I’ve been working on a book for a while now about toxic/narcissistic in-laws. I’m struggling to write it for a few reasons. I’ve been really distracted by things going on in my life since I started this book 2 years ago. I also felt that I needed to put it on the back burner to write other books. The topic is such a hard one for me to write about too, because I honestly have been through hell because of some of my husband’s family, & I’m still healing. And, in spite of taking frequent breaks, I’m pretty burned out on all things narcissism. These issues make this one tough book to write. That being said, I believe the topic is an important one so I will finish it. It just may take some time.
Since my book is delayed, here is a post to help identify whether or not your in-laws are toxic. I will write from the perspective of a daughter in-law with a toxic mother in-law, since that is the bulk of my experience as well as the bulk of the experiences of people I’ve spoken with. The information is good for toxic sisters in-law, fathers in-law, etc. though.
Does your mother in-law ignore you? The purpose of this behavior is to show you that you mean nothing to her.
Does she refuse to accept responsibility for treating you badly? Rather than say something like, “I shouldn’t have said that.. I’m sorry,” does she make excuses for her words or actions or deny them completely? This is a big red flag. Functional people accept responsibility for what they say & do.
Does your mother in-law have a different personality depending on whether or not you are alone with her or others are around? Another big red flag! Any abuser will behave differently to their victim depending on whether or not there are witnesses. They want to hide their abuse from other people.
Does she expect you to be blindly devoted to her family, even to the point of rejecting your own family & friends? Many toxic mothers in-law remind me of the Borg from the tv show “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” They expect their son’s or daughter’s new spouse to become completely enmeshed in their new in-law family.
Like the Borg, toxic mothers in-law expect their new sons or daughters in-law to adapt to their opinions, religion, way of life, etc. Individuality is highly discouraged by toxic mothers in-law. I once told my late mother in-law I hate to cook. I do it, but hate it. For Christmas a few months later, she & her 2 daughters gave me nothing but cookbooks, utensils, food & other cooking paraphernalia.
Toxic in-laws show no respect. Toxic in-laws show no respect for personal space, choices, likes/dislikes, parenting, & even boundaries.
And speaking of a lack of respect, your mother in-law makes it clear to you that she doesn’t like you. Unless you abuse your mother in-law’s adult child or your children, if your mother in-law had any respect whatsoever for her child, she would be civil to you no matter how much she disliked you. The inability to be civil even only for the sake of her adult child proves she is toxic.
Is she manipulative & controlling? Toxic people, in particular narcissists, must be in charge. Chances are, your mother in-law controls her spouse & children. Since you married one of her children, she expects you to be as control-able & easily manipulated as everyone else. When you say no, she is NOT happy.
If your toxic mother in-law is nice to you, it’s short lived & in front of others only. Very few people are cruel 100% of the time. Toxic people bring out their nice side when it can be advantageous to them. Being nice sometimes will make their victim want to see it more, so they work harder to please the toxic person. Also, being nice to a victim in front of others helps the toxic person prove to others that if you complain about the relationship, you are obviously the problem.
Mothers in-law like this care nothing of their adult child beyond what he can do for her. They clearly have no respect for him either, since they treat the person he chose to spend his life with so badly. His marriage is nothing more to this kind of mother than an embarrassment, & she would like it simply to go away. Since she can’t file for divorce on his behalf, she becomes extremely destructive to the adult child’s marriage with her abusive ways.
Your spouse no doubt suffers greatly from his mother’s abusive behavior, yet tolerates it anyway. This is because he is accustomed to how his mother behaves. This is his norm & many adults in this situation have accepted this as their permanent reality. By complaining about his mother’s behavior or even confronting her, this threatens his norm. Facing the truth can be incredibly painful for many in this position, which is why many refuse to face the truth. This feeling is known as cognitive dissonance. Rather than face this miserable feeling, many people in this situation will do their best to shut down their spouse. They don’t want to hear about the bad things their mother is doing, so they will tell their wife they don’t believe her, she is over sensitive, she just doesn’t understand Mom, that’s her problem so she needs to leave him out of it & more. They refuse to confront their mother on behalf of their wife.
