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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5808
Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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My mother-in-law moved in with us a year ago. Prior to that

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My mother-in-law moved in with us a year ago. Prior to that point I had a good relationship with her - I found her to be a rather selfish person (my husband and I were paying her mortgage while she went out for dinner every week, went on trips, etc.) but we never confronted her about this and I realise now we were enabling her behaviour.

At any rate, she now lives with us and from all I have read on-line, she is a covert manipulator and uses guilt and the "I'm a victim approach" most of the time. It has taken me this long to realise this - up until now I couldn't figure out why I was so depressed and unhappy. She uses little verbal jabs like "when did you develop OCD?" (I do not have OCD - this comment stemmed from me politely asking her if she could wipe the kitchen counter after she prepared food) or will pick on my husband and make my daughter cry.

I have tried to talk to her by mentally preparing but every time I try to open my mouth I end up feeling so sick and shaky and then if I manage to say something like "we were thinking of looking at housing alternatives" she will then deploy the guilt tactic and ask if she is going to have to live in a cardboard box or social housing?

I have tried to ask my husband to talk to her but he cannot - his suggestion is to just keep dealing with it but I am now losing weight and losing sleep over this. Do you have any suggestions? Please help me. I am so unhappy and do not know what to do.
Hello, I'd like to help you with your question.

It sounds like your mother in law has a personality disorder.
People who react as your mother in law does tend to be difficult to be around because they affect how you feel about things. Asking your mother in law to contribute by cleaning up after herself is not unreasonable. However, her response is to make it an issue about you instead of accepting your request as reasonable and following through. This indicates a serious personality issue. And when you are in close quarters with someone who treats you badly, you can begin to feel stressed, upset and anxious about being around them. Here is a link to help you understand more about someone with a personality disorder:

Being around someone with a personality disorder feels draining and unsettling. Their issues can be the result of mental illness or past abuse, where they learned to cope with the loss of love and care by adapting their behavior to get attention and hurt others. They rarely if ever have insight and are unlikely to ever change.

There are different types of personality disorders. Some people feel they know everything and everyone else does not, some criticize and predict doom and gloom with every situation and others are dramatic, making a big deal out of everything. They can also focus a lot on themselves, making you feel insignificant and bothersome. Some are emotionally draining, needing your help with everything.

One of the best ways to deal with someone like your mother in law is to try to eliminate them from your life. However, that is not possible right now with your mother in law. The best alternative is to start making plans to get her out of your home. Living with her any longer is only going to keep harming you. And if you and your family is being harmed by her behavior as much as you describe, the situation has gotten out of hand and become abusive. This can lead to emotional disorders for you and your family including depression, anxiety and high levels of stress. Although it is admirable you want to care for your mother in law, her behavior is going to cause long term harm to your family so having her move out is the best option.

You mentioned that your husband is not willing to back you up. It could be that years of being emotionally abused by his mother has left him fearful to even consider crossing her. You have two options to help the situation- suggest that the family get counseling to talk about the situation and find solutions, or go ahead with plans on getting your mother in law out of the home without your husband's support. This may not be the best idea for your marriage, but getting her out of the home is the first priority. You can work on the consequences after she has left.

In the meanwhile, try reducing your contact as much as possible. Avoid contact unless you must be in the same room. When she talks with you, offer short, neutral responses. If she tries to rope you into an emotional situation, have a neutral response ready like, "Sorry you feel that way" no matter what she says to you. Repeat as needed until she loses interest and leaves.

I hope this has helped you,
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May I please request that if you find the service I provided helpful at all that you rate me with three or above? Your rating is the only way I am reimbursed for my answer. Thank you so much!
Thank you very much for the positive rating and bonus! I appreciate it.

My best to you and your family,
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank you! Wish me luck!

:) You will do fine. I can tell. It is not easy to face someone like your mother in law, but just by seeking answers like you did today, you are already on the path to making the situation much better. And if I can help in any way in the future, just let me know by putting "Kate" in front of your new question. I'll answer as soon as I can.

Take care!