From time to time, an adult will seek my help because they feel like they can’t breathe around their parents.  The feeling of not being able to breathe could be from anxiety or panic.  Sometimes, we hold our breath without thinking when we are waiting for something to happen, when we are scared or when we don’t want to be noticed.  Here are a few of the reasons why people might feel like they are suffocating around their parents 

Fear of Judgement

Certain cultures and families, feel that it is in the child’s best interest to put pressure on them.  This pressure can look like academic pressure, career pressure, religious pressure and pressure about marriage and children.  Children and adults do not want to disappoint their parents, so they feel the stress both physically and psychologically.  The physical pressure can sometimes be felt in the chest, which leads to shallow breathing.  When people fear judgement, it can be difficult for them to communicate how they are feeling and what they are thinking.  They might feel like the words are stuck in their throat. 

Walking on Eggshells

If you grew up in a home where you were never sure what would set your parent off or what would make them angry, you learned to walk on eggshells.  Part of walking on eggshells is flying under the radar so that no one notices you.  If no one sees you, you can’t be shouted at or punished.  Holding your breath might be away for you to go unnoticed and let the danger pass.  


You might have different ideas and perceptions from your parents about what is dangerous.  For the most part, parents want to protect their children from physical and emotional harm.  Sometimes this feels quite controlling, especially if your parents think your romantic partner, friends or career choice will harm you.  This feeling of overprotection might feel like a control tactic which leads to feelings of being trapped.  Listen to why your parents think something is dangerous with an open mind. It might be that they are correct, or it might be that they are anxious.  Communicate how you feel in an empathetic way that acknowledges your parent’s concerns.  Some parents can become possessive about their children; this is a more serious issue that might require professional help.  

Past abuse

It is difficult to feel safe around those who have abused or harmed you.  If the abuse is ongoing, make sure that you are safe and find an exit strategy out of the situation.  Adult children often say that they are waiting for their parent to change.  Understand that you cannot control anyone else; you can only control your response to the situation.  It is difficult to break ties with parents out of loyalty and guilt, but sometimes it is the only way for you to be safe.   


If your parent or parents are anxious, it might affect your mood.  If your parent is anxious, they might speak quicker, overanalyze, worry and over-plan.  This can feel suffocating at times because you don’t understand why your parent is hyper or stressed.  Speak with compassion and empathy to your parent.  If you get frustrated and speak harsh words or with a harsh tone, anxiety will worsen.  If you are anxious yourself, find ways to relax and be calm before you see your parents.   


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Although I am a registered clinical psychologist with the Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology, I am not a licensed psychologist or any other type of licensed therapist in the United States. The information I am providing here is educational and informational. This social media page does not provide professional advice, nor does it create a professional-client relationship or any other type of relationship between us. You should always consult your own licensed mental health professional before making any changes regarding your mental health. My goal is to educate, guide, consult, and empower you regarding your mental health journey. Always consult your licensed mental healthcare provider(s) and never disregard or delay medical advice based on information posted on this page or post.