Naturally, the wife in this position feels rejected, unloved & hurt. She wants to fight for her marriage, but it seems whatever she does is wrong, & whatever his mother does is right. Her trying to save her marriage only causes more problems. The reason for this is she doesn’t know that when you’re dealing with a narcissist, normal ways to cope don’t work.
For anyone in this position, you need to think of this situation more like a game of strategy than a relationship.
As always pray. Ask God to help you to know what to do & to give you whatever you need to enable you to do it. Pray for your husband to see the truth & for God to enable him to be able to cope with it, too.
Cope with your emotions as best you can by journaling, talking to a safe friend, pray.. whatever works for you. Whatever you do, don’t hold in your emotions!
Don’t focus on your mother in-law’s bad behavior when it can be avoided. Instead, focus on being the loving wife that you are. Don’t neglect to remind your husband how much you love him. If he complains about his mother to you for any reason, don’t join in. Listen quietly to him & give him objective advice if he asks for it. The reason being, the mindset of many people in this situation is they can complain about Mom, but if anyone else does, they jump to her defense. This would only cause more problems in your marriage.
Along those lines, if you discuss his mother’s behavior with him, stay calm. State your issues in a matter of fact way, lacking emotion. If you rant & rave, that too will make him feel he must defend his mother, which only will hurt you & possibly your marriage.
Limit your exposure to your mother in-law as much as possible, but especially alone. No narcissist wants to abuse their victim in front of the person they want to think well of them, so stay glued to your husband’s side as much as possible.
Keep your emotions in check around your mother in-law. Narcissists love to twist a victim’s normal reaction around to prove how mentally unstable or even abusive the victim is to other people. In her presence, stay calm. Vent later when you’re away from her as needed though, so you don’t hold in all the bad emotions.
Having to deal with toxic, narcissistic in-laws is tough. I know, I’ve been there. But, with prayer, love, patience & wisdom, you can survive it with your marriage in tact.
Some covert narcissists are what I think of as the consummate victim. They are the ones who are always wronged, always the victim, & never at fault for anything. Some examples of their behavior are as follows.
The narcissist says something cruel. You get angry, & rightfully so. She claims she never meant to hurt your feelings. She was just trying to help & had no idea what she said would upset you. She then stops speaking to you for weeks, even if you apologized.
The narcissist tries to manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to do. Naturally, you refuse to do it. She claims you don’t love her. How could you refuse to do this one little thing for her, especially after all she’s done for you?!
The narcissist is your elderly parent who expects you to come at their beck & call. You tell your parent you only are available one day a week to do what she needs. She tells your family how you refused to help her, & they attack you for being a bad daughter, ungrateful, a spoiled brat & more.
Narcissists who claim life is so unfair to them or that they are mistreated when people confront them on their abusive behavior are also consummate victims. There are also those who blame their victims for their abusive behavior. They are also consummate victims, as are those who complain about their problems, yet refuse to do something to change the situation.
Dealing with these people is incredibly frustrating, I know. My late father & late mother in-law were both covert narcissists & consummate victims. I repeatedly asked my father not to call after 9 at night. When I refused to take his call when he called at 10 one evening, he called my in-laws & a cousin who lives almost 500 miles away. He told both he was so concerned about me for not answering the phone, & asked them to have me call him immediately. Another time, I was angry with my mother in-law because she had snooped through my purse yet again. She asked my husband why I was angry, & he told her. I overheard the conversation. She claimed not to know what she did would be upsetting to me.
Both situations were similar. As a result of my father’s & mother in-law’s actions, my husband & I got into an argument about his mother & my cousin & I argued about my father. Being the typical consummate victims, their obnoxious behavior caused problems for the real victim while making themselves look good.
There are some things that you can do that can help you if you must deal with this behavior in covert narcissists.
