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Authoritarian Parenting: Effects & 7 Tips To Recover

What is authoritarian parenting

Authoritarian parenting is a strict parenting style where parents set many rules and expect blind obedience. Authoritarian parents are controlling and have high expectations for their children’s behavior and achievements. Discipline often involves harsh punishment to ensure children follow rigid rules.

Parents with an authoritarian parenting style can be cold and demanding but offer little emotional support or warmth in return. They create an environment that is more about their control and less about their children’s emotional needs.

Many authoritarian parents say they use tough love parenting to raise their kids. However, they are often harsh and lack warmth, making their love not feel very loving at all.

A mother reprimanding her daughter.

Authoritarian parenting examples

Authoritarian parents tend to have the following characteristics.

  1. Zero Tolerance for Rule-Breaking: Children are harshly punished for disobedience or rule-breaking, with little room for mistakes.
  2. Authority and Status: Parents place a high value on being authority figures in the household. They enforce rules and expectations that underscore their dominant position.
  3. High Demand: Parents set incredibly high standards in academics and behavior and expect children to meet them without fail.
  4. Harsh Punishment: Use spanking, slapping, or other physical punishment to instill discipline and obedience.
  5. Rigid decisions without explanation: Parents are inflexible and unyielding. They make choices for the child often without explaining them. “Because I said so” is commonly used to validate their decisions.
  6. Silencing the Child’s Voice: Communication is often one-way. Children’s opinions and feelings are dismissed or ignored. They are expected to obey without expressing dissent or disagreement.
  7. Control Through Fear: Parents instill a sense of fear to control children’s behavior, using threats or intimidating language.
  8. Emotional Distance: Parents maintain a cold demeanor and do not provide children the emotional support or warmth to feel secure and loved.
  9. Lack of Praise or Positive Reinforcement: Parents focus on pointing out faults and failures rather than praising achievements or good behavior, leading to a negative reinforcement environment.

Effects of authoritarian parenting

Associations between parenting styles and adverse outcomes are well established.

Research has found that children raised by authoritarian parents are associated with more negative outcomes, including the following.

  • Lower self-esteem​1​
  • Poorer academic performance​2​
  • Lack of emotional regulation and coping skills​3​
  • Externalizing behavior, such as aggressive behavior, anger issues, etc.​4​
  • Mental health issues, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide attempts​5​
  • Worse social skills​6​
  • Less resilient and unable to bounce back from failure​7​

How to stop authoritarian parenting

Many authoritarian parents were raised by authoritarian parents themselves.​8​

Therefore, if authoritarian parents raised you, you might adopt a similar parenting style, particularly during stressful times.

Under stress, we often revert to the parenting approaches that are most familiar to us.

If you would like to change your parenting style, here are a few tips.

Embrace the Desire for Change and Take Ownership

Acknowledge and embrace your desire to shift your parenting approach for your child’s sake.

Your authoritarian style isn’t a reflection of your child’s actions but a product of how you were raised.

The journey to change begins with this realization.

You hold the reins to modify your responses and behaviors; it isn’t about your child triggering this style but about addressing the deep-seated habits formed during your own childhood.

Embracing this truth is empowering, setting the stage for meaningful transformation in your parenting journey.

Cultivate Flexibility

Being psychologically flexible is the key to changing your parenting style.​9​

Mental flexibility affects your ability to regulate emotions and respond to your child’s needs.

The strict rules you grew up with aren’t the only way to raise a child.

There are other, better ways to parent effectively, such as positive parenting.

These new approaches might seem unconventional or uncomfortable initially, given your background.

But if you keep an open mind and are ready to learn and try new things, it can make a big difference in your and your child’s life.

Manage Stress Effectively

Stress can easily lead you back to old habits of strict parenting.

It’s essential to develop mechanisms to manage and alleviate stress.

Make self-care a regular part of your day.

For example, meditation can help lower stress and make you more aware of how you interact with your child.

Regular exercise can help you feel better mentally, allowing you more energy and patience to parent positively.

