If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World

If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World

by Dan Neuharth


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Do you sometimes feel as if you are living your life to please others? Do you give other people the benefit of the doubt but second-guess yourself? Do you struggle with perfectionism, anxiety, lack of confidence, emotional emptiness, or eating disorders? In your intimate relationships, have you found it difficult to get close without losing your sense of self?

If so, you may be among the fifteen million adults in the United States who were raised with unhealthy parental control. In this groundbreaking bestseller by accomplished family therapist Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., you'll discover whether your parents controlled eating, appearance, speech, decisions, feelings, social life, and other aspects of your childhood—and whether that control may underlie problems you still struggle with in adulthood. Packed with inspiring case studies and dozens of practical suggestions, this book shows you how to leave home emotionally so you can improve assertiveness, boundaries, and confidence, quiet you "inner critics," and bring more balance to your moods and relationships. Offering compassion, not blame, Dr. Neuharth helps you make peace with your past and avoid overcontrolling your children and other loved ones.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060929329
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/08/1999
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 603,856
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., is a licensed family therapist with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. A popular speaker, college educator, and award-winning journalist, he specializes in helping adults cope with the challenges of unhealthy family control. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read an Excerpt

Healthier Parenting Versus Controlling Parenting
If you bungle raising your children, nothing else matters much in life.
—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Healthy parenting is simple: Raise children well and set them free.
Being a healthy child is also simple: Play, learn, grow up, and leave home.
But while both job descriptions are simple, neither is easy. The primary difference between healthier families and controlling families is that the parents in healthier families allow their children to grow up as persons in their own right.
Controlling parents fail to protect and nurture, robbing their children of playtime by using harsh or erratic discipline. They model unhealthy habits and hamstring their sons' and daughters' efforts to individuate. That's why people who grow up controlled sometimes struggle to emotionally leave home well into their thirties, forties, or fifties.
The following chart shows eight major differences between healthier families and controlling families. You might notice which side of the chart most closely parallels your childhood experience.

Characteristics of Healthier Vs. Controlling Families
Healthier FamiliesControlling Families
1.Nurturing Love
*Parental love is relatively
*Children get affection,
attention, and nurturing
*Children are told they
are wanted and loved
*Children are seen and
valued for who they are
*Children's choices are
3.Open Communication
*Expressing honest
thought is valued more
than saying something a
certain way
*Questioning and dissent
are allowed
*Problems are
acknowledged and
4.Emotional Freedom
*It's okay to feel sadness,
fear, anger and joy
*Feelings are accepted as

Healthier FamiliesControlling Families
*Children's potentials are
*Children are praised
when they succeed and
given compassion when
they fail
6.Consistent Parenting

*Parents set appropriate,
consistent limits
*Parents see their role as
*Parents allow children
reasonable control over
their own bodies and
7.Encouragement of an Inner
*Children learn
compassion for
*Parents communicate
their values but allow
children to develop their
own values
*Learning, humor, growth
and play are present
8.Social Connections
*Connections with others
are fostered
*Parents pass on a broader
vision of responsibility to
others and to society

