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Hi! I'll be glad to help you with this issue.
I can imagine how difficult and distressing your situation is for you. This is such a tragic situation and I'm so sorry you're going through this. I've not only worked with people in therapy with similar situations, but here online I've heard too often from other parents/grandparents facing similar stories and it's just heartbreaking. I know how difficult this is for you and your wife.
Your son in law (sil) sounds truly narcissistic. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the word or the disorder Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), but his total self referencing, treating himself as the sun and everyone else as moons there to serve him, and the other traits you've described just sound very narcissistic. And the problem is, that this disorder does not change easily. Your daughter is now entrapped in his disorder. And that is so painful for you because she is suffering even though it seems she's his ally. She's actually in a lot of psychological distress and doing everything he wants is the only way she (and all the other spouses of narcissistic people) has to cope and get through the day.
The key here is to slowly, slowly, slowly get your daughter to realize what she's dealing with. What do I mean?
If you bring up narcissism with her, she'll probably yell at you and tell him. Remember, she's got to live with him every day and night and they have a child. But if slowly you can have some time with her away from him, so that it becomes a regular event, like a daughter/father coffee at Starbucks or with your wife as well, or her and her mom, whatever, then you can feel the situation out and see if you can get her relaxed enough to talk.
Then, I'd like you to print out my answer and share it with her. Only, though, on the agreement that she will not share it with him or even use it to tell him what you or she thinks of him. That will only make things worse. Please remember that.
You have to wait until you feel she is reliable and you can trust her to have the understanding, then she needs to recognize that peace with a narcissist is NEVER on a two way footing. It always mean she will always give in some way. But there can be comfort in that you are partners in this and that you love her and you're a safe place for her to let her frustrations out and you know that it's unfair, and she's not 100%. But that you can't change him. Because you can't give in to him. He can threaten anything and you can't give in. I've had to deal with narcissists who threaten things I don't want to print here.
You all have to know that you will never change the operative dynamic of his narcissism. Whatever problem comes up, the truth for him in himself is that he has no problem, that the problem is all yours always. If you try to fight this "truth" of his, you will only get frustration and blow ups. Narcissists have to be the right ones, the important ones, the ones whose needs count. So you play it their way or you suffer.
So what can you do? Well, you form a team and be grateful for everyone else who is normal. And you tread carefully around him and don't try to get more from him than the little he can give. That's it. And you accept that it will be estranged for a long time but that time is on your side. Your daughter may seem totally under his control, but she will get exhausted from that at some point. You need to be there to help. She will realize then that your not catering to him was necessary at that point, so the first principle, even if she's not able to be part of an alliance with you is for you to do what's right and not give in to his blackmails. Therefore, the rest of my answer is what I hope she will read when you can get her into that discussion I referred to above. Here's for her:
So, that is your situation. Acceptance is the key. Making sure not to get too wrapped up in his rigidness is vital. This is the way you will be able to continue in your relationship with him.
It is very difficult for people to imagine how pervasive NPD is. They tend to keep doing things with the narcissist as if she's normal. Then they get burned and they are very hurt. You are normal and have a view of personality that we call "whole". But something happened early on to his personality: it has become "fractured". What do I mean?
Let's use a parable of a house. You understand personality as being an open plan. There is the main big room where everything in the personality is and there are some smaller rooms off the main room, but they all have open doorways so that there is a unity there. If a person reacts from one of those smaller areas in her personality, it is coherent with the rest of the house, it fits into the decorating scheme of the main room, etc. It's all unified.
He isn't like that. He has different closed rooms. When he says something to you, it responds to some need and "truth" of a certain room. When he wants something else, it responds to a different room that contains that "truth". They don't have to agree for him to feel he is being okay and truthful. Because they are responding to different needs in him. Like different closed rooms.
You would not be able to feel whole that way. Well he doesn't feel whole. But he doesn't know how to feel whole. And he doesn't know what feeling whole is like.
How, then to live with him:
Step 1. You must accept that you cannot change him. This is the heart of the matter: what you see is what you are going to get for a long time (see step 2) if not for the rest of his life. Your job and your goal is to learn how to accept him the way he is and not be affected negatively by him. Yes, this is a tough, big job. But that is what he needs. You cannot be his therapist; you have to accept that this is how he deals with the world and that your job is to be there for him and with him without you getting too hurt by his personality difficulties.
Step 2. You can encourage him to seek professional help. Again, this will have to be only an encouragement. You know better than anyone that even encouraging him will probably not go over well with him, but that is the most you can do in that area. He has to be willing to go to therapy to help himself. No one else will ever be able to get him to stay in therapy and get benefit from it even if they convince him. The chances of him thinking this is a good idea are very slim.
I'm going to prescribe a couple of excellent books you can get on how to live with a narcissist. These books WILL help you as they have been tried and I've seen them have good effect if you follow the suggestions of the authors:
1. The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship by Eleanor Payson. This is a great book that will help you with the lack of self-esteem that living with a narcissist or being close with a narcissist will do to you.
2. The Object of My Affection is in My Reflection: Coping with Narcissists by Rokelle Lerner. This book is newer but is extremely clear and insightful and has helped people since it came out 3 years ago.
Hi, back to you. Let me give you this recommendation for a book for you that might be helpful even though you're dealing with your sil and your child. But some of the principles might be useful and you will get encouragement to keep on persevering from this book.
Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children: Six Steps to Hope and Healing for Struggling Parents by Allison Bottke. She comes from a Christian perspective but it is not a religious book and non-religious people have found it extremely helpful.
Okay, I wish you the very best!
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Thank you ,
I am familiar with this disorder but not from my daughter's stand point.
I needed to know how this effects her. You have been a huge help.
My goal is for you to feel like you've gotten Great Service from me and the site. If we need to continue the discussion for that to happen, then please feel free to reply and we'll continue working on this. If the answer has given you the help you need, please remember to give a rating of 5 (Great Service) or 4 (Informative and helpful), or even 3 (Got the job done) button. This will make sure that I am credited for the answer and you are not charged anything more than the deposit you already made by pressing any of these buttons. Bonuses are always appreciated! If I can be of further help with any issue now or in the future, just put "For Dr. Mark" in the front of your new question, and I'll be the one to answer it. All the best, Dr. Mark