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Shrugging off the Legacy of the Overbearing Parent

I listened to a podcast yesterday where a man described his overbearing, authoritarian mother. Some of the ways she controlled him were strange, inexplicable, and triggered a lot of my own memories. His mother had called the police and gone through all his things because he drove his car on the highway. He was 17 years old.

I went to bed last night and I dreamt I was back in my childhood home. I dreamt about the terror of waiting for the other shoe to drop, of getting in trouble for nothing — simply for growing up.

It’s been years since I had a dream like that. I used to have them when I’d visit my family after college. I’d dream that they’d capture me and never let me leave again. Now I no longer visit.

The authoritarian parent is the punishment parent. “These parents have high expectations and often overwhelm their children with strict rules and regulations,” writes Tamara Hill, MS, NCC, LPC-BE. “These parents rule with an iron fist and often ‘scare’ their children into obedience. Parents who utilize this type of parenting style might be referred to as ‘bossy,’ ‘high strung,’ or controlling and abusive.”

These parents may raise rebellious kids. According to a study from the University of New Hampshire, controlling parents are more likely to have delinquent children.

I wasn’t a delinquent. I didn’t grow up to be a wild adult. I’m an avid rule-follower. I’m a perfectionist who suffers from anxiety disorder and depression. I have trouble making decisions and following my instincts. My self-esteem is like Sisyphus’s boulder, and I can cut myself down to size faster than anyone. The man on the podcast, comedian and former “Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac, was also a good kid, but he had an authoritarian parent.

I admire how clear-headed Cenac was when he was 18. He had a scholarship to a school in his home state of Texas, but chose to go to North Carolina to get further away from his mother.

“College, honestly, that was escape,” Cenac said. “As a kid I always dreamed of running away and was terrified of it.”

Overbearing parents are their own worst enemy. Everything they do pushes a child further away and all they seem to hold for that child is suffering.

I can’t make appeals to parents asking them to let go of the reins. I haven’t been in their shoes. But I can tell their children, “If you love something, set it free.” In this case, that thing is you. It’s hard and it’s scary, but when you’re an adult you will be free and you get to remove yourself from this toxic situation. If you’re meant to have a relationship with your parent or parents, you will, even if that’s from afar.

Not everyone gets the parents they deserve. You aren’t worthless and you aren’t helpless. You are exactly as you should be. You are free and perfectly capable of facing life come what may.

Girl getting punished photo available from Shutterstock

Shrugging off the Legacy of the Overbearing Parent


Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review. She is also the cohost of the podcast Excuse Me, I Have Concerns where she discusses personal boundaries, personality and other psychology topics.


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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). Shrugging off the Legacy of the Overbearing Parent. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/shrugging-off-the-legacy-of-the-overbearing-parent/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.