Survival Guide For Dealing With An Overbearing Mother

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated November 2, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Living with or experiencing the effects of an overbearing mother can be difficult. However, there are steps you can take to survive the difficult, learning to live well in the current context of your situation. 

Read on to learn more about steps you can take to improve your quality of life if you’re living with or experiencing an overbearing mother.

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Experiencing The Effects Of An Overbearing Mother?

What Overbearing Mothers May Look Like

The term "overbearing" can mean different things to different people—however, many acknowledge that an overbearing parent, or specifically controlling mother, can be one who might exert control over her child’s life so they feel powerless. 

She may regularly criticize her children to make them feel guilty, or she may appear unsatisfied with anything her children do. Mothers living with narcissistic personality disorder, or those who seem to only care about how their child makes them “look,” may also be considered to be overbearing. 

An overbearing mother or parent can demonstrate these traits from the time their children are extremely young, or they can develop these traits as their children age. Regardless of the exact timeline, though, this can impact a child’s developmental psychology, and children can feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the presence of an overbearing mother. 

Children can carry the weight of an overbearing mother past childhood and their teenage years. As a result, they might wish to get away from their parents altogether to find some peace, even if doing so makes them feel guilty. Or, they may attempt to please their mother’s demands to keep them happy and stable — despite this not generally being the job of a child. 

In either case, online therapy can support both mother and child in establishing healthier communication patterns. It can also help children to feel strong and supported enough to draw healthy boundaries to facilitate a higher quality relationship with both the overbearing mother and the other parent(s) in their lives.

What Are The Possible Effects Of An Overbearing Mother?

If you feel uncomfortable, frustrated, angry or annoyed by the behavior of an overbearing mother, you are not alone. 

Psychologists have suggested that overbearing parenting can be detrimental to a child's health, and the negative effects can follow children well into adulthood. 

One of the most common problems associated with helicopter parenting for many can be the formation of an anxiety disorder in childhood or adulthood.

Helicopter parenting can also lessen a child's ability to make their own choices, which can result in a co-dependent relationship between parent and child. While children are healthily codependent from a young age, generally relying on their parents for everything they need to survive as they grow, they often might begin operating separately from their parents during adolescence. 

People with overbearing mothers may be more likely to experience difficulty making decisions, have low self-esteem or feel uncomfortable in leadership positions. All of these experiences can negatively impact a child's quality of life and can carry over into adulthood.

Helicopter parenting can also impact your child’s ability to properly regulate emotions, form social bonds, and communicate effectively with others

These are all generally considered to be fundamental skills that children might acquire in order to operate independently in settings ranging from school to the workplace—and even friendships or romantic relationships. 

It can be difficult for parental figures to respect boundaries once they begin engaging in helicopter parenting. However, online therapy can support both parents and children in establishing healthy boundaries and vocalizing needs. 

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Living Well With An Overbearing Mother

There are certain steps you can take to mitigate the effects of having an overbearing mother or mother-in-law—and these steps can be taken at any time in your life, whether you’re walking through adolescence or adulthood. 

Although you may not be able to change the behaviors of your controlling mother, you can change your own reactions to your mother's behavior and tendencies. You can also make your own decisions, such as choosing to seek support for your mental health and drawing healthy boundaries in your parental relationships.

Here are a few tips to help you live well, even if you’re experiencing the effects of an overbearing mother or mother-in-law. 

Communicate

Although effectively communicating your frustration with your controlling mother may not necessarily solve all of the difficulties you’re having, it can be important to voice your concerns. 

Communicating with your mother can be a helpful step, highlighting how you feel and identifying any behaviors that you feel cross a line. When speaking, it can be helpful to use "I feel" language rather than accusatory language, such as "Well, you always…" or similar verbiage—as the latter can be triggering or deemed by many as “aggressive.” 

Communicating honestly, openly and respectfully can open a dialogue into why the two of you are experiencing difficulties in your relationship, and it can pave the way to healing.

