Dealing with an overbearing parent can feel like walking on eggshells. However, learning healthy coping strategies can help you move forward.
Family relationships offer a set of unique challenges regarding communication. Navigating and managing healthy conflict can be difficult, especially in family structures with high conflict.
Dealing with an overbearing mother or father can make you feel stuck. It might feel like you can’t do anything right. This may lead you to feel anxious and overwhelmed.
Recognizing the signs of an overbearing parent can help you take the first step in doing something about it. There are ways to cope and manage so you can heal and form healthier relationships.
Controlling or overbearing parents are often referred to as authoritarian parents. If your parent is strict, they may not let you have much autonomy or independence.
Some signs of controlling or overbearing parents include:
- making you feel shameful for expressing your opinion
- wanting to argue and fight instead of being open to problem-solving
- threatening you when you challenge them
- ignoring you
- criticizing your ideas
- blaming you for things that aren’t your fault
- expecting high or unrealistic standards of you
- giving you little privacy or autonomy
- making your decisions for you
If you have a controlling mother or father, this can lead to a variety of adverse outcomes.
- Internalizing issues. This includes emotional problems, such as a depressed mood, apathy, and psychological distress.
- Externalizing issues. This includes behavior problems, substance use, impulsive, and disruptive behaviors. Examples include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder.
Coping with overbearing parents can be challenging. Knowing where to start is difficult if you have never learned how to set healthy boundaries.
1. Use ’I statements’
When dealing with an overbearing parent, it can be hard to communicate effectively. If you are looking for a way to express your needs in a healthy way, using ‘I statements’ may be a good place to start.
I statements are a way of communicating that allows you to share your feelings without automatically putting the other person on the defensive.
For example, you might say: “I feel angry when I don’t have the freedom to spend time with my friends. Would you be open to discussing how I can spend some time with them?”
2. Set healthy boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is another way of dealing with an overbearing mother or father. This might look different depending on your age and living situation.
It may be easier to set healthy boundaries when you’re an adult than when you’re an adolescent still living in your parent’s home. However, people of all ages have a right to ask their parents for freedom and privacy.
For example, if your parents are speaking disrespectfully to you on the phone and you don’t like it, you can say something like: “I don’t like how you are shouting at me; if you continue to speak to me like that, I will hang up the phone.”
In this scenario, you are setting the expectation that shouting at you isn’t okay and telling your parent what will happen if they don’t respect your boundary.
Personal boundaries are best when they are clear and direct, leaving little room for misinterpretation.
3. Limit what you share
If your mom or dad has a history of criticizing or berating you for your choices, one method of coping may be limiting what you share with them.
Being cautious about what you share is another form of boundary setting. If you find that your parents become judgmental when you share your life choices with them, choosing carefully what you share with them may offer you some relief.
They don’t always need to know the intimate details of your life if it causes you distress when you try to speak with them.
A 2016 article suggests weighing the risk and benefits of sharing information before disclosing it to a family member. You may choose not to share information if you will be embarrassed, ridiculed, or shamed for it.
4. Recognize what’s your responsibility and what’s not
With controlling parents, it can be tempting to feel responsible for their emotions. It’s healthy to accept your role in communication while also accepting that you aren’t accountable for other people’s feelings.
When you let go of that responsibility, it can feel like a huge weight is lifted.
Accepting that some people may disapprove of your choices no matter what you do — including your parents — can allow you to have a different perspective on the situation.
5. Family therapy
Family therapy may be a good option to help you manage a difficult family situation. In family therapy, a licensed mental health professional can help you recognize patterns in your family that lead to conflict.
Once there is a good understanding of patterns, a family therapist can help everyone learn strategies for more effective communication. A family therapist can help everyone feel like their voice is being heard and open up the door for healthier relationships with each other.
You can use Healthline’s FindCare tool to find a family therapist near you. Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can also help you find support.
Overbearing parents may have good intentions but can leave you feeling shameful and overwhelmed. By working on setting healthy boundaries and improving communication skills, you can cope more effectively when interacting with your parents.
Sometimes, enlisting the help of family therapy may be a good idea. If the family is willing to work, this can be a good way to learn new skills that help you with conflict and communication.
You aren’t alone if you are dealing with a controlling parent. For more information and support, consider visiting:
- My Horrid Parent, a website that aims to help people cope with difficult parental relationships
- Controlling Parents, a list of resources about unhealthy parental dynamics
You may also consider the book “If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World” by Dan Neuharth.