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.

If you have found this post helpful, please click the “Like” button.

{ 175 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


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


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: