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The Psychological Effect of a Controlling Mother (and How I Dealt With It)

Daughter of a controlling mother, author of the upcoming book Unmasking the Controlling Mother.

My dad and I

My dad and I

I’m writing this article from a personal perspective in hopes of helping someone else who might have suffered a similar experience with a controlling mother or parent. If you aren't sure how to change your situation or even if it can be changed, this article is for you. Know you are NOT alone.

I was raised by a controlling mother who was extremely overbearing. This experience has affected me throughout my life, especially my relationships. But I have since realized that my life is my own. I can't let the past affect my future.

My childhood and adolescent experiences are examples of how controlling behavior can manifest. I hope by sharing these experiences, other people might realize a pattern in their own life, be able to make changes, and take back control of their lives.

The Beginning of a Broken Childhood

I was born in Fort Lauderdale back in 1978. At the time, my parents had been married for nine years, and were on the verge of divorce. My mother had an abortion prior to my birth, and after I was born by cesarean section, my parents officially ended their marriage.

My grandparents (my father's parents) gave me my first bottle in the hospital after I was born. I lived with them from the very beginning. During the first two weeks of my life, my biological mother came to my grandparents house to spend time with me, but then suddenly disappeared leaving only a letter. The letter was addressed to my grandparents and stated she was leaving me with them forever.

Despite living with my grandparents, my father made an effort to be involved with a few visitations during my first year of life. But he, too, disappeared shortly after I turned one.

I was called ugly and fat in high school, but I was actually quite skinny.

I was called ugly and fat in high school, but I was actually quite skinny.

My grandparents treated me as their daughter from the beginning and legally adopted me at the age of four.

I remember going to the attorney’s office and being asked about living arrangements. I don’t recall my response, my grandparents (from here on referenced as my parents) told me I said I wanted them to raise me. The most I remember is the seat warmer in the secretary’s chair at her desk and trying to figure out how to turn it on.

I was declared legally abandoned by the courts, and my parents officially adopted me. The birth certificate even has their names on it, not those of my biological parents.

My parents made no effort to hide any of this from me. I knew from a very young age that I was adopted. Granted, I was adopted by immediate family, but adopted nonetheless.

This really made no difference to me. It was not something I thought about regularly. Unlike many adopted children, I never wondered about my biological mother. My parents were the people raising me, not the people who gave birth to me. It was just a fact.

But my mom always thought I was curious and would ask me regularly about it. She even went so far as to ask me why I didn't want to know about her, and couldn't understand why I wouldn't want to know who my biological mother was. To this day, I can't really explain why I don't want to know other than it would really make no difference in my life today. Other than wanting to know her medical history, nothing would change by knowing who she is.

Growing Up with a Controlling Mother

But growing up was difficult. I attended private, catholic school all the way through high school. I didn’t have any friends in elementary school, and I was routinely picked on by bullies.

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In my heart, I didn’t really care that everyone teased me and called me ugly or fat. But in the back of my mind, it affected me. Despite my outward expression of self-confidence, I was only confident when I was by myself. However that changed as I got older, as it does for most people I suspect.

Ironically, during my years as a young child, my mother wasn't horribly controlling. However, I was never allowed to have a sleep over (either at my house or theirs). I only had one birthday party that I can remember, and only one person showed up, which is why I remember it.

But as I got older, my mother's controlling behavior escalated.

During high school, I had a couple of friends who were in the band, which was the only time I was really allowed to "socialize." One of them was a witch, and his best friend became my best friend.

She was amazing. She laughed at all my jokes; she even helped me stand up against the bullies. My mom told me to simply ignore them because they were just jealous. Although she was probably right, there was no other comforting offered. Just a lot of physical hugs and kisses (on the mouth), which I had come to despise.

In my junior year, a new student started at our school. Although it sounds cliché, he was probably THE best-looking guy in the school, and he became MY boyfriend. Strangely, no one really picked on me after that.

Except for my mother.

