If you had controlling parents…how do you avoid becoming one?

I have talked quite a bit on this blog about my insecurities and anxieties about my own capacity as a mother.  Midway through my 40th year now, I spent about a year and a half examining the factors that have created my anxieties and feelings of inadequacy in mothering.  I’m not sure how much it has helped.  Sometimes I fall into the same patterns of behaving.  But I keep searching for solutions.

I, like I suspect many people who use search terms “gaslighting”, “mean mothers”, “attachment disorders and anxiety” and find my blog, have had a traumatic childhood with a very controlling family dynamic.

For my part, I simply rebelled.  Nobody valued my input and they sought to squelch my expressions.  In response, I simply got louder and angrier than anyone else.  My family controlled every aspect of who I was, from my bookish nature, to my lack of style in my clothes and hair, to the choices of boyfriends and the choice of universities I wanted to attend.  And since nothing I did was good enough, I really didn’t try that hard to conform.  Yet, when someone was hurting, I came to their rescue, and tried to validate their feelings and sort out their messes they created, even long after I left home.

I’ve been trying to sort out my past for only one reason.  It affects my current relationships with my daughters and my husband (and, well, with friends sometimes).  I know…it sounds so stupid, but I really don’t know what healthy relating during conflict and healthy parenting looks like in action.  I’ve been trying to find out for the past 9 years or so.  When you don’t know what healthy parenting looks like because it wasn’t modeled for you, and you see the crappy job OTHER parents are doing around you, how on earth do you know what it looks like?  Seems like no one I know has this thing down.

I see a lot of parents who appear very controlling around here.  Some of them know they have tendencies toward being controlling.  They laugh and crack jokes about how they are OCD and need everything in it’s place, or too anxious/high-strung, or too perfectionist, and it trickles down to their children and they seem to acknowledge it isn’t healthy, but they don’t know what to do about it.  Some of them even go so far as to quip how they are setting up funds for not for college, but therapy sessions for their kids when they are older.  The more frightening ones are the ones who don’t think twice about their controlling behaviors and then lament why their kids don’t listen to them anymore.

For me, I tend to be way more laid back than my contemporaries…but I have my own control issues too that comes up in ways pertaining to their sensitivities that trigger my own.

I spent a lot of time and money on books trying to figure out how to be a better parent than my own were to me and my siblings.  I have a small library of my own in my quest to be a good, healthy person and parent.    I thought I had a lot of understanding of the problems…yet I still lack some tools.  Heck…you should see how many times I screw up.

I’m still anxious, still more reactionary when under stress than I’d like to be.  I have come to realize, I’m trying to control the uncontrollable nature of children and child-rearing, particularly MY children, who are anxious, independent thinkers (yes, already), and probably as stubborn as I am.   It seems to me that some kids, particularly the sensitive, observant ones, seem to instinctively know their parents weaknesses and go right for them.  Or so it feels.  I know it’s just coincidental.  Kids just do what they do, and we react based on long ago scripts embedded into us from our own childhood.

As a sensitive person who came out of an abusive, controlling family, I have a hyperawareness…a hypervigilant nature…and a tendency towards a perfectionist nature – but not in outward trappings (like clothing, appearance, or my home), but in getting this parenting thing ‘right’.  And the more I want it to be right, the more I seem to be challenged in my desires.

It probably seems obvious to many of you parents out there, what healthy parenting looks like.  I can honestly say, I really don’t know.  I had a basic framework and it went like this:  if it’s anything my mother or my three sisters (who are all very controlling in their own ways) would do, then I do the opposite (after researching, of course).   I read all sorts of parenting books but I reject whole methods and programs and cherry-pick what I like about them, and you know why?  Because I hate being controlled and following someone else’s plan feels like a form of control to me.

That’s not exactly a great thing to do.

Because even though we try not to be controlling, Mr. RSG and I are not exactly immune to it either, at least in some subtle ways and we do need some help.

While I don’t think my husband and I are nearly as controlling as our parents were, we DO try to exert some control in potentially damaging ways.  Even something as relatively simple (or should be anyway) as getting my almost 6 and 7.5 year old to eat, frequently ends up in frustrations and tears. Eating healthy is becoming a slight battle with them because nearly every meal is an endless drama-laced scene of why they  can’t eat what I make.   For my 6 year old, this is majorly annoying.  For my 7.5 year old, this is disastrous, because she disintegrates into irritability and meltdowns from being hypoglycemic, and her banshee-like shrieks cut right through me.