Join positive parenting groups

Connect with other parents on a similar journey of transforming their parenting styles.

Sharing experiences, challenges, and successes can provide encouragement, insights, and motivation.

Seek Professional Help

Consider seeking the assistance of a professional counselor or family therapist who specializes in parenting issues.

They can provide personalized strategies, tools, and support to help you transition from an authoritarian approach to a more nurturing and better parent.

How to recover from authoritarian parenting

If you’re a teenager with a strict parent, check out How to Deal With Strict Parents as a Teenager.

Many adults raised by an authoritarian father or mother feel trapped by their upbringing.

Set boundaries – easier said than done.

Growing up with authoritarian parents can feel like your mind is being controlled.

It’s tough to break free from those strong influences.

The beliefs and rules planted in your head since early childhood hold a powerful grip, making it hard to find your own voice and your own way.

The following tips can help you come out of the shadows and live a life free of the adverse effects of having controlling parents.

Distance yourself physically

Authoritarian parents control their children with fear, such as corporal punishment.

Separation can ensure your physical safety. 

Distancing from your parents can mean moving away or ceasing all contact with them.

Setting a healthy boundary is more achievable when you are physically away from them.

Of course, this is not easy to do.

You may feel conflicted, confused, and guilty for not wanting to be around your parents or feelings of shame for not taking care of them.

Taking responsibility for yourself is as important as taking care of others.

Balance your happiness and well-being with your supposedly family duties.

Distance yourself mentally

Many adult children of authoritarian parents still allow themselves to be controlled by their parents’ anger and criticism.

When they realize you resist your parents’ control, they may increase their verbal attacks and insults to make you feel miserable.

Give yourself permission to be you.

Unlike when you were a child, you no longer need your parents’ approval for everything you do.

Call them out, in an adult way

Whenever they are being abusive, call them out on it. 

You don’t have to scream or yell back at them.

Do it in a mature and controlled manner.

Say, “You are being rude and unreasonable. I don’t want to continue this conversation when you act like that.” 

Be calm and assertive when pointing out their inappropriate behavior.

Assert yourself as an adult in everything you do.

Repeat this: You are lovable

Low self-esteem is common among children of authoritarian parents.​10​

Over the years, your parents have said all kinds of bad things about you.

You may even begin to believe them.

Don’t.

Make positive self-talk and affirmations a daily habit.

Affirm that you are lovable, even when people who should love you don’t.

You ARE lovable.

Relearn the world

Being raised in an authoritarian household is like being brainwashed from birth with rigid rules.

Everything had only one way – their way or the highway.​11​

The world, however, is not made up of dogmas.

As an adult, you may discover that some of your understanding of the world is inaccurate or false.

For example, authorities aren’t always right.

We can (and should) challenge them if they’re being unreasonable.

Keep an open mind.

Re-discover the world and what it has to offer.

Also See: Why young adults blame parents for everything

Learn to make decisions

Parents with an authoritarian style of parenting often dictate what to wear, where to go, what to eat, and even how to eat it.

This type of upbringing does not prepare you to make your own decisions. 

Having to make decisions for yourself as an adult can be challenging.

The thought of your parents’ reaction or whether you’re making the right decision might worry you.

Women are especially prone to indecisiveness when it comes to careers.​12​

When making decisions, don’t feel pressured to make the perfect one every time.

Take your time learning sound decision-making.

It’s not your fault that you didn’t have any practice before.

Seek advice and input from friends and mentors, but learn to trust yourself.

Ultimately, make the best decision for yourself, not for others.

Learn to stand by your feelings

You do not need others’ permission to feel a certain way.

As a child, you were constantly silenced and stifled. Your feelings were constantly dismissed and invalidated.​13​

Expressing your feelings about your parents or childhood as an adult may result in similar treatment from friends and relatives who try to convince you that your parents are wonderful people.

They may not have experienced the same thing or have been raised to trivialize uncomfortable feelings. 

However, your feelings are yours.

You don’t need to rely on their approval to feel.

