SPOILER ALERT! ~ LACK OF CONROL EARLY IN LIFE CONTRIBUTES TO LATER DEVELOPMENT OF ANXIETY AND VULNERABILITY TO PSYCHOLGOICAL DISORDERS. ~ A CHILD’S ABILITY TO MANIPULATE HER ENVIRONMENT, ESPECIALLY UNDER STRESS, HELPS HER DEVELOP BETTER COPING MECHANISMS ~ PARENTS WHO ARE OVERPROTECTIVE AND COLD CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE THE CHILD FEELS THAT SHE HAS NO CONTROL OVER IT
Past studies have highlighted the role that perception of uncontrollability and unpredictability play in the development and maintenance of negative emotions. Particularly relevant here is their contribution to anxiety, as well as increasing vulnerability to psychological disorders.
Anxiety is Linked to Lack of Control
Control is defined as the ability to influence events and outcomes, which naturally implicates the ability to predict when something will happen. For example, animal studies suggest that lack of control is one of the pathways leading to anxiety and fear.
Similarly, human studies support this finding by showing that an immediate sense of diminished control over one’s environment is associated with the immediate expression of anxiety.
More compelling is the evidence suggesting that sufficient early experience with uncontrollable events may contribute to an increased generalized tendency to perceive one’s world as uncontrollable later in life.
This finding suggests that early life experience with lack of control puts an individual at risk of experiencing chronic anxiety and psychological vulnerabilities as they go through development.
Lack of Control in Children
Indeed, for a child the ability to manipulate her environment effectively leads to healthy development. This is particularly pertinent under stressful conditions as it helps them develop coping mechanisms.
For example, disorganized behaviors in infants such as crying, yelling or temper tantrums could be an attempt to negotiate with the environment, and thus be part of a coping process.
It follows then that parenting style plays a crucial role in determining whether the child has some control over his environment or not. Specifically, studies report that a combination of low parental care (i.e., low affection) and high parental control (i.e., overprotective) is a strong predictor of future anxiety and depression.
Notably, parents who are overprotective with their child create an environment in which the child displays a very narrow range of behaviors and limits their ability to manipulate their environment independently. Similarly, parents who are unresponsive to the child teach her that her actions have little or no influence on their environment.
Chorpita BF, Barlow DH. The development of anxiety: the role of control in the early environment. Psychol Bull. 1998 Jul;124(1):3-21. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.124.1.3. PMID: 9670819.