Narcissistic Mother-in-Law

by Michelle Piper

What if you come to the realization you have a narcissistic mother-in-law? If you have a narcissistic mother, you already know dealing with her can be more taxing and harder than dealing with anyone else. But what happens when you marry into it?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.

She’s a master manipulator and knows what to say and do to make you think she really cares and/or to plant the seed of doubt.

There’s nothing authentic about a narcissistic mother-in-law. They’ve been operators and controllers since childhood, perfecting their craft as they aged.

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.

Narcissistic mother-in-laws are bragging, nagging, intruding, competitive, and defeating people. The boundary-less relationship she likely had 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 extremely 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.

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 evil and manipulative side of her, but it was there all right. The couple’s relationship almost got to the point of a break up right before the wedding until 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.

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.

If your partner was in the lost child role, she may resent that you are “distracting the family” from her or her other, golden child, with your marriage ceremony, your children and so forth. How dare you steal the spotlight 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 overused coping strategies like “minimizing” or “denying” his or her parent was 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 a master 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 because 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 you, your spouse and children from her.

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 to her that you and your family receive.

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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{ 181 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 8, 2015 at 7:56 pm

My FFIL’S girlfriend….not sure if she’s narcissistic but she isn’t all right in the head. She has been verbally abusive to my boyfriend and myself and I swear I’m ready to tell her to GTFO for good. She treats us like dumb kids and yells at minor infractions. I have toyed with the idea of telling her my boyfriend and I are autistic (which is the truth) and that she needs to be patient with us as we have our moments. We decided she probably wouldn’t care if we told her and it would get worse. We are planning on standing up to her and talking to his dad about her recent behavior and how if she keeps this up that she won’t be invited to things or even welcome in our house. We will also tell him that he can date her (we are not controlling his dad’s love life…that’s his call to make, not ours) but that we have been nothing but nice and that even if we get on her nerves she needs to act cordial. I’m terrified of this bitch being at our wedding. She’s on the “don’t invite list” because of her behavior towards us….my family would tear her apart because they will…she screams at my boyfriend and lectures me along with showing a complete disrespect for my job which

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roses2010 March 29, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Everything you are describing here is just like my NSIL!!! It’s been so hard and I’ve tried many times to forgive her and start over, but she’s so self-absorbed, possessive of my husband (her brother), lies, cheats, and steals her way through life, or acts sickly sweet if she’s not in one of her toxic foul moods! She hates me and my children, especially if we visit her Mum and other brother, and has no qualms showing it in front of everyone, and yet, none of her family pull her up for it. Instead, they run around doing things for her to cheer her up. If I ever treated another human being the way she does, I would EXPECT my own Mother to slap me and tell me to wake up to myself!!!
My husband and I have had to put down some pretty strong boundaries before, but now she’s not allowed in our home, to talk to my children, or to talk to me. It’s become that bad! I’ve helped my NSIL so many times, financially, physically & emotionally and I just can’t do it any longer. I am burnt out and my nerves are frazzled. She wants nothing more than for my marriage to fail so she can regain her position of control in her brother’s life. He’s had enough of her, but of course still loves her & that’s completely understandable; I don’t wish in any way for their relationship to end. We’re just at our wits end with the whole situation. I’ve never met anyone like her and she does cause a lot of grief in our marriage. She demmands to see her brother at any given time and will use any excuse. Our whole family has learnt that her ’emergencies’ really are nothing, but its always in the back of my mind that what if something bad does happen and we don’t believe her?
I’m bookmarking your blog so I can keep coming back to read them. They really are opening up my eyes and giving me & my husband coping strategies.Thank you so much.
~Frustrated SIL

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BeenThereDoneThat April 5, 2015 at 8:44 pm

