( How to break free from an overbearing and controlling mother)
A manipulative, intrusive, overbearing, micromanaging…. controlling Mother can make your life miserable.
In the extreme, it can be soul-crushing and do violence to your sense of agency, leaving you wounded with a lifetime of low self-esteem and self-doubt. The mild version will get better with a few tweaks.
Either way, it’s…
better to realize what is going on early so that you can come up with a plan to break free.
It all starts with awareness. You can plot your way out of the dynamics by first understanding how you got there in the first place.
Are you ready to break free from your overbearing and controlling mother?
Let me set you up for success with my 5 step process.
First, you need to know where your overbearing and controlling mother is coming from.
What exactly is motivating her? Then you need to take a look at what you do and adjust accordingly. Finally, you need to set your intention, handle the inevitable pushback, and go forward with the conviction that you are the boss of you!
Okay, so here we go. I will take you through a series of questions that will lay the foundation for your liberation.
Please stick with me until the end.
1) Know what’s controlling her, so you will know why she needs to control you!
Yes, easier said than done, admittedly; however, with a little research, you can gather a good idea about what’s driving your mother to act the way she does. If mom has a personality disorder, she will most certainly be compelled to act in controlling ways.
Is Mom narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, or have traits of these disorders?
If she does indeed have a personality disorder, she will most assuredly be using you to supply her own needs. In other words, to get her needs met, she has to maintain control over you.
A personality disorder, traits of a disorder, trauma, or cultural pressures can drive Mom’s extreme need for control.
Let’s take a look at what I mean-
Superiority– does your overbearing and controlling Mother need to be better than you or defeat you?
This can be a sign of having a narcissistic personality disorder or a trait of that disorder. If so, Mom needs to keep you under her thumb to keep you in a one-down position.
Fear– is your overbearing Mother afraid for you?
Mom could be a fearful person in general. In her experience, the world is a fearful place where one misstep results in catastrophic consequences.
So in her mind, she needs to save you from a world full of danger through control.
Relevance– is your controlling Mother terrified of becoming irrelevant?
Is she only value-added if she tells you something you don’t know? At the core of this need for control is low self-esteem.
In this case, she needs to control you to feel better about herself.
Can’t let go -does your overbearing Mother have abandonment issues and won’t let you go?
In the extreme… fear of abandonment is a hallmark trait of borderline personality disorder. However, many difficult mothers simply have trouble letting go of their daughters and releasing them into their own lives.
This mom needs to control you to keep you close.
Over-identification- does your overbearing Mother see herself in you and assume you all are the same?
If so, she will assume if something is a struggle for her, it will be a struggle for you. Because of this over-identification, she behaves in controlling ways.
She makes assumptions and then acts on those assumptions rather than regard you as separate and treat you with the respect you deserve.
Entitlement– does your overbearing Mother feel it is her right to direct your every move?
Again, another trait of narcissism she regards you more like a possession. You exist to make her look good and feel good in this toxic dynamic.
Trauma- does your controlling Mother overreact to some issues and not others?
If so, she might have buried trauma that is triggered. Knowing a bit about her childhood can go a long way in identifying where her trauma lies. She is trying to have some control over what she couldn’t control in the past.
It doesn’t make it right, but it does make it real.
Appropriation- does your overbearing and controlling mother treat you as if you were an extension of her?
Is she living or reliving ( more like it) her life through you? If so, she is attempting to control her issues by controlling you.
When you know what Mom needs from you, you will know what you are up against for reasonable and not-so-reasonable reasons.
Knowledge is power.
In other words, when you change the rules of the game up on her (as you must do to break free), you will know what her protest is all about.
Knowing what is expected of you and why (especially when it’s unreasonable) can set the stage for taking some control back– and placing it where it belongs… squarely in your camp.
When you set new expectations and boundaries (I can show you how) instead of just feeling mean, you can reassure yourself that you are no longer enabling dysfunction. Big difference!
2) Know yourself-
You may be unaware of an overbearing mother’s impact on you,
Mom’s controlling ways have had a bigger impact than you might realize. You might have told yourself for years that she was only trying to help when in fact, her controlling ways can contribute to…
Low-self esteem –
When Mom repeatedly takes over and doesn’t let you take things on without her input, she undermines your confidence and, eventually, your sense of self-worth.
When Mom questions and picks apart your every move, you don’t trust yourself to make the right choices or live through making the wrong ones.
When Mom acts as if you’ve done something wrong when you exert your independence (even in small ways), you can’t help but feel you’ve broken a rule you didn’t know existed.
You see, the thing is, you’re only human, and the little girl in you just wants Mom to be okay and okay with you.