And we don’t even force my kids to eat liver, like my mother used to do with me and my siblings.  We try for more kid friendly-fare and even sometimes fun things like smoothies which are a big hit one week, and then a dud the next.  Ask me how much food gets rejected around here?  I would love to send my kids to a country where they have little food and have them understand first hand how good they have it here (is that horrible to say?).

We try to be encouraging but when requests are ignored, we find ourselves growing frustrated.  Just eat child, PLEASE! and give a million reasons why they’ll feel better and it’s good for them to eat.

I know it’s important to allow free expression of feelings.  However, I have experienced extremely painful discomfort with allowing the free expression of ALL emotions on the spectrum, especially with the loud shrieking meltdowns of my middle child.  They just cut to the marrow with me.  I don’t know why that is.  The sound of her voice is kind that’s like nails on a blackboard with me.  The other two daughters voices are more lower, so they never seem to get as loud and screechy.

My youngest (6) has some deep fears of the dark and fear of nightmares which seem totally over the top at times and won’t go into the bathroom to get water or the bedroom to get her pajamas by herself or go to bed at night.  Of course, to her, they make perfect sense.  But after a while, it gets really old to be accommodating her when it just seems like she’s being stubborn about it.

It’s hard to meet them where they are at, especially when your sensitivities to their responses trigger something inside you that makes your skin crawl and you want to just react badly for no really good reason except your tired of the same old issues never getting any better.  I still haven’t figured out why certain reactions make me more apt to react negatively than others.  They just do.

I struggle to this day with my own reactions to things.  I don’t know if I’m ever going to get it right.  But still, I keep trying…even despite how hopeless it seems sometimes.

I checked out a book from the library what I think is a tremendous resource for me and maybe for other adult children of controlling parents.  The book I am referring to is called If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.

Now, I can honestly I thought I did make peace with my past, long ago.  And I might have continued to believe that,  if I never had kids.  Then EVERYTHING became stirred up again as I have been challenged on numerous fronts by my highly sensitive, spirited children.  There have been times when I have been too reactive sometimes.  Other times, I’m too laid back, or too protective (with some good reason, having a child with a social anxiety disorder would bring out the protective mama-bear instinct in any sensitive, highly attuned parent).

With a parent like me, no wonder my kids have issues.

I have read numerous books about toxic parenting, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder that arises out of abusive/neglectful parenting.  I’ve been hard pressed to put it all together, not just to accept my feelings as valid, or to ‘heal my inner child’, but to figure out how to meet my kids needs’ when I’m feeling out of control.  The few months of therapy didn’t really help much.  Mr. RSG got laid off from work, so I had to stop going.

According to Neuharth, there is a three part process of recovering from a controlling family:  Naming the Problem, Understanding the Problem, and Solving the Problem.

It’s sometimes hard to know you were in a controlling family without seeing how healthy parenting looks compared to controlling parenting, though I’ve been pretty certain about mine since before I left it.  However, not all controlling families are the same.  They take a few different forms and the complex nature of the control makes it very difficult to disentangle yourself from the mess.  Many adults in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond are still struggling with current issues that can be traced to controlling families.

Neuharth’s book is a book full of clear tables and descriptions and real-life examples to help name and understand the problem.   He has delineated 8 styles  of controlling parenting and most controlling parents fall into one or more categories (I give a very brief explanation of them).

  1. Smothering – infantilizing their children
  2. Depriving – withholding love and protection
  3. Perfectionist – fixating on appearances, order, power, prestige
  4. Cultlike -not just religious cults, but even military families and those with parents with high profiles in corporations
  5. Chaotic – mercurial moods; acceptance and love one day, rejection the next
  6. Using – self-centered, identifying their children’s successes as proof of the parents’ success, belittling their children
  7. Abusing – verbal/emotional or physical/sexual abuse
  8. Childlike – incapable, needy parents who can’t protect their children from abusive partners, often needing their children to take care of them.

What does healthy parenting look like?  The book contains this marvelous little table healthy parenting vs. overcontrolling parenting.

So how does parental overcontrol work?

Parental overcontrol is a potent, pervasive process akin to brainwashing.  Controlling family brainwashing has three components:

  1. Twelve kinds of unhealthy control – The Dirty Dozen
  2. Distortions of responsibility through “Truth Abuse”
  3. Manipulations similar to the thought-reform techniques used by destructive cults.

