic. Can someone please tell me how to avoid that? Please, I really need help. I can hardly talk to anyone at school. I don't want to be like this for the rest of my life

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  9. I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement the concept. Thank you for the post.

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  10. I had 4 older siblings. Three of my siblings controlled every aspect of my life. I wasn't allowed to like anything without their approval first. My clothing, music, toys, children's books, my own art, friends. I was expected to behave a certain way or else suffer passive aggressive behavior and/or corporal punishment. My parents didn't really care what I did. The problem was that they allowed my siblings to raise me. A lot of the things that I used as a child to soothe me were destroyed or just thrown in the trash. I wasn't allowed to talk to boys until my older siblings started to move out of the house. As they left I felt a huge weight come off my shoulders. It was a gradual relief.
    One time 2 of my siblings came to my school to complain to the principal about dating among students. This was middle school and completely innocent. They convinced my parents to homeschool me which i hated. In high school, once my siblings were gone, my parents finally had no choice but to start raising me. So they pressured me to drop out. They were against me going to school and refused to help me. They were very passive aggressive and I finally gave in, dropped out and got my GED. They were against me going to college too. I did what I could to attend but they found ways to sabotage my efforts. They would go in my room and just throw away everything. I knew I had to get out.
    It's been 13 years since I left. I'm married and have 2 kids. I cannot stand being around them. They still do their best at criticizing everything : how i raise my kids, what a terrible choice I made for going to college and my marriage partner. My siblings forgot about my existence once they got married.
    It has been extremely difficult for me to make decisions in my life. I always hear the negative opinions I heard when growing up. I do my best but somehow I feel like it's not enough. My husband has been helping me with my self-esteem and having a "who cares what other people think" kind of attitude. I admit that I lack confidence in everything I do.
    Even though it was a relief when my controlling siblings moved out, got married. I feel rejected by them now that they don't care what i do with my life. That feeling of rejection has been really really hard to deal with and I feel confused. I don't know why I feel so rejected. They went from one extreme to another. Part of the reason they don't care for me is because they never approved of my choice for a husband. But I was old enough to make my own decision and at that point I didn't care what they thought about it. It's like they're punishing me.
    My siblings scared away every single man that showed interest in me. My husband was the only one that challenged them and didn't back down. I sometimes feel like just cutting them off from my life completely.

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  11. I am 56 now and my parents are still alive. My dad is 86 and my mom is 84. I can remember perfectly how my dad took over my life until now. A devious character indeed. Those enumerated above are patterns which I have lived all these years. Now that I am aware of all these things, I am now leading my life for the best. I don't need the aid of anybody to live a life that I should. My sincere thanks for the author of this article.

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  12. I can relate to this article and so many people in the comments.

    My whole family is overbearing, not just parents... but aunts, grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc. I mean MY ENTIRE FAMILY is controlling, neurotic, emotionally immature, etc. It drove me insane for years.

    I was seriously the only one standing up for myself and for others. Screaming and shouting didn't help, speaking calmly didn't help, nothing helped. For the longest time I didn't know why I had a crippling fear of failure, why I was afraid of the world, why I had to ask for permission over the simplest things, why I had anxiety, why I was depressed, why I never felt good enough, why I was always on guard thinking my every move was being watched (because it was, by my parents), why I had deep self-doubt, why my inner critic was so harsh, why I was unsuccessful at the things I wanted to do, etc. etc. etc.

    One day it all clicked. All of it. I knew the cause, finally. None of it was my fault, I was that way because of the faulty messages I received growing up. And now I could make the choice to build my own confidence without anyone's validation. And for the past 5 months I went from having practically NO self-esteem, to having enough confidence that when I asserted myself to these pricks, they backed off for the most part. It took a while for the message to settle in their puny brains, but I know that it works if one is sure in themselves.

    I'm still in the transition phase from feeling like a 4 year old child who can't do anything to being a competent adult.... which I should be as I'm in my mid 20s. The most difficult part of it all is that I had so many screwed up beliefs and behaviors that I couldn't hold down a job to get away from them. So I had to do all of this inner work (and still doing it) while living with them in the same environment that caused it in the first place. My room is my sanctuary. All outside relationships I had besides family were just repetitions of the same crappy patterns of dysfunction. So I quite literally only have myself. So far, the progress has been amazing, I would've never thought I'd be where I am confidence wise, and it's the foundation for everything else in life. I tackled it at the root, and so many bad behaviors reversed themselves.

    Still, I need social interaction but I'm pretty limited in that aspect right now, my only choice is family. But with them, I can only be around for so long. That's sort of a dilemma of mine at the moment.

    My plan to get and STAY at a job is almost complete, I'm still doing the inner work so I'll know how to handle whatever life throws my way instead of quitting and so I don't end up in situations with more controlling people (like previous bosses), while also building the skills I need for my chosen career.

    To everyone who reads this and is going through a similar thing, hang in there. You can do it. I'm doing it, so can you. And the work is all worth it in the end.

    I can't wait to move out.

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  13. I have suffered at the hands of a very controlling sibling who would not let me do anything without her consent and criticised my every move. It was very traumatic for me as a child and i felt all the more alone due to the fact that it all happened under my parents' watch . I was told to just take it, it's not that bad, etc. because they were scared of her too i think. Yet i still resent them for allowing this to happen. I still live with that ***** who hasnt changed all that much yet pretends to be something she is not aka a good person. I seriously need to get out of here because unfairness still rules in this house. Mom is too scared to be real and admit that this person is a bully. I have so much anger inside. I did not deserve this. Screw this fucked up family.

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  14. Anonymous i really relate to what youre saying about your neurotic family. My sibling was exactly as you describe and took her frustrations out on me. Shes a very immature person and i still live with her. Im rooting for you and hope we can both get out of this mess.

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