3 Ways a Controlling Mother Can Negatively Effect Her Daughter

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The Effects Of A Controlling Mom On A Daughter

Many adult women struggle with the effects of having a controlling mother. As a coach for women, I work with several female clients that have trouble separating from a controlling mom. Controlling moms can have a lasting negative effect on their adult daughters.

If you are looking for more articles on mother-daughter relationships check these out!

Your Daughter Should Not Be Your Best Friend, It’s Not Healthy!

The 4 Hidden Reasons Your Mom Is So Controlling

It’s Time To Let Go Of Your Grown Kids

When Your Mom Is Controlling and Nosy

Imagine this scenario:

Jane’s mother had access to her Amazon purchase history. Jane, an adult woman, had made some purchases that were for her personal sexual pleasure. Scrolling through the order history, her mom found the sex toys and called Jane to confront her about her sexual behavior.

Thankfully, Jane had been doing work around recognizing her mother’s style of control. During the phone call with her mom, Jane was able to put up boundaries and hold firm to her right to privacy. After celebrating her successful use of boundaries, Jane knew she had to take steps to prevent her mother from using her Amazon account!

Key Ideas From This Article:

Possible problems resulting from having a controlling mother:
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Outsource decisions
  • More likely to attach to unhealthy partners
Quick solutions in this article:
  • Recognize your right to privacy and trust your decision-making skills
  • Consider that you may have a romantic partner that has similar behavior to your controlling mom
  • Begin to create boundaries that limit access to the private parts of your life

Can An Overbearing Mother Effect Her Daughter?

Absolutely! As human babies, each one of us is born and raised in a family. This is where we learn our foundational ideas about the world and ourselves. Our parents, and especially our mothers, are the first person to teach us the most important things we need to know.

As we grow up, the dynamics between a daughter and her mother often become challenging. Although most moms are able to let their children make age-appropriate decisions, some women struggle to let go of the parental control that was a vital part of early childhood. The teen years are difficult, but it is a critical time of letting your children test out the choices and consequences of early adulthood.

Controlling mothers can cause life long problems for their daughters.

Your Self-Esteem Might Be Shaky If You Had A Domineering Mother

When this process of adult decision-making is short-circuited by a controlling mom, a daughter might end up with destructive messages about her abilities and intelligence.

You Might Struggle With These Behaviors If You Had A Controlling Mom

Lack of self-confidence– Women who had controlling mothers are often lacking self-confidence. Children must have emotional support and encouragement when making decisions as they mature. A controlling mother is more likely to argue or override simple decisions made by her child. This will cause a maturing daughter to believe that she is incapable of making solid choices.

A subset of this destructive behavior is when a daughter relies on others for her decision-making. Commonly known as “outsourcing decisions” this behavior is a result of an overbearing mother who did not affirm her daughter’s developing beliefs and identity. As a result, adult women will be unable to make decisions without the input or advice of other people.

It’s Healthy To Ask For Advice, But Don’t Outsource Your Decisions

Obviously, it is a good thing to have wise people to consult with when we are making big decisions. We all need those kinds of people in our lives. But more specifically, I am describing a woman who doesn’t trust herself and will put a higher value on other people’s opinions than her own instincts.

A common “outsourcing” behavior is having a list of people that you repeatedly approach when you have a decision to make. I have worked with clients that did not feel safe making their own decisions. Many of these women grew up with the overreaching message that they were not capable of making good decisions.

Some of the decision “outsourcing” topics included:

  • whether or not to change medical doctors
  • if they should go back to grad school
  • what style/color of clothes to purchase online
  • how to decide what type of toppings to get on a pizza

Try This Idea To Build Self Confidence

If you find yourself caught in a cycle of needing other people’s opinions to make decisions, spend some time thinking about your own intellect and abilities. Reflect on the decisions that you have made that have resulted in good outcomes. When you feel the urge to ask yet another opinion, slow down and remind yourself that you are capable and competent to take charge of your life!

Daughters Of Controlling Mothers Might Be Attracted To Unhealthy Romantic Partners

Okay, so this topic is an 8-lane highway of potentially destructive choices, there are so many unhealthy options to choose from! The basic truth is that relationship choices are affected by our childhood environment. Whether we choose a partner similar to one of our parents, or we vow to find a partner that is nothing like our parents, our decisions are impacted by our childhood experiences.

Typically, adult daughters of controlling mothers will choose a type of controlling partner. Same-sex or heteronormative, some adult women are attracted to controlling romantic partners. It is very common for people to choose a partner that reflects some of the defining qualities of one of their parents. Research shows that it is common for us to marry “our parents”! We have an unconscious radar that causes us to focus on potential partners that feel familiar.

Sometimes we choose romantic partners that are similar to our parents.

