How to Cope With Controlling Parents

Do you want to stop being manipulated by your mom and dad? These tips on how to cope with parents who are controlling and emotionally manipulative may help.

Here’s a surprising twist on living with controlling parents:

“Giving up hope is one of the healthiest, most life-affirming things you could do for yourself,” writes Dr Laura Schlessinger in Bad Childhood – Good Life: How to Blossom and Thrive in Spite of an Unhappy Childhood. “If, of course, you…accept, and don’t pout.”

Giving up hope may sound negative and depressing — but after you read my explanation and tips for coping with parents who try to control you, you may feel differently. Giving up your expectations may be the healthiest thing you ever do in life.

Controlling Parents – How Do You Cope?

Let go of your need to please your parents. We grow up seeking approval, affirmation, and even love from our parents. Part of why it’s so difficult to confront our parents is we don’t want to disappoint or anger them. Even as grown children, we want them to keep loving us – even when we feel like we hate them! A tip for coping with controlling parents – or any toxic person in your life – is to recognize your need to please them, and let go of it. Or, at least learn how to live with it.

Cut your financial ties to parents who want to control. On How to Cope With Difficult Parents, a reader asked for help with her father. He’s making her life miserable – not to mention the effect he has on her husband and child! She mentioned that her father helped her get a mortgage loan, and he holds that over them. So…instead of staying financially beholden, she might find ways to free herself and take her life back. This might involve getting a bank loan and paying her dad back – even if the money was originally a gift. It’s not a “gift” if it’s taking an emotional toll. Or, if everyone agrees that money isn’t owed (the mortgage help or special baby food was a gift, for instance), then she might get him to sign something that states she doesn’t owe him money and he has no right to lord it over her. This black-and-white evidence might help them take money out of the father-daughter relationship.

Learn to recognize emotional blackmail. This is one of the best ways to take your life back! If you have controlling parents, you may recognize that they disguise their criticism, try to make you feel guilty for past behavior, or constantly make you feel bad about your life. They don’t seem to want to let you live your life! Before confronting difficult parents, it’s important to recognize and learn to deal with emotional blackmail. Read books like the ones I featured, take a weekend workshop in assertiveness training, or talk to a counselor. Keep reminding yourself that you’re a grown adult – you’re not a child anymore, and you don’t have to succumb to emotional manipulations! A big part of this is learning to say “no” without feeling guilty.

If your parents are emotionally manipulative and controlling, read Surprising Examples of Verbal Abuse in Relationships. It may help if you learn how to recognize verbal abuse.

Separate emotion from an action plan. Emotion says, “But I don’t want to confront my parents or move to a different city – I’m scared/tired/frustrated/miserable!” An action plan says, “I want a better life, better relationships. I don’t deserve to be treated like this. To stop this from happening, I need to (insert action plan here).” To confront your controlling parents, you’ll probably have to do something you don’t want to do: quit a job you love, move to a different city, set and stick to your boundaries, talk to a family counselor, get emotionally stronger, and stand up to other family members. It’s not an easy way to take your life back, but it’s effective.

coping with controlling parentStop wishing your parents less controlling, or different. These controlling parents are yours, and if you’re still wishing they were different, you need to stop! You don’t need to give up hope for a better relationship with your parents – but you need to stop hoping they’ll change.  They’ll continue to be overbearing and difficult to take….but luckily, you’re a grown adult and you are free to distance yourself emotionally, physically, socially, and financially. You can choose to live your own life!

Are your parents toxic, and perhaps even destructive? Read Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life.

If you have any thoughts on coping with parents who try to control you, please comment below. I can’t offer advice on coping with controlling parents, but I can listen!

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  1. Laurie says:

    Hello Bob,

    It sounds like you really care about Liz, and you want to help her break free from her mom. You think that’s the best thing for her, and that will make her happy.

    What does Liz want? Is she ready to stop letting her mom control her? If she’s not ready, then you can’t force her to “see the light.” You can’t want her happiness or emotional freedom more than she wants it, and you can’t help her more than she wants to be helped.

    Have you read the book “Boundaries”, by Cloud and Townsend? I believe you need to create your own healthy boundaries, so you can role model healthy boundaries for her.

    You might also talk to a counsellor, so you can figure out how to help her without trying to rescue her. It’s important that you don’t fall into the trap of trying to save her…because the only person who can save her is herself. Or God, if you believe in Him!