They usually say, don’t give unsolicited advice, you don’t get credit if you give good advice, but you sure as hell are blamed if you give bad advice. But I’m going to give it advice anyway because I’ve lived it. Without much detail, I will say that my brother has been extremely abusive earlier in my life. So much so, I realized before meeting my husband that it would be unfair to him and my future children to have my brother closely involved in my life. At the same time, cutting him off completely would be unfair to my parents (who were amazing, they threw him out of the house when they realized that he was beating me) to make them suffer seeing their children get along. So what I did is I set a boundary. I only see my brother at my parents house. Making this decision was one of the best decisions I ever made and my brother seems to respect it. But then again, I was firm about those boundaries while I was single. Unfortunately, your sister in law has crossed boundaries and now you need to set some firm ones. No more of this drawing a line in sand…you draw it in stone. The survival of your marriage, therein the mental health of your children (divorce can be really hard as we all know) may be dependent on how you deal with this issue. I would cut contact from this woman for a determined amount of time (perhaps several months) to see how you feel with her gone. No phone calls, visits emails NOTHING. When I did this with my brother, it was 8 months. I’m not sure how serious your situation is, but take the time to adjust to life without her and see if you prefer things this way, or if you need low contact.
Whether you decide low contact or no contact is up to you. However, if you decide low contact, you MUST decide the following, don’t forget to write it down and agree on these terms as a couple.
1. If you see her, how often? Just family occasions and celebrations or once month or so? For people not growing up in such abuse, it is frightening to visit a narc. Usually it takes time to mentally prepare.
2. If you see her, what are the circumstances? Her home or yours? Or another place where it is neutral? I wouldn’t consider you parents in law neutral. Sounds like she rules the roost over there. Also decide on how often she sees the children.
3. What topics of discussions are NOT allowed? Narc’s are highly manipulative and giving too much information can be detrimental. She may try to pry into you lives to seek personal information and try to ‘split’ you. Immediately change the subject when she tries or bluntly tell her it’s not up for discussion.
4. Under what circumstances do you go No Contact? If she does something to jeopardize you marriage, jeopardize your relationship with your children? I once had an uncle that spoke unkindly of my father ALL the time. Having to listen to it was traumatizing because many things he said were lies. Don’t let this woman do that to your children.
5. If you do decide to go no contact, do no send her a long lengthy letter about why. Be short and terse. She will most likely use any long winded letter you give against you with other family members. There are examples online of what kind of letters to send other family members as well, if you ever decide to go this route.
6. ALWAYS discuss the signs of her narcissism after every visit. Doing this helps you feel like a united front as a couple. It also helps you understand and not feel guilty for the choices you make. You will notice that she will ‘behave’ when she feels that her power is being threatened. How do you make her feel as though her power is being threatened? Keep her in a state of confusion about your relationship by being kind, but slipping in unkind actions or snide/cryptic comments from time to time. It will give her a sense of powerlessness and fear. It will then become difficult for her to think of ways of manipulating you and your husband. You will find that if you EVER genuinely let her back in, she will quickly punish you. Take note of her patterns so you can anticipate her next move.

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crazymil April 12, 2015 at 4:52 pm

My mother in law comes round on daily basis tells me what my daughter will become in future and tells me what children should be doing at my daughter’s age which is 2. Said many things to me and tried deliberately rubbing my back up. She comes round when weve argued and tells me how her son can do no wrong, how he has always had problems like its the norm so I should just grin and bare it. anyway about a week ago she made a comment to her daughter my sister in law who I get on very well with. She said “your very loud” I was like jeez you can talk your just as loud. My partner her son said “what did you go and say that for” I said “well its true even you’ve said it” whilst his mum was there he denied it to please her. She then says to me dont worry I wont be coming round yours anymore! After that partner has been off with me you can tell he is not happy with me. After years of biting my tongue I thought why cant I say what I feel mil always says what she wants and gets away with it, she doesn’t care about anyone elses feelings.she came round other day went straight outside and started doing my fardening iI told my partner”she doesn’t need to do that we can do it” she didn’t even say hello as she walked in, im thinking how rude, my partner said its because what I said the other night. Please tell me if im wrong here? And what do I do my partner is so close to his mum its crazy and obviously hes not happy I spoke ip for what I believe so do I apologise and suck up just to keep peace with him? Or do I stick to my guns hoping e understands what I said? Advice please

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omgnmil April 29, 2015 at 11:34 am

Hi there, I completely understand you and your frustrations since my nmil is the same. I usually stand up for myself and my beliefs with nmil. She usually stays quiet when I do. I bet that she has a fit when I leave her presence, but I don’t care. I respect her because she’s my husband’s mother, but I will not let her walk all over me. If I allow her to walk over me she will feel she has more authority over my life and I DO NOT want that to happen. Stand up for your rights! Good luck!

