7 Toxic Traits of a Narcissistic Mother in Law (And How to Survive Them)

Last Updated on April 16, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester

Did you know that if a man has a close relationship with his in-laws, the risk of divorce decreases by 20%? Yet if a woman has a close relationship with her in-laws, the risk of divorce goes up by 20%.

It’s obvious that your relationship with your in-laws can greatly affect the happiness of your marriage. And in normal circumstances, these relationships can have their ups and downs.

But if things are particularly bad, there may be something wrong. You might be starting to think: my narcissistic mother-in-law destroyed my marriage.

If this is the case, then read on. In this article, we’ll discuss 7 toxic traits and how to deal with a narcissistic mother in law effectively.

#1 She’s Very Charming

This may seem like a good trait at first; after all, if she’s charming and you get along with her, that bodes well for the rest of your relationship!

But narcissists are very cunning and know what they’re doing. They’ll manipulate situations to their advantage so they can have ammo in the future.

For example, your Narcissistic mother in law can be extremely charming and agreeable toward you, which means you’ll trust her and let your guard down. You may end up confiding in her with some of your marriage troubles, thinking you’ll get a sympathetic ear.

But you have to realize that mothers will almost always be on their children’s sides, especially narcissists. What your MIL is doing, is actually gathering some intel she can use in the future.

You’ll soon realize this when she brings up those private details in public discussions or arguments. Or you may realize that your husband knows about things that you’ve only told your mother-in-law.

Knowing how to neutralize the effects of narcissistic abuse can make all the difference when it comes to your mother-in-law and your marriage. The next time your MIL lays on the charm, don’t take the bait and fall for the narcissistic mother-in-law games they play.

the narcissistic mother in law is very charming

#2 She Needs Frequent Praise and Control

Narcissists are extremely self-involved, which means your mother-in-law may require frequent praise from everyone around her. Along the same line, she also expects everyone to acquiesce to her.

You may feel pressured to please your MIL, especially in the beginning, when you want to be accepted and loved by your husband’s family. But you may have noticed that if you fail to meet her expectations in just one area, your narcissistic mother in law won’t hesitate to tell everyone what a bad daughter-in-law you are. She’ll probably also tell your husband what a bad wife you are as well.

If you and your husband don’t address this issue at the very beginning, this may cause the eventual deterioration of your marriage. He may feel like you’re not doing enough to please his mother, which can cause friction between the two of you.

Appeasing a narcissist’s behavior only makes things worse, as they’ll never be happy with what you offer them. Instead, they’ll demand more and more from you.

So even if you’re tempted to give in and do everything to try and please your MIL, you have to nip it in the bud. Communicate calmly and clearly to your spouse about their mother’s concerning behaviors and let them know you won’t play into it.

the narcissistic mother in law needs praise and control

#3 She’s Nosy and Butts Into Your Marriage

Because she craves control, a narcissistic mother-in-law may also butt into your marriage. There’s a difference between offering helpful advice and trying to commandeer your partnership.

She may frequently come over unannounced, as well as be very intrusive and ask personal questions. The covert narcissistic mother-in-law will perform these actions subtly at first, but will eventually get pushier and pushier. This is because she’ll lull you into a false sense of security, and in the end, you’ll feel like you have no choice but to give her answers.

The best way to put control back in your hands is to set some boundaries. Limit the time you spend with your in-laws; for example, be firm about your MIL only coming over on certain days and for set periods of time.

You should also limit the information you give her; this is called an information diet.

the narcissistic mother in law is nosy and butts your marriage

#4 She Lashes out at and Bullies You

Narcissistic people want to be the center of attention and believe that they have all the best qualities someone can have. So if someone nearby has characteristics or traits that forces them to see what they’re lacking in, they’ll lash out to feel better about themselves.

For instance, your overweight MIL may insult you for weighing too little. Your Narcissistic mother in law may especially be lashing out because she’s dealing with aging. So she may belittle you for minor physical imperfections just because you’re younger.

Most likely, you won’t be able to change her behavior. The best thing is to try and not take things personally and brush it off as narcissistic behavior. Limiting interactions with her by setting boundaries may work in reducing these instances as well.

the narcissistic mother in law is a bully

#5 She Plays Favourites and Is Manipulative

Remember how we said earlier that your narcissistic mother in laws needs frequent praise and admiration? One way they achieve this is through playing favorites.

It may not be noticeable at first, but they may pit their children (or even grandchildren) against one another. For example, they may heap praises on one child while completely ignoring the others.

Reading Suggestion:Narcissists have a Golden Child and a Scapegoat Child

This may cause conflicts between the siblings. And in turn, this can make them fight hard for their mother’s affection. This feeds the narcissist’s ego, so it drives her to do it even more.