Signs of a Controlling Mother - Personal Examples

Looking back at my childhood, there were a number of signs, or "red flags" signaling my mother's controlling behavior:

  1. I had no privacy. None.
  2. She created drama whenever there was a holiday or special occasion
  3. A constant feeling of walking on eggshells
  4. I felt a constant need to escape.

There were many other signs, but these were the biggest red flags. They manifest in different ways, this is how my mom acted during my childhood.

1. Invasion of Privacy

Having a serious boyfriend exacerbated my mother’s behavior. She started to track my periods on her calendar, which were never regular. It wasn't unusual for me to miss 2 months or more.

At one point, she showed me all the months I had “missed.” On every one, she wrote something like “please God, don’t let it be so” in large red letters at the bottom of the month.

I knew I wasn’t pregnant, I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 20. But, she didn’t believe me. It was this kind of behavior that made me avoid going to my mother with any type of problem.

I was never the type to talk with anyone about anything, especially my parents. I kept just about everything to myself. This lead to my mom being so nosy she would ransack my room, including my garbage, to find out anything she could about my life.

I tried to keep a diary, but she put a stop to that by reading it constantly. How do you stop someone from invading your privacy? You keep everything inside. Eventually for one of my birthday’s, my mom got me a diary with a combination lock on it, and promised never to read it again. She never did, not that I know of anyway. But I didn't really write in it anymore either.

My father and I at the pageant my mother made me enter. I was in the top ten, and probably could have made it further, but my heart just wasn't in it.

My father and I at the pageant my mother made me enter. I was in the top ten, and probably could have made it further, but my heart just wasn't in it.

This didn’t stop her from rummaging through my garbage, though. There were many, many arguments with my parents. Most of them entailed my mom yelling at my dad and I, while we sat there and stared at the floor.

2. Creating Drama

One time, she even threw out the Christmas turkey and then stayed in her bedroom all day. It was a common occurrence. I actually enjoyed these times since it was just dad and I.

We’d sometimes watch Tom and Jerry cartoons. On the days mom wouldn’t come out to cook dinner, we’d have peanut butter sandwiches dipped in coffee. Dad and I were always close.

Saturday mornings were bad. I’d be rudely awakened by screaming. Mom inevitably would be screaming at dad in the kitchen about things that happened 40 years ago. The screaming was amplified by the air conditioning vent so I could hear every word.

My mom thought I slept too much because I “slept in” until noon or later.

I wasn’t sleeping; I was hiding.

The last thing I ever wanted to do was leave my room on days like that because the second I stepped foot into the kitchen, either I’d get dragged into it, or it would just stop and mom would act like nothing happened… to me.

Dad would be sitting in the corner of the kitchen staring at the floor and if she had anything to say to him, she would say it in a tone that I can’t even describe. My only escape from all of this was the driving.

Once I got my license (which I didn't get until I was 17), I spent as much time in my car as I could. It was my safe haven. Even to this day, driving my car is the one place I feel the safest.

Driving became my only escape.

Driving became my only escape.

3. Feeling as if You Are Walking on Eggshells

Anytime I was home, I had to walk on eggshells around my mom. She was a ticking time bomb.

For example, I went to a dermatologist for my acne when I was 18 who suggested birth control pills to regulate my period, which would also regulate the hormones causing the acne problem.

I didn't want pills, and definitely not birth control pills. Not only did I know my mother would freak out, I knew birth control pills had side effects, and I just didn't want to deal with them.

I had called her via my cell phone on my way back from the doctor (she surprisingly let me go alone) and made the mistake of telling her the doctor's suggestion over the phone. As I suspected, when I told her the dermatologist suggested birth control as a line of treatment, she freaked out.

For someone who was afraid to let me drive at all, she was doing quite a bit of yelling in my ear while I was driving, and it wasn't about calling her while driving. I remember her words vividly: "I don't like where this is going!" she screamed.

4. You Feel The Need To Escape (Even as an Adult)

After graduation, I chose a little Baptist college in a tiny town, four hours away from home. Once I got there, I had a hard time dealing with all the freedom. My mom wasn’t hovering over me telling me to study, what to wear, or how to style my hair. I was free. I knew my parents had a four hour drive to the school if they wanted to come and take me home. It was enough time to run.

