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Narcissistic mother-in-law

Having a narcissistic mother-in-law: what can you do and expect and how does it affect your relationship?

Narcissism facts -infographic

A relationship can be quite a challenge when you have a narcissistic mother-in-law(or father-in-law), because of your in-laws’ involvement and the way you and your partner respond to them. The relationship between the narcissist and their children can be very intense or almost non-existent at all. This page focuses mainly on the situation where you are still in touch with your narcissistic mother-in-law.
If you have a narcissistic mother-in-law you’ll notice that:

  • it’s difficult for your partner to set healthy boundaries (regarding your in-laws),
  • for your in-laws to respect your boundaries,
  • that they will probably not like you,
  • that they criticize you and your partner a lot (or refrain from making compliments), and
  • that they are trying to sabotage/harm the marriage.

You may also notice that they like to play the victim and that it’s difficult to feel at ease around them. Despite the fact that you probably have your own issues with them, it’s important for your relationship that you support your partner. This page offers advice for each stage your partner goes through (unawareness, realization, acceptance, adjustment, and change). This page describes each stage briefly and offers advice for you to help and protect you and your partner.

Stage 1: Unawareness

Having a narcissistic parent most likely means that the child has been exposed to emotional abuse, such as manipulation, blackmailing, splitting, gas-lighting, and guilt tripping (click here to read more about these types of abuse). A narcissistic parent uses these techniques to get what they want: control, power, and satisfaction (they enjoy it when they can humiliate someone). For a child growing up in such conditions, it’s likely that they are unaware of the emotional abuse taking place and that they see their narcissistic parent as the person who is always right. They simply have no-one else to compare to and it’s normal to assume that parents are always right. Some children of narcissists even believe that their narcissistic parent is wonderful.


When these children grow older and become adolescents or even adults, they may notice that other parents are usually kindhearted and friendly. They may also notice that something is odd about the way things go at home, but that’s as far as most children of narcissists go. In this stage, they are not ready to admit to themselves that their parents are not such good parents after all. And this is a huge mental obstacle, because it basically means that all they believed in is a lie: their parents do not love them unconditionally, it’s not normal to be blackmailed, guilt tripped, and manipulated. In this stage it’s often te case that the child of the narcissist defends or trivializes their behaviour.
This stage could be very frustrating, because you can see what’s happening. You can look at their interactions and relationship with a healthy distance, and you can see how badly it affects your partner. At the same time your partner isn’t ready to see this, which creates a lot of tension and probably some fights as well.

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