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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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Morris. July 23, 2016 at 2:25 am

I don’t talk or think about narcissists much any more.

I was the son of a narcissistic mother and she sabotaged every relationship that I ever had.

Six years ago, however, the old girl got up to her old tricks and so I gave her her marching orders.

It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. I mean that purely from a psychological perspective. It was really hard to break all of the old behaviour patterns and false beliefs.

Anyway, my point being – I chose my Wife and children over my narcissistic mother.

It was absolutely the right choice and I’ve never looked back. My “parents” were poison and I’m glad that they’re gone.

It can happen – sons of narcissistic mothers can cut the ties and walk away …… it isn’t easy, it can be done and it does happen.

Morris.

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rosemary August 15, 2016 at 9:51 pm

I have a narcissistic mother in law from the get go. When my husband and I came together after over 20 years apart and he brought me to his home to meet his mother. It only took a few visits for her to tell me that the only reason I was able to be there with her son is because she liked me. Otherwise she said I would already told him to get rid of you. My husband and I decided to marry some time later and all was well for a while. Until she found out I managed my husbands money and she began to wage war. She told him that he was to limit the amount of money he gave him. That I should go get a job etc. Sure enough he walked in out the blue one day and said that he was only giving me this limited amount of money and that I should go make money if I need more. That his mother worked for 30 years and that I should go do the same instead of doing nothing. The crazy things is that I work from home and work less for the same amount of money it takes him a month to make. But there is more… so, we started arguing about the money and in spite of the fact that I had all our finances in super check and had even reduced our expenses by close to $600 per month. He said that from now on he was saving and managing his own money and that I had been hoarding his money all along, which is not true. It only took another day of that for him to quickly pack his bag and head to his mother immediately who promptly welcomed him with open arms and suggested that I not worthy of him. I phoned her after the second day he moved in with her and she did not answer. Some time later she sent a text that she would not be answering me at all. So, I wrote her again saying that this was very serious and that there was no reason for her to have taken him back into her home when he was already a married man, had a home and a wife. To which she said that I had already been previous married and insinuated that I was not good enough for her son. I continued to explain that she should be supporting his marriage and helping him become a good husband. She answered not. I then texted him asking if he would like to come home. To which he answered that he was home (with his mother). I said I missed him to which he responded he missed me too but that he could not leave. SInce then he has said that he will not be working on our marriage because he now has to work on his saving money and making money. That I am too much work and difficult to love. Today I asked him if he loved me and he took a breath a said yes. However he was to come over to our home to pick up things and never showed up. His mother didn’t express any interest in helping us or him leave and I am sure she is happy now that he boyfriend soon is back home with her. She along the way has made all kinds of demands from me . That I should call her daily, that I should go over to her house. That I should tell my husband to cut his hair. That I should this and that…
I have no idea how things will be for my husband and I, we have been married for 6 months. He married late in life for the first time. He confessed after marriage as he opened up that he’s parents had been extremely controlling of him all his life. How hard it had been for him. When he finally got out all he wanted to do was everything. So, he got hooked on drugs, women for many years. Hence, why we could not marry when younger. They have a volatile relationship were she tells him what to do all the time and then stresses him out. They are now locked up in her home like they have been for years watching tv and being critical of people and things.

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rosemary August 15, 2016 at 10:05 pm

I am glad you shared your experience. My husband had similar experiences except his parents made it as if no one else where the only people that loved him. It is a very twisted situation. He’s mom is still alive and she would control everything he bought, wore and the arguments were constant. Some how she caught wind that I managed our finances and began her devious behavior. That I need to get a job and that he should only give me a limited amount of money because I was hoarding all his money and since I am previously divorced that I would take off with all his hard earned money.

He is now living with her, she refuses to talk to me or recognize that he is married and that he should be in his home with me trying to work things out.

Your shared testimonial was hopeful. As according to my husband he misses me but cant leave from his mothers.

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Stressed DIL August 3, 2016 at 9:06 am

This is my MIL. Hands down. She exhibits all the signs of NPD and it causes me so much anxiety. She doesn’t listen to us, undermines our parenting, turns every situation into a pity party for herself, says the weirdest stuff to make me feel awful, acts like my husband is still her baby, tries to pry into our financial business, and when things don’t go her way (no matter what the situation), she uses her husbands passing to try and make people feel sorry for her.
Speaking from an analytical perspective, her behavior is only pushing her son away. He doesn’t even want to call her once a week, I have to dial the number and make him talk to her. I feel that even though she always has an agenda, it’s important to try and continue a relationship for the sake of my husband. We live out of state, and her behavior has affected their relationship in the most negative ways.
Is there a way to be “nice” and tell this woman she needs to stop the bs?!?

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Also Stressed August 9, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Other than the kids, you could be describing my MIL. Even down to the using her husband’s passing! I wish I had an answer b/c I need one too. Unfortunately, we have had to cut off contact with her at the moment. My husband recently had a mild heart attack. (He’s fine, but it was scary!) Her first response when she arrived at the hospital was how she couldn’t believe this was happening to her again. My FIL died of a massive heart attack last year. She was completely horrible throughout the whole situation. I don’t think there is a way to be “nice” and tell her to stop the bs. One of the main signs of a narcissist is that they don’t see how their actions impact other people. I’ve tried to be nice. I’ve tried to be direct. I’ve tried being a b*$%!. Nothing works. My only suggestion is to limit contact. I know that will probably be hard since you have kids…

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Anonymous August 17, 2016 at 11:12 am

Why would you want your husband to continue having a relationship with this woman? She sounds horrible. Take your husbands lead and let hi manage the relationship. If you push him he will resent you and it will damage your marriage.