I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to find an online version of his table about the Dirty Dozen, which contains the method, examples and potential consequences (low self esteem, anxiety, depression among them).  For the sake of not infringing (too much) on copyright, I’ll just give you the methods listed – you’ll have to get the book to find out the examples and potential consequences of each.

The “Dirty Dozen” Methods of Unhealthy Parental Control

  1. Food control
  2. Body control
  3. Boundary control
  4. Social control
  5. Decision control
  6. Speech control
  7. Emotion control
  8. Thought control
  9. Bullying
  10. Depriving
  11. Confusing
  12. Manipulating

I have experienced all these forms of unhealthy parental control…and even when my parents weren’t around, my older and younger sisters took over the tasks of controlling behaviors, even years after I left home, via phone calls and emails.

Neuharth gives 50 reasons why people control in unhealthy ways that fall into these categories – yeah, you’ll have to get the book to see what the fifty reasons are, there was not a great way to summarize them here.

  1. Cognitive Reasons
  2. Intergenerational Reasons
  3. Emotional Reasons
  4. Power/Gratification Reasons
  5. Unconscious/Existential Reasons
  6. Self-Esteem Reasons
  7. Interpersonal Reasons
  8. Circumstantial/societal Reasons

Sadly, even when are parents are no longer around, we internalize the messages and carry around the controlling voices in our heads, oftentimes sabotaging the best of our intentions and crippling our very capacities to grow and change and find freedom to live in ways that are healthy and appropriate for us and, in addition, let others (our spouses, our coworkers, our siblings, our children, our friends, our neighbors) live in ways that are healthy and appropriate for them.  Truly we can not live and let live while we are busy trying to control others.

And of course, Neuharth’s book doesn’t just set out to name the problem and understand the problem, but to solve the problem as well.

From the first chapter, we find two truths:

  • You aren’t responsible for what your parents did to you as a child, they are.
  • You are responsible for what you do with your life now, your parents aren’t.

Part Three of his book details the three step process of solving the problem:

  1. Emotionally leaving home
  2. Bringing balance with your relationship with your parents
  3. Redefining your life

I haven’t gotten through the book yet, but I am really interested in working through some of the exercises of part three.  From the controlling parents website, I really want to believe this  book is a road map out of the chaos and confusion of my inner life.  I’d like to believe the ‘promise’ of this book:

This book will enable you to quiet your “inner critics,” bring more balance to your moods and relationships, increase your optimism and assertiveness, and achieve greater autonomy. It offers a variety of ways to deal with stressful family holidays, parents who still control, and parental aging and mortality. It will help you to make peace with your past and break the cycle of control so you can avoid overcontrolling your own children and other loved ones.

I struggle, almost daily with my moods and relationships, and though my moodiness does have some benefits in the area of creativity (Dr. Kay Jamison does make a convincing argument that moodiness in individuals is often good for creativity, Anthony Storr makes a convincing argument that crappy childhoods do make for better writers and artists),  I do act in ways that sometimes are controlling.  Even though I might not be directly controlling others…my own moodiness and out-of-perspective reactions do serve as a form of indirect control on others.  Just ask my husband.  I’m sure he feels my moods affect our family in ways that feel like he’s being taken hostage by my (and come to think of it, my daughters’) moods.


I wrote the above earlier today, and now things are just awful (it’s bedtime).

For an example of my daughters’ moods, I spent one-on-one time with my 7.5 year old today.  We went out to dinner and then to the bookstore.  I sat and read her a book.  Then she sat on my lap and I held her and we talked.  It was just her and I for 2 hours.  Now it’s time for bed, and my oldest wants to read a book to me.  My 7.5 year old middle child is coming completely unglued (a twenty minute meltdown) because she wants me to read more to her before bedtime.   Mr.  RSG offered to read, and it’s not helping.

Simultaneously, 6 year old is screaming about not getting the book SHE wants to read and read by mommy.

I don’t understand it.  Sometimes when we try to do right by them, nothing we do works.

I think I need to borrow Calvin’s duplicator and make more of me.


So…if I’m wondering, dear readers,

Did you have controlling parents?

Do you struggle with controlling others (your spouse, your children, other loved ones, or others outside your family)?

Have you struggled with moods as a result of controlling parents?

