Is “fearful and controlling” behavior a studied pattern?
September 20, 2022 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I recently read this article about “fearful and controlling parents.” The same author links this upbringing to complex trauma or C-PTSD. Is “fearful and controlling” a term of art, and is there more research / writing on this topic?

The article above was a shockingly accurate description of a dynamic I’ve witnessed. I’m no longer involved in the dynamic, but it’s haunted me for a long time, making me question what I think of as abuse and undermining my confidence in my own perception.

The situation felt deeply traumatic, but I could never point to anything specific in isolation to “prove” my case. I learned to trust my own feelings in therapy and extracted myself, but I’ve been mulling it over for years and wondering if I was too harsh, imagining things, etc. now that I’m no longer directly involved. But reading the above, I’m convinced it wasn’t just a personality clash, there was something darker going on.

So my question is whether “fearful and controlling” is a known class of behavior, a term in psychology, or anything like that. Basically looking for ways to learn more. It looks like the author of the article has some credentials, but the term only sounds vaguely familiar and Googling doesn’t bring up anything super common, yet those words are repeated together enough that I suspect this is a pattern which has been studied inside or outside academia. I think it could be really healing to read more about this and not have to struggle or cast about for my own terminology, etc.

For years I was thinking the behavior resembled narcissism in terms of how self-involved, low empathy and damaging it was, but the term never quite fit, and I felt like I was forcing it or exaggerating. This framework has given me a lot more clarity and reassurance that this is a pattern that has happened outside of my own life.
posted by stoneandstar to Human Relations (3 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Doing some Google Scholar searches, it looks like "Controlling Parenting Style" is the technical term in Psychology, and there are a variety of academic articles connecting it to things like Attachment Theory. I'm not familiar with this particular field, but it looks like the Controlling style is similar to the Authoritarian parenting style described in other articles.

If you search for technical psychology terms like this, you'll find hard to read academic articles that analyze the effects of this on children using numeric "scales" that try to determine if a parent counts as Controlling/Authoritarian/etc. You'll also find easier to read articles/books like the one you link from clinical psychologists or therapists that are based on experiences with a small number of patients. These articles are based in psychology theory and can be very useful, but won't necessarily apply to everyone.

It sounds like you're more interested in how this affects you personally, so reading articles like the one you link is a good start. I don't have any specific recommendations, but hopefully someone else will.
posted by JZig at 2:24 PM on September 20

I've definitely read articles and books that explore this concept. Unfortunately, I can only think of vague possibilities rather than link any specific resources but I wanted to express my support. I experienced some of this growing up, too, which I realize was likely due to my caregivers' (undiagnosed but likely) untreated OCD and/or GAD. I know what you mean: while the effect on us as children was negative, the behavior wasn't intentionally malicious and certainly not in the same way narcissists can be. An experienced therapist who specializes in trauma could help you really explore this and understand its effect on you. It took me a long time to find mine but it was literally lifechanging in terms of understanding myself and my history better. I wish you luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 2:32 PM on September 20 [2 favorites]

This was my experience growing up, more or less exactly. You may want to check out Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents.

I'm currently in EMDR/IFS therapy for this, and I'm finding it very helpful. I'm sorry you're dealing with this as well. It's very challenging to learn healthy patterns when this was your upbringing, but it can be done with enough resources and support.
posted by ananci at 7:26 AM on September 21 [2 favorites]

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