The last half of my freshman year, my mom told me if I was good, and brought up my GPA, she'd put the car in my name and let me drive it my sophomore year.

I was the perfect little angel for those six months, and I did enough extra credit to double my GPA. My mom kept her word and put the car in my name.

I was smart, I knew once she put the car in my name she couldn't take it from me. I was 18, and if she did take it, I could report it stolen. Getting the car in my name changed me, although I didn't realize it at the time.

After getting the car, my grades were horrible. So bad, in fact, I flunked out. I really didn’t care. I had met a man, and we were getting married.

My parents found out and started driving up to the school. I ran. I knew they couldn’t find me if I went to my fiancé’s house.

It was a huge ordeal, campus security got involved. I was informed about the legalities of the situation, which at 18, all I understood was that my parents couldn’t physically remove me from anywhere. And since they had put the car in my name, they couldn’t even take that, which would have been the first thing she did. She always threatened to take my car from me.

My first dog ever, Dickens. I rescued her, but I think she's the one who did the rescuing!

My first dog ever, Dickens. I rescued her, but I think she's the one who did the rescuing!

I got married to the man my parents hated, and I rescued two dogs (pets were another thing I was never allowed to have). Six years after I married, I got divorced.

By this time, I had realized I married him to get away from my parents. There was no love there, and there never was if I’m honest with myself.

Unfortunately, this separation forced me to call my mom and get her financial support to move into my own apartment.

My dog and best friend, Lady

My dog and best friend, Lady

I had a career, that paid enough to make the rent. The week I moved into my new apartment, I got a $3 raise. I was set. I had a car, and I had my dogs.

For three months, I did some soul-searching. I delved further into my spirituality, and I realized I had let my controlling parents ruin my life by running away.

The relationship with my parents has never been the same. I became overly analytical to compensate for my mom’s irrationally emotional behavior. This has affected my entire life, particularly my relationships. Although I have emotions, no one ever sees them. I had come to see emotional outbursts of any kind as weakness. However, when I hit the age of 40, things changed.

I eventually remarried and had a daughter of my own. Initially, I tried to keep my parents in my daughter's life thinking they could offer some enrichment. But every time I called my mother, she would say nothing but derogatory things about my husband and my life.

These conversations with my mom would leave me feeling anxious, angry and frustrated. I inevitably took these feelings out on my husband and daughter. I eventually realized I couldn't keep doing this. The effects of each conversation lasted longer, and I would put off calling my mom as long as possible because I just didn't want to deal with her. This just lead to more anxiety and frustration and it took a toll on both me and my family. It was a vicious cycle.

I eventually came to the conclusion that the only way to fix the situation was to stop talking to my mother altogether. It really wasn't a difficult decision. I knew I didn't want my daughter growing up exposed to my mother's vitriol.

Best decision I ever made.

My parents are now getting on in years, and their health is failing. Imminent death tends to make you rethink your decisions. I have lived the past 10 years without talking to my parents, with exception of my dad.

Dad was never the problem, and when he had health issues during the spring of 2014, I broke down and called him. It was very sad. His speech was garbled, and I could barely understand what he was saying. But it did feel good to tell him I loved him. I even let him talk to my daughter. Although she had a harder time understanding him than I did, I know it made dad feel better knowing that he was able to say hello and tell us he loved us.

During all of this, I have never felt bad about my decision to avoid communication with my mom. But I have felt that my dad has had to suffer because of my decision. This has never sat well with me.

Dad died on December 7, 2016.

When I was 16, I went through a grieving period for my dad. I thought about his death and what losing him would feel like; how it would affect me. I cried for weeks about it. Only in my room at night.

So when he actually died, I didn't cry at all. My husband was very concerned about this. Especially considering the stories I've told him about how close dad and I were. But I had lost dad over 10 years ago due to my mom. I had gotten used to the idea of never speaking to him again. So nothing had actually changed.

But I did cry in private, years later. When it finally hit me that I would never hug him again, and my daughter would never know him, except through my stories, I cried. He was a good man. He didn't deserve the way mom treated him, and at least now he is no longer suffering.