Always rely on God to help you in this situation. He will be glad to help you discern the truth & strengthen you to do whatever you need to do!
Remember the type of person that you’re dealing with. No matter what you do, this person will twist the situation around to make you look bad & them look like the innocent victim of your cruelty. Expect nothing else because this person has no desire to behave any other way.
Also remember that there is nothing wrong with you setting boundaries or confronting this person on their abusive behavior. Both of those are good things to do. They are healthy & show you have self respect.
Consummate victims are very skilled at recruiting flying monkeys. When you set those boundaries or confront the narcissist about her behavior, no matter how gently & reasonably you do so, it’s a safe bet someone will tell you how cruel, unreasonable, wrong, etc. you are. When this happens, ignore whatever these flying monkeys have to say. They don’t know the truth, only what the narcissist has told them. Also, it’s best to refuse to discuss the narcissist with them.
Lastly, it’s also important to remember that consummate victims may project their status on their real victims. It can be easy to believe their lies since narcissists are talented actors who give very convincing performances. To avoid believing their lies, remember that you are NOT a consummate victim if you are angry about being abused, setting healthy boundaries or refusing to be manipulated.
If you are faced with a covert narcissist who portrays herself as a consummate victim, you can cope. You have the knowledge & strength to handle this ugly situation.
Since I’m working on a book about narcissistic in-laws, it’s certainly gotten me to thinking about them. Not exactly a fun topic since I’ve been through a LOT at the hands of narcissistic in-laws, but it’s also a topic that needs to be addressed. I’ll share a blog post when it’s published as well as add the link to my website at: www.CynthiaBaileyRug.com
One thing that recently has come to mind about these dreadful people is how they are with exes. I’ve heard of & read so many stories of narcissistic in-laws who keep in touch with their son’s or brother’s ex, even after he has moved on to another woman & there were no children created in the relationship. They may even have the ex’s picture hanging up in their home or a picture of him with her when they were together. They may invite her to family functions, whether or not the new lady is present.
I’ve been down this road. A woman my husband broke up with in 1991 is still a bigger part of my in-law’s family than I ever have been. In 1997 at an in-law family party, my two sisters in-law spoke a LOT about her (when it was just the three of us together, no witnesses, of course), talking about what a great person she was & how they should hang out with her soon. They never wanted to hang out with me, mind you. Not long after we were married in 1998, my mother in-law told me how disappointed she & my father in-law were that my husband married me instead of this person. Over the years, I learned that at least one of the sisters in-law not only kept in close contact with this ex, but kept my husband abreast of what was going on in her life. Then, when we ran into her in a store two months to the day after my husband’s father died, I saw how comfortable & friendly she was with my husband. It was painfully obvious she’d seen him recently, so I later asked what was going on with her. Turns out not only had she been to my father in-law’s funeral, but also my mother in-law’s & took one of her sons to visit my mother in-law in the hospital. She also lives only a few miles from my late in-laws’ home & attends the church they attended.
As if all of this isn’t awful enough, I also realized when we saw this woman that she obviously is still very attracted to my husband.
This whole situation got me to thinking about these types of situations. If you’re in it, you’re going to need a lot of wisdom on how to cope with it.
I’m not saying all friendships between people & their exes or even their family & their exes are bad. Sometimes they work out just fine or are necessary because of children or other ties to each other such as owning a business together. When narcissistic in-laws are involved though, it’s a whole different situation. This relationship isn’t because these people were genuinely fond of each other. Like everything else, there is a self-serving purpose in it. Never ever doubt that! Your spouse may think his family’s behavior is normal but it isn’t!
If you wonder, watch how this relationship is handled. Your feelings should be considered. Your in-laws should not flaunt this person to you. This person shouldn’t be frequently discussed fondly in front of you or her picture shouldn’t be in a predominant space in the in-law home (especially if it also includes your spouse).
