How to Survive an Overbearing Mother

Author Amanda Caswell
February 26, 2020

As an adult, dealing with an overbearing mother can feel impossible. If you are reading this, you are probably all too familiar with what that means. She doesn’t approve of your significant other or your friends. She comments on everything from your makeup and hair, to your weight and clothing style. She constantly adds her two cents about your interior decorating, driving, and implies you aren’t a good child if you go more than 24 hours without calling her. Chances are your mother’s behavior is nothing new. You may have dealt with her helicopter parenting as a child. But now that you are an adult and living on your own, it’s likely that her behavior has gotten worse.

overbearing mother

The Effects of an Overbearing Mother

Feeling angry, frustrated or anxious when you’re around your mother or right after talking with her are just a few of the damaging effects of an overbearing mother. Unfortunately, that behavior can be extremely harmful, especially if you have been dealing with your mother’s behavior for most of your life. The negative effects of helicopter parenting can follow a child well into adulthood making it more likely that the adult will develop an anxiety disorder.

When a parent is overbearing and controlling, it can lessen the child’s ability to make their own decisions, resulting in a dependency on the parent. Co-dependence at a young age is detrimental as it deters the child from making independent choices as they grow. As an adult, they should be operating separately from their parents and know how to make their own decisions. Children of overbearing mothers are prone to have low self-esteem, suffer from mental health disorders, and feel uncomfortable in leadership positions. All of which can have a negative impact and lasting effect on the child, damaging their quality of life that can carry over into adulthood.

Studies show that helicopter parenting can influence the way a child grows up to be able to properly regulate their emotions, communicate effectively with others, and form social bonds. These fundamental skills are essentially robbed from them because of the parent’s tight grasp. These vital skills are ones a person needs to operate independently in nearly every life setting– from school and the workplace, to friendships. While you may be frustrated and angry, those emotions are just the tip of the negative effects of a helicopter parent or an overbearing parent. There are far more serious consequences to the point of stunting emotional growth and health.

So, what do you do? You know she loves you and you love her, but something has to give. You don’t want to cut ties, but you don’t deserve to feel guilty and angry after every conversation. The following are tips that may help everyone feel better, loved, and appreciated.

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Communicate in a New Way

Up until now, you’ve probably done more listening than communicating. But it’s time to start vocalizing to your mother how you feel. Although it will be difficult at first, and even if you’ve tried before, let her know her behavior is crossing the line. This time, communicate in a new way using i-statements (I feel or I would like). She is less likely to feel attacked if you are beginning each statement with “I” rather than “You.” For example, “I feel uncomfortable when you tell me what to do.” Rather than, “You need to stop telling me what to do.” If confronting your mother alone feels impossible, bring a sibling, friend, or even your spouse with you to help move the conversation along. Chances are if your mother is overbearing to you, she is also overbearing to your sibling, or to your spouse as an overbearing mother-in-law. Her behavior is not only negatively affecting you, but your spouse, your children, and your marriage. It cannot continue and effectively communicating that is the first step.

When communicating, highlight how you feel and avoid accusatory language. The more open, honest, and respectful your tone and words, the more you will open up the dialogue between the two of you. If your spouse is feeling as though your mother is being an overbearing mother-in-law, it may help for your spouse to have the same conversation with her – completely separate from the one you are having with her. Often when people are angry or frustrated, they bury their feelings. This is the time to maturely let out your feelings and open up with a healthy dialogue so you can get your life back.

Create Realistic Boundaries

If your overbearing mother doesn’t respond well to your attempts to communicate your feelings, then it’s time to set some boundaries. An overbearing mother or an overbearing mother-in-law may show up unannounced to your house, work, or a party to which they weren’t invited. It’s time for that to stop by putting your foot down. Physically setting boundaries as well as lessening the amount of input your mother has in your life and the decisions you make is important. It’s time to kindly, yet firmly, tell your overbearing mother that you are an adult and will make decisions according to what is best for your needs. This is the time to remind your mother that you have your own life and a family of your own now. Tell her you need to take them into account rather than being made to respond to every one of your mother’s desires.

Consider Your Mother’s Mental Health

Any mother will tell you that parenting isn’t easy. It doesn’t come with a how-to manual and many parents get their parenting style based on how they were raised by their own parents – even if their parents didn’t have the best systems in place. Throw in the stress of work, society, and everyday pressure and some days feel nearly impossible. If your mother had an overbearing parent or was raised in a controlling household, there is a good chance that her parenting style stems from that. Perhaps she has never gotten help. Globally, 1 in 7 people have one or more mental health disorders. The largest number of people, about 4% of the population, have an anxiety disorder. Yet, most people never seek treatment.

It’s no wonder she is emotionally unstable, anxious, and feels the need to have control. Her emotional growth may have been stunted as well. There are ways to let her know she is needed, and her input is valuable. Let her know how much she is loved and how it hurts you that she is struggling with so much anxiety. This may be a huge turning point, especially if she is depressed. Offer to help her by showing how simple it is to get help. The various therapy treatments such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT) may help.

Discover What You Love

It’s time to stop looking to your mother for approval and begin to cultivate your own interests. Start finding activities, social events, hobbies, and friendships apart from your mother. Try something new, particularly that activity that your mom always said you’d never be successful doing. Did she tell you your athletic abilities were lacking because she didn’t want you to get hurt? Join a local social sports team. You may meet some friends and have a lot of fun. Did she tell you that you were terrible at math or science simply because she didn’t like it? Join a local robotics team or take a coding class. Have your spouse or best friend join you if you’re feeling nervous. The point is, get out of your comfort zone to develop the skills you never knew you had. By engaging in ventures of your own, without the involvement of your mother and her opinions, you will begin to discover who you really are, which can help your mental health.

Develop Strategies to Cope

After an angry phone call with your mother or a frustrating visit, how do you cope? Some people turn to alcohol or other substances in an effort to numb their feelings. Others may attempt self-harm because the mental anguish is just too great to bear. Negative coping mechanisms are not healthy. Consider going for a run, calling a good friend, or baking to help mitigate the symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety that often accompany dealing with a controlling mother. Meditation, yoga and other ways of practicing mindfulness are also ways to help you deal with frustration and anger.

Seek Outside Help

Dealing with a controlling and overbearing mother is difficult whether you are a teenager in high school or the CEO of a company, but it shouldn’t take over your life. Even with the above tips to help make the situation better, often the best way is through therapy. You can get treatment for your own anxiety, frustration, depression, and anger or consider doing family therapy. You may even do a combination of both to improve communication and family dynamics. While the relationship between a mother and child is a complex one, it is valuable enough to consider improving. But don’t navigate it alone. A licensed therapist can help you cope with your feelings, help you communicate with your mother, and overall help parties reach an agreeable resolution. Seeking therapy can help salvage the relationship to bring it to a healthier and stronger place.

Author Amanda Caswell

Amanda is a wellness writer & enthusiast with over 12 years experience writing in the industry. She has a bachelors degree in Creative Writing from NYU. She is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American School of Nutrition & Personal Training. Amanda is also a celebrity publicist.