Releasing the past in order to find myself

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Update on Mother-in-Law

So, I've done a ton of research in the past two months on Narcissism.  In a prior post, I wrote about my MIL, her horrible behavior towards me and how I was confused how it could seem so narcissistic, but not be.  Well, I've changed my mind, she is a narcissist too.  All that "generosity and caring" that I thought I saw, I know attribute to her attempts to control and retain attention from her kids.  Part of me felt "how can I have all these narcissists in my life?"  That didn't seem right.  But I've now learned how I've been primed to attract them.  How once you've been "trained" by a narcissist, others can smell it on you like a blood trail to a kill.
I came across an article about the 25 character traits of a narc.  As I read, I was floored.  My MIL ticked off so many boxes.  Almost as much as my mom.  I spent days writing out examples of how she fit the criteria.  And finally, with shaky hands I presented it to my husband.  I was so anxious, and I just knew he wouldn't believe me.  He'd think I was over analyzing.  Funny thing, though, he DID believe me.  He said he saw so much of it.  And while he didn't think she is as extreme or hurtful as my mother, he did acknowledge that she has caused a lot of problems with her behavior.  I felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders.  I finally didn't feel so alone.  I felt believed.  It was a new dawn for me.

I've written a lengthy blog about my MIL, her behaviors,  and I don't want to rehash old material.  But I need to rewrite about her through my new perspective.  With my new understanding, I need to see it in writing all the ways she has manipulated and tried to control us.

