Authoritarian Families Affect Future Romantic Relationships

Family authoritarianism means children grow up with fear. However, does having this type of education influence future romantic relationships? Does it make bonds unhappier or more prone to dependency?
Authoritarian Families Affect Future Romantic Relationships
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 16 October, 2022

Self-control, demanding, rigid, cold, and oriented to sacrifice and obedience. Growing up in an authoritarian family is like living life in a sect. In fact, complying with the directives of demanding, rigid, and emotionally neglectful caregivers completely distorts the psychosocial development of a child.

However, children with authoritarian parents don’t usually discover that their family dynamics aren’t exactly normal until they possess the ability to reason. At this point, they suddenly start to compare their parents with those of their friends from school and realize that something is wrong. While their friends’ parents treat their children with love, and guide, value, and protect them, theirs only dictate and punish.

Authoritarian families educate with fear, not love. Parenting that lacks praise, support, emotional security, and communication distorts a child’s view of themselves. Furthermore, the wounds of authoritarianism in childhood reach adulthood, even affecting adult relationships.

Fragile self-esteem and accumulated anger are two psychological marks that family authoritarianism usually leaves behind.

girl suffering the effects of growing up in an authoritarian family
Severe, critical, and authoritarian parents affect a child’s development of self-concept.

Authoritarian families affect emotional relationships in adulthood

In the mid-1960s, psychologist, Diana Baumrind, identified three parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, and democratic. As surprising as it may seem, there are many people who welcome strict and severe education. They confuse rules and discipline with respect, falling into the temptation of implementing extremely destructive practices for the child.

Many choose this parenting style because of their culture or personality, because they were raised that way, or because they assume that this is how responsible people are formed. The “Do it because I say so” attitude is, for certain minds the best way to control their children. However, they’re unaware that growing up in authoritarian families ends up invalidating children in basic skills for their well-being, self-realization, and happiness.

It’s important to know that the experiences and meanings that each of us obtains from our parental relationships directly affect our adult relationships.

Authoritarian parenting lies behind many psychological disorders in young adults, as well as the impossibility of building happy relationships.

Thinking that they’re not good enough

Self-esteem modulates the perception we have of ourselves. Spending our first years of life conditioned by demand, severity, orders, and punishments erodes our worth. Messages like “Why don’t you do anything right?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?” make us feel fallible, clumsy, and even flawed.

Thus, an individual who’s internalized this type of narrative almost never feels equal to their partner. In fact, they doubt themselves and sometimes even perceive their loved one as if they’re their parent, in a position of superiority. Furthermore, if there’s one thing they need on a constant basis, it’s approval, reinforcement, and validation from that ‘authority’ figure.

Emotional despair and attachment disturbances

Growing up in authoritarian families results in notable challenges in relational intimacy. These children experience great emotional desperation, fear of abandonment, and the need to receive love. They may also be mistrustful. They fear being hurt at any moment due to the fact that they developed an anxious attachment to their caregivers in childhood.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1990 discussed the influence of attachment on the type of relationships built in adulthood. The study states that, as a rule, family authoritarianism tends to strengthen an anxious or avoidant type of attachment. This leads to relationships that either seek constant reaffirmation or hide behind self-sufficiency and emotional coldness because of the fear of being hurt again.

Poor communication of emotions and needs

Authoritarian families leave no room for dialogue, only orders. This means that a child raised in an authoritarian family won’t develop good emotional communication skills. Even in adulthood, they won’t dare to talk about their needs with their partner because they’ve learned, since childhood, that they’re unimportant.

Likewise, they’ll rarely express what they think and feel for fear of being reprimanded or rejected.

Overthinking and relational insecurity

Growing up in authoritarian families makes children learn that if they want to survive in these scenarios, they must keep quiet and obey. However, their minds, far from being silenced, think excessively and feed on feelings of resentment, frustration, anguish, and even fear.

Therefore, the child raised in these contexts develops insecure affective bonds. They fear being betrayed, abandoned, or not being good enough for their loved ones. Furthermore, they’re jealous and terrified of making mistakes at some point in their lives.

A tendency toward abusive relationships

Those who are educated by a strict and authoritarian family often confuse abuse with love and domination with affection. Furthermore, integrating this distorted relational pattern from really early on causes them to repeatedly fall into abusive relationships. Indeed, it’s not easy to deactivate these beliefs ingrained from childhood.

Growing up in authoritarian families leads to relational conformism and depression

The authoritarian parent is an all-encompassing presence. They not only exercise command and control with an iron fist, but they also occupy the mental territory of their children, making them believe that they’re obliged to obey. This implicit but constant message often leads to a situation of learned helplessness. They can neither change their reality nor defend themselves.

This approach, which is a form of pathological conformism, can also appear in a relationship. That’s because growing up in an authoritarian family makes individuals passive. They get carried away, say “yes” when they should say “no” and don’t always defend themselves from what hurts. More than anything, it’s because they’ve become accustomed to pain. This makes it really easy for them to become depressed.

Negative feedback received in childhood as a result of the severity, iron discipline, and dominant behavior of their parents, leads to the child developing trauma as an adult. This affects the quality of their romantic relationships.

A patient receives blocking the effects of Growing up in an authoritarian family
Those who were raised by authoritarian and harsh caregivers are at increased risk of developing depressive disorders.

What to do if you had an authoritarian upbringing

Can the wound of paternal or maternal authoritarianism be healed? If you manage to heal yesterday’s wounds, will you have healthier and happier relationships? The answer is yes. However, the first thing you must realize is that parenting based on severity, threat, lack of dialogue, and rigidity is a form of abuse.

If you’ve had a traumatic childhood, it’s advisable to undergo psychological therapy. It’ll help you address your upbringing that was marked by threats and punishments. In fact, you’ll be able to rid yourself of the ballast that erodes your self-esteem and repair your values, strengths, and charisma. This will equip you to build healthier and, above all, happier ties.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Aroca, C., & Cánovas, P. (2012). Los estilos educativos parentales desde los modelos interactivo y de construcción conjunta: Revisión de las investigaciones. Teoría de la Educación, 24(2), 149-176.
  • Trautner T. Authoritarian parenting style. Michigan State University.
  • Kuppens S, Ceulemans E. Parenting styles: A closer look at a well-known concept. J Child Fam Stud. 2019;28(1):168-181. doi:10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.