How to deal with Narcissistic Mother-In-Law



Recognizing and Dealing With a Narcissistic Mother-In-Law


Having a narcissistic mother-in-law can put a huge strain on family relationships. Narcissists tend to be manipulative, lack empathy, and feel entitled to special treatment. When this person becomes your spouse\’s mother, it can cause serious issues within the family dynamic. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the signs of narcissism in a mother-in-law and provide tips for dealing with her unhealthy behaviors.

Why It\’s Important to Address This Issue

When you get married to your spouse, it\’s not just your better half that you gain – it’s their family, too. And if your mother-in-law is strongly narcissistic, it can negatively impact your marriage and wellness on multiple levels.
Coping with a narcissistic mother-in-law or recognizing signs of a narcissistic mother-in-law can be extremely challenging. Having a covert narcissist in the family: she challenges how you parent, taints your relationship with your partner, and it’s normal. “Narcs will often show off their grandiose narcissism and entitlement, which makes talking to your partner about your mother-in-law harder.”
But recognizing the signs and handling situations with your mother-in-law appropriately is crucial. At times, there should be an integration of your mental health and wellness to go for breath work or hang with understanding friends and family.
A narcissistic MIL will attempt to sour you on your marriage. She could be the one who wants to be the third wheel. The effect of her critique, manipulation, and other toxic conduct can take a toll on your mental well-being.
That’s why seeing the signs and setting good boundaries is important. This will maintain your self-esteem, marriage, and family. Although you can\’t necessarily change your narcissistic mother-in-law, you can control how you respond to her. You can minimize her impact and take back control with the right strategies.

 Common Signs of a Narcissistic Mother-In-Law

Narcissism exists on a spectrum. Your mother-in-law may display a few narcissistic behaviors or have a full-blown personality disorder. Some warning signs to look out for include:

Sense of grandiosity and entitlement

She expects special treatment and acts superior to others. Believes she deserves recognition for her \”sacrifices.\”

Lack of empathy

Shows little interest in your thoughts, feelings, or well-being. Makes everything about her.

Needs constant praise and compliments

Fishes for flattery. She expects you to admire and validate her.

Hypersensitivity to criticism

Acts defensive and lashes out when criticized. She holds grudges against those who \”wrong\” her.

Manipulative behaviors

She uses guilt trips, silence, threats, or tears to control you and get what she wants.

Competitive towards you

Views you as a rival for her child\’s attention and loyalty. Tries to outdo you.

Boundary violations

Meddles gives unsolicited advice and shares private information without consent.

Jealousy and envy

Makes snide remarks about your looks, family, education, etc. Sabotages your success.

The \”victim\” mentality

Blames others for her issues and shortcomings. Expects pity for her \”suffering.\”

If several of these red flags sound familiar, there\’s a good chance your mother-in-law may have narcissistic traits or even full-blown NPD.

 Why Narcissistic Behavior is So Problematic

Dealing with a narcissistic mother-in-law\’s unhealthy behaviors can feel incredibly frustrating and draining. Here\’s why her actions stir up such stress:

Her criticism erodes your self-worth.

Narcissists often put down others to boost their own egos. When your mother-in-law makes unfavorable comparisons or puts you down, it can gradually diminish your self-confidence.

She tramples your boundaries.

Narcissists don\’t respect normal boundaries. Your mother-in-law may insist on calling nightly, arrive unannounced, or share private details about you publicly. This leaves you feeling disrespected and powerless.

Her needs dominate the relationship.

Everything is always about the narcissist. Your hopes, preferences, and feelings don\’t matter. This lack of reciprocity in the relationship can leave you emotionally exhausted.

She sabotages your marriage.

A narcissistic mother-in-law may try to control her adult child through manipulation or guilt. These tactics undermine your marital relationship and autonomy as a couple.

You\’re under constant stress.

Dealing with someone who is controlling, irrational, manipulative, and lacking in empathy – often without even realizing it – creates huge amounts of stress. It\’s emotionally draining.

Recognizing how her narcissistic behaviors impact you is an important first step in managing the relationship.

