Control is not necessarily a dirty word. If a mother restrains her
toddler instead of letting him wander into the street, we don't call
her a controller, we call her prudent. She is exercising control that
is in tune with reality, motivated by her child's need for protection
Appropriate control becomes overcontrol when the mother restrains her
child ten years later, long after the child is perfectly able to
cross the street alone.
Children who are not encouraged to do, to try, to explore, to master,
and to risk failure, often feel helpless and inadequate.
Overcontrolled by anxious, fearful parents, these children often
become anxious and fearful themselves. This makes it difficult for
them to mature. When they develop through adolescence and adulthood,
many of them never outgrow the need for ongoing parental guidance and
control. As a result, their parents continue to invade, manipulate,
and frequently dominate their lives.
The fear of not being needed motivates many controlling parents to
perpetuate this sense of powerlessness in their children. These
parents have an unhealthy fear of the 'empty nest syndrome,' the
inevitable sense of loss that all parents experience when their
children finally leave home. So much of a controlling parent's
identity is tied up in the parental role that he or she feels
betrayed and abandoned when the child becomes independent.
What makes a controlling parent so insidious is that the domination
usually comes in the guise of concern. Phrases such as, "this is
for your own good," "I'm only doing this for you,"
and, "only because I love you so much," all mean the same
thing: "I'm doing this because I'm so afraid of losing you that
I'm willing to make you miserable."