What have you done to break the cycle of control in your own life?

This entry was posted in abuse, anxiety, booklists, emotion coaching, highly sensitive child, highly sensitive mom, loss of parental love, meltdowns, mood, personal growth, social anxiety, trauma. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to If you had controlling parents…how do you avoid becoming one?

  1. T says:

    Great piece. Lots to chew on.

  2. Yes, there’s lots of stuff for me to chew on here too. Finding that my library had this book is a God-send.


  3. Rick says:

    Both my parents had significant emotional issues due to broken relationships with their own parents, and both had some success and some failure in overcoming them to help raise me.

    I look at my childhood as the earth I was planted in. Of course it shaped me, and of course I had no control over it. At what point did I become an adult, completely responsible for his own behavior? 18, apparently. Was some magic switch thrown? No.

    I’ve found it impossible to speak to Mom about childhood stuff, because she takes it all as a search for blame. I’m in my 40s; my life is my own. I’d like to understand why things were the way they were, in my childhood, but I am left only with intelligent guesses. Dad died long ago, and I’d sure like to hear his side of things — but hell, he may not have known, fully, either.

    My favorite book for overcoming these lingering issues is Feeling Good by David Burns, a self-help guide through the basics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Analyzing and understanding the past hasn’t helped me overcome it. CBT, for me, is effective, because it’s about changing how I think, not figuring out how I got damaged. 🙂

    • raisingsmartgirls says:

      “CBT, for me, is effective, because it’s about changing how I think, not figuring out how I got damaged. ”

      That’s a better way to look at it.

      I just want to know why I’m so angry all the time. The meltdowns and stresses of my sensitive kids affect me to a large degree…and to a lesser degree, my husband.

      I feel that it’s largely my fault for them having sensitivities. I don’t have great coping mechanisms. My husband, ‘mellows out’ using alcohol. For the most part, that’s fine. Until it’s not and he over-does it. Then the alcohol is the enemy…and my husband who should know better becomes the enemy.

      Alcohol was the excuse my mother gave divorced my real father (and yes, he did have a real problem with that…and my stepmother too). And my step-father abused alcohol and my mother nearly divorced him too half a dozen times.

      I’d say, if I wasn’t falling into the same patterns of behaving after my husband overdoes it…how I got damaged as a kid wouldn’t matter. I’m still being damaged…and this time, causing damage too.

      Rick…I might privately email you more…I think you would know where I’m struggling.

      Oh, and I’m going back to my therapist tonight…things got mighty ugly three nights ago.

      • raisingsmartgirls says:

        oh, and I have that book Feeling Good but haven’t read it yet.

        I lost it…somewhere in my house…

  4. Beth says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I stumbled across your blog tonight as I was googling search terms like “gifted” “sensory issues” and “meltdowns.” Today was a particularly difficult day with my 5 year old son, who is gifted and has sensory issues. He had a full-scale tantrum, yelling at his teacher, hurting a fellow student, threatening the secretary, stomping his feet, refusing to leave, etc. etc. Simultaneously, my 3.5 year od daughter is in an incredibly stubborn stage right now, and her whiney voice is like a power drill in my brain. I feel like I have no control in my life because my children are a rarely cooperative, and I am always at a loss trying to figure out how to remedy the situation. Add my perfectionist, controlling tendences, my desire to be impressive in all, and it equals drained, unhappy exhaustion. Everyone tells you about the amazing love you will feel for your children, but no one mentions the powerless rage. I think you are doing the best for your kids that you can, and being aware of your shortfalls as a parent is half the battle. It’s when a parent isn’t even trying to be a better parent that there are major problems.

    • raisingsmartgirls says:

      You know Beth, I feel for you…but in a way, you actually might have more ‘hope’ for a ‘cure’, or at least social support, since your child’s school sees his behavior. At least…they might be able to do something at school (theoretically anyway). The squeaky wheels do tend to get the grease in the school system. Those quiet ones who suffer and don’t speak up don’t get much help.

      My daughters’ sensitivities and meltdowns only happen at home. Because they have social anxieties/shyness, they don’t let down their guard in front of outsiders so I don’t get social support because no one sees it. In fact, they can’t believe I have any problems with them at home, because they have perfect behavior at school. I keep thinking of contacting the social worker…but I don’t know what to say.

      It’s like my childhood home life all over again…no one outside the family has any clue how much we are suffering.