Learn to create a support network

Society generally believes parent-child relationships are significant, lifelong, and rewarding.

A widely accepted adage is that “blood is thicker than water.”

Blood families are said to survive insurmountable challenges, and this closeness should not be broken.

If you were born more sensitive, your siblings may not share the same experience as you.

Because of this, some of your friends and siblings may not understand what you are going through.

It doesn’t mean you should stop being friends with them. It is just a matter of choosing what you disclose to whom and finding other sources of support.

Having a supportive network of people who don’t judge you or make you feel bad is important.

Take your time to build one.

Meanwhile, a compassionate and experienced psychotherapist may be able to bridge the gap.

Learn to recognize triggers

The scars left by authoritarian parenting can last a lifetime.

Become aware of your own feelings to heal those authoritarian wounds.

Pay attention the next time you get upset or aroused. 

As children, we had no power or means to escape.

As a protective mechanism, you learned that certain signals meant danger.

After you’ve grown up, these signals can still trigger fear and defense even when you are not in danger anymore.

For example, if others discuss a certain topic, say certain words, or move their hands in a certain way, you may become emotional, scared, or reactive.

Having these reactions may cause problems in your adult life and compromise your ability to maintain healthy, intimate relationships.

Identify these cues and learn to cope with the emotions they trigger adaptively.

Having effective coping skills without suppression is vital to your social-emotional development and regaining the life you deserve.

Make sense of your childhood

Making sense of your past and reflecting on why you feel and act the way you do is the key to recovering from authoritarian parenting.

If you’re a parent, your parental style may also be influenced by your childhood.

The different parenting styles can influence future generations’ lives, as you have witnessed first-hand.

Be conscious of your approach to parenting and prevent the negative effects of parenting from being passed on from generation to generation.

Some studies suggest that journaling and drawing expressive art under the guidance of counselors can be healing and good for mental health, too.​14​

50+ Things Controlling Parents Say

What are the four Baumrind parenting styles?

The four parenting styles are categorized by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind. This classification is based on how demanding and responsive the parents are.

The four parenting styles in psychology are the following.

What is the difference between authoritarian and authoritative parenting?

The main difference between authoritarian and authoritative styles is the level of responsiveness. Authoritarian parents are cold and non-responsive to their children. They use harsh punishment to enforce rules. Authoritative parents are warm and supportive of their children. They use reasons and explanations to get compliance.

In comparison, children raised by authoritative parents tend to have better outcomes than authoritarian parenting. These children are more likely to have academic success, strong emotional regulation, and better mental well-being.

Authoritarian parenting is an autocratic parenting style, while authoritative parenting is democratic parenting.

Final thoughts on how to recover from authoritarian parenting

Last but not least, professional help can speed up the healing process.

It is also highly recommended for those who need extra support in this journey.

For those who cannot afford private therapies, look for free or more affordable community offerings.

They are available in many states in the United States.

References

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    Pinquart M. Associations of Parenting Styles and Dimensions with Academic Achievement in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-analysis. Educ Psychol Rev. Published online September 7, 2015:475-493. doi:10.1007/s10648-015-9338-y
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    Shaw ZA, Starr LR. Intergenerational Transmission of Emotion Dysregulation: The Role of Authoritarian Parenting Style and Family Chronic Stress. J Child Fam Stud. Published online September 9, 2019:3508-3518. doi:10.1007/s10826-019-01534-1
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    Pinquart M. Associations of parenting dimensions and styles with externalizing problems of children and adolescents: An updated meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology. Published online May 2017:873-932. doi:10.1037/dev0000295
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    Fonseca A, Moreira H, Canavarro MC. Uncovering the links between parenting stress and parenting styles: The role of psychological flexibility within parenting and global psychological flexibility. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science. Published online October 2020:59-67. doi:10.1016/j.jcbs.2020.08.004
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    Vacchiano RB, Strauss PS, Hochman L. The open and closed mind: A review of dogmatism. Psychological Bulletin. Published online 1969:261-273. doi:10.1037/h0027056
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