Watch Out For Your Unconscious “Marry My Mom” Radar

This “marry my mom” radar does not care if our partner is a healthy choice. Our internal compass is magnetized to behavior that feels “safe” and normal. For some woman, being controlled by a intimate partners feels normal.

The following is a simple comparison of how controlling behaviors might show up in a romantic partnership. This is NOT an exhaustive list of unhealthy dynamics, but these basic scenarios might help you understand the impact of controlling relationships.

Overt Control

A controlling partner might be overt in their attempts to manipulate you. This will feel familiar if your mother was very open about her need to control her daughter. If this is happening in your relationship, your partner might say things like this:

  • You just can’t stop snacking, can you?
  • Why do you need to spend so much time on your phone? What is your big secret?
  • You need to do a better job shaving; you missed a spot under your arm.
Being Controlled By Your Partner Might Feel Normal

This type of controlling partner ridicules you and treats you like a child. If you grew up with a controlling mother, this feels familiar and in a weird way, it feels safe. You know the outcome in this dynamic, you are the incapable child, and your partner will function in the role of the wise, controlling parent.

If any of these examples of controlling partners make you feel uncomfortable, please consider contacting a therapist, coach, or counselor. It is very confusing when we realize that we are in unhealthy relationships. The best time to get help is when you become aware of hidden patterns and cycles.

Pay Attention To Control Issues In Your Relationships

It is common to slip into denial and get caught in a cycle of self-judgment and despair. Please take the next step and reach out for help in understanding the damaging behavior that exists in your relationship.

Covert Control

This type of controlling partner will use passive comments to make you feel unworthy and uncertain about your ability to function as an adult woman. If your controlling mother was passive, she would exert control with suggestions and questions that were designed to make you feel incapable.

You might have chosen a romantic partner that manages to make you feel less than worthy of his unconditional love. He might point out things that are “just not good enough” in your appearance or your personality.

Some examples of passive control are:
  • The silent treatment- Instead of talking about the conflict as healthy adults, this partner will put up a wall of silence. If your mom didn’t like your choices, she might have used this tactic to try to control you. This can also look like your partner withdrawing affection and sexual intimacy to manipulate you.
  • Being indifferent to your choices and decisions- instead of directly stating a opposing opinion, this partner will sigh and simply say” whatever” when they feel disagreement. Your controlling mom might have used this when she wanted you to doubt your decision, causing you to be uncertain about your choice.
  • Sarcasm- sarcasm is thinly veiled anger. Controlling moms use this to keep their children in a place of embarrassment and confusion. Controlling partners use it to remind you of the mistakes you made or their frustration with your choices.

Please be aware that if you grew up with a controlling mother, you are more likely to choose an unhealthy partner. If you recognize destructive cycles or patterns in your marriage or partnership, find time to talk with your spouse about what you are observing.

It’s Very Likely Controlling Moms Were Controlled As Kids

It is very common for people to perpetuate unhealthy behavior unconsciously. We all grow up in homes that taught us what love looked like in actions and how it felt in emotions. All parents are imperfect people, and most of them are sincerely doing their best to love their children. But until we can examine our behaviors as a neutral observer, we will repeat our unconscious toxic cycles.

Okay, I Have Been Effected By My Controlling Mother, What Should I Do?

The first and most important thing to do is to practice self compassion. Growing up with a controlling parent is difficult. You might have made complicated choices that have caused you to regret. When you are feeling controlled, it is common to rebel, to find ways to show that you are in charge of your life, not your mom. Forgive yourself if you made mistakes as you attempted to move toward adulthood and freedom.

Since time began, women have made difficult choices in response to bad circumstances. If you felt pressure to marry, move out or relocate in an effort to escape a controlling mom, you are not alone. Forgive yourself for the choices you made when you were trying to get free.

Have An Honest Talk With Your Partner About Your Concerns

If you find yourself in a relationship that has some controlling dynamics, take some time to talk with your partner about your concerns. I believe that most people want to be in healthy and satisfying relationships. The foundation for a lasting partnership is based on honest communication.

If you find that your romantic relationship is struggling to find safe and respectful communication, please consider working with a therapist or coach. One of the bravest things we can do is admit that we are missing some important skills and then take action to strengthen our weaknesses.

So How Do I Deal With My Controlling Mother?

Mother-daughter relationships are fraught with challenges. As society and cultures change many outdated expectations are tossed aside. It can be difficult for older generations to understand and accept any type of change. Improving your relationship with your mom might feel impossible. Please don’t lose hope, there are some things that you can change that will help you create a safer and healthier dynamic.

Try These Ideas To Help You Change Your Relationship With Your Mother

Remember, all change is hard. For everyone. So, as you begin to change your dynamic with your mom, plan on having some challenging interactions. Read through these ideas, choose one or two, and then commit to doing the work.