      I hope to find some help tonight when I talk to my therapist. I hadn’t seen her in quite some time…but it did seem to help in some ways when I went.

  5. T says:

    Beth: “…being aware of your shortfalls as a parent is half the battle. It’s when a parent isn’t even trying to be a better parent that there are major problems.”

    That really gets me to thinking.

  6. Beth says:

    Hmm. . . is it better to have troubling behaviour at home where no one can see it, or in a public setting? I haven’t really thought of this question until your reply. My son is generally calmer at home, and can be delightful when in a one-on-one situation. I’m sure many acquaintances, coaches, teachers, etc. would be astonished to observe him behaving so calmly at home (many people think he has ADHD; all you have to do is watch him play quietly or read for 2+ hours during his daily quiet time to see this is not the case). Every extra-curricular is difficult for him, and I’m constanly “bracing” myself for the leader’s report on how things went at the end. I feel embarassed and judged as a horrible parent by most, and it’s painful to see that many people genuinely don’t want my kid around because things just go easier when he isn’t there.

    On the other hand, it’s obvious to most that he needs accomodations. I don’t have to spend too much time advocating for his needs or making my case that he needs extra support, because people see that. I also don’t feel as alone as I might if people didn’t know about how difficult he is. Good friends and relatives inquire as to how he’s doing, and I get a lot of emotional support and kudos from those that care and love both of us.

    You’ve got me thinking . . .

  7. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Beth –

    That’s really great to hear. I’m glad that your son is getting accommodations. My daughter’s school was terrific about getting her the help she needed for her selective mutism…but only needed accomodations for her first year there. After that, when she became fully speaking, she didn’t need any more social support.

    The more I think and observer her, the more problems are related to low blood sugar. I am pretty sure she’s a reactive hypoglycemic. If she doesn’t get enough to eat…she gets ‘stuck’ in misery. The simple ‘solution’ is to feed her more frequently…and I do on weekends.

    The problem is I can’t control what she eats at school. She often claims she has not enough time to finish her meal…though I think a lot of it has to do with her chattiness.

  8. Spacemom says:

    Yes: My parents are controlling
    No: I’ve barely got control over my own life!
    Yes: I try to please everybody first

    Basically, I broke out of the routine of controlling because, my crazy, lovely, gifted 8.5 year old took it away from me. She has mild SID, so…as a baby she screamed if you held her, she screamed if you put her down, she screamed because she was hungry, she screamed because you were putting something in her mouth because she was hungry, she screamed when she was grumpy, she screamed in her sleep…. I think you get the picture. I had to let go. I had no choice. I hated hated hated being a mother until I a) was diagnosed with post partum depression and b) let go that I could stop the screaming.
    Nothing I did stopped the screaming. I had to simply be there for her. I still remember a day when something happened when she was 4 and I had to pull her out of the bathtub and I wrapped a towel around her and snuggled her until she passed out from screaming. I think it was about an hour. .

    Now I realize I have let go of alot. I call us a parachute parenting. That is, I give the kids a parachute for a project to help them if they falter, and toss them out the plane!

  9. raisingsmartgirls says:

    “I broke out of the routine of controlling because, my crazy, lovely, gifted 8.5 year old took it away from me.”

    I’ve got tears in my eyes because of this. I have often said that my children (well, in particularly my middle child) have made me do things differently because they seemed to be wired very differently than other children their age.

    I think it takes great strength of mind and spirit to withstand intense/gifted kids gracefully. I still find that challenging, when my children voice their frustrations. I am finding it a little easier to do so, now that I’m taking supplements (5-HTP which is a precursor to serotonin, iron and b-complex).

    I have hypothyroidism (caused from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), so I’m a bit challenged in the energy department from the get-go. It’s amazing how much I struggled with my moods in dealing with my ‘crazy, lovely, gifted children’ and how I seem to feel better able to cope with their expressions of frustration.