Dealing with Controlling Parents

A controlling mother has a massive psychological impact on her children, regardless of why she exhibits such behavior. She can strip them of the ability to find anything satisfying in life, and this is something that is virtually impossible to overcome.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to separate myself completely from my mother in an effort to change my outlook on life. Talking to my mother only serves to reinforce the negative mindset I’ve worked so hard to shift.

Many people have read this article and said that I have to understand how stressful it was for my mother to raise me as an older woman. To that I say, she was not forced to do so, she chose to do it. Her "stress" is not MY responsibility.

Regardless, no parent has the right to take out their "stress" on their children, which is exactly why I have chosen this path.

I have also been told this story is completely one-sided. Well, it's meant to be. As I stated in the intro, this is my story. I never said it was unbiased. Everyone's opinion is biased by their own perceptions. As Jim Carrey once said:

You stop explaining yourself when you realize people only understand from their level of perception.

— Jim Carrey

I have to do what is right for my daughter now. If not speaking with my mother gives her the life I never had, then I made the right decision. I have tried my hardest to be the opposite of my mother. Because of this, my daughter and I are very close, and can talk about anything.

I've tried to be the opposite of my mother in all aspects of my life. I try not to judge anyone, and live by "live and let live."

I'm now in my 40s and living through the typical midlife crisis. When you realize you only have about 40 years left on this earth, it changes you. But I still don't regret my decision. However, I have forgiven my mother and accepted my childhood for what it was. I wouldn't be who I am today, if not for my childhood.

I've also realized that I am not responsible for my mother's behavior, or anyone else's for that matter. I am only responsible for myself, and I need to speak my truth.

The biggest realization I have had is that I don't have to do what anyone tells me to do. The only responsibility I have is to me, to live my life as I see fit. If something doesn't feel right, I need to change it. This life is too short to deal with anyone's BS. I can remove myself from toxic situations. I can change the course of my life so that the 40 years I have left are the best years of my life.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What can I do about a mom I'm still living with that sees me as nothing but a failure, promiscuous, and someone who can't make it no matter how hard I try?

Answer: Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do. If you are still living in her house, you have to abide by her rules. While I can't tell you how to deal with your mother, (it's your choice how to handle her) I can tell you what I would have done if I had it to do over.

I went to college to escape my mother's control but had to go back home during spring and summer breaks. To break this cycle, I jumped into a marriage that ended six years later.

In hindsight, I would put off college for a year or two and work... a lot. I would save every penny and make a plan to find an apartment and move out. Once I had my own place, I would make a plan for my life. Do I want to go to college? What do I want to do with my life and where do I want to live?

The goal is to get out from under her control as quickly as possible so that you can do some soul-searching. But you have to have a plan. That's the one thing I wish I had done when I got to college. I wish I had made a plan to get out of the house and on my own, without jumping ino a marriage.

One piece of financial advice that I wish I knew then: open a high yield savings account asap and start paying yourself first and don't touch it. Save enough money to cover a year's worth of expenses. Even if you are in college, save, save, save. The more financially independent you are, the less you have to rely on your parents for help, meaning they have no control over you.

But whatever you do, know that you can take a lot more than you think you can. We never know how strong we are until being strong is the only choice we have. Try to minimize confrontation, which may be difficult. My mother thrived on it.

I hope that helps. I wish you the best of luck and know that you are not alone. Don't let anyone tell you that you are a failure, or that you are worthless. Everyone fails, you can't become successful without failing first. Any millionaire will tell you that.

While you are planning to move out, do everything you can to better yourself. Learn as much as possible. READ. Reading books allows you to learn how others made mistakes and what they would have done instead and this will be invaluable when you move out.

This is YOUR life, no matter who gave it to you. Take control of it.

Question: Will a controlling parent ever change?

Answer: It has been my experience that no, controlling parents do not change, which is why I chose to cut ties.

That's not to say they cannot change. Anyone can change, but it takes a conscious decision and lifelong effort to make the change. But you can't help her make that choice. It has to be her decision.

Question: What do you think is the cause of disliking affection?