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brexzsy April 30, 2015 at 12:16 am

Stand firm! Let your partner know where you should be in his life and where his mom should be! You are his family now. Therefore he should not let her mum treat you like that! I can relate to you with this since my husband is also not consistent with his actions wiether he is with me or mommy. So right now i have come to a decision that i will not let her break us! If that will satisfy her..sorry but i will not give in! I’m gonna fight for my husband. We are his family now, not her!

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brexzsy April 29, 2015 at 8:42 pm

I have been married for almost 5 years. My MIL sure is a narcissist! She’s someone who pretends to be very nice infront of people but is a back stabber. She pretends to be pittyful and that she’s the victim so the person on the other party is the Devil! Right now She’s  trying all posibilities and strategies to get  what she wants even if it would cause trouble to our marriage.. she is indirectly doing it so it wouldn’t look like she’s the Evil that’s gonna be the root cause of her son’s broken marriage. She wants to ruin us to win his Son back. When my husband and I got married she acted nicely as if she likes me. But instinct tells me that there’s really a tention between us… I don’t trust her beacuse she says so many bad things about her other children (hubby’s siblings) and her relatives behind their back but is very nice when they are around. So i know i can’t expect that she would say good stuff about me behind my back because she can’t even do that with her own kids and family. and I was right! When my husband went abroad to work..in less than a week after he left..my MIL already started attacking me by saying negative comments about me to my husband in his facebook messenger (good thing i have access) he would tell my husband that his gonna visit our house and she’s not informing me about it (what for? Pretty sure You guys know what she’s up to by doing this) . Then he tells my husband husband the she feels pitty for him because he’s smart but he is easy fooled by allowing himself to be our family’s financial source. Worst thing- she posted a quote on facebook about physical looks grow old but a good woman is a good woman..and then invited my husbands ex GF as a friend on facebook!(what is she trying to say? That im not a good woman..and the ex GF is who she discribed as such!) . I caught her asking my husband if there are women on the flat that he was living abroad or if he has collegues that are women(my hubby works in saudi arabia so its mostly men) it’s like she’s trying to think of posibilities that my hubby could cheat on me. She is such a poison!I hate her so much!Even if i already blocked her in facebook..she still does things to get my husbands attention back to her at my expense. I wish I can sue her for doing this. She’s really destroying our marriage. Her underground ways really gets into my nerve! and I hate my husband because he tries to let her mom know where she should stand and what I am to him and that our children and I are more important to him…but he cant seem to be consistent about his stand! Because every time MIL gets all mushy and shows him she’s sad or lonely or feels hurt about it..my husband says “sorry” right away.. so how can she ever understand that there’s something wrong with her if my husband can’t even stand firm. There’s nothing for him to say sorry about because it’s our marrige that she’s destroying and he should stick to his word and stand firm with where his loyalty should be! That’s it should be!

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Cheyenne Daniels May 10, 2015 at 9:16 am

I am 16 years old and have been with my boyfriend for a little over a year. His mother and I were once great friends going places and doing things together. At first she seemed very excited for the relationship between her son and I. She said small things like ” When you and Hunter get married you can have the house” or calling me her soon to be daughter in law. She was very charming and kind. Than Hunter and I started to talk more and more and our relationship became very serious. Now his mother blames all family issues on me and I can not do anything right. I ruined their family, and I’m the reason they no longer communicate. I have tried every thing to make this women like me. I’ve changed my friends, religious beliefs, clothes, and sadly even the way I treat my partner. I have cried because of the things she has said and I don’t know what to do in order to make her like her.

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