Being Overcontrolling Can Ruin Your Relationships

by | May 18, 2024

I have a friend, Donna, who was fifty years old when she was cutting green beans in preparation for dinner at her mother’s house. Her mother stood over her, eyeing her technique. “That’s not how you cut green beans,” Donna’s mother said. Something in Donna switched, and she realized she had taken a half of a century of her mother’s controlling criticism. Donna laid the paring knife on the counter and walked out of the house. She had finally had enough of her mother’s overcontrolling behavior.


Trying to make other people do what you want, exactly the way you want it, is bound to push them away. And Donna’s mother, while knowing the only correct way to load the dishwasher, didn’t know that her overcontrolling behavior was a cause of deep resentment in her daughter. Since Donna had left the scene in disgust, Donna’s mother now had a whole colander full of beans to prepare, and she, too, felt annoyed and resentful.

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Donna’s mother considered herself to be a perfectionist, in a good way. She knew how people should behave, especially her own daughter. She knew the right way to do things and was convinced there was only one way—the right way, which was her way. She felt the need to be vigilant, always on her guard, for anything that was less than proper. When Donna did not meet her expectations, Donna’s mother felt anxious and frustrated. Donna just felt deeply fed up with her mother’s constant criticism.


Their mother-daughter relationship, which was never good, was now shattered. Donna had finally had enough. What could Donna’s mother do to manage her controlling behavior?


  • When tempted to criticize, she could take some deep breaths. Pause and notice how she feels before opening her mouth.
  • She could try to practice noncritical communication. She could describe how she feels—anxious and upset when her daughter cuts beans in a way that doesn’t seem right to her.
  • She could listen to how Donna responds to her demands and try to understand how Donna feels.
  • She might try to accept that everyone’s different—there are many ways to prepare beans.
  • She could ask herself if she expects someone else to feel and behave exactly as she does.
  • She could challenge herself: What makes her think her way is the only way?


Is it more important to Donna’s mother that the beans be cut “right,” or is it more important to have some tolerance of her daughter, demonstrating her respect for her full-grown, perfectly capable child?


Donna’s mother was never able to take responsibility for her overcontrolling actions, because she was never able to recognize that her behavior could possibly be less than perfect. With every criticism, she chipped away at her relationship with her daughter until it crumbled. Some realistic self-examination and a little humility could go a long way to repairing the situation, if only Donna’s mother could recognize her toxic part in her relationship with her daughter. For her part, Donna was done trying to be perfect for her mother and moved on to more healthy relationships with others.



Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:



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