Jul 28, 2015


If You Had Controlling Parents, by Dan Neuharth

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Every weekend, we bring you Book Pages, and share pages from favorite books on our bookshelves.  Below is a great quiz to find out if you grew up with controlling parents…

How do you know if you grew up controlled?  Many adults raised with unhealthy control have only a vague sense of it.  Others remember excess control but can’t explain how it worked.  Without something tangible to point to, many who grow up in controlling families come to believe unhealthy control to be normal.

Said a forty-six-year-old designer, “I don’t know how to explain it, but my mother had this powerful presence and control.  To this day I don’t understand how she held so much influence over me or how I took on so many of her values despite my best efforts not to.”

Overcontrol takes many forms. The most obvious is authoritarianism, but unhealthy control also occurs in a wide variety of families that are anything but strict.  The common factor is:

Controlling families are organized to please, protect, and serve one or both parents, not to foster optimal growth or self-expression among family members.

This book is for you if you or someone you care about came from a family that could be described as one or more of the following:

  • Perfectionistic
  • Overprotective
  • Dictatorial
  • Confusing
  • Strict
  • Belittling
  • Authoritarian
  • Manipulative
  • Harsh
  • Smothering
  • Reserved
  • Overbearing
  • Unyielding
  • Tense
  • Irritable
  • Stifling
  • Unemotional
  • Pushy

Overcontrol can just as easily exist in a “model” family as in a family having a climate of deception and chaos.  Too much control thrives when family members cling to a myth that everything is perfect when it’s not. Excessive control can exist when a parent demands too much adulation or insists on iron-clad dos and don’ts.  The parent who is too aloof exerts control through deprivation.  The parent who is an emotional loose cannon dominates through unpredictability.  Over control is fostered by parents who emotionally smother to ther family members, bully with verbal abuse or physical or sexual violence, or who are too self-absorbed to see their children’s needs.

This test will help you measure the prevalence of control in your childhood and identify whether you may be facing adult-life problems because of it.  Check all that apply:

GROWING UP, did you often feel…

  • Forbidden to question or disagree with a parent?
  • Pressured by excessive expectations or unattainable standards?
  • Tense when one or both of your parents were around?
  • Confused by parental mixed messages or unclear rules?
  • Criticized more than you were encouraged or praised?
  • Afraid to express anger, fear, or sadness around a parent?
  • Intimated or belittled by a parent?
  • Manipulated into doing things you didn’t want to?
  • Sad, anxious, hurt, deprived, or angry?
  • That physical and emotional affection were scarce in your family?
  • That pleasing your parents was rewarded more than being yourself?

____ of 11 checked.

In RETROSPECT, did either of both of your parents often…

  • Try to dictate your thoughts, speech, or morals?
  • Overscrutinize your eating, sleep, dress, or personal grooming habits?
  • Interfere with your choices of school, career, friends or lovers?
  • Violate your privacy?
  • Threatened to disown you for opposing their wishes?
  • Withdraw love or affection when you displeased them?
  • Use words like “lazy,” “stupid,” “ugly,” “selfish,” or “crazy” to describe you?
  • Physically or sexually abuse you and/or allow others to do so?
  • Need to be the center of attention or try to dominate most situations?
  • View the world in a right-or-wrong, black-and-white terms?
  • Treat emotions as things to be changed, avoided or ignored?
  • Seem perfectionistic, stoic, or driven?
  • Seem unwilling to admit they were wrong?
  • Seem obsessed with cleanliness, order, details, rules or schedules?
  • Seem hypersensitive to criticism?
  • Seem unaware of the pain they caused you or others?

______ of 16 checked

Did either of your parents…

  • Experience major trauma in their childhood?
  • Have a family history of physical or sexual abuse, mental illness, or substance abuse?
  • Feel overcontrolled by their parents?

______of 3 checked

As an ADULT, have you often felt…

  • Perfectionistic, driven, or rarely satisfied?
  • Like you are under scrutiny even when no one else is around?
  • Intimated or easily angered around controlling people?
  • Terrified of being overly dependent in relationships?
  • Strong reservations about having children because of how you were raised?
  • Melancholy, empty, or deprived?
  • Like few people know the real you?
  • Afraid of strong feelings or losing control?
  • That you missed out on large parts of normal childhood experiences?
  • Extrasensitive to criticism?
  • Confused about what your feelings are or should be?
  • Overly judgmental of others?

______of 12 checked

In your ADULT LIFE, have you often…

  • Worried or ruminated over confrontations with others?
  • Found it hard to make decisions?
  • Lost yourself in relationships by putting another’s needs first?
  • Had trouble finding a spiritual belief that feels right?
  • Found it difficult to relax, laugh, or be spontaneous?
  • Had difficulty with sex, touch or intimacy?
  • Had trouble accepting compliments?
  • Had an eating disorder or addictive behavior?
  • Suffered from stress-related illnesses, “burnout,” or chronic pain?
  • Undermined yourself in work or relationships?
  • Assumed others have the confidence you lack?
  • Tested the love of those close to you?
  • Been abusive, controlling or disrespectful to friends or a mate?
  • Expected that others will try to hurt or take advantage of you?

______of 14 checked

As an ADULT, do you often feel…

  • That it has taken a long time to emotionally separate from one or both of your parents?
  • That you visit or talk to a parent more out of obligation than choice?
  • That one or both of your parents don’t know you as you really are?
  • That one or both of your parents romanticize your childhood to downplay problems?
  • That you cannot fully please your parents?
  • That your parents just don’t get it about their impact on your?
  • Tense when you think about a parent coming to visit?
  • Horrified when you notice yourself acting like one of your parents?
  • A desire to temporarily reduce or server contact with a parent?

______of 9 checked



If you answered positively to 20 or more questions (more than one third the total), you most likely came from a controlling family.  Even people from relatively healthy families are going to have some yeses.  The difference is that in controlling families, the above tendencies are present more often, to a greater degree, and with greater emotional costs.

However, if you did answer yes to many of the questions, it doesn’t mean that you’re “damaged goods.”  It simply means that you faced — and survived — a difficult set of early circumstances that may still affect you.  Recognizing this, of course, is the first big step toward healing.

Pages xvi to xxi from If You Had Controlling Parents, by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.

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Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Dr. Perez-Litwin is the Founder & CEO of ELLA Leadership Institute, a multi-platform professional development organization designed to advance the careers and leadership of women. She's the creative force behind the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour, sponsored and live-streamed by Google.

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