She is no boundaries.  None.  She does not know how to let her sons be grown adults.  She rushes in at the slightest invitation into her children's lives.  She listens as her son complains about my SIL.  She knows all about their marriage.  She sees nothing wrong with him confiding in her over my SIL.  In fact, she has expressed that confiding in her makes her sons "good sons" in her eyes.  She does not view us as individuals, but parts of a conglomerate of people.  One blob with ten heads.  She expects us all to do things the way they've always done things.  There is this unwritten set of ways-of-being in the world, that we are all supposed to be.  We are supposed to share the same opinions of things.  We are all supposed to have the same interests.   Everything is communal.  Nothing is separate and individual.  What one has, belongs to everyone.  Sounds like one big, close family, but in fact the "family" swallows everyone whole.  No one is allowed to have a relationship that is seperate.  She must be aware of, and in the middle of all relationships.  She does not encourage the brothers to spend time with each other with out her.  In fact, although she likes her "alone" time with everyone, she always manages to show up when we are doing something with a sibling.  Or, when she's been excluded, she pouts and says hurtful things (One night, when my BIL and SIL stayed up late at a hotel we all were at, drinking without her, she snapped "sounds like you guys were swingers!"  WTF?  What a crazy, sick, weird thing to say.  But it was clear she felt left out.)  She can not allow anyone time without her.  Once, when she was supposed to be showering, and my son was going for a walk with his grandpa, she threw on clothes and ran out to join them.  She eavesdrops, she gossips, she shares EXTREMELY private information about others (like in which manner my sister-in-laws pubic hair was shaved during childbirth....just ew).  I can not tell her anything, and in fact hubby and I've taken to keeping things from her because she shares information with others to get attention for herself.  To make her seem like the close, connected mother, or just to make herself look better.  She will physically put herself between me and someone I'm talking to to invade a conversation.  She butts into conversations that she is not a part of.   She feels it is her job to portion out food to the grandkids.  If she feels one needs more of something, she'll remove it from another child's plate.  Regardless, if the kid even asked for it.  And she never asks.  She calls in "sharing" but I think it is taking when you grab from someone without asking.  She does weird things to feel connected, like using my son's napkin to wipe her own greasy fingers, even though there were plenty of other napkins.  There is not a plate on the table that she doesn't feel the need to sample.  It kills her if you do not offer her a bite of something and she stares or hints until you give her some of whatever you have.  She walks in on people when they should expect privacy.  She has no problem walking around in her underwear and encourages other family members to do this to.  She even bought me a little nighty to wear at her house, because I always wore sweats when I got up in the morning (she thought I slept like this, but I feel you should cover up somewhat.)
She turns everything back to herself.  Most compliments are framed in away to refer to herself or her family. When I first met her she would turn every topic back.  "OH, you are a dancer?  Well, (hubby) won a dance contest once."  ONCE.  And then I had to hear about the one time he danced over and over.  I've heard every family story repeatedly.  And despite 15 years with hubby, she still tells me stories about her family like I'm an outsider. She knows little about me, and in fact rarely asks.  She often forgets my step parents names.  She knows nothing about what I did in highschool or as a child.  She spent little time getting to know me at all and in fact, seemed to go about discriminating me into her world.  It never even occurred to her that I would do things differently, or view things differently.  I almost felt like I was expected to morph into a clone of what she defined her family as.  I was never given any respect for my individuality and personal preferences.  She pushed me to be like her, create a family like her, be Christian like her.  She rammed religion down my throat.  I do not like organized religion.  I didn't want to be pushed to be a part of her church things.  But she guilted and pushed...even pushing for my baptism.  I went along with it all, trying so hard to fit in and belong to a family again.  She had the assumption that her family would all do things just like she had, and why would they ever do things differently?
As my relationship with my husband evolved, she became very jealous of me and competitive.  She works to take me down a peg.  "Oh, well you make good lasagna.  But I make good spaghetti."  "Oh, well, I would do Christmas cards like you, but I just don't have time."  She can't just say, thanks for the card.  She takes everything I do as an indictment on her behavior.  She always feels she needs to justify herself, in relation to what I am.  If some one tells me I do something well, she either tries to do it too, or finds a way to minimize it.  She has humiliated me in public over my small chest (which I am fine with, but I don't like being made fun of in public).  She has made negative comments about my newborn son, saying he had an "unfortunate nose" and "his mom's broad forehead".  Then she says "none of MY boys have that nose".   How she can insult her tiny grandbaby was beyond me.  She makes big deals about telling me when my husband has told her something before me.  "Well, I knew all about that.  He told ME everything.  I knew what he was doing for you."  It always seemed so weird to me that she felt the need to compete to be more important.  She covets what I have and do.  She is always copying what I do, from clothes, to jewelry, to my interests.  If husband and I do something or get something, she has to get the same for herself.
She has this impression that she has a "perfect" family.  She is obsessed with the latest "best" thing in life.  She will do anything or like anything, if ANYONE says it is the best.  She has little personal identity and is always taking on the "mask" of whatever she thinks people will like the most at the time.  She also likes to project onto her kids what they should like.  She doesn't ask anyone what they think, but tells them.  "OH, you'll LOVE this blah, blah, blah."  She labels her family and assigns roles.  She micromanages and controls everything.  She has an insatiable need to be needed and be important to "her boys".  She acts like her sons are perfect and defends them against anything.  They are always right and everyone else is wrong.  She has assigned scapegoat status to the one son who had the misfortune of some learning disabilities and other social disorders.  They family has made a habit of holding him up as a sort of shield, or sacrifice, as if to say "see, he's weird.  We're not weird.  If it weren't for him, we'd be perfect."  They've held this child as the dumping ground for all the blame for any perceived criticisms of the family.  She can't take any critisism, about herself or her perfect sons, so this family member is the distraction.
Not only does she not take critisism, and in fact, becomes angry and arguementative but she really doesn't consider any one's opinion at all.  She makes the assumption that her family all has the same opinion and when she is confronted with my difference of opinion, she again gets huffy.  She treats my knowledge in my chosen profession as ridiculous...until she wanted me to 'fix' scapegoat son.  The only opinions she takes is if she feels it would lead her to having the 'best' of something.  And these opinions are only from random strangers.  She has the most shallow of relationships with most people I know.  She is phony, loud, and boisterous.  She will laugh the loudest at a joke, even though she rarely understands what the joke is.  She uses laughter to deflect from her nasty comments to and about people.  She always has to appear to be in on something.  She does not get social clues and often laughs at inappropriate things (like when  I told her I rushed my son to the E.R.).  The family's behavior in public leaves something to be desired (loud, rowdy, scene causing in restaurants) but she acts as if they are entitled to behave that way.  But with other's she will be very critical.
She does not know how to create a real relationship and often forces the issue.  She wanted she and I to be best friends and do everything together, but took no time to actually create a relationship.  She talks at me and my sons.  "Grammy thinks your...GRAMMY thinks"  "I bet you think, Jessie...."  "Jessie, you should do this as a profession...I think you'd do well".  She never asks how we feel, or think, or if we like things.  It's her projection onto us.  She can not read the social cues of my kids and often pushes them when they are feeling shy or upset.  She once mistook my son's crying as "happy noises".  Not sure how she did that.   Maybe it was just deflection from the guilt she felt for not noticing.  She uses my kids to suck emotional and physical attention.  She is always kissing, hugging, and holding them, even when they do not want this attention.  She exclaims how kids are good for cuddling with.  She gets her narc supply from cuddling all over them, and it's so one sided.  I don't know how to explain how I know this, but you can almost see it.  My older son rarely can remember her name, despite seeing her often and knowing all of his other grandparents' names, and I know it's because she doesn't forge any relationship with him.  She shows no interest in him as a person, but what he can provide for her.  She once pushed him into taking a picture because she wanted to show it off to her friends.  Not because she wanted a reminder of her precious grandson.  So she could show off.  She doesn't really play with him (more hovers over him), and when she does she's showing my son HOW to play, not playing with him.  She talks about him as if he isn't there (and he knows this and it makes him uncomfortable.)  She always is "measuring" up the grandkids to see who is doing what, and if my son isn't at the stage she thinks he should be she gets weirdly quiet about it.
Her relationship with my husband has always been weird (on her end).  She used to make him the golden child.  He was a star athlete, and I always felt she sucked up more than her fair share of attention for his accomplishments (although I couldn't put my finger on this at the time.)  She didn't see it as his success, but the families success.  She used to use him to get his brothers to do what she wanted.  She would tell him to tell the brothers things, so she would be distanced from it and remove herself from the 'blame' should any arise.  She would put him in charge of decisions that he shouldn't have and then when resentment and anger arose, she'd point it at hubby.  "Well, HE picked the restaurant."  He just thought he was being a good son.  He didn't see the position she was manipulating him into.  She wanted this super close relationship with him.  She invited herself on our vacations, included herself in things she shouldn't have, and took over activities that we used to do as a couple.  She just couldn't understand why we WOULDN'T want family involved in these things.  She often treated him as a co-parent.  When we started to separate, she started to get desperate.  She started pushing us to get married (in December, like she did, despite my extreme dislike of the idea).  She pushed relentlessly for grandkids, and felt she should dictate who had kids first.  She started to become 'helpless' in situations.  She need my husband to help her with things that were completely in her ability.  She was retired, has tons of time, and is supposedly very intelligent, but she needed husband to rescue her and help her.  She would bait him with insane comments to get his attention.  She seemed so childish and immature.  And when she isn't acting like a baby, she (and FIL) feel the need to treat us like children, unable to make our own decisions.  In fact, all of my BILs are still very child-like and depend on the in-laws to approve and help with all their decisions.  They do not act like adults.  And I've always felt like, in MILs eye, the perfect model is:  she is the center hub of a wheel, and we are all spokes off of her.  She turns us all and we orbit around her.  She connects everyone to everyone else.  I used to use this model even before I knew what narcissism is, and now, it only confirms what I think I already knew.
Sorry this is so long, but I had to get it off my chest.  Thanks to anyone who has made it to the end of my rant!