How do they handle this relationship regarding your spouse? Do they keep your spouse up to date on his ex’s life? If your spouse wants no parts of the details of that ex, do they force him to listen anyway? Do they forward her emails to him so he not only knows but has her email address as well?
These behaviors are all red flags, & you are going to need a lot of wisdom on how to handle this situation.
As always, I recommend prayer as the best place to start. Luke 12:12 says, “For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (KJV) & James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (KJV) Seems to me prayer is the best place you can start!
Also never give your spouse an ultimatum. People who do this almost always end up losing because no one wants to feel controlled or manipulated.
Stay calm when you must discuss the situation. If you act angry or hurt, chances are your spouse will discuss the conversation with someone in his family. From there, it would be very easy for your in-laws to convince your spouse that you’re unreasonable, paranoid, even crazy. And, no doubt if he sees his ex, she is on good behavior. She will look even better to him & you even worse. So stay calm during the discussion for the sake of your marriage!
Do NOT tell him what you think his family is up to. Coming from a narcissistic family does quite the number on a person’s psyche as most people know. One thing I’ve noticed is men in these situations have a lot more trouble facing the truth about their family than women. (No guys, I don’t hate you or think you’re stupid. It’s just an observation.) If you’re in this position with your spouse, I know it can be frustrating. You see the truth so clearly but your spouse doesn’t. Don’t work hard trying to convince him of the truth. You telling the truth will come across to him as you criticizing his family, which in turn will make him very protective of them & angry at you. It will drive a huge wedge between you two.
You can, however, gently, let your spouse know that you are very uncomfortable with this situation. Tell him how you feel, & don’t be afraid of being vulnerable. Better for your spouse to see that side of you than the angry side, because it won’t make him defensive. He will be more willing to listen to you & relate to your perspective if you aren’t angry.
Also, what about the ex? Is she obviously still attracted to your husband? This is tough, I know. I really feel your pain. The best I know to do with this is to focus on your spouse. Make sure you don’t stop doing things that he loves or finds attractive about you. Do nice little gestures for him to show him you love him, like slipping love notes into his lunch box, sock drawer, coat pocket or even taping them to his steering wheel while he’s in the shower. If you tell him what a terrible person his ex is instead, you’re only making him defensive of her & angry at you. Yes, I know this one is HARD. After seeing my husband’s ex, every fiber in me wanted to say exactly what I think of her & his family. But, I knew that he wouldn’t believe what I said & would end up passionately defending them while simultaneously being very angry with me.
Lastly remember, all of this isn’t about you. It’s about some pretty dysfunctional people doing what dysfunctional people do. If the ex is still interested, well, she should have tried harder to keep him & is being foolish for not giving up. He moved on & she should too. As for your in-laws, they are getting something out of this relationship. They probably want to split you & your spouse up or at the very least cause trouble between you two. Maybe they think because she’s wealthy or in some sort of position in society, she makes them look good. Who knows? But you can be sure of one thing… whatever sick mess is happening in this relationship, it has nothing to do with you.
I wish you the absolute best in this situation! xoxo
Like everything in the life of a narcissist, the gifts they give are all about them. They give what will benefit them in some way or what they think will make you change according to what they think you should be. This is why so often, people dread receiving gifts from narcissists.
If they’re trying to win you over somehow such as in the early stages of dating or after an argument, narcissists may give a good gift. That gift is supposed to help buy your love or forgiveness. That gift may be extravagant or something you mentioned wanting. My ex husband gave me only 2 nice gifts in our entire relationship. The first one was about 2 months after we met, for my birthday.
Narcissists also may give a gift to make you indebted to them. Maybe you are supposed to give them a gift in return. Maybe the gift they gave you is very expensive so you feel obligated to tolerate their abuse because they spent so much on that gift. Maybe you showed signs of wanting to end the relationship & this gift was supposed to make you want to rethink that move.
Often, narcissists give terrible gifts. They lack the desire to be a blessing, & that shows in the gifts they give in particular on days like birthdays or Christmas. They’re only giving gifts on these days because they have to in order to look good, not because they want to. As a result, no thought or consideration goes into the gift.