Set Boundaries

Even if your mother does not respond well to your attempts to communicate, you can set boundaries to foster a healthy relationship. Generally, only you can determine what boundaries are appropriate for your specific needs—however, many might start with a boundary that involves the amount of input your mother has on your decisions. If you are under the age of 18 and you still live with your mother, for example, your ability to make your own decisions apart from hers may be legally limited. If you are an adult, however, you can kindly (but firmly) let your mother know that decisions will be made based on what you feel is best—not her desires.

Cultivate Your Own Interests

If your mother is heavily involved in your life, you may want to work on cultivating interests, friends and hobbies apart from your mother. This might mean trying out a new pottery class with your best friend, going rock climbing or attending a new gym, for instance. 

Whatever the exact route is that you choose as you live your own life separate from your mother’s, you might consider engaging in these ventures on your own—without your mother's involvement or opinion. 

Taking these steps may be necessary for the betterment of your own mental health.

A man in army clothing and a woman with a brown jacket sit in couples therapy across from an older therapist with gray hair and a gray dress.
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Experiencing The Effects Of An Overbearing Mother?

Develop Coping Mechanisms

When your mother behaves in a way that is overbearing or controlling, you might consider your reaction to her. 

Some people might turn to various substances to numb their pain or frustration, or they might find themselves reacting in anger and exploding at their mother or other loved ones. 

None of these reactions are generally considered to be healthy, and they can all have a negative impact on your life. Rather than engage in possibly negative coping mechanisms, it may be best to seek out alternatives that can help mitigate the symptoms of anxiety disorders, low self-esteem or other mental health concerns that can often accompany controlling mothers and their negative parenting styles. 

Exercise, meditation and keeping a focus on your own needs can help you deal with anger and frustration when your mother exhibits controlling behavior.Seek Outside Help. Family therapy is generally considered to be a type of professional help that can improve family dynamics and aid in communication. If your mother will not listen to your perspective and continues to exhibit controlling behavior as part of her parenting style, for example, you might want to bring in a professional to mediate and resolve conflict. The relationship between a child and a mother can be a complex one, and some of the conflicts that arise can be difficult to navigate alone. A therapist can help the two of you reach a resolution that is agreeable to both parties and develop strategies for repairing your parent-child relationship.

Dealing with an overbearing mother can be overwhelming at any age. Although it might be tempting to cut ties altogether (and it may have to come to that in extreme circumstances), there are some steps you can take to bring about stronger, healthier habits in your relationship (such as online therapy).

Seeking Help Through Online Therapy

Online therapy can be one of the most effective ways to improve the dynamic you have with your overbearing mother. 

Because mothers might experience difficulties letting go, overbearing behavior can be difficult for them to acknowledge. 

As you age, there might be certain boundaries that can be placed between parents and children to possibly foster healthy emotional range, independence and confidence. To set and maintain these boundaries, you may need to seek the advice and support of a professional therapist. Online therapy can be helpful in this context. 

Some mothers may not be willing to engage in therapy with their children, as they might not see their behavior as problematic. Even on your own, in this case, you can benefit from therapy sessions with a professional counselor. These mental health professionals can help you develop tools to create stronger boundaries, communication habits and strategies for managing anxiety disorders, the effects of co-dependency and more.

There can be some barriers to traditional treatment for individuals with overbearing mothers. You may feel shame about the relationship, for instance, or you might not feel comfortable voicing your complaints with a stranger. Online therapy may make you feel more comfortable discussing these family matters. It can also be more convenient since you won’t have to commute to a therapist’s office for sessions. 

One way to connect with qualified counselors is by visiting BetterHelp, an online hub that can connect you with counselors and licensed therapists who specialize in your areas of need. Our counselors are available wherever and whenever you need without you having to drive to their office.

Internet-based therapy for families is generally backed by scholarly research in the field. One recent study  found data that suggested its effectiveness among family members of those with borderline personality disorder. The results of the study suggested quantifiable improvement in the participants’ levels of stress, nervousness and depression after undergoing online interventions. There was also a marked improvement reported in the family functioning and quality of life of the study’s participants.

Takeaway

Although experiencing an overbearing mother can be overwhelming, there can be supportive options available that can help. Many parents, upon realizing what they are doing, are able to learn new habits and new ways of being in a relationship with their children. You can also enlist your own techniques to repair the relationship you have with your mother and move toward a healthier, happier family dynamic. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

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