10 Signs You Have a Toxic Mother-in-Law
They don't call them monsters-in-law for nothing.
Mothers-in-law are notorious for being controlling, judgmental, critical and overbearing. And like any toxic person, a toxic mother-in-law is a soul-sucking parasite that feeds on your misery. To protect yourself and your loved ones you need to know your enemy, so here are 10 signs you might be dealing with a toxic mother-in-law.
1. She is always right, without exception. Which means that she's never wrong. She'll never admit being wrong, and she will never apologize for anything. That would surely cause the collapse of the Western civilization, and contradict the premise that she's always right. In her eyes, you (and possibly your spouse) are the only person to blame.
2. She is dismissive. She will ignore you for the most part, conveying that you don't matter to her. She will not listen to a word you say. She'll ask you if you're hungry, hear "no," and still put food on your plate. She'll also disregard any of your accomplishments as insignificant and unworthy of her attention. Only things that have value to her are important.
3. She will communicate to you, in delightfully subtle ways, that you are not good enough for her son, and for her family. She will not say it to your face, no, but you will hear the message loud and clear. Depending on your self-esteem, you will either feel devastated or slightly amused.
4. To establish her dominance she will expect you to please her. That would include appearing at every family event, learning her way of cooking, cleaning and just about everything else under the sun (because her way is clearly better), adopting her religion and culture, and last but not least, giving her grandchildren. If you fail to do any of that, you are indeed a rotten daughter-in-law, and she has a right to complain about you to anyone who'll listen.
5. If you are still not bending to her will, she will move on to heavier artillery. She will start a smear campaign in her community, trying to turn everyone against you. If she succeeds, those people will start putting pressure on your husband to leave you, saying that they're just "worried about him" and they "want him to be happy."
6. She will not respect your words, choices or personal space. She will come to your house uninvited and unannounced, expecting you to welcome her with open arms and be grateful for the honor of her visit. She will look with disgust at how filthy your place is, and how unmannered your kids are.
7. Her parochial mentality dictates that she must rule by withholding her affection and approval, so she will use silent treatments, guilt, blame and direct intimidation to manipulate you and your husband. If he's not siding with her, she will be punishing and destructive towards him, too. At the same time, she will be demonstratively granting her love to his siblings and your sister-in-law.
8. She loves audience, and she's very concerned with appearances. In public she will enact a charming cultured woman who is a selfless caretaker of her family. She may even be known as a philanthropist in her community. Most people will fall for that. They will not understand what beef you can possibly have with such a great lady. Don't try to dissuade them. Let them stay in the matrix. Let them enjoy their steak.
9. Like any narcissist, she sees her children not as individuals, but as extensions of herself. Everything they do reflects on her, so she will go to great lengths to correct any "deviation" from the path she's chosen for them. That includes the people they marry; you. She will never give up on trying to destroy your marriage, or to control her children's lives.
10. There will be "good days" when she will be on her best behavior and everything will appear normal. You may even be tempted to think that things are getting better. You'll lose your vigilance.Then, out of nowhere, she will turn on you again, and you will be reminded - if you don't know it yet - that she will never accept you, and you can never have a relationship with her. That last one, by the way, may not be a bad thing.
What Can You Do?
Alas, there isn’t an easy remedy for a toxic mother-in-law.
You could stay the hell away from her. That's a simple and effective strategy, but it‘s not always an option.
You could try to win her affection by appeasing her, like they did with Hitler. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work with Hitler, and it won’t work with your mother-in-law. She already made up her mind about you. I’m sorry but she’s never going to like you.
So what can you do? You can use this as an opportunity for growth.
The truth is, whenever you have a perpetual conflict with someone, or someone pushes your "buttons," it's a good indication that there's inner work to be done. As tempting as it is to blame everything on your mother-in-law, it won't bring you anything but bitterness, anger and a sense of helplessness. Do not fall into the victim mentality!
You can be happy with or without her approval. Stand up for yourself and your kids. Spend more time with people who do love and appreciate you. Do things that make you feel good. Just live your life the best way you can, being your best self.
On a personal note, I don't expect to be friends with my MIL any time soon, or ever. I think we're too different for that, and at the same time, too similar in that we're both strong women who don't back down. I understand her frustrations with me, but I also understand that those frustrations have nothing to do with me. It's just self-aggrandizing rejection of "the lesser".
Lastly, I find great comfort in the fact that my own mother is a kind, caring, generous woman who's a wonderful mother-in-law to my husband. So that makes my monster-in-law... somewhat bearable, and at times even amusing.
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Questions & Answers
What about the other way around? My mother never really liked my choice of husband nor did she think he was good enough for me; constantly pointing out his past and present faults. He hates going over to her to fix things, as he feels he can never do things right by her.
© 2015 Lana Adler