 Tips for Dealing With a Narcissistic Mother-In-Law

When you have a narcissistic mother-in-law, simply distancing yourself from her isn\’t usually feasible. And you likely can\’t change her personality or behaviors either. Instead, the goal should be learning to set healthy boundaries so you can limit her impact on your life. Here are some tips:

Communicate with your spouse
Present a united front in setting boundaries with your mother-in-law. Discuss strategies together for managing her unhealthy behaviors when they arise.

Set and enforce clear boundaries.

Decide what behaviors you will and won\’t tolerate from her. Clearly communicate those boundaries, and follow through consistently when she crosses them.

Don\’t rely on her for emotional support.

Turn to your spouse, friends, and other family for support instead. Seek empathy and comfort from healthier relationships.

Limit time spent with her

Keep visits brief and interact only during less vulnerable times. Spend important days like anniversaries with supportive loved ones instead.

Don\’t share information freely.

Narcissists often use sensitive information as ammunition later. Keep private matters and vulnerabilities to yourself. Share on a need-to-know basis only.

Respond minimally to guilt trips or other tactics.

Narcissists try to get what they want through manipulation. Offer brief, unemotional responses rather than being drawn into an argument.

Keep your interactions calm.

Narcissists try to provoke emotional reactions. Keep your tone polite and firm. Refuse to engage with guilt, defensiveness, or aggression.

Make self-care a priority.

Boost your self-esteem through positive relationships, sufficient sleep, healthy eating, and activities you enjoy. Seek counseling if needed to manage stress.

With the right boundaries and coping strategies, you can have a calmer, healthier dynamic with your narcissistic mother-in-law.

Warning Signs You May Need to Limit Contact

In some situations, it may be healthiest to limit contact altogether with a highly toxic narcissistic mother-in-law. Consider restricting contact if she frequently:

Physically or emotionally abuses you or other family members

  • Causes visible distress in your children
  • Sabotages your marriage or actively alienates your spouse from you
  • Spreads malicious lies about you
  • Stoops to threats, harassment, or other disturbing behaviors

You have the right to cut contact with someone who is harming you or your nuclear family. However, this serious step warrants discussing with your spouse and possibly a family therapist. Getting your partner\’s support is crucial.

 How to Handle a Narcissistic Mother-In-Law at Family Events

Attending weddings, holidays, or other family gatherings with a narcissist can feel like torture. Here are some dos and don\’ts for getting through events with your sanity intact:


  • Attend but make it brief. Limit your FaceTime with her.
  • Bring an empathetic family member or friend for moral support.
  • Discuss strategies ahead of time with your partner for managing issues that could arise.
  • Have an exit plan. Drive separately or keep an Uber on standby so you can leave early if needed.


  • Let her monopolize your time. Politely excuse yourself when needed.
  • Give her private access to you. Stay around others who can help deter inappropriate behavior.
  • Drink excessively in an attempt to cope.
  • Engage in arguments or prove yourself to her. Kill her with kindness instead.

Setting Boundaries Specifically Around Your Children

When grandchildren enter the picture, a narcissistic mother-in-law may undermine your parenting, manipulate your children against you, or compete for their affection. To protect your kids, set these boundaries:

  • Limit unsupervised time with your kids. Don\’t leave them alone with her for long.
  • Don\’t allow her to overstep parental decisions or undermine your rules with them.
  • Speak up if she competes with you for their attention or makes you out to be the \”bad guy\” enforcing rules.
  • Comfort your kids after upsetting encounters with her. Provide perspective on her unhealthy behaviors.
  • If she boundary stomps regarding your children, she loses access to them for a set time. Stick to this.

Your kids should never feel pressured to pick sides. Always present a united front with your partner where they are concerned.

Coping With a Toxic Mother-In-Law Who Lives Nearby

Having frequent access enables a narcissistic mother-in-law to meddle more readily. To maintain control of your home environment:

  • Hold strong on what times/days work for visits from her. Don\’t let her barge in whenever.
  • Meet at neutral locations like restaurants where her behavior can be contained. Avoid hosting her at your home.
  • Don\’t share keys to your house or car. Limit access.
  • Speak up when she oversteps boundaries: “We’ll have to catch up another time. Take care!” Then, politely disengage.
  • Leave or ask her to leave if she provokes arguments in your home after warnings.
  • Get counseling to manage the added stress if needed.