Oh, and one other small thing.  She is the worst gift giver.  My gifts are always a rote gift (she picks one thing out and gives me the same thing every year, just a different version.  Like cookbooks, or christmas ornaments).  One year she gave me a wine glass (one of two) that she got at a wine tasting (so it was cheap and inexpensive) from a winery she "knew" I liked.  I didn't like the winery.  She told me she thought I would like the winery, and somehow got the two confused in her head.  I've also received mouthwash, a toothbrush, and a crow bar.


  1. Let me guess, the crowbar was because she "mistakenly" thought you wanted to remodel your bathroom to look like hers? ;p

  2. Haha! Actually, after we built our new home, SHE remodeled her bathroom to rival ours! The crowbar was something she and FIL found on clearance and said "everyone needs a crowbar". Um, OK. She has a crazy habit of buying things (or finding things she wants to buy) and THEN deciding who to give them too. She once asked what style I was going to decorate my new home in (although I figured she could look around at my old home and imagine it would be similar). Before I could answer, she rushed in with "Antique? I know you like antique. Well, I found these lamps I really like and wanted to buy them for you." Well, 'antique' is a pretty broad notion, and what she really meant was 'old lady'. These lamps, so clearly, did NOT match my style but she pressed. I suggested she get them for herself if she liked them so much. She did not and was annoyed that I refused her 'gift'.