Start with Setting Clear Boundaries To Deal With Your Controlling Mom

Boundaries are the clear lines you draw around access to the details of your life. You get to decide how much information you want to share with others, including your mother. Remember, boundaries are not designed to punish people. They should be constructed in a way that helps people learn how to treat you.

Boundaries give access to the parts of your life that you feel safe sharing. They restrict access to the parts of your life that you choose to keep private. It is really that simple. The difficulty begins when you construct boundaries that feel offensive to your overbearing mom.

Controlling moms resent when you create boundaries around your privacy.
Controlling Moms Don’t Like Boundaries

Faced with limited access to her daughter’s life, a controlling mom might increase her attempts to manipulate her adult child. She might say things like: Why are you disrespecting me? I don’t know what is happening to you, but I don’t like it. Why don’t you trust me anymore?

As a trained therapist, I often work with women caught in a sticky web of pleasing their mother. The effects of a controlling mother on a daughter can be severe. At minimum, a grown adult daughter might hesitate to share ideas or plans with her controlling mother, wanting to avoid disapproval. One of the most damaging mother-daughter dynamics is the idea that moms and their daughters should be best friends.

You Can Stand Up To Her Disapproval

The aftereffects of having a controlling mother can go much deeper than disapproval. For some women, the fear of upsetting their mothers has become a framework that controls their adult life. It is difficult to overcome the swelling sense of dread, your heart racing as you prepare to anticipate her displeasure..

Controlling Mothers Can Damage Their Daughters

It is important to recognize that our families are made up of imperfect people, and frankly, that includes each one of us. Every family in this world carries their own personal type of dysfunction, some more damaging than others.

As grown adults, we are personally obligated to take responsibility for the dysfunctional behavior that we learned from our early role models.

Yes, some of our deepest wounds originate from our family, but as adults, we are compelled to move from the place of a powerless victim to an empowered grown person.

A Controlling Mother Can Make Her Daughter Anxious

Some controlling mothers can be easy to identify. Their disappointment is obvious in their facial expressions, and can often be heard in the tone of their voice. As a child who was trained to please her mom, you worked extra hard to be a source of happiness in her life. For this type of mom, her children were required to please her to earn her affection. It became their job to manage her emotions and make sure she felt loved and valued.

As an adult, this can show as a predictable anxiety response. Your body goes into a type of fight or flight state, searching for facial clues or familiar phrases that will indicate that you have disappointed her. Again.

Children Are Not Responsible For Mom’s Feelings

Sadly, this is the opposite of a healthy parent/child relationship. In a healthy relationship, the child is the receiver of love and value, given by her most important caregivers. She knows she is safe, loved and will be secure in the affectionate behavior displayed by her parents.

If a daughter has been trained to keep her mother happy, it is very likely she will continue with that behavior as she enters adulthood. The idea of creating a relationship based on equality as adults is just too overwhelming.

Some women, they will live their lives as a “response” to their mothers controlling personalities. Many children were given the responsibility to manage their parent’s feelings. As grown adults, these women often identify as “people pleasers” as a result of their childhood trauma.

The Black Sheep Of The Family Might Be Right

In some situations, a daughter decides that she no longer wants to be controlled by her mother. When this happens, the adult daughter is dismissed as a rebellious troublemaker.

These women are often called “the black sheep of the family” because they have intentionally chosen to rebel against the family rules. Very often the black sheep of the family is choosing to break free from the tangled web of family dysfunction.

All Moms Were Children Once

It has been said, “The hardest day for a child is the day they realize that their parent is human”. It can be incredibly jarring when we see our parents as imperfect, not the powerful wise caretakers that we once idolized.

When we understand that we received the dysfunction of the generations before us, we can begin to move into a space of acceptance and forgiveness.


Clinical research shows that a controlling mother can have long-term negative effects on her daughter. Mothers are the most powerful and important people when we are children. As a young child, we learn behaviors that help us get their love and approval. Now that you are an adult, it is time to take personal responsibility to make healthy changes in your relationships, especially if you are still struggling with a controlling mother.

Take the time to identify boundaries that you can put in place with your mother. It is very possible that you are with a partner that has similar controlling behaviors as your mother. Spend some time evaluating your current romantic relationship. Be particularly aware of patterns that feel dismissive and disrespectful. Consider seeing a therapist or a qualified coach to help you navigate the behaviors that feel confusing or hurtful.

Each one of us began life in a family that had its own unique dysfunctional behavior. Despite their best intentions, some mothers cause long-term damage to their daughters. As adults, it is up to us to accept the challenges of healthy self-development. It is important to begin the process of freeing ourselves and forgiving our mothers.

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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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