Just because she lives nearby does not mean you must endure mistreatment in your home. Keep visits brief and well-managed; don\’t be afraid to turn her away when her boundary stomps.

Getting Professional Help

When dealing with the challenges of a narcissistic mother-in-law, professional help can be a crucial resource to navigate these complex dynamics effectively.

Individual Counseling

Individual counseling is a safe and confidential space to confront the emotional turmoil induced by your relationship with a narcissistic mother-in-law. Therapists with expertise in narcissistic behavior can provide invaluable coping strategies for managing emotions such as anger, grief, resentment, and inadequacy.

Couples Counseling

If your marriage is strained due to the impact of narcissistic behaviors, couples counseling offers a path to unity. It enables you and your spouse to collaboratively tackle the challenges presented by a narcissistic mother-in-law collaboratively, fostering a stronger and more resilient partnership.

Family Therapy

Family therapy that includes your narcissistic mother-in-law may be beneficial in certain cases. However, its effectiveness hinges on her willingness to acknowledge her issues and a genuine desire for change within the family dynamic.

Support Groups

Joining support groups designed for individuals dealing with narcissistic family members can be immensely reassuring. These communities connect you with others facing similar challenges, providing a sense of empathy and a wealth of practical advice.

Remember, you don\’t have to navigate the complexities of a narcissistic mother-in-law alone. Seeking professional support is a proactive step toward preserving your mental health and discovering effective strategies to maintain equilibrium in your life, even amidst the challenging dynamics of narcissistic behavior.

Maintaining a Strong Marriage Despite the Challenges

One of the greatest threats a narcissistic mother-in-law poses is to your marriage. Her manipulations and meddling can breed resentment and distrust between you and your spouse. To counteract this threat:

Communicate openly

Discuss your feelings and concerns about your mother-in-law frequently. Seek counseling if communication breaks down.

Present a united front.

Don\’t let her pit you against each other. Maintain loyalty between yourselves when dealing with her.

Make your marriage the priority.

Protect your intimacy and trust. Don\’t let her drive a wedge in your relationship.

Share responsibilities fairly

If one partner must deal with her more, the other should take on more of the other family/home responsibilities to even the load.

Spend quality time together.

Nurture your bond through regular dates, shared activities, and experiences. Don\’t let her consume all your time and energy.

Validate each other often.

Offer frequent reassurance, comfort, and gratitude to counteract her criticisms.

With teamwork, determination, and counseling when needed, you can keep your marriage healthy and happy despite having a narcissistic mother-in-law.

 Warning Signs You Should Get Your Spouse On Board

If your spouse remains loyal to their narcissistic mother at the expense of your marriage, major issues will arise. Insist on counseling if your partner:

  • Allows their mother to insult, disrespect, or mistreat them and look the other way
  • Discounts your feelings and opinions on setting boundaries with her
  • Discusses private marital issues or complaints about you to their mother
  • Prioritizes their mother\’s demands over your needs or the family\’s needs
  • Expects you to accept abuse or unhealthy behaviors from their mother

Remember that a united front with your spouse can make you question your perception less and establish clear and firm boundaries. While it may be difficult, it\’s important not to let a narcissistic mother-in-law sabotage your relationship or make decisions to go back on your relationship with someone you love, as a child of the narcissist may be affected.

The situation quickly becomes unbearable without backup from your spouse in dealing with a narcissistic mother-in-law. Counseling can help reveal these issues. If your partner remains enmeshed with their mother and unwilling to set healthy boundaries, the marriage may fail.