  2. Bob says:

    Hi Laurie
    I have been talking to this Lady for a long while. We started dating and everything was going great.
    About her: Liz is the youngest kid ( 22 ) and the last that lives with her mom. Her Mom is divorced and from the outside looking in I can see she is very controlling.
    When her mom found out we were dating she started controlling Liz so that we couldn’t be together any more. Liz’s Mom doesn’t want me in Liz’s life as anything more than a friend ( might not even want that ). Mom acts normal when I’m or others are around but she will manipulate Liz to avoid me. It got real bad since I ask Liz to Marry me. Her mom has been giving her the guilt trip and caused Liz to hardly communicate with me. This got me worked up and I told Liz we needed more communication. It got better for 3-4 days then dropped off again. When I mentioned it to her again she decide that we needed take a break so she could think.
    So as of right now Liz needs time to think. isn’t talking to me unless I push her to talk. When I see her face to face I can see the Love in her eyes, but can tell something else is controlling her.
    I know her mom controls her because at the age of 22 she has to ask her mom to spend the night some where else. Her mom can’t survive with out money from Liz.
    I had ask her Mom if I could Marry Liz, and the very next day her mom started wanting to spend more time with her. And it keeps getting worse. I want to Talk to Liz and tell her face to face what I see is going on. I am not sure what would be the best way to do this without causing her more issues at home. Liz is a VERY nice lady and I’m afraid her mom is going to destroy her mentally if this controlling isn’t stopped. I’m not worried if we have a future together or not. My main goal is to get Liz to open her eyes and to stop letting her mom control her every move. I want Liz to be Happy no matter if it is with me or not. I Love her that much!!! I know she does a lot of things just to keep her mom Happy and to get her approval.
    How do I go about getting Liz to open her eyes to break this control? I have wrote a letter that I want to read to Liz in person, but I don’t know if It would hurt or help her.
    I know most people would walk or run away from what I am dealing with. But I really care about LIz and am willing to fight for her Happiness. No matter if we are together or not. It’s not so much about US anymore, it’s about Liz. And I want to help her. I’m very worried about Liz.
    I really need some good advice on how to help her break the grip her mom has on her.
    Thanks in advance!!

  3. haylee says:

    So the past year I have had a lot of issues. I am 22 and my father is paying all of my bills due to my husband and I seperating. I also have two small children. I moved out of state because that is what my father wanted. So I’m out here alone. And I mean alone, no family, no friends, not even my dad who only comes here 4 or 5 times a year. Needless to say I want to go back to the state I moved from.
    Since he is footing the bill for my children and I, I feel like he has a right to control a lot of what I do. However I want to move forward with my life, go to school, get a job and start becoming independent. This is a very difficult process to begin because ANY idea I throw to my dad he shoots down, weather its working at a gas station or shooting for the stars and working to become a pharmacist, and anything in between. Any aspirations I have in life that differs from his are “ignorant”, or “I sound like my mother”, or “I don’t know about you but that’s not something I’d like to do”. So for the past year and a half I feel like I’m stuck. I love my dad and there’s no question that he has helped me tremendously, however I feel like he wants me to stay in this situation.
    I very much need personal advice, serious tips to help me in my situation. Thank you, its well appreciated

  4. Kerensa says:

    How do you stop my parents controlling in my life

  5. Laurie says:

    Dear Lynn,

    It sounds like you and your mom are caught up in a pattern of relating to one another, and you’re not enjoying it. But, it is serving a purpose in your life. What is that purpose? The answer is in you. I don’t know why you’re caught up in this pattern. I don’t know what you are getting out of it. But, something keeps pulling you back into it.

    Have you talked to a counselor about how you relate to your mom? You can’t change our mom — and you can’t sit her down and talk her out of her behavior.

    The only person you can change is YOU. You have to take ownership and responsibility of your actions, and of your reactions to your mom. You need to learn and practice healthy ways of related to her, and responding to her attempts to control and manipulate you.

    It’s not about your mom being controlling…it’s about you letting yourself get caught up in the dance.

    What do you think?

    In peace and passion,

  6. Lynn Simmons says:

    Hi Laurie,

    I am an only child and my mother is very manipulative, never satisfied, always sabotage things that make me happy, and she not a very good listener even when I trying to sit her down and talk to her. Because of her accomplishments in life, she doesn’t feel that she should listen to anyone even if they make sense. She just acts confused when I try to be logical. She feels that the way she thinks, should not be altered because she wouldn’t be as successful as she is if she had been any other way.

    I feel so helpless. She will go as far as harrassing me through text messaging just to manipulate me and make me do things the way she wants it. She constantly bad mouth my fiancé behind his back and through texting. But when she sees him she’s acts sweet. And sometimes she acts like nothing ever happened.

    I don’t know what to do. No one else in my family gives me useful advice. I’m at the point of suicide because it’s been going on since I started dating my fiancé. He’s such a great guy and is going through all this hell with me. He even convinced his parents to let us stay with them. But when I moved in with them, my mom moves all the way to California to give me a guilt trip. So of course I start to miss her and she buys tickets for me and my fiancé to come and visit her. As soon as we get there, halfway through the trip she starts manipulating and controlling me again. But now it’s much worse because we have no money to get back! She bought us one way tickets, and told us that things were going to be cool and that she has found peace and just wants us all to have fun. I feel very controlled. And I can’t just call her a liar.

    I don’t know how to make things work. Is something wrong with me?

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