11 Signs You Have A Controlling Mother

And what to do about it.

by Raven Ishak
Originally Published: 
Experts point to 11 signs you have an overbearing or controlling mother.
Charday Penn/E+/Getty Images

We all deserve a loving, healthy relationship with our parents. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple — just because someone raised you doesn’t guarantee a smooth, drama-free rapport with them. If the dynamic with your mom is strained because she’s too controlling, constantly makes you feel guilty, or manipulates and gaslights you, you’re not alone. Underlying issues are likely behind your mom’s behavior, and getting to the root of them is a key first step toward improving the relationship.

According to clinical psychologist Sarah Schewitz, anxiety can be a common factor behind a controlling mother’s behavior. “People with anxiety tend to think of the worst-case scenario and fear that their life or their child’s life is in danger at any given moment,” Schewitz tells Bustle. “Being controlling is a way to protect her child from harm and a way to manage her anxiety.”

Yet another reason: Your mom may be simply modeling a pattern of behavior. If she grew up with controlling parents herself, she may think it’s the best way to parent, Schewitz says — she might have been raised in a home where she felt powerless and now exerts extra control to compensate. “Her feelings may not have been respected or she may not have had a voice in her home,” says Schewitz. “If she hasn’t done the work to get over this, she will continue fighting this power struggle throughout her whole life."

Moms are only human, and it’s completely natural for them to make mistakes. But if the above characteristics remind you of your mom, read on for 11 more signs that your mother might be too controlling — and what you can do about it.


Your Mom Wants You In Her Inner Circle

Being BFF with your mom is a childhood dream, particularly for anyone who grew up watching Gilmore Girls. However, if she constantly pressures you to hang out with her or guilt trips you to do what she wants, it may be a red flag.

“If your mom goes beyond including you in social events and activities, and basically treats you like a friend — demands the friendship, ties love to that friendship, and requires you to act like her best friend — she is being too controlling,” explains clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow. Your mom should act like your mom, not your peer.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying spending time with your mom and having fun together, she also needs to act as a guardian who can protect you, offer life advice and guidance, and keep you safe. Getting that dynamic to work usually requires a bit of healthy distance.


You Feel Obligated To Help Her Navigate Her Own Life

Some moms might not know it all: They’re human and need to grow and learn from their mistakes just like we do. It’s totally fine if your mom asks for your opinion about a particular negative situation she may be experiencing. But if she constantly demands your advice and attention, she may be too dependent on your relationship and put undue pressure on you to be the adult in the dynamic.

“Your mom may call on you for your input, but to the extent that you feel your mom has sucked you into her decisions on a regular basis, then the boundaries have faded,” says Klapow. “Your mom should be able to make decisions about friends, work, and life for the most part on her own.” If not, she’s being too overbearing.


She Doesn’t Respect the Fact That You’re Now An Adult

Although it may be touching that your mom still thinks of you as her baby, watch out if she overly meddles or interferes with your independence. “If your mom doesn’t respect your ability to make major decisions about your own life, this kind of infantilization can become overbearing,” says Dr. Sadi Fox, clinical psychologist and founder of Flourish Psychology. “If this becomes a habit, you’ll have to set some boundaries and remind her that you are a fully grown adult capable of making your own decisions and mistakes.”


She Interferes With Your Personal Relationships

When you’re under the age of 18 and still living at home, it’s your mom’s job to make sure you're hanging with the right crowd. But once you leave the nest and make a living on your own, your mom shouldn’t stalk you on Instagram or Facebook and constantly question your whereabouts. If this is a common occurrence, it’s a sign she’s being an overbearing mother, and you should assert some distance.

“Who you hang out with, who you date, should only be your mom’s business if she’s invited,” says Klapow. “Your mom should not automatically be a part of these interactions. If this is happening ‘against your will,’ she may be too controlling.”


She Guilt Trips You About Finances

“If your mom makes snide remarks about your purchases or tries to make you feel guilty for spending your hard-earned money, this is a sure sign that she is too controlling,” says Fox. “In some instances, this is caused by her projecting her own values onto you with the expectation that you should spend your money in the same way that she spends hers.” But financial meddling can be a common sign of an unhealthy, at times abusive dynamic. If you’re independent from your mom, money-wise, then she doesn’t need to share her two cents about your spending.


She Has An Opinion About Everything You Do

A grown adult shouldn’t feel constantly bombarded by questions and accusations whenever they see their mom. Although most moms express concern out of love or because they only want the best for their children, controlling moms might continue to push issues because they want to be heard. “You should have the freedom to work, go to school, and socialize without being tethered back to [your] mom,” says Klapow. Basic decisions like where to go to eat, what to do on a given day, or how to think or react should not be dictated by her.


She’s Overly Protective

If you’ve ever been briefly away from your phone only to come back to dozens of texts from your mom wondering why you weren’t responding and if you’re still alive, this could be behavior from an overbearing mother. “Controlling moms often are very fearful of what might happen to their children,” says Schewitz. “Being controlling is a way to protect her child from harm and a way to manage her anxiety.” Although she isn’t acting out of ill will, you still deserve your personal space, and compassionately expressing that need will improve your relationship dynamic.


She Lacks Empathy

Another common characteristic of a controlling mother? Lack of empathy. “Some controlling mothers lack empathy for their children,” says Schewitz. “This could be the result of being so caught up in their own life stress that they don’t have the capacity or energy to think about their children’s feelings. Other moms just never fully develop the ability to be empathetic toward anyone, let alone their children.” If this is the case, it could be helpful to seek the advice of a therapist on how to best navigate this difficult relationship.


She’s A Narcissist Who Competes With You

According to Darlene Lancer, Licensed therapist and author of Dealing with a Narcissist: How to Raise Your Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People, competing is a typical tactic of narcissistic mothers.

“Controlling, narcissistic mothers want you all to themselves and want to believe they’re the most desired and admired,” Lancer explains. “Out of both jealousy and envy they may compete with you for attention from your girlfriend or boyfriend, or shame you for preferring or being close with your [other] parent.” They also might meddle in your relationships with friends or lovers — tactics like flirting, criticizing you, or telling a date not to call any more behind your back — or, worse, dating a boyfriend or girlfriend, she explains. (Hello, Julie Cooper!)


She Puts You Down By Comparing You To Others

Another version of competing with you is to unfairly compare you to others as a way to put you down, according to Lancer. “Your mom might compare you to a sibling, a friend of yours, a cousin, or even herself — how spoiled, inferior, or lucky you are compared to when she was young,” she says. This behavior stems from the same jealousy and envy that motivates the competition and also can end up with you feeling shame and low self-worth.


You Feel Like She’s Being Too Controlling

Trust your gut. “If you look at your interactions with your mom and more times than not they ‘feel controlling,’ there is a decent chance she is being too controlling,” says Kaplow. If you get the sense that your mom is constantly creeping on you, questioning your whereabouts, or telling you what to do, then you might want to sit down and have a chat. While you want to make sure that your mom understands you love her, you want her to have her own life, too

Experts cited:

Darlene Lancer, licensed therapist and author of Dealing with a Narcissist: How to Raise Your Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People

Sadi Fox, clinical psychologist and founder of Flourish Psychology

Sarah Schewitz, clinical psychologist

Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist

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