Other times narcissists give awful gifts is when they try to change their victim. For example, my mother gave me clothes for my birthday or Christmas for years. While clothes in general aren’t a bad gift, they are when the clothes aren’t in the receiver’s taste, but are the giver’s. Our tastes are extremely different & that was a problem for her. My mother wanted me to like what she likes, & this was one way to try to force me to dress like she thought I should dress. My late mother in-law did the same. A few months before Christmas one year, I mentioned in passing that I hate to cook. Yes, I do it because I don’t want us to starve, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. For Christmas that year, she & her daughters all gave me a LOT of cooking paraphernalia. Cook books, utensils, food, & a big ugly pasta dish I later used in the attic when the roof was leaking.. lol
Sometimes bad gifts are also a way for a narcissist to let you know they hate you without saying the words. A narcissistic mother in-law who dislikes her daughter in-law will give her terrible gifts, as one example. My late mother in-law gave me a Christmas sweater (I’m NOT into Christmas or Christmas sweaters), polyester slacks (not a fan) & other gifts that were clearly NOT my taste.
Sometimes they may “forget” to give you a gift at all. This is just one way to let you know you aren’t important to them or the gift giving day (your anniversary, Valentine’s day, your birthday, etc) isn’t important to them.
Or, narcissists may give away a gift you gave to them either to hurt you or out of thoughtlessness. My sister in-law gave me this cute little knick knack many years ago. I thanked her & said it was cute. She said she thought so, & was sure her mom would like it. She gave it to her. A few months later, her mother gave it to her & said something like, “I don’t know where this ugly thing came from. You can have it.” She said seeing it hurt her badly so she wanted rid of it. Since I thought it was cute, I could have it. My heart broke for her when she told me that story.
When you get an awful gift, it’s best not to let the narcissist know how awful you think it is. If you do, the narcissist can play the victim & tell other people how ungrateful you are, making you look like a jerk. Rather than ask for the receipt so you can return or exchange the gift, simply thank her for the gift, then when you can, quietly give it to someone who you know would like it or give it to a charity.
Likewise when you get a great gift, it’s best not to let the narcissist know you really like it. If you do, the narcissist is going to get a ton of narcissistic supply from that, & feel that you owe her for giving you this awesome gift. Simply thank her for the gift.
It’s always best to implement the Gray Rock method as much as possible when dealing with narcissists, including when they give gifts.
The last couple of days have been difficult for me. Lots of flashbacks & anxiety have been happening. When I said something to my husband about it the day before Mother’s day, he said “Mother’s Day is coming.. that has to be it!” Honestly I don’t know if that’s my problem or not, it sure could be, but anyway….
Part of one of my recent flashbacks was about when I was learning to drive. I told hubby that my ex mother in-law taught me more about driving (including driving a stick shift) than my parents did, yet both of my parents always took credit for teaching me how to drive even though they barely taught me anything. He said, “I think you should give your ex mother in-law a shout out! She did a lot of good things for you.”
Although my ex mother in-law died in 2010 & this post is going to publish a day after Mother’s Day, I agree. I also thought about another mom figure in my life who was so special to me, so I’m giving her a shout out too. I pray God allows them to know about this because they both deserve to know the big positive impacts they had on my life.
A very big thank you to my awesome ex mother in-law!! I appreciate the many things you taught me like how to drive & especially how to knit. I appreciate the encouragement you gave me when I was learning things & your faith that I could do these things. I also appreciate the fun times together, like going to craft & thrift stores, & your help picking out my first sewing machine. (Even though I still can’t sew, I appreciate a nice machine like that little beauty!) I appreciate all the laughs & your fun sense of humor, especially since it was pretty twisted like my own. I appreciate your love, support & lack of judgement. I also appreciate you trying to protect me from my mother when we lived together. I wasn’t used to anyone doing that & it was a very nice surprise.