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kings August 5, 2016 at 10:34 pm

My mother committed suicide 12/251995. I found her. It’s difficult around the holidays. My husband tells me he spending Christmas with his mom knowing I can’t get the following Monday or Tuesday off. I have no family here and he’s ok with that.. I just don’t understand. I don’t know what to do.

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Monsters in Law!!!! August 11, 2016 at 8:49 am

Monster in Law describes my relationship with my in laws with NO Hollywood ending. For years I have been dealing with a NMIL and I married the golden child, who has narcissistic tendencies, but he truly wants to change. My FIL, I believe, is not narcissistic he does whatever it takes to make his wife happy to “keep the peace”. Well, after being married to my husband for almost 17 years (19 years together) I finally said enough about 2 years ago! I haven’t spoken to my in laws in almost 2 years after their last visit in my home. My husband is in the military and for most of his career we have lived on the eastcoast or overseas (his family lives on the westcoast). We returned to the states for our last duty station overseas and low and behold we now live 6 hours from my in laws. Of course my NMIL couldn’t wait to contol our every move but received a rude awakening. Shortly after moving back to the states I got a job. Therefore, I was not privy to vacation until after my 6 months probationary period. My NMIL is a 30+ year manager and understands this completely, however, it did not stop her from asking us to come down for Christmas. (This is coming from a woman who did not attend her father’s memorial bc she was his princess and her siblings went against her wishes so she went out of town with my FIL) Anyway, I kept explaining that my company is 24 hours and I am scheduled to work during the holiday. It fell on deaf ears, and she came up with the bright idea of “what if my husband and the kids come for vacation and she fly me out on the Eve and I fly back before work on Christmas”. Huh?!? Well, my husband and I decided to stay home for Christmas because it would not be fair for me to be without MY family for the holiday. Well she was upset (she sent no Christmas gifts that year) but played nice until she and my FIL came to visit us a few months later. We hadn’t eaten breakfast yet before she hands me a paper “someone” gave her on the airplane ride over. The paper read, “How to have a successful marriage”. I looked at her and tuck the paper in my apron to show my husband later. Then my FIL couldn’t help but to say something negative to me under his breath so the golden child didn’t hear it. Therefore, at that point I declared I had enough. I remain distant during the rest of their visit and managed to not see them the last few days they were in town. As to why it’s been almost 2 years since Ive spoken to them. It’s been great and my husband and has had no issues. Until recently, I just celebrated a milestone birthday in Las Vegas and his family knew I was going and they weren’t invited. Both in laws birthday are a few days before mine but they waited right before mine to call my husband and ask him, “Why don’t I like them?” And explained that they’ll be in Vegas the same weekend as us and feel like they won’t be able to see him. My husband finally stood up for me and said if you really want to know why she’s upset ask her, if you really want to change things because he knows I’m a very forgiving person. There was no let me speak with her, or No phone call.. So what happens she sends her flying monkeys. My BIL (scapegoat) and his wife and my CIL and his wife. They all called the night we got into Vegas to say they are there or on the way. Smh! I was pissed but I did find out that my SIL has the same feelings towards our NMIL and there was a good reason but I honestly did not want to discuss her on MY birthday celebration weekend but we did. That’s when I finally was able to put a name to who my MIL is.. A narcissist. All these years I thought it was me and her SIL. Well, a month after that debacle my NMIL then tags me in a post on FB. I was like what is her deal, remind you I still haven’t talked to my in laws. I then deleted my FB page for a few weeks. And now she is asked my husband if we could take vacation around their vacation so we can take care of his ailing grandmother. She said they will be out of town and we can stay in their house. My husband has said no but he will discuss with me. And being that he brought it to me I know wants to go. I think it’s selfish of her to want us to plan our vacation around theirs but it’s his grandmother… I know this is a narcissist tactic because that same grandmother told my husband and our daughter they don’t take care of her but I would hate to feel like we abandon his grandmother during her aging years. What should I do?

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ATS August 11, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Thanks for this post, it was very informative.

Having married an only child son with a mother who suffers from a myriad of mental health issues, including NPD and alcoholism, we have had to experience all of the above. We tried for six years to set firm boundaries which were persistently violated to the point of harassment and stalking. We then left the country in which case she showed up in said country against our will three blocks from our home. So now we have since moved to be by my family for further support with the situation and to protect our little ones. He has very minimal phone contact every couple of months. I have no contact with her. She does not have our address.

The most heartbreaking part of all is my husband is the one who has suffered so greatly because of it. He spent 30 years minimizing and ignoring the problems because it was a survival mechanism. Now he feels lost and alone, though he understands fully what has gone on and has set the boundaries himself. We have spent thousands of dollars on therapy to determine the most effective ways to handle this situation.

My heart goes out to all who have dealt with this type of person. Truly toxic and impossible to establish a functional relationship. I try to blame it on the illness, not the individual. Helps a bit with coping.

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Bex August 23, 2016 at 8:37 am

My monster in law soon to EX monster in law she controlled everything and her boy as she called him even when he was a 40 year old man. She would often tell me when I got something for the house she could never afford anything like that, she would tell me how I cooked her son rubbish ( even though I asked him what he wanted to eat), she even wanted to come in whilst I gave birth, she would chase me around the house accusing me of anything even lying and telling people I ignored her phone calls or the door to her. But I am proud to say I’m now divorcing her precious son and at 44 years old she is now ironing his clothes, cooking him breakfast ( he leaves his gf’s house to go there for breakfast) and makes his sandwiches for work. He will never become a man who is not a sociopath with a nice mom

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Bex August 23, 2016 at 8:40 am

That should say at the end
He will never become a man and I am now looking for a real man who is no a sociopath with a nice man !!

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Anonymous August 25, 2016 at 11:18 am

This article was incredibly written.

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