Narcissistic Mother-in-Law

by Michelle Piper

What if you realize you have a narcissistic mother-in-law? For your spouse, the child of the narcissist, dealing with the parental narcissist can be more taxing and harder than dealing with anyone else.

But what happens when you marry into having a narcissistic relative? How are you supposed to deal with a narcissistic mother-in-law? You’re not even biologically programmed to love this woman, yet you may feel you have to put up with her because your spouse does.

When you first meet your narcissistic mother-in-law to be, she may act charming, witty, and like she’s genuinely interested in you and your life. In reality, it may be she only wants to deepen the relationship between the two of you in order to use your trust and confidence against you or your spouse later.

It may not be until the relationship between you and your partner gets serious, or even until marriage, that you start to feel her wrath. She may see you as competition, vying for control over her child’s love, loyalty and attention.

She’s a master manipulator and knows what to say and do to make you think she really cares. She’s also skilled in planting the seed of doubt.

Narcissistic mother-in-laws have been operators and controllers since childhood, perfecting their craft as they age. They brag, nag, intrude, compete, and often defeat those who attempt to have healthy boundaries. The boundary violating relationship she likely created with her child is now tarnished because you’ve come into the picture and taken her narcissistic supply away.

When I think about this topic, I think of the movie Monster-In-Law, starring Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez. Jane Fonda plays a successful TV host, a divorcee several times over, and the mother to a son who falls in love with Jennifer Lopez’s character.

When this happens, Fonda’s character is nice and fake to the woman her son is dating. But as soon as she finds out they are getting married, BOOM, Fonda does everything in her power to try to get rid of her.

In the movie, her son was her golden child, the one who could do no wrong in her eyes and only deserved the best. Many times with a narcissistic mother, the golden child is a son. If this golden child grows up and ends up being the partner you fall in love with, this could be a serious problem. Unfortunately, no partner may ever be good enough for a golden child.

In the movie, her son never saw the manipulative side of her, but it was there all along. The couple’s relationship almost breaks apart right before the wedding. Luckily, Fonda’s character has a sudden change of heart and agrees not to interfere with the relationship anymore.

That last part is, of course, the Hollywood happy ending the audience waits for. In the real world, not the one on the big screen, this is definitely not a typical case. The damage of a narcissistic mother-in-law opens wounds for years to come in both spouse and the narcissistic mother’s grandchildren.

From the narcissistic mother-in-law’s perspective, “giving away” her child to be with an adult partner isn’t an option. If that child was her mirror or golden child, the perceived loss can be excruciating to the narcissistic mother-in-law and she’ll feel threatened.

In contrast, if her child was in the scapegoat role, you’re going to hear about it and she’ll try to enlist you against her adult child. You will be targeted to join with the narcissistic mother or will be her enemy and these roles can flip flop over time.

If your partner was in the lost child role, the maternal narcissist may resent that you are “distracting the family” from her or her other children such as the golden child, with your marriage ceremony, your children and so forth. How dare you steal the spotlight from them with your normal life?

Whatever the role your NMIL put your partner in, you and your spouse will need to show a united front in arguments and disagreements between you and your narcissistic mother-in-law. Your partner relationship will be only as strong as the values you mutually agree to maintain. Whoever affronts them, mother or not, simply cannot be trusted if you wish to protect your intimate bond.

If your spouse isn’t yet aware he or she has a narcissistic parent, refrain from talking about her flaws without clear examples of the negative behavior. Initially, your spouse may have difficulty seeing the dysfunctional behavior because, to survive a narcissistic mother in the first place, your partner may have used coping strategies like “minimizing” or “denying” his or her parent was and is abusive.

Set limits with her and make sure your spouse is aware and agrees to these limits. Remember, she is emotionally very young, and like a child will test your boundaries. Decide together what role your narcissistic mother-in-law is going to play in your new lives.

If she can, your narcissistic mother-in-law will nitpick at everything you do, from how you spend your resources like money and time, to how you keep your house to how you raise your kids. She wants a say in everything and is good at getting into your personal space.