When to Seek Couples Counseling

Don\’t be afraid to seek professional help if your marriage suffers from the strain of a narcissistic mother-in-law. Some signs it\’s time for counseling:

  • Constant arguing about boundaries with her
  • Partner often seems angry, defensive, or frustrated
  • Intimacy and closeness have declined
  • One partner dreads family events or avoids the mother-in-law
  • Disagreements frequently get heated or toxic
  • You feel resentful or betrayed by your spouse\’s loyalty to their mother
  • Parenting disagreements arise related to the mother-in-law
  • Either partner entertains thoughts of divorce

An experienced couples counselor helps you unite around strategies for managing narcissistic behaviors and reducing their toll on your marriage. Don\’t wait until it\’s too late – seek help at the first signs of strain.

Ways Your Mother-In-Law May Attempt to Sabotage Your Marriage

To maintain control over her adult child, a narcissistic mother-in-law often feels threatened by their spouse. Some common sabotage tactics:

  • Sows seeds of doubt about your loyalty or trustworthiness in your partner\’s mind
  • Tries to turn your children against you
  • Criticizes your parenting competence to your spouse
  • Portrays herself as the victim to your partner regarding you
  • Brings up embarrassing or sensitive information to undermine you
  • Encourages your partner to confide marital problems to get \”her take\”
  • Accuses you of keeping your partner from spending time with her
  • Relays false or exaggerated information to extended family to paint you in a bad light

Your partner must step in and stop her immediately when your mother-in-law engages in these sabotage attempts. Present a united front, and don\’t let her schemes threaten your marriage.

Communication with your mother-in-law becomes a delicate dance, and spending time around her requires resilience. Confronting these issues may allow you to set boundaries, but it\’s still difficult. Your spouse\’s parents, including the mother-in-law, may create tension in the family. In-laws may like their son or daughter more, and your mother-in-law knows how to manipulate situations. Navigating this complex web of relationships demands patience and a strong partnership.

Enlisting Other Family Members for Support

Rallying support from other family members can help reinforce boundaries against a narcissistic mother-in-law. Some tips:

  • Discreetly explain her unhealthy behaviors to your spouse\’s siblings or father. Gauge whether they will be allies.
  • Ask your parents or siblings for emotional support during conflicts.
  • Have an ally speak up if she acts inappropriately during family events.
  • Host more events without her so you can temporarily escape the tensions.
  • Share your strategies for managing narcissism with the extended family. Offer support if others need to set boundaries with her as well.

Having one or two close family members who recognize and understand your challenges in dealing with her can make a big difference. You don\’t have to do this alone.

Stay strong and allow yourself to manage this challenging aspect within your relationship; it\’s natural to feel like you could conquer it with the right strategies.

Warning Signs You Should Initiate a Period of No Contact

In severe situations, cutting off a narcissistic mother-in-law altogether for a period may be the healthiest for your family. Consider no contact if:

  • Her abuse of you or your children turns physical
  • She actively tries to undermine or destroy your marriage
  • Her presence causes severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or other concerning mental health symptoms
  • You have suicidal thoughts as a result of her mistreatment
  • Your children act extremely distressed in her presence or start displaying behavioral problems
  • She uses intimidation, threats, harassment, or retaliation when boundaries are set

Any escalation to frightening behaviors that jeopardize you or your family’s basic safety and wellbeing necessitates cutting contact – at least temporarily until she seeks professional help for her issues. Inform the extended family of your reasons to minimize backlash.

Tips for Managing Holidays and Special Occasions

Beyond annual celebrations, milestones like weddings, births, graduations, etc. often require contact with the narcissistic in-law. To maintain your sanity on such occasions:

  • Lean on your spouse and other supportive relatives to run interference.
  • Limit contact to the bare minimum. Say a quick hello and then socialize with more supportive guests.
  • Book accommodations away from where the narcissistic in-law is staying.
  • If needed, arrange transportation to exit if tensions run high discreetly.
  • Avoid alcohol as it lowers your defenses in dealing with her.
  • Build in self-care activities before and after the event to decompress and recharge.
  • Leave children at home to avoid exposing them to a toxic grandparent.
  • Discuss exit strategies with your partner if the dysfunction becomes too much.

With the right boundaries, backup, and self-care, you can survive special occasions relatively unscathed. The key is limiting contact and having an escape plan.