Most of all, a big thank you for being a wonderful example of your faith & praying for me.
I’m sorry our relationship ended on a bad note & for the things I did wrong. I still remember the good things often & am so grateful for them. Thank you for everything, W. You’re very loved & missed. xoxo
My other mother figure was a dear friend I called my adopted mom. We met on a crochet message board & clicked. She was a wise, beautiful, gentle, loving, compassionate person with a powerful & inspiring faith. When I had an argument with my folks or just a rough day, she was the one I wanted to talk to. She always knew what to say to make me feel better. She also didn’t sugarcoat things- if she believed I was wrong, she’d tell me. She was free with her praise & kind words, but still told the truth even if it wasn’t pretty. She was also the one who got me started reading about Antisocial Personality Disorder which led to me learning about narcissism. We had many laughs together, mostly talking about our furkids who we both adored. She was an inspiration & one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Her death in 2009 still hurts, but I know I’ll see her again one day. Thank you for the years of friendship, love & laughs, K! xoxo
Those of us with narcissistic mothers know that a good mother is a beautiful gift. If you have a wonderful mother figure in your life, please don’t wait til it’s too late like I did- let her know how much you appreciate her now. She’ll love to hear what you say & it’ll make you feel good to tell her just how special she is to you.
For many people, the holiday season is a glorious time of year. The time to enjoy friends, family & celebrations. For others like me who have survived demanding, controlling, entitled or even narcissistic parents &/or in-laws however, the mere thought of the holidays brings about a feeling of dread.
My first & current mothers in-law both always demanded my husband’s & my presence every Thanksgiving & Christmas, no matter what. Divorcing my ex & cutting my current in-laws out of my life in 2002 naturally ended their demands for me at least but the damage was done. The enjoyment I once felt for the holidays was gone. Years of spending holidays with people who obviously hated me or alone while my husband spent the day with his family destroyed all pleasure I’d once had in holidays.
I know that my story isn’t all that unusual. So many others have been through very similar situations that I thought sharing some thoughts I’ve had on this topic might help you, Dear Reader.
When you develop this holiday bitterness, people aren’t always understanding. Most people seem to want everyone to look forward to holidays with enthusiasm & joy, & if you don’t, they can be shaming. Many others I know & I have been scolded for not trying to enjoy holidays, told they need to just focus on the joy of the day, everyone loves holidays, etc etc. What these people fail to realize is this holiday bitterness didn’t happen over night. We have tried to enjoy the holidays repeatedly, but demanding people ruined it by commanding us to do what they want us to do & treating us badly when we didn’t do it (well, often worse than usual since bad treatment is the norm with narcissists). It came about when in-laws demand we ignore our own family in favor of them, & treated us badly & acted like something is wrong with us for not wanting to spend a holiday with them. They also shame us for wanting to spend a holiday with our immediate family- our spouse & kids- rather than with them. These people think shaming us & ordering us around is OK. Really, how does that make any sense?
I’m not saying holiday bitterness is a good thing. Frankly, it stinks! I miss looking forward to the holidays & hate how I dread what was once a time of year I looked forward to. What I am saying though is that there is no shame if you feel differently about holidays than the average person does.
Sometimes, too many bad seeds have been sown to overcome. Something unpleasant is the only possible harvest when that happens. Of course it’s a good idea to try to counteract the bad feelings, but if nothing works, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you or that you’re a bad person. If you can’t conquer holiday bitterness, it just means that some really bad things have been done that caused you to feel this way.
Dear Reader, I’m sorry you feel this nasty holiday bitterness. I hope you can conquer it by starting your own traditions, avoiding negative people around the holidays, suggesting holiday gatherings with extended family on a different day near the actual holiday while you spend the holiday with your immediate family, etc. If you can’t however, then at the very least, please don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s simply a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances, & it happens more often than you might think.
Hello, Dear Readers!
If you want to check them out, you can click on the links in the last paragraph, or go to my website at: http://www.CynthiaBaileyRug.com