Parental psychological control has been found to be associated with both internalized and externalized problems for youth and adolescents. Research contributing to an understanding of the possible antecedents of parental psychological control is both limited and of need; specifically regarding parents' psychological attributes. This study sample included 323 two-parent families and an identified target child from each family. Bowen's theory of family systems, [chronic] stress, and differentiation of self and its relation to parental psychological control was examined. Differentiation of self was hypothesized to mediate the relationship between chronic stress and parental psychological control. Differentiation was conceptualized and measured using two subscales assessing emotional reactivity and emotional cutoff. Fathers and mothers were included in the same model to assess for potential partner influences as well possible gender differences. Parental age, parental education, and family income were also included as control variables. Study analyses included bivariate correlations, independent T-tests, and structural path models; all based on study variables constructed in a structural equation measurement model. To test for mediation by differentiation of self, an initial structural model examining the relationship between levels of parental chronic stress and parental psychological control was utilized. Only paternal chronic stress and paternal education predicted child-reported levels of parental psychological control. Parent-reported levels of differentiation of self, when included in a structural path model, did not mediate the relationship between chronic stress and psychological control but did have a significant indirect effect on this relationship. Both maternal and paternal chronic stress significantly predicted individual parental levels of emotional reactivity and emotional cutoff. Systemically, maternal levels of emotional cutoff predicted paternal levels of parental psychological control and paternal levels of emotional reactivity predicted maternal levels of parental psychological control. No control variables other than paternal education had a salient, significant, or interpretable effect on endogenous study variables (differentiation of self and parental psychological control). Paternal and maternal levels of emotional reactivity appeared to partially mediate the relationship between paternal education and maternal psychological control. Interpretation for results, study limitations and future directions, and clinical implications are discussed.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Family Life; Marriage and Family Therapy



Date Submitted


Document Type





Parental psychological control, Differentiation of self, Chronic Stress, Parenting, Antecedents, Mediation, Indirect effects