Narcissistic MILs may also pit their children’s spouses against one another, so don’t fall for this. Instead, you need to put on a united front with them. That way, you don’t let your mother-in-law’s poison your relationships in the family.

It may be hard to get in between a narcissistic mother-in-law and her children. But if you notice any of the above happening, you might want to bring it up to your spouse.

Many sons of narcissistic mothers-in-law already know this about their Narcissistic parents; they were raised by them, after all. But some may be oblivious, so it’s a good idea to bring this up to them. Once you do, you and your husband can be a united front instead of a split one.

the narcissistic mother in law is manipulative

#6 She Tells Lies All the Time

One of the signs of a narcissistic mother-in-law is if she lies all the time. Narcissists will tell lies if it fits their narrative, which usually entails them being the victim. Being the victim garners them the most attention and sympathy, which is what they feed on.

Reading Suggestion: Why the Narcissist Lies about Everything

A common technique narcissistic MILs use is gaslighting. She may have responses that have you questioning whether or not you’re remembering things right, especially when in front of other people.

She may also start spreading rumors about you in the community to turn people against you and favor her. In the worst cases, your mother-in-law may even tell lies about you to your own husband.

Don’t try to engage with her behavior, much less return the favor; stooping to her level will only make you look bad as well.

If possible, communicate with the community to let them know the truth, but do so in a succinct, calm, and rational manner. You don’t even have to give them personal details if you don’t want to. Just let them know the things said aren’t true and if anybody has any questions, they can contact you personally.

You should also communicate with your husband to let him know what his mother’s said is untrue. Adult sons of narcissistic mothers may initially side with their Narcissistic parent, but if there are enough trust and love in your relationship, he should trust your word over hers. Should he need proof, be prepared to offer it up.

the narcissistic mother in law lies all the time

#7 She Disregards Your Opinion and Is Dismissive

Narcissists have an inflated sense of self, which means they’ll be pretty dismissive of people who they don’t like. They may seem to care about your opinion, but as soon as you give it, they’ll blatantly ignore it.

For instance, she may ask you what your favorite flowers are. If you tell her you’re actually allergic, she may actually bring a vase of flowers over on the next visit because she’s dismissive of your words.

If you ever have any major life accomplishments, she may also be dismissive of them. She’ll also probably try to one-up you in order to push you down and elevate herself.

In these cases, it’s best to detach yourself and again, try not to take it too personally. You’ll probably never be able to change your narcissistic mother-in-law’s behavior, so learning healthy ways to cope is the best option for you.

the narcissistic mother in law disregards your oppinion

Dealing With a Narcissistic Mother in Law Is Doable

For those of you who are thinking, “my mother-in-law is a narcissist,” it may feel like your marriage is on the verge of collapse at times. But with our helpful advice, hopefully, dealing with a narcissistic mother-in-law is doable.

Whether it’s putting boundaries in place or going completely no-contact, you have to put your foot down when it comes to your narcissistic MIL. Otherwise, this may have a detrimental effect on your marriage and it can even end it.

Written by Alexander Burgemeester on

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more? Read my author bio page.

17 thoughts on “7 Toxic Traits of a Narcissistic Mother in Law (And How to Survive Them)”

  1. I have the opposite problem. My daughter in law is a narcissist and queen of gaslighting. She has caused complete estrangement from my entire family for a decade. Mother’s day is always a challenge for my broken heart.
    Any advice would be welcome.

    Reply
    • Then why are you looking at a site about narcissitic mother in laws? Go to a site about narcisstic daughter in laws and stop trying to get attention here.

      Reply
    • You may want to examine if YOU are a bit narcissistic also. There may be a reason she doesn’t want to come around, especially if the general “opinion” is that she is worthless from a family she is not blood to. I know that is my story.
      I wish you peace though and hope you can get some enlightenment and healing for your whole family.

      Reply
  2. I have exactly the same problem so I truly sympathise with you. A good book to read is Done With Crying. It helped me a loy

    Reply
  3. Do you know my MIL?.I swear you were in my head. I’ve cut off all communication wirh my MIL and have limited contact with my other in-laws. My husband and I fight very little now. We’re much happier.

    Reply
  4. Oh gosh! I literally suffer a depression ever since I met that woman. She is manipulative, unpleasant, obsessed with looks, and with me, fake, and self absorbed. She takes advantage of us. She is also obsessed with her son, who she calls every 30 minutes and awkwardly occasionally touch on the thighs, which makes him very uncomfortable. Two weeks ago I decided to not visit her anymore. My mariage is suffering from all of this. I cannot stand that woman another day!