Answer: I believe it was my mother's smothering affection and emotional nature that has caused my dislike of affection. Although I am an HSP (highly sensitive person) and dislike being touched in anyway by strangers, I believe it was my mother's overly emotional show of affection that caused me to dislike physical contact with other people including my own family. However, I do enjoy cuddling with animals, mainly because they place no emotional demands on me (or anyone). But I'm not a psychologist and I could be completely wrong in my assessment of this issue.

Question: My mum is trying to control my future. She thinks she’s helping me but she’s sending me into a spiral of depression and it’s killing me. No matter how much I try to stand up to her it just gets worse. I can’t avoid her. How do I stop this??

Answer: Honestly, I've only had experience with my mom, so I can't say what would work in your situation. That said, I have found that standing up to these types of dramatic personalities only serves to exacerbate the situation. That's why I did as I was told until I turned 18 and then found a way to get away from my mom as quickly as possible. But I don't advocate doing it the way I did, and if I had it to do over, I'd plan a bit better.

I'm not sure how old you are or whether or not you are still living at home, but if you have tried to explain to her what you want and why, and shown her why you think this path is right for you, and she still hasn't backed down, there's really no other option than cutting communication or going to a counselor for third-party mediation (which may make the situation worse).

It's YOUR life, not hers. Do what you need to do to plan your future. If you have to, be diligent about hiding progress toward your goals or evidence of your plans. If your mom finds them it will only make the situation worse (make sure your phone is locked so she can't get into it). Be aware that once you are on your own, your mom may find ways to aggravate you. Mine called the police on me several times, left nasty voicemails on my phone (along with ones in which she was crying and asking me to call her). She may even hire a private investigator to follow you (mine did).

No matter what you do, realize that no one can control how you think, feel or react to situations. At a certain point, I started laughing at my mom's antics and attempts to contact me and control me. In fact, just recently, she sent me a package full of gifts and pictures I had given her when we were still talking. She was sending the message that she was done trying to talk to me, a last-ditch attempt to guilt me into calling. It didn't work, I honestly found it amusing that she did it. I could've let it hurt me, assumed that she was disowning me or no longer wanted to try to mend the relationship. But I disowned her a long time ago, and my life has been so much better since I stopped talking to her.

It does get better, but it takes time. You'll need to be patient, and plan things out.

Question: My 20-year-old daughter wants to sell the car we bought her and use the money to buy a van in which to live in on Maui while she pursues a videography career, as well as drop out of college. Am I controlling if I don’t allow her to sell the car for van life?

Answer: Well that depends, why don't you want her to sell it? If it's because you want her to do something else like become a doctor, than it may be a bit controlling. But if you don't want her to sell it because she hasn't thought the situation through, you may want to talk to her about it before saying no, absolutely not.

At some point, we all have to let our children grow up and become adults. They will make choices that we would prefer they didn't, but unfortunately, we all have to make mistakes to learn anything in life. You can help her by talking her through her decision. Help her with the logistics of becoming a videographer, and explore alternatives like starting a YouTube channel instead to make sure she enjoys all aspects of what videography entails. It's not just making videos and posting them online. In fact, most of a YouTuber's career is editing video, and promoting their channel via social media etc.

Helping your daughter to see all aspects of her choice is what good parents do. We can't tell our children no just because we think their decision is dumb or not something they should do. By exploring her choice with her, not only do you show her you're interested in her life, and want to help her make the choices that are right for her, you are also educating yourself as to why that choice may actually be better for her than something else.

Question: My mother sounds a lot like yours. It is very hard and very demanding to be able to keep a smile on my face. My mother’s ways have caused me to become that way. I never wanted to be like her but it seems like I am. What can I do about replicating my mother's mistakes with being controlling? How do I put my mother's ways aside and focus on being me? I get so stressed and the pressure of her controlling ways set a trigger to me when others upset me. What would your advice be regarding my relationship with my controlling mother?

Answer: This a profound question and I'm very glad you asked it because I'm sure many people in our situation are wondering the same thing. How much of what we believe is truly our own thoughts?