  3. Your MIL sounds pretty extreme to me. When the extent of your MIL's narcissism dawns on him you'll have to have a chair ready to catch him because he won't know what's hit him. It's hard for family members to see how the behaviour of their parents is not normal because they're so used to it. When I first got married my DH used to point things out about my family and I used to think it was a culture thing (we're from different countries), it took me ages to see that actually, those things were not normal not even in my own culture.
    I so know what you mean about her getting her narc supply from cuddling kids, my mother does that too, it's almost like they think of them as living "Teddy Bears", even when she gives me a hug I feel she's actually taking from me instead of giving to me. It's very strange, I can't really explain it.
    I loved your reply to her attempts to buy you the lamps, will add to my list of useful responses to annoying people.

    1. It has been a bit of an intense two weeks as my husband and I have been talking about this. He definitely sees a lot of what she does. He does always say "but that was normal when I grew up." It's been a long haul to get to this point though where he would even consider that there was something unusual about it. It's funny, though, how many things that I've described in a similar way in the past, I know find 'evidence' to back me up with online. Even the wording is so very similar. But it's especially hard when his mom makes it LOOK like its all out of love, concern, and generosity. I mean, what sane person complains because their kids' grandma hugs them too much. It's just so good to know that others get it too. She just sets off the mama bear in me.

  4. Your MIL is definitely a a malignant narcissist.
    My own adoptive Mother, Queen Crocodile, is at about the same level too, but with a real nasty streak. Queen Crocs don't have families, they own pets. Queen Crocs don't have a sense of humor but they can shriek and screech when it comes to ridicule of a scapegoat, or derision of an ostracized family member, normally from her husbands side.
    Queen Crocodiles like to marry men who never complain, who probably don't even realize they are being controlled. They will be fed well, nurtured for their role of enabler. Husbands are usually never scapegoats, this role is reserved for a weak or rebellious child or even a grandchild, so be careful.

  5. Thanks for your input Dave. The thing with my MIL, is she doesn't have a "nasty" streak. All that she does is subversive and sneaky. Lots of people think she's wonderful (or not as horrible as I think she is), including her sons and my SILs. She isn't an openly horrible person. It's all behind your back. Lots of subtle manipulations and coercion. She's raised her "boys" to be so dependent on her and they think nothing of it. Such a life time of being the Queen Bee, that they all hover around her and they think that's normal. My FIL thinks she's just the best grandma and mom in the world. He is very controlled, but she does it like a puppeteer, and he SEEMS like he is in control. But she's always whispering in his ear, having him do her dirty work. That way she avoids all accountability. She used to do that to my husband too, but thank god, he's changed. I, most definitely, have become the scapegoat (I used to describe it as the "black sheep" before I had a real sense of what it was and why I felt that way) but it used to be, and still is at times, the mentally disabled brother. I am so glad I figured this out before she had too many opportunities to separate out the grandkids and I can keep an eye on it.

  6. Ah yes, the nasty streak, that appeared during my teens, when I was starting to think independently and always when she cornered me alone. If your husband or brothers ever open up, I can almost guarantee this happened.

    Queen Croc tried to aggressively delve into the most private part of my brain, being an old fashioned religious maniac, she was also obsessed that I was masturbating. Anyway she tricked me into accompanying her into visiting a child psychologist, I believed he was a careers advisor. However I refused to speak with her in the room, she had to leave. The upshot was that I was healthy and she was referred to counselling for depression, because my Father was actually having an affair with a work colleague at the time.

    She was given a help list that included not being allowed to interrupt when I spoke, to help my slight stammer and not being allowed to blame her children for my Fathers extra marital activities. The Playboy magazines were his too, I just borrowed them!

    Unbelievably, she love to remind everybody about not interrupting me, just as I would start speaking.

    Parents are still together, though my Father is quite compliant and now the nasty streak is used for scolding the occasional shop assistant or waitress who don't respond well or quick enough to her attention seeking questions.