  10. PAUL C says:

    Wow, we all travel along in life thinking we control which way life goes but our history guides us with our up bringings, sense of failure installed into us, the “letting everyone down” by not towing the line…………….. I “failed” recently and went to see a counciller who had no answers just guided me to bring the answers out from within…………… a truely amazing experiance. Life is a train guided by the rails (my rails were my parents) who unbeknown to me had been steering me emotionally AND I DIDNT HAVE THE ABILITIES TO SEE OR DEAL WITH IT. Councilling gave me tools but now ive hit a brick wall again and they seemed to have tried every trick in the book to place a wedge between my wife and i ever since we got married and she took “their little boy away from them. Latest twist is i have a child from a previous relationship, the relationship finished and i then found out she was pregnant, i had nothing and until today still had nothing to do with her as my exs partner adopted her so ive never had an emotional attachment. Mum and Dad were contacted recently by my now 15 yr old daughter and even though they knew my wishes that no contact was to be made they went to see her and it now appears they will continue with the visits causing loads of emotional issues with my wife and i, the controlling which i thought had gone has found a new lease of life and its all starting again !!!! What do i do ??

  11. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Let me say that I am not a doctor, nor a therapist and I don’t play one on TV.

    You may want to get a copy of the book to find out how to set boundaries with your relationships.

    In order not to be entrapped in drama, you need to set clear boundaries, with both your parents and if need be, your wife. If your daughter is out of contact with you, then it’s her mother’s decision to make boundaries with her daughter’s involvement with her grandparents.

    The way I see it, they are her grandparents, and grandparents sometimes have quite a different relationship to their grandchildren than they do their own children. Is it a problem for YOU that your parents want continued contact with your daughter? You may not like it, but it seems to me that it was your 15 year old daughter’s CHOICE to contact her biological grandparents. Don’t HER feelings mean something?

    Sure, they may fill her head with lies…but, while that’s not very nice…there’s not much you can or should do about it. If someday, your daughter wants to find out the truth from YOU, that’s her choice too. You’ve had no contact with your daughter for 15 years? Maybe she’s already formed an opinion of you for not being in her life. Even though she had an adoptive father, she lost you, her REAL father. That fact may cause her some pain even if you don’t think so. It’s a possibility. Kids are resilient, yet, it’s still hard not to feel rejected, even if the parent didn’t do it on purpose.

    If you don’t have a relationship with your daughter, is there any reason now not to have a relationship with your daughter? You never know, you might enjoy getting to know her. She probably would appreciate getting to know you.

    What exactly is your biggest fear here? I can’t tell from your post. But most defensive, restrictive actions from adult children of controlling parents are done out of fear rather than logic. How does the relationship of the 15 year old to the grandparents affect you/your wife? I don’t really understand why you are worried, unless there is something else you haven’t said. Every child with an absent parent always wonders in their deepest parts of their heart, “didn’t my parent love me enough to get to want me or even get to know me?” I always wondered why my dad didn’t fight harder to keep me in his life. Turns out, he did try, REALLY hard, but my mother was no match for him. At all. She had the power to keep the truth away for 20 years. Fortunately my dad and I have a really nice relationship now.

    As far as stress with the wife, let me try to understand.

    Your parents wouldn’t let you individuate (ie, grow up to be a MAN) and your wife had or has to listen to their complaints? Okay. Give your parents clear boundaries that they need to stop with the guilt-tripping insults or you will minimize contact with them. When they start behaving, you can resume contact. Keep doing this as long as necessary until they get it right.

    If you are adding to the drama by talking with your wife about things that can hurt her relationship with you…then don’t share those things. Journal them if you need to get them out. For instance, some complaints parents make about the daughter or son-in-law out when they aren’t around are best left un-repeated. If parents make the comments in front of the daughter-in-law, YOUR best bet is to be your wife’s champion and tell your parents to knock it off or you won’t come back for a visit for a LONG time.

    If your wife is simply bringing up things about your parents and trying to make you feel bad, then you need to set boundaries with her. You need to tell her (and your parents) you won’t be put in the middle, but you will be protecting her from further insults.

    I hope this helps. It works. I’ve been there. I’ve set pretty clear boundaries with my family members. They don’t mess with me anymore. My problem lies in with helping my children individuate from me and not control them.

    The downside? This may lead to bad feelings from your parents/family/wife, guilty feelings/disloyalty on your part, retaliation by your parents/wife.

    The upside? It can protect you (and your wife) from further parental control, give you a breather to gain perspective, grant you empowerment to stand up to everybody without emotional issues.

    It’s not your responsibility to care for anyone’s feelings except your own. You may take other’s feelings into account, but ultimately you need to act in ways that do not undermine your own feelings.

