What are controlling parents like?
They do not allow their children to make age-appropriate decisions for themselves.
They do not tolerate their children holding different opinions.
They invade their children’s personal space, not allowing for privacy.
In general, controlling parents require their children to be dependent on a variety of levels.
What are the long-term effects of this kind of tight-fisted parenting?
According to researchers, the effects are similar in scope to the death of a loved one. In other words, it’s dramatic. Interestingly, in this case, this comparison could be considered metaphorical as well. The ‘loved one’ who died is the subject’s own independent self.
Study’s author Dr. Mai Stafford said the following:
We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental well-being throughout early, middle and late adulthood.
The study tracked 5,362 people from their birth in 1946.
In a follow-up with 2000 participants, conducted over sixty years later the negative effect of controlling parents was still prevalent.
The study was published in The Journal of Positive Psychology (Stafford et al., 2015).
Why are the effects of parenting experienced decades later?
From a physical perspective, our brains are forming vital connections during childhood. Expectations, communication and experience with parents help determine which connections are made, and which connections are dropped.
With controlling parents, neural connections around independence are not encouraged.
From a psychological perspective, we learn to accept, tolerate and express the experiences we’re given during childhood. Even though we might not have liked being controlled, it did become the familiar default.
Familiarity may be the most powerful psychological concept, as we tend to ‘stick with the devil we know’. I often tell clients that we’d all prefer a familiar misery to a foreign happiness, eight days a week!
Therefore, in this situation, we’d tend to subconsciously seek out controlling situations. We might not consciously like them, but on the whole, we go through life feeling controlled, attracting controlling people, rebelling against control (inadvertently attracting more control) and feeling out of control. Somehow, we manage to find just the right people and circumstances to maintain the familiar sense the we don’t have options. Life becomes a trap that we cannot escape.
At iNLP Center, we call this a control attachment, which is strange subconscious tendency to find safety, familiarity or comfort in being controlled. Again, it’s the subconscious familiarity that is the culprit.
Psychological attachments form the basis of self-sabotage. In a self-sabotaging dynamic, we simply cannot get out of our own way and find freedom.
To learn more about how psychological attachments create self-sabotage, and how to move beyond them, watch this free and enlightening video.
A final thought: The above study, while reporting on the pervasive, long-term effects of controlling parents, offered no information on the level of personal development work engaged in throughout life by participants.
A lifestyle that involves consistent personal growth education and effort may be the defining factor that determines freedom from the mental traps left by good-intentioned parents with little self-awareness or parenting skill.