That’s completely natural.
If Mom has been controlling your whole life, you have been programmed to resonate with that control. It’s a habit by now.
And nothing, my dear, will change unless the change comes from you.
It’s not fair, but it is real.
For example- do you seek your controlling mother’s approval in ways that keep her in control of the relationship- not making a move without her, okay, and giving her a report?
Do you wait for her to critique your life instead of simply sharing without explanation or apology?
It’s a subtle but important difference.
For example, do you say, ” Hey Mom if it’s okay with you, Jeff and I are spending Thanksgiving with his family this year? ” Instead of simply saying Jeff and I will be spending Thanksgiving with his family this year.
Are you terrified of disappointing Mom because you are afraid of what will happen? Because of that, are you less direct with her than you would otherwise be? And then when you are……Mom mows right over you and your boundaries.
It’s a vicious cycle. One that is hard to break but not impossible.
Here’s the deal- you have to train yourself to do what feels completely UNNATURAL even though you are doing what’s right. It’s like parting your hair on the wrong side. It will feel awkward and wrong…at first.
But, then, before you know it, standing up for yourself will become a new habit.
3) Lead with intention-
Okay, that might be a bit of silliness – but I’m trying to make an important point here.
You need to know your own mind and take the lead with confidence. Don’t ask, tell.
Get support and learn where you end and Mom begins. Sort through what you value. Then, take a stand and take the lead instead of reacting to Mom’s outrageous overreach.
4) Be prepared for pushback
If Mom is used to having the reins of control, she isn’t likely to give them up without a fight.
She may feel entitled to it, or she may not know there is any other way to relate to you.
Let her know that you will want to be with her more if she isn’t constantly criticizing or telling you what to do.
You never know …if you are lucky, this may actually surprise her. But, on the other hand, she might think it is the role she is expected to play. The culture certainly signals to Mom that it is her job to “fix” anything “wrong” with her daughter.
You might have the opportunity to reeducate her in a new way of relating.
Or you may need to play hardball.
When Mom is faced with a choice, let go of some control or lose her relationship with you …AND she knows you mean business… chances are she will choose a relationship on your terms rather than no relationship at all.
5) Stay the course and follow-through
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
You’ve got this.
It’s a new day.
More and more, I see women in my practice finding their voice, taking back their power, and refusing to let anyone control them, including their mothers.
Won’t you join them?
( If you’d rather listen to this article)
Let me know about your overbearing and controlling mother in the comments.
My Mother can not accept the fact I am now an adult that can make my own decisions and choices. She believes she is the only one who can heal me and direct the right path for my future. Battling with depression and suicide after a toxic relationship. She now believes I am in another toxic relationship. But the only toxic relationship is mine and hers . I have tried to cut her out to better my life. And without her I have bettered my life financially, mentally, grown my own independence and positive relationships with other adults. My mother has made 10-15 fake phone numbers to contact me when I’ve told her I don’t want her toxic personality in my life. I don’t know if there’s anyone else out there with a similar situation, but I know for me creating that separation and relieved so much stress and anxiety from my life. Blood isn’t thicker than piece of mind.
It sounds as though you have been through hell and back and have found a way out. I imagine it has taken a lot of courage and fortitude to make it out.
Thanks for writing and sharing your story.
I read this and started crying.
My mother has tried to control me my whole life. It has taken me years to realise that she doesn’t ever listen to my needs, my thoughts or my feelings. He “love” is more about control.
I am in the process of setting boundaries and she is throwing a toddler tantrum. It is hard and painful and I am grieving the loss of what I never had. But I know less contact will be healthier for me. I am more emotionally mature than she will ever be. And my choices matter.
I especially love your last statement, ” And my choices matter.” Never forget this.
Actually, I love all of the statements in this post….. You seem to see the writing on the wall and are headed in the right direction. I’m cheering for you. Life can be so much better. And like you say, yes it is hard and painful -to set boundaries… but oh so WORTH IT.
Best of luck,
Hey! This is so needed. I honestly was so fed up with my mom talking crap about me, to me, the minute we were alone. It’s so demeaning, humiliating, infuriating and it’s like she felt bad that I didn’t have time for a vacation so she decided to buy me a one-way ticket to a guilt-trip. All expenses paid for! Anyway, I was so triggered, and annoyed, that I googled how to deal with a parent as such, and this popped up 🙂 I know she loves me, but I don’t feel it. She thinks all my successes are because of her support and my failures are because of her shortcomings. Everything I do, reflects onto her parenting. My dad’s been super helpful, he tells me she doesn’t know any better because her mother was the same.