  12. helen says:

    i think you are lucky to have children and a husband and go on a bit about your problems in this respect. i thinkthere are people who are much more sensitive than you who have not got that far and because they are so sensitive they are almost imprisoned by insecurities

  13. raisingsmartgirls says:


    Thanks for stopping by.

    Sadly, I KNOW there are people much more sensitive than I am who are almost imprisoned by insecurities.

    The last day I spent at home (I was 24 at the time) was with my mother pushing me up against the wall with her hand at my neck. When I reached the wall, she held up her other hand to strike me. I stared her down and I said, “go ahead and hit me, I want you to”. She dropped her hand and told me to pack my things and get out before she came home from work or all my things would be out on the lawn. I didn’t stick around to see if she’d do that.

    I hope, perhaps by talking about dialoguing on my blog about my failures and successes, maybe someone out there might glean something for themselves something of value that might point them towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

    For more severe traumatic experiences one might battle, I might point my readers to Judith Hermann’s Trauma and Recovery. I posted about it here:


    Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1:

    “To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and with the capacity for evil in human nature. To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events. When the events are natural disasters or “acts of God,” those who bear witness sympathize readily with the victim. But when the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict.

    It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of the pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering. . . .

    In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.

    The perpetrator’s arguments prove irresistible when the bystander faces them in isolation. Without a supportive social environment, the bystander usually succumbs to the temptation to look the other way.”

    I know exactly what Hermann is talking about. I’ve spent a long time in ‘recovery’, with not just my husband, but dear friends, and near-strangers. If it didn’t happen to me, I would not believe what unspeakable acts a parent is capable of doing to a child.

  14. KalleyC says:

    Thank you for writing this post. A few weeks ago a stranger came up to me and started to talk to me about Unconditional Parenting. I didn’t know him but he shared the title of an amazing book. Like you, I’m still trying to come to terms with my parents who was very controlling. Was not allowed to do anything without their permission; even while in college. Depressing.

    I’ve been searching for a way to break out of the same hold my parents had on me and try to do something with my daughter. Actually, my latest post was about that.

    But to answer your questions:

    • yes, I did have controlling parents

    •. I do struggle with tendencies to control my spouse and child. Not often, but sometimes it’s ugly head rears through.

    • I’ve been trying to find out ways to become a better parent so that my daughter can come to me and talk without fear.

    • Sometimes my mood does get sour when things aren’t going my way, but that’s only because I’m trying to put my will on others. I know it doesn’t work that way, but without self checking, I end up doing what I grew up with. Which are methods of control that I never liked done to me.

  15. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Kalley –

    Hi and thank you for sharing with us.

    I read some of your blog and I really love the way you think/write. I am going to have to comment on some of your posts.

    Secondly, I forgot about that book. I have heard about it a long time ago, but I forgot about it. I’ll see if my library has it.

    I think that’s wonderful that some stranger just came up to you to let you know about the book. I think that was no accidental meeting. How wonderful. I wish there were more people like that in the world, that shares good resources like that.

    It’s a very good thing that you are wanting to break out of the cycle. I know it can be tough sometimes, but I know it’s so worth it.

    Mindfulness practice are really helpful too. Even though it has its origins in Buddhism, mindfulness isn’t a religion, so it doesn’t interfere with whatever you already believe, but helps a lot with becoming aware of our behaviors/feelings without judging ourselves for having them. It helps to low down response time between negative feelings that are triggered and our responses.

    “Psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn has simply defined mindfulness in this way:

    “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” ”

    For some free reading on mindfulness, you can read it here


    Best Wishes to you in your journey.

  16. alxbal says:

    Thanks you for this post. This is an issue I struggle with everyday. How to help my children who are both highly sensitive while continuously to develop more self-aware is a challenge… I would like to re-post this post on my blog, is that ok with you?

  17. raisingsmartgirls says:

    You are welcome.

    Can I edit it first? I know I have some typos. I’ll let you know when you can re-post it.



  18. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Alxbal –

    I think it’s edited enough for re-posting.

    So, if you’d like to do so, you can re-post it. All I just ask is that you put a link to my blog in your post and credit the post as coming from Casey @ Raising Smart Girls, I’d be happy to let you re-post it on your blog.

    Let me know if you have trouble with the Calvin and Hobbes image copying over. I might have to give you the html code for that.