Even when limits are put into place, it may not stop her from overstepping your boundaries. If things do not change, you and your spouse may need to strictly limit interactions with her (low contact) or completely sever them (no contact).

In a normal family, tensions usually ease or are at least tolerated over time. You were probably not raised the same way as your spouse nor did you grow up with the same values, beliefs, and family issues and problems. Getting married means accepting differences and making each other better people. When it comes to a narcissistic mother-in-law, however, you and your spouse are expected to make unreasonable concessions.

In a narcissistic family system, issues are more difficult to overcome. Remember, the less functional a family, the more rigidly it holds onto old, unproductive patterns.

Be aware of your narcissistic mother-in-law’s history in order to better defend against her manipulations. Narcissists are toxic but predictable. If you observe her dysfunction with a studied eye, you and your spouse can effectively strategize against her repetitive boundary violations and unrealistic expectations.

The motivation for her narcissistic behavior may be the result of a myriad of causes which can hint at future inappropriate behavior. She may have been spoiled or overindulged when she was a child.

She may be the product of narcissistic parenting, perhaps the daughter of a narcissistic mother herself, and was only loved conditionally based on achievements and performance. Her toxic behavior could also be due to some form of abuse or neglect as a child and her narcissism resulted as a defense mechanism to it all.

Knowing her history doesn’t excuse her hurtful actions but can better equip you to protect yourself, your spouse and children from a maternal narcissist.

Unlike her, you are capable of being empathetic. You can walk in another person’s shoes and take a look from their perspective.

Although there are ways of confronting your narcissistic mother-in-law in a fair way to set limits, normal limit setting may not be enough to curb the toxic behavior of a NMIL.

As a reasonable person, you’ll usually first attempt the gentle boundary setting which has worked with mentally healthy people throughout your life, but eventually be forced by the pathology of the NMIL to go to greater lengths like low or no contact to protect your relationship against the bizarre violation of the healthy boundaries you and your partner have established. Decide on the amount of phone calls, visits, and exposure that you and your family receive from any narcissist.

Don’t take what she says to heart as she can only reflect back a distorted view of others due to her own impairment and her perceptions of you will be flawed.

As a couple, discuss your limits and boundaries regarding your NMIL. Then, set them in order to decrease the likelihood your narcissistic mother-in-law will hurt your relationship or the ones you love.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Vail September 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

I have a NMIL and she is very toxic, I pretty much had her number from the beginning but apparently she had no idea. After my now husband and I got engaged, perhaps it was two months we got an email about her moving in with us and selling her house. She wanted us to get a house with granny quarters or enough space to have a small house on the property. My husband did nothing like a dumb ass and so another couple months and she had found us a house! Nope…this time I responded and let her know that she was never moving in ever. I have now dealt her crap for almost a year (married life) she walks in our house without knocking, power play I am sure. When we got married I asked her NOT to stay in the room as I dressed because for one my brides maid was also getting dressed and she did not give two sh@*ts and stayed anyway and had my son walk her down the aisle which was also not part of the ceremony. Anyway I have had enough and she was bring annoying as she had not heard from me in awhile. I blocked her from my cell and apparently she tried to text me or call me and of course blocked Oh well! So she emailes me and I finally let loose and tell her ALL of it, all her crap I will no longer put up with. Of course denial and more denial and no idea I felt that way and forget this and forgot that and blah blah blah. I pretty much told her she is full of it, I know her game and I am out. I don’t care if my husband wants to see her, thats fine but as for me, NEVER! I am done so now she is on a mission to get him on her side, wont happen he knows how she is and says he cant stand her not for 15 min but of course to her he acts ok. He can’t handle the conflict I guess, who knows. I will no longer be a part of her life, he can have her, all of her and figure it all himself. She has no boundaries ZERO!

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Anonymous September 23, 2017 at 7:20 am

Where the F is your mother in laws husband!? Sorry, I just don’t get why these mother in laws don’t find intimacy and satisfaction in their husbands.

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Vail September 25, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Exactly!