It’s so hard to forgive someone who hurts you the same way over and over again. But, if you don’t, you’re living with that anger, guilt and resentment that eats you from the inside and destroys you.
But hey, it’s my life, my story, my journey. You can either come along for the whole ride, or I can throw you off wherever, whenever I fricking want
You are so articulate and funny to boot. ” one-way ticket to a guilt-trip.” Ha!
Despite your well-articulated agony you seem to have a lay of the land. That’s a great start.
I hope you will find more resources here that will help.
Hang in there,
I am the middle child of 5 latina sisters to with what Im feeling fairly convinced is an undiagnosed and untreated BPD mom, who herself dealt with a variety of traumas in her own life, parentification (she was constantly financial supporting her own mother and all of her siblings in a foreign country- constantly being made to be the bad person by them). She has a different, toxic relationship with each of us. Its tough because so much of what she’s “sacrificed” and given us in her struggles to provide us a better life allowed us to be doing better than most in the same conditions, but the incredible codependency, volatile moods, villification if you establish boundaries, the lies, disastrous financial behavior… pitting siblings against each other, meddling in relationships, demonizing people- its just madness. Weve finally all realized we are all caught in this pain cycle and its so tough to unmesh and keep boundaries. I want to provide for her basic needs and am just seeing her as an elderly person at this point who needs care but i wont do it if she wont agree to therapy, getting on disability and no cash in her hand, direct payments only. She said shed rather be homeless than do any of that. Of course, i dont want her to be homeless. But i dont want to lose my heart.
thanks for your website.
What a heartbreaking story and one you articulate so well. Hurt people, hurt people. Although I can’t know your situation for sure, I have known similar folks whose BPD parent have responded well to limits after fighting them mightily. It seems paradoxical I know, but sometimes a traumatized person craves stability underneath all the outward volatility.
I know none of this is easy- to say the least.
I wish you strength.
I’ve been really needing to hear some of this and reassure that I wasn’t alone. My mom is an immigrant parent, living halfway across the world from my dad by choice as they never completely got along. My 26- year old brother still lives with her but during the pandemic, at the age of 21, I made the decision to carve my own path and live with my boyfriend (mainly full-time, while coming to visit them occasionally). Ever since I’ve gotten in the relationship, they think I’ve completely lost track of who I am and what I want despite actually being the happiest I have ever been, leading a full-time government job and pursuing additional graduate studies on top of all that.
For the longest time (the past 3 years especially), I’ve felt cornered into a wall by my mom and brother, teaming up against me thinking I don’t have the capacity to make my own choices and that I only listen to what my boyfriend says. My mom always “claims”” she wants the best for me, but every now and then she breaks down emotionally and says I should stay next to family, move back, etc. without realizing it’s not just me in the picture anymore, there’s 2 of us now. I don’t want to feel like a bad daughter or guilty that I can’t always be there and meet her emotional needs. Is it bad that I don’t want to live there full time and try to live in a different city? I am encouraging her to branch out and try new things but she always ties herself down and waits on the sofa for me to come and bring her out to do things. Any time I try to voice that I want to be more independent and that it is good for me, she brings it back to me not wanting to stay with the family, not having ideas of my own and on top of that, my brother isn’t helping by talking to her behind my back, bringing ideas into her mind. I’m a very easy-going person and I try my best to make everyone happy, but I am tired of this repeated conversation when I am not doing anything wrong. I want to tell my mom she needs to let go, but then she will bring it back to how much she sacrificed for me and I just don’t understand why that always has to be the leading argument. I just need help having a voice. Being the youngest in my small family, I don’t have the loudest voice and I feel I am not supported 100% by them which is affecting my relationships.
I certainly hear your dilemma. If I am understanding, you are asking -how do I follow your dreams and not feel like a bad daughter?
Unfortunately, it sounds like your mother and brother have decided to define that for you.
And to be fair, I hear this a lot from 1rst generation daughters of immigrant parents. I think, immigrant or not, we are in the midst of a cultural change as women (daughters) are being encouraged to pursue their dreams. This is a good thing in my book, but it does disrupt some systemic cultural norms.
Here-to-fore, men are the only ones encouraged to pursue their dreams, and women were looked upon to do the emotional work for the whole family. Mothers sacrificed and then expected their daughters to make the same sacrifice.
The problem is you can’t have it both ways. If women are to take their place in the world, the cycle of sacrifice must be broken. And the generation that breaks the cycle and moves women forward will have a hard time. So know you are not alone in this.
You are doing a brave, hard thing that may only bear fruit in future generations. My upcoming book, The Good Daughter Syndrome, will go a long way in helping you develop your voice.
I wish you all the best,