    Thanks and best wishes on your parenting journey,


  19. Rebecca says:

    I can really relate to much of what you are saying. I am highly sensitive. I have 2 daughters. Ages 10 (almost 11) and 7. My 10 year old is gifted and highly sensitive. I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and have a lot of issues with my parents and how I was raised. I often feel like I am not doing a good enough job as a parent. I stay at home and believe that giving my kids as much attention as I can is worthwhile. I have control issues as well in that I don’t want to be controlled. My mom mostly used depriving, emotional abuse and guilt(that one wasn’t mentioned). I try my best not to be controlling. I used to be much more of a perfectionist than I am today – thankfully I have learned to ease up on myself, but still have a ways to go. I have a lot of anxiety and struggle with depression. My older daughter has had lots of issues that are difficult to deal with. She is introverted. She has had trouble in the past with going to the doctor and dentist. She doesn’t want to talk to strangers and I don’t push her to. My younger one, talks a lot, but mostly at home. Her teacher said she doesn’t talk much at school. She will talk a lot with people she knows. I think she might be gifted too, but differently than her sister and she never has had issues with the doctor or dentist. It takes her less time to warm up to friendly strangers. (She, like yours, does not want to go upstairs to her room or bathroom by herself.) The older one, well, people aren’t usually that patient. Okay, so now my 10 year old is really acting in a way that is triggering me. At every meal, she is criticizing her sister. She’s eating too loudly or not the right way. She stares at her sister, waiting for her to do something wrong, fixating on it. It is literally driving me crazy, because she is being controlling and critical, which I hate. I’ve tried different ways of handling it, but I don’t know what to do anymore. She doesn’t like being criticized, so when I tell her to stop or try to talk to her to figure out why she is doing it, she just gets more upset. I just started seeing a therapist and she said to start a chart and set boundaries. I don’t think that’s going to work with her. It seems that the more controlling I am with her, the more controlling she becomes and I really am kind of laid back when it comes to parenting, but I can’t have one child hurting the other. Luckily, the younger one doesn’t seem to be that upset by it, but of course, it’s got to be effecting her to some degree. Eating their food is not a control thing with us, although the 10 year old is voicing her opinion in a nasty way if she doesn’t like what she’s given and I try really hard to make things everyone likes. 10 year old is a vegetarian and we eat mostly vegetarian, but not always. She’s been a vegetarian for about 3 years now. Any advice or books you can suggest? I have the highly sensitive book for kids and adults, but can’t seem to find them right now, we moved not too long ago. I’ve read parenting books, but got kinda fed up with them awhile back. I’ve been more focused on self help books for myself lately. E-mail me if you have a chance.

  20. Rebecca says:

    I often think of this when I think of control. I don’t think this is the exact quote, but it goes something like this:

    You can’t control other people. You can only control yourself.

  21. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Rebecca –

    Yes, I will email you…I’m on the way out the door right now with the family (two of the girls are yelling in the background right now), but I most definitely will be back. There’s lots of great things to talk about…

    Hang in there, I’ll be back later tonight and I’ll reply here and email you too.

  22. Kathy says:

    HI; just found your site—hits home on so many levels!! I have a highly sensitive 4 yr old; just diagnosed w/tic disorders…probly ADHD and OCD. And believe it or not; both parents were super controlling–I am 39, and as of 13 yrs ago…while I was out of college and on my own–my brother dated a sociopath, she made up this huge lie along w/my brother-and my parents believed both of them over me. I seriously am going to visit a counselor in the next week; b/c trying to figure out why parents believe a stranger over a the me(the only sibling that contact’s them on a regular basis or vists them- middle child that shows remorse, love)…it’s hard to swallow or understand. I also, am very controlling w/relationships and more lenient w/child..but, must say, the issues now w/him do send me over the edge. I thank u for your post; will read more and look forward to finding that book. I can understand forgiveness to parents in rearing us…problem is, i can’t understand behavior in adult age 30+ when they abandon and don’t believe their own kid over a stranger. Or maybe it was believing my brother(the favorite child) vs. me…hard to tell? Sadly, they basically kicked me out of the family for over a year due to this, like they were waiting on me to crawl back to apologize. Funny in a way; 13 yrs later my now sister-in law’s sadistic lies has destroyed the whole family and every relationship…and I say that luckily, in that sometimes u r glad they have to face the music. It is sad that this ended that way..but, truth hurts right! And, parents r still in denial @ her and my brother..so, I guess at almost 40 yrs..some parents never see the ‘truth’ only what they want to see?!

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