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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
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Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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I am a mother to 2 children and a physician. I have been married

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I am a mother to 2 children and a physician. I have been married for 11 years and during this time, i have come to diagnose my mother in law with narcissistic personality disorder.During the initial stages of my marriage, I was very confused by her behaviour. It was very abusive. I suffered from parental alienation. She tried her very best to separate me from my husband and from my children. It later on appeared that even my father in law was abused to a very significant extent. My husband seemed to be going along as well and refused to acknowledge the problem for a very long time.I refused to acknowledge this initially but she does have a spell on him. But he has been kind to me and has made my life better. Because of my culture and multiple responsibilities towards my parental side, i have somehow survived this abusive relationship.It is an arranged marriage. I have lived in the US so far and the inlaws lived in India. Recently, my father in law died and my mother in law is moving in with us. She feels a sense of entitlement and doesn't show much respect for anything. She has been calling my husband literally every single day and sometimes twice. I am not even sure that she is saddened by the loss of her husband whom I suspect she pretty much harassed and abused towards his end.She is close to 65 years and still going strong. She has strong opinions about how kids should be raised for example, for a long time she maintained that kids should only learn music and they would get knowledge of other subjects just by learning music alone. I have had to put up years of fight....

Anyway, she will be joining us pretty soon. I am expecting my life to go upside down. She has made sure all the property is in her name. She can play the money game pretty easily. I do have a job.So, i am not at home most of the time. Can you please give me tips about how I could coexist? She plans to take over the kitchen once she moves here.Please help me. Not a whole bunch of people understand my situation. i cannot walk away from this marriage because of my kids. My husband cannot leave his mother to live by herself because of culture. More than anything, she acts like she cannot be left alone even for a minute. She wants to be here with my family and control everything.

Hello, I'd like to help you with your question.

It is very hard to deal with a narcissist. As you may know, Narcissism is a personality disorder which is a category of disorders that are difficult to treat with therapy, even if the person wants help. Everything about a narcissist is "me first". They lack empathy and only want to be involved in something that benefits them in some way. They do not hesitate to say or do hurtful things to someone else. When told about their behavior, they often find ways to make it the other persons fault or they just ignore the information.

After reading your description of your mother in law's behavior, she may have a disorder called Narcissistic abuse. This is where a person with Narcissism acts out and abuses others consistently. The person with this disorder is often suspected to have Aspberger's or another disorder like it because of the seeming disassociation with their feelings and the feelings of others. Here is a link for you to learn more:

There are two ways you can address your mother in law. One, you can lower your expectations. Unless she is acting in a harmful way, which you need to intervene with (such as with your children) do not expect her to behave as other family members might. Keep in mind that correcting her behavior or even just asking her to act in a certain way will cause her to react in a hostile way. She probably does not realize anything she is doing is bothering other people. You can react by praising her in such a way that you do get the response you want. For example, if you want her to do a certain task, tell her that everyone admires the way she does it. Appealing to a narcissists ego usually works.

Try to keep your emotions out of your dealings with her. Narcissists often provoke emotional reacts in others because their behavior is so offensive and hurtful. Training yourself to not react and to remain neutral can help. Develop a few non emotional responses you can provide to just about anything she says to you, especially when she tries to provoke you. "I'm sorry you feel that way" is a good response to just about any comment. It leaves your feelings out of it, negates a reaction and keeps her from feeling offended.

If you feel that the situation becomes totally overwhelming and you cannot cope, or that you or the children are being harmed (stress and tension), then it may be time to ask your husband to step in and find another solution or to set clear boundaries with her. It may be against his culture, but hurting you and the kids is wrong so he may have to overcome whatever consequences there are and deal with his mother.

You can also learn more about narcissism to help you find more ways to cope with your mother in law. Here are some resources that will help:

The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family by Eleanor D. Payson

Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed by Wendy T. Behary

The Object of My Affection Is in My Reflection: Coping with Narcissists by Rokelle Lerner

You can find these books on or your local library may have them for you.

I hope this has helped you,

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