    1. That is interesting. My BILs were a lot younger when I met my husband and I can certainly remember some things now that I think about it. She was a yeller. She was always yelling at them for being ignorant. She just had (has) no patience. She also is a religious maniac and was very strict about what her "boys" could and couldn't do (although they did it anyway.) I remember her specifically telling me that "none of MY boys would ever get a tattoo" upon seeing mine. She was toned down the religious rhetoric as of late, as her "going to be a minister" son, found that that wasn't to be his calling and that he questioned some of the ideology she crammed down their throats. They were never allowed to question religion at all, and ironically, it was the religious college he went to that opened his eyes to alternatives.
      I also was struck by the "she tried to delve into the most private part of my brain" comment. My Nmother does this to me, well, she attempts to but she isn't actually all that smart about it and it's easy to "catch" her and avoid it. My MIL is horrible about this. She feels she needs to know what is going on with everyone at every turn. She is WAY too involved in the private lives of her sons. They really have no boundaries in that sense. She expects them to confide in her about everything. At her third sons marriage, she actually arranged for the honeymoon suite...a room right next to hers. We (the older siblings) harassed her so much that she made everyone switch rooms (which I despised that everyone had to jump up and play musically rooms just because she didn't have the foresight to think that the situation was weird and gross).
      My mother definitely has that nasty streak. It now too is reserved for waitresses and clerks and any other person she views as insubordinate when they don't manage to cater to her every whim.

  7. It seems to me that you all must live pretty close to each other, my family are from the North east of England, but I live in Germany. My mothers sister lives in Australia and they still hate each other.
    We all went to a wedding last year. Needless to say NM had my sister and her adult children trained to behave in a distant weird sort of way towards my Aunt. It was really weird in fact, but when my Aunt joked that I was the white sheep of the family, all hell broke loose.

    Now I don't know when Malignant Narcissism starts to appear, but Queen Croc accused her sister of 'still rebelling like a child' and all the usual nonsense about being ungrateful etc. My Aunt, just let fly with a load of insults.
    Later, while My Aunt and her latest boyfriend danced and drank the night away, Queen Croc remained sitting at the table all watery eyed whilst her incubi and sucubi surrounded her offering the usual sympathy and support.

    Even then, there were those helpless pleading glances pointed over at me, trying to reel me in to this emotional feeding frenzy, and I remember feeling drawn in, but the spell was broken when my daughter asked why they all kept looking at me. I just love weddings.

    What I guess I'm saying is, physical distance reduces influence, but if you move she might have to come and stay in your house for visits. That can be completely controlled by you. And, reduction in influence will change your husband and your kids won't be taught how to feel guilt and shame.

    1. Very true Dave. And in fact, we've thought about moving on several occasions. We do live close (relatively) but I'm sure that if we moved, they'd be at our house all the time anyway...for long periods...and staying overnight. As it is, I seldom host them in my home and they rarely stay overnight as my BIL and SIL also live here and they stay with them (thank god). So, I do have some measure of control as we see them for an hour here or there...and I'm working on controlling (although that's the wrong word, more defining boundaries) it all more.
      The real thing is, I love the place I live. My husband and I grew up in this state and, for many reasons, we would sacrifice if we left. And more than anything, I wasn't going to sacrifice something we loved because they ran us out with their nastiness. Or at least I'm not going to now. The option is still on the table. But all of this is so new, so I really want to see if by defining some boundaries, I can keep things in check. But we'll see.

  8. Thank you for thisMay 14, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    Many, many of your anecdotes and descriptions of her behaviors model my MILs. The familial framework is also very similar - she has 5 sons, all of whom are golden children, except for the middle child who is suffering from mental issues including anxiety and low self esteem, and couldn't continue with his school the way she wanted him to (he had a break down from the pressure). Sadly, that scapegoat son, can't afford to support himself in his own apartment so he must live with her. My FIL has taken the overwork-myself approach to avoiding his wife. We wonder how he's still with her, given how relatively normal he is. I personally am convinced that after 7 years of dramatic on and off dating she manipulated him into committing to her for life by falling pregnant. She's very hush hush about the circumstances of he wedding, but I do know it was quickly arranged and that she wore a red suit to it. 9 months later (tho I suspect she lies about the exact anniversary date) there was a baby....

    If I do end up putting together a list of examples to present to my husband, I will use this as a reference since it's frighteningly similar. Wow. Thank you for sharing your plight - I read every word - and found comfort in knowing we're not the only one.