When to Get Individual Counseling for Yourself

Dealing with a narcissist can take a heavy mental and emotional toll. If you exhibit signs of trauma like:

  • Depression or severe anxiety
  • Panic attacks or PTSD symptoms
  • Insomnia, fatigue, or other stress-related issues
  • Suicidal thoughts

Dealing with a narcissistic mother-in-law can be challenging. Their narcissistic behavior, often covert, makes it difficult to cope. They don\’t show genuine interest in your well-being, so identifying a narcissistic mother-in-law early on is vital. Maintaining a healthy relationship with your spouse amidst these challenges can be tough, as the narcissistic in-law may act in ways that test your patience.

Instead of pressuring and tensing yourself, it is better to Seek individual counseling right away. A mental health professional provides coping strategies and helps heal from the abuse. With counseling support, you can recover and regain your sense of peace.

How to Help Your Children Cope With a Narcissistic Mother-in-Law

Having a narcissistic mother-in-law can be incredibly difficult for any spouse or partner. But it can be especially challenging when children are involved. As a parent, you want to protect your kids from dysfunctional behaviors and toxicity. However, the narcissistic mother-in-law is still their grandmother and often expects access as part of the family.

It\’s natural to want your children to have a healthy relationship with your mother-in-law. But if she exhibits narcissistic behaviors like manipulation, criticism, and emotional abuse, it will likely be best for your kids to have limited contact. Here are some tips for managing the relationship:

Identify if your mother-in-law is narcissistic

Look for signs like lack of empathy, excessive need for control, and refusal to respect boundaries. The more narcissistic traits she displays, the more cautious you need to be about contact with grandkids.

Communicate with your spouse.

Present a united front on how much time grandma gets with the children. You must recognize the unhealthy behaviors and agree on what\’s best for your kids.

Set boundaries around time spent.

Supervise all visits with Grandma and limit your kids\’ time around her narcissistic behaviors. Don\’t leave them alone in her care for long stretches.

Teach your children healthy relationship skills.

Help them spot manipulation tactics, establish boundaries, and identify unhealthy behaviors. Give them language and permission to speak up for themselves around Grandma.

Provide validation if grandma mistreats them.

Comfort your kids and tell them it\’s not their fault if grandma acts dysfunctionally. Don\’t force them to interact with her if they feel upset or unsafe.

Get counseling if needed.

If your kids show signs of emotional distress like depression, anxiety, or behavioral issues after spending time with grandma, seek therapy. A professional can help them process the toxicity.

Demonstrate what healthy family relationships look like

Ensure your kids see positive examples of family dynamics without dysfunction, criticism, and drama.

Trust your instincts as the parent.

You know what\’s best for your children. If your mother-in-law\’s presence seems detrimental to their well-being, limit contact. Don\’t worry about her protests.

Protecting children from a narcissistic grandmother may be difficult, but it\’s crucial for their long-term mental health and the development of healthy relationships. They can overcome the challenges with proper boundaries, preparation, and support.

 Final Thoughts

Dealing with a narcissistic parent like a narcissistic mother-in-law who exhibits covert and emotional abuse behaviors can strain your marriage, damage your self-esteem, and impact your children\’s thoughts and feelings. However, you can limit her narcissistic abuse by setting firm boundaries, communicating with your spouse, and seeking support.

Protect your peace of mind by restricting access to private information and limiting time spent with her grandiose narcissistic behavior. Refuse to engage when she attempts to manipulate you or play the victim. Validate your thoughts, feelings, and perspectives since she will try to make you question yourself.

When attending family events, have an escape plan in case you need to exit from mother-in-law situations involving narcissistic behavior quickly. Rally other family members to provide a united front in dealing with her inappropriate behaviors. Most importantly, handle your mental health in the face of emotional abuse. Seek counseling if this relationship becomes traumatizing. You do not have to endure narcissistic personality disorder.

With the right strategies, you can establish healthier boundaries and dynamics when dealing with a narcissistic parent or mother-in-law. Do not let your mother-in-law undermine your marriage, family, or well-being. Prioritize self-care and lean on supportive loved ones to protect yourself, your kids, and your relationship from her toxic behaviors.

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