    Reply
    • Hi Li,
      I have seen counselling twice now to help my situation and am about to start a third round. During my second round of counselling i asked my husband to come and help support me during the sessions(The reason i was there was for my own anxiety…later determined was brought on by MIL) It was the best thing because the therapist ended up focusing on his relationship with his mother and how I am NOT her and my communication methods differ from hers etc. This is likely the first time he saw his mother in another light.
      I’ve learned not to take it personally bc she is like this to anyone that does not do as she sees fit! I’ve distanced myself emotionally from her and share much less of myself/life with her. I am still polite, kind and inclusive of her…for now. There is hope and your marriage can become stronger! Don’t be afraid of seeking some therapy to help you as you need to be strong! Best of luck 🙂

      Reply
  5. I have been married for 20 years, and I am starting to feel like I am the problem. I don’t know what to do. Everything you said sounds like good advice but my question is what do you do when she guilt trips your husband or BILs. My husband will lie to me or not tell me stuff just to let her have her way. Like if I say no to loaning her money, he will give it to her and lie or not tell me. She always tells him things she has done for us, to get her way. Like she watched are kids. She hasn’t watched are kids in like 2 years, but that was one thing she loves to throw out there. I can’t stand when she buys stuff for us, because that is the one thing she will throw out there.
    I want to give up, and just take the kids and leave. I can’t because that hurts him and the kids. I cant say or do anything, because it upsets her, and she tells him. Then my husband tells me that, we need to work out are differences. When ever I have tried to talk to her, it’s always well I just won’t say anything or I will just leave. My favorite is He is my Son.
    Sorry longer then I meant, I really don’t know what to do.

    Reply
    • I feel your pain, my marriage is over, MIL won. Her son turned into an alcoholic because he couldn’t cope and our family has paid the price. All my fault apparently. I do hope you and your husband get through this, good luck and stay strong.

      Reply
  6. My MIL stays months at our home I her RV (like 6 months in the last year). When she left two weeks ago, I finally decided to draw boundaries with my husband that they cannot continue to stay with us. Well, they decided to come again and a week and I set boundaries that they are welcome to come over but not stay at our place. This is the response from my husband telling her: “Your kind words and gesture for our request to stay in your driveway was relayed to us. Minner and I have made arrangements to stay elsewhere. Praise the Lord for the locations. We will pray for the Lord to work on your heart. Thanks for the love!!!”

    I have never felt so confident I made the right decision.

    Reply
  7. I feel so bad for anyone going through this. My soon to be mother in law completely lied to me about the families back ground. She made herself sound like a saint and everyone else is horrible. Come to find out she was abusive to the family, drug problems (she took my pain meds from my surgery) and uses men. Now that she can’t keep a relationship she now has her sites set on my fiancé to support her. She is a mess and draining. She went from pushing ideas for the wedding on me. Now that she sees that I’m not a push over she won’t acknowledge whenever I try to keep her in the loop. My fiancé paid for her home and while he was out in the Afghan war, she sold the house behind his back, he didn’t see a dime of that money. I regret encouraging him to repair the relationship. I haven’t no clue she did so much damage.

    Reply
  8. My mother in law has my husband fooled. She always has issues with people and the places she works and then blames everyone else and acts like the victim. When we got married she didnt even come and got us a 20 dollar gift (money was not an issue) She spread lies about me on facebook and to others on my husband’s side of the family etc and she wasnt even living here. She moved down recently and lived with us for what was supposed to be a month while getting a job and it ended up being closer to 4 months with her pet and she literally slept in on most days, barely helped around the house and was filthy not even showering for days but finally got a job conveniently when her unemployment ran out. She hated my dog and would do things like cover her ears and complain and roll her eyes (dogs are good judges of character) and that caused my husband to always be scolding our dog. She has now her own place but she always has to tell her son about every ailment she has and what she is needing (she is in her mid 50s) fishing for him to do it and when he says even though he works as his own boss and from home he cant just get up and go to her house she guilt trips him in a very overt way where he ends up doing what she was fishing him to do anyways. If she knows we are having an issue about something she makes very focused subtle comments to get in my husbands head (she seems to know how to puppetier him without him even realizing it) and is causing issues in our marriage. If we have an issue she always tells him to divorce me and then tries to get buddy buddy with me for her own benefit. She even cooks food, brings it over and takes the left overs home saying if my husband want more he has to come over. She is a true Monster in law.

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  9. My mil Emilia is exactly as described above. She is the most hateful evil person I’ve ever experienced. A mother who puts her son down and tells him he’s worthless his whole life whenever she doesn’t get her way. She is abusive to her own children which makes it impossible for me to want my child alone with her. She lies too about anything and everything. She will say hateful things then look you in the face stating “I never said that.” She disowned her own son and grandson after getting jealous that my son saw my family for his birthday. Because you know she’s a narcissist so only she matters and my child should not experience love from my family whom is not hateful and toxic like her. Then she lied to everyone telling them her own son keeps her grandson away from her when it’s her who threw a fit and disowned her own son and grandson for years. Honestly she’s lucky we have anything to do with her as most people from an abusive mother like her would not have any contact with her. She talks bad about literally everyone she knows then acts all fake and nice in front of them. Such a hateful disgusting person. It’s very hard to tolerate someone like this and unhealthy to be around. I suggest strong boundaries and limiting contact.

