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Controlling parents inappropriately impose their own will on their child which, when excessive, can deprive him/her of developing his/her own sense of identity and prevent him/her behaving in an authentic manner.

They may also demand an unhealthy display of love, adoration and devotion from their offspring (this may be driven by an unconscious, profound need to compensate themselves for the lack of love they were shown by their parents during their own childhoods).

This can result in the parent ‘parentifying‘ their child and feeding off his/her innate affections in an exploitative manner, rather as the leech sucks the blood from its host; the parent-child roles are reversed so that the child is manipulated into becoming his / her parent’s emotional caretaker.

This can lead the child to feel angry, resentful and confused. In extreme circumstances, the controlling parents may see the child’s will as something that needs to be broken. In order to try to achieve this, the parents may use threats to impose his/her will and treat the child’s own wishes and desires with contempt and derision.


This places the child in an uncomfortable position as s/he has to choose between:

– placating the parent by surrendering his/her will and individuality

– following his/her own desires at the risk of constantly incurring his/her parent’s anger and disapproval

Many children, in an attempt to resolve this dilemma, may resort to being disingenuous or just plain lying. For example, they may feel compelled to be dishonest about :

– their attitudes

– their activities

– with whom they are associating

In this way, they are forced to hide their true and authentic self from their parent.


Because the child knows his/her parent disapproves of his/her true, inner, authentic self, this can lead the child to feel guilty about who s/he really is and riddled with self-doubt about his/her own ability to make appropriate decisions about the paths s/he wishes to take in life. An example of this would be of a teenager who feels the need to hide his/her sexuality due to his/her parent’s homophobic attitudes.


If the young person decides that s/he has no choice but to comply with his/her parent’s endeavours to control his/her attitudes, behaviours and, even, to some extent, thoughts, s/he may develop A FALSE SELF. 

Essentially, this false self has been shaped by the over-controlling parent. In this way, the boundary between the parent’s ‘self’ and the young person’s ‘self’ can become blurred, nebulous and indistinct and can lead to their (the child’s and parent’s) identities becoming ENMESHED.

Other examples of areas of a young person’s life the parent may try to control include what academic subjects the child chooses to study, what career s/he decides to follow, what religion (if any) s/he chooses to follow,or what sports s/he chooses to participate in.

For example, in the film Billy Elliot, the domineering father wants his son to pursue boxing, whilst the boy, Billy, wishes to pursue ballet, thus setting up a major conflict between the two.


The young person who has been over-controlled by a parent may find, as an adult, that s/he:

– has difficulty making his/her own decisions

– finds it difficult to express his/her own opinions about subjects

– feel constantly judged by others

– is extremely sensitive about the opinion of others

– often finds it easier to lie about him/herself rather than be honest

– possesses aspects of him/herself s/he has never developed/kept hidden from others/suppressed/repressed

– find it hard to think creatively/unconventionally

If the above apply to you in your adult life, it may be that you are still being affected by the behaviour of your controlling parents from when you were a child/teenager. Becoming aware of this is often the first step to positive change.


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).