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Anonymous September 30, 2017 at 8:54 am

They usually don’t have one

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Adrian October 9, 2017 at 1:25 pm

The narcissist needs to be the centre of everyone’s attention, all family members no-one is spared. They can’t get enough attention. Tell me, is copious attention from a single person enough for you or do you need several relationships to fulfill your needs?

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Cheryl September 25, 2017 at 9:56 am

After 22 years of watching my MIL play games against me, among her three children, and among other family members who don’t “pay enough attention to her”, we are done. The final straw was watching her give a birthday gift to our older daughter (who she currently doesn’t find threatening), and not giving a gift to our younger daughter (who “dared” to express her feelings to “Grandma”). Playing the “favorite game” with the next generation, the same way she does with her three adult children, is not going to be tolerated! None of her adult children speak to each other, because of her constant pitting one against the other. She still found time to talk about everyone, behind their backs, including her own sister, who supports her financially, while dealing with her “dying” husband (he’s presently alive, and fine)!! She can’t stop because she enjoys the sick power. She hates her other DIL who married her “Golden Son”, hates me who married the “scapegoat son”, and hates everybody that doesn’t worship at her feet, 24/7. She has become just like her own narcissistic mother, who she couldn’t stand. My children have experienced the “sick” love of this narcissist, and know that she is incapable of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. The lies are constant and we are done! Thank God!

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Link October 3, 2017 at 9:10 am

Reading your piece, so many bells are chiming. The initial ‘welcome’ by my NMIL was short-lived, soon giving way to snippy remarks and very controlling language and behaviour – eg ‘If he wants to be part of this family, he’ll have to do X, Y and Z …’ – referring to me as ‘he’ as if I wasn’t there. For the sake of peace, I didn’t protest. After every visit, I was left with the strong impression I’d done something wrong – but never knew what.

For almost a decade, I felt like I was auditioning for her. Then her other child – not my partner – confronted me about some blatant lies my NMIL had told about me and I finally realised the extremity of what I was dealing with. It took me some time to believe someone could behave this way – I had to battle a lot of my own incredulity. But my years of bewilderment eventually solidified into some sober clarity. In the last few years, I have declined all visits and our ‘relationship’ consists of no more than bland birthday cards – no love, no kisses. That’s how I like it – and how it will stay.

Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. But it can gradually drain the poison, which used to be regularly topped up.

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Connie October 4, 2017 at 8:14 pm

Thank you, Link. My story is so similar. You showed me what I have to do. I’ve been auditioning for 33 years. I’m so very sick of it.

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Connie October 4, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Thank you, Link. My story is so similar. You showed me what I have to do. I’ve been auditioning for 33 years. I’m so very sick of it.

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Heather October 15, 2017 at 1:49 pm

My mother in law is a narcissist and his sister has borderline personality disorder. Father passed away 7 years ago. The two of them live together and the 35 year old sister is completely dependent on her mother. They both don’t work and don’t have a single friend between them. They have alienated every family member they have and they have made my life a living hell. When I confronted it and them they cut me out of their lives and now they insist every holiday and most weekends my husband has is spent with them. They can continue to manipulate without me interfering. Gives him spiels about how his loyalty is to her as a son. I feel like giving up on the whole situation and walking away. Even though I love my husband to death. Someone help me figure this out.

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Dsmith October 20, 2017 at 8:09 pm

Dont let these evil women win.We are stronger than them and they are threatned by it. I am in the same situation as all of you women and before I knew about this narcisstic thing I thought something was wrong with me. I would argue ,cry and fight with my husband to get him to understand what was goin on with his mother. Well it took his father passing away for things to change for me at least where I no longer play this womens games I ignore and grey rock whenever I see her which is everyday because she lives upstairs from me. I also pray everyday and make sure i keep my self and my husband and my children happy because at the end of the day that is all that matters .Ladies listen stop trying to get ur husbands to see what they cant see they are used to this behavior and dont resent them .instead show them what a real woman wife and mother is supposed to be. Trust me it will be hard but you will feel so much better.

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