    Reply
  10. so this is my first time ever commenting on one of these but i couldn’t help share my similar story.
    Since my mil entered my life 8yrs ago, I have never been the same. I am a huge empathetic person and she plays on that very thing. My biggest problem is that her son, my partner, doesn’t see her for who she is. She texts him constantly throughout the day and needs to know what is happening in our household. To complicate matters we have two daughters. And of course that has amplified the tension because i am not comfortable with her watching our children. This was a big problem as my parents would watch them occassionaly (“your parents always get the girls but my mother never does!! that is not fair!! it is always your way!!) These are the comments from my husband, that i later realized where her comments coming through him. She badgers him to the point that he takes it out on me!
    Back to my children, this woman is now trying to place a wedge between my children and I by saying things like, “you scare me! I am afraid of you! You bring out my anxiety! I don’t feel comfortable around when you are there!” in the presence of my children. Along with comments like, “oh we can’t go for a walk because mommy said its too hot or you can’t sleep over and have goodies and pedicures etc. because mommy says no!” The saddest thing is that my partner doesn’t see the damaging effects this will have on our children! I place boundaries but they don’t exist if i am not at home (its easier for hubby to just let her do what she wants than to listen to the victim speech or constant negative jargon). If i leave my husband then she can say and do whatever when they are with him. This makes me feel like i must stay in a relationship instead vs staying in the relationship b/c i want to. Starting counselling again because of this (my 3rd round since meeting this woman; never before). At one point, I thought I was being too strict etc…but that was what she wanted me to feel. Her skills of manipulation and victim playing are top notch! Oh and despite all this i still reach out to her regularly so my daughters can video chat with her, or go on outing with her when hubby is working, all in the name of being ‘fair’ to all grandparents. And i do this because i want my children to have a meaningful relationship with all grandparents as i really value family. (she is currently looking to move closer to us b/c a 35minute drive is too far…especially because my parents are only 20minutes. So she is only looking for places that are less than 20minutes from our home!)

    Reply
  11. Having witnessed similar outbursts from my MiL it took me some time to work out why the family had just accepted her behaviour for so long. They had been completely brainwashed and manipulated into doing her bidding. From the outset she knew I wasn’t going to allow myself to be drawn in to be her puppet so set about driving a wedge between me, my husband and the rest of her family.

    I discovered some years later she’d physically and verbally abused to her own daughter, up to and including punching her and knocking her out for answering back.
    MiL was and is jealous of the close relationship I have with my children and used to try and poison them against me but failed. She went too far with my daughter and for a time my daughter wouldn’t speak to her.
    My husband has admitted he always has to put his mother first because, as he describes it, it’s his duty, been drummed into him.. He is always trying to please her but can never succeed, she keeps raising the bar.
    Now she is 93yrs and her latest ploy is suggesting he should move to live closer to her, her house is too big for her on her own, hinting he should move back in, so he can help her. He’s in his late 60s and in poor health, but she doesn’t care.
    I wasn’t mentioned so I think her plan is I stay put. I’m disabled so no use to her.
    She ground her husband down and neglected him when he was ill and is now trying to do the same to her son, just commodities to use. If I say anything he flies into a rage so I keep my council. He’s trying to provoke a fight to justify going back to her. He talks about feeling guilty. I’ve never prevented him from calling his mother or visiting her. He often outdoor phoning her because it usually descends into a row or she upsets him.
    His condition is serious but she commands him to tell her he’s well otherwise he makes her ill, she says, more emotional blackmail..
    It’s better to be on the outside, I stayed clear of being dragged in once I recognised her game. Something else I realised a while ago, there’s nothing I can do to help my husband to protect himself against his mother, I tried but he refused to see just how much she messes with his head.
    He hasn’t committed to our marriage, he’s still tied to her and I came to terms with that a long time ago.
    She’s been waging a 46yr long battle to maintain control, the casualties are her own family.

    Reply
  12. I want to thank all the comments on this page. I thought it was me, going crazy. I started googling how to deal with my overbearing, interfereing mother in law and ended up here. I have only descoved tonight that she is a narcissist. everything sounds so familiar. My husband has been telling me that she doesnt mean what she says, she is just old and forgets things and i am too sensitive and overreacting when she says or does unkind things. My Mother in law lives with us. I cook her meals etc. One day she will like a dinner, then the next time i cook it she will tell me, she does not like it, and has never eat that in her life. She will tell stories when we are in company and asks me to support her distorted recollection of events. I could go on with more examples. I feel like my eyes have finally opened and i feel empowered to take control of my sitution. I just need to figure out how to untangle my husband (her perfect son) from her web.

    Reply

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