The Consequences of Unhealthy Parenting
Healthier parents try, often intuitively and within whatever limits they face, to provide nurturing love, respect, communication, emotional freedom, consistency, encouragement of an inner life, and social connections. By and large they succeed—not all the time, perhaps not even most of the time, but often enough to compensate for normal parental mistakes and difficulties.
Overcontrol, in contrast, throws young lives out of balance: Conditional love, disrespect, stifled speech, emotional intolerance, ridicule, dogmatic parenting, denial of an inner life, and social dysfunction take a cumulative toll.
Controlling families are particularly difficult for sensitive children, who experience emotional blows and limits on their freedom especially acutely. Sensitive children also tend to blame themselves for family problems.
The more your experience mirrored the "Controlling Families" side of the preceding chart, the greater your risk of inheriting distorted views. You might note whether one or more of the following five distortions causes problems in your present life:
1.Distortions of Power and Size
If one or both parents demanded absolute control and dependence or treated you in ways that made you feel small, you may have inherited distortions of power and size. You may automatically view yourself as less capable than others or, alternatively, as so big and powerful that you have to protect others from yourself. You may feel you lack permission to do things that are within your perfect right. You may feel intimidated or, conversely, contemptuous in the presence of authority figures. Distortions of power and size can handicap you at work, as a parent, and in your other intimate relationships.
2.Distortions of Feeling and Wanting
If emotions were banned, inflated, or feared, and your desires shamed or thwarted, you may have inherited distortions of feeling and wanting. You may regard emotions such as anger, fear, sadness—even joy—as life-threatening and overreact to them. You may be unable to tolerate a loved one's strong feelings. You may deprive yourself of legitimate yearnings or live with unrealistic hopes. You may unconsciously expect life to be painful and, as a result, you may automatically become uncomfortable whenever good things happen. Distortions of feeling can lead you to fear or ignore your emotions and misinterpret the emotions of others. Distortions of wanting can leave you feeling deprived.
3.Distortions of Thinking
If truths were denied, perceptions discounted, or blame and shame heaped on you, you may have inherited distortions of thinking. You may accept overcontrol from others, thinking that it is normal. You may chronically doubt your perceptions. You may leap to conclusions based on all-or-nothing reasoning. Distortions of thinking may lead you to avoid personal responsibility or to assume too much responsibility for others' actions. Distortions of thinking can put you at risk for misreading others and yourself.
4.Distortions of Relating
If closeness was dangerous, or if you were infantilized for too long, or if you were thrust into the caretaker role too soon, you may have inherited distortions of relating. You may be unable to get close to others even when you want to. You may unwisely trust others or be unable to trust at all. You may see others as threats or as saviors—not simply as people. Distortions of relating can rob you of intimacy and pleasure.
5.Distortions of Self and Identity
If your intuition, initiative, or needs were devalued, you may have inherited distortions of self and identity. You may underrate your abilities, undercut your potential, or underplay your strengths. You may banish parts of your personality, present a false front to others, or see yourself as an object instead of a person. Distortions of self leave your primary relationship—that with yourself—underfueled.
But remember: Knowledge is power. By recognizing these distortions in your life, you can heal them.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Did You Grow up with Unhealthy Control?
Part One: Naming the Problem
Chapter 1: Healthier Parenting Versus Controlling Parenting
Chapter 2: Smothering Parenting: Life Under a Microscope
Chapter 3: Depriving Parenting: Playing "Take Away"
Chapter 4: Perfectionistic Parenting: A Place for Everything
Chapter 5: Cultlike Parenting: Obedience with a Missionary Zeal
Chapter 6: Chaotic Parenting: Life in the Quicksand Lane
Chapter 7: Using Parenting: Me-First Child Raising
Chapter 8: Abusing Parenting: Do-It-Or-Else Child Raising
Chapter 9: Childlike Parenting: Can't-Do Child Raising

Part Two: Understanding the Problem
Chapter 10: How Overcontrol Works
Chapter 11: Putting It All Together: Meet Your Internalized Parents
Chapter 12: The Adult-life Legacies of Growing up Controlled
Chapter 13: Letting Go of the Legacies
Chapter 14: Why Parents Overcontrol
Chapter 15: Controllers’ Fears

Part Three: Solving the Problem Step One: Emotionally Leaving Home
Chapter 16: Separating from Unhealthy Family Ties
Step Two: Bringing Balance to Your Relationship with Your Parents
Chapter 17: How Can I Set Healthier Boundaries with My Parents?
Chapter 18: Should I Confront My Parents?
Chapter 19: Can I Forgive My Parents?
Chapter 20: Can I Accept My Parents?
Chapter 21: Should I Reduce or Break Contact with My Parents?
Chapter 22: Family Quandaries
Step Three: Redefining Your Life
Chapter 23: Nine Powerful Paths for Growth and Healing
Chapter 24: Making Meaning
Review: The Book in a Nutshell

What People are Saying About This

John Gray

Demystifies much within our pasts that can hurt our intimate relationships in ways we may not even realize. If You Had Controlling Parents helps spark understanding and acceptance across the generations. (John Gray, Ph.D., author, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus)

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If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
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First of all, I am an asian. My parents are controlling, but they are not as extreme as cases in the book. As the author says, no parent is perfect. It soothes your past. It also provides me a list of things to make situation better. But, their solutions are more suitable for those extreme cases. I'm looking for a more compromising, more peaceful, more harmonious solution ... a more asian kind of solution, which I am wondering if they exist. If you think you have trouble with yours, I will say "read it", but you need to think for yourself too. It's not the one-size-fit-all. The most important thing in the book is that it reaffirms that you are in charge of your life now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this book, Dr. Neuharth offers outstanding insight into a core issue many people struggle with. This book is an invaluable tool in recovery and personal growth. Thank you Dr. Neuharth, this book is life changing.