7 Spiritual Lessons From Your Narcissistic Mother-in-Law

Updated on February 14, 2018
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Lana is a spiritual writer, blogger, and editor who advocates for women to regain their divine power, starting with a family structure.

Believe it or not, your narcissistic mother-in-law is in your life for a reason. She has lessons to teach you. If you pay attention, you will learn a great deal about yourself, and become a stronger, happier, wiser person. If you ignore her lessons, you'll be stuck in a perpetual cycle of hate, resentment and misery.


1. The lesson of setting boundaries

Are you emotionally sensitive? Do you tend to shy away from conflict? Do you want everyone to just get along?

If you've answered "yes" to these questions, you might find it extraordinarily difficult to set boundaries for your mother-in-law. Yet this may be the very lesson your MIL is teaching you - speak up, set boundaries, take charge of your life.

You may be immensely frustrated by your in-laws' intrusive ways but it takes two to tango. If you've never set boundaries because you didn't want to rock the boat, is it at all surprising that she continuously oversteps them?

2. The lesson of humility

Astonishingly, not everything is about you. When you take everything personally, you're feeding into the idea that you are the center of the universe, and therefore everything that happens around you is about you.

What your mother-in-law says or does is not about you; it's about her. It's about her ability to give or receive unconditional love, it's about whether or not she feels fulfilled, happy, important etc. It's about her unhealed pain. It's about her inner child.

Remember: people who don't love themselves don't know how to love others. And even if they do "love" someone, their love is conditional, judgmental, fragmented. So don't take it personally.

3. The lesson of compassion

She's human. She's not perfect. Neither are you.

Just as you feel that she is intrusive, controlling and manipulative, she feels that you are hostile, ungrateful and argumentative. Or that you're trying to turn her son against her. Or that you're not listening to her valuable advice when it comes to her grandchildren. The list of grievances from both sides can go on and on, and it only proves one thing: we're all human. We all feel insecure at times. We all feel lonely. And we all have a deep need for love and appreciation.

Even the prickliest of mothers-in-law can feel hurt, lonely and insecure at times.
Even the prickliest of mothers-in-law can feel hurt, lonely and insecure at times.

4. The lesson of forgiveness

Spoiler alert: your mother-in-law is not sorry. She doesn't believe she did anything wrong. She doesn't deserve your forgiveness, and she certainly won't ask for it. That's OK. Forgive her anyway.

Most in-law relationships are so wrecked with animosity and blame, neither side is capable of forgiveness. Which is exactly what creates an emotional entanglement - holding on to grudges, inflating the ego, victim consciousness etc.

Forgive and move on. There's nothing more to it. You'll feel lighter, happier, healthier. And you'll learn a valuable lesson: to forgive is to detach.

5. The lesson of self-love

Forgiveness is important, but it doesn't mean that you give your narcissistic mother-in-law a free pass to abuse you. That's where self-love comes in.

When you love yourself, you value yourself and your energy. You have a clear sense of dignity and self-respect. When you don't love yourself, you tend to let people walk all over you. You try to please them by trying to be what they want you to be. And as a result, you give your power away...

Perhaps, your mother-in-law is teaching you to love yourself enough to stand up for yourself. And in some cases, if the relationship has become too painful, to let go of that relationship.

6. The lesson of self-awareness

If you pay attention, you will find that your MIL's most annoying qualities are the very same ones that you don't like within yourself. These "bad" tendencies that we deny need to be brought to light and acknowledged in order to grow. This is our Shadow Self.

On the other hand, your MIL may be triggering your childhood traumas. Do you feel mistreated and rejected by her? Do you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough? Do you feel like she ignores or underplays your accomplishments while constantly criticizing every tiny mistake? Do you often feel bad about yourself after seeing her?

If that sounds true, there may be another parental figure in your life who made you feel that way. You're looking for love and validation from your mother-in-law the same way you were looking for love and validation from your original parent. The in-law just triggers those parts of you that feel insecure, unloved and unworthy. The parts that need healing.

A difficult mother-in-law may trigger the feelings of insecurity and rejection you experienced as a child.
A difficult mother-in-law may trigger the feelings of insecurity and rejection you experienced as a child. | Source

7. The lesson of gratitude

Gratitude may be the last thing you feel towards your narcissistic mother-in-law, and that is precisely why you need to challenge yourself to feel grateful.

For one, she gave life to someone you love - your husband. Be thankful for that.

But more importantly, be thankful for the many precious lessons she has to teach you. She teaches kindness by being unkind. She teaches tolerance by being judgmental. She teaches unconditional love by being withholding and punishing. She teaches honesty by being deceptive. If it wasn't for her, you wouldn't be the person you are today.

And if you don't feel grateful for her at the moment, it's OK too. Give it time. Let yourself feel whatever you feel. And know that you are loved - endlessly, unconditionally, eternally.

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© 2017 Lana Adler


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    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 17 hours ago from California


      Thank you for sharing. It feels like you needed to get that off your chest.

      It also feels like you have guilt about your partner's estrangement from his family, and you have taken responsibility for it, whether consciously or subconsciously. You say you're flawed, you apologize for having different beliefs and personality that clash with your in-laws, yet none of this is your fault.

      I want you to let go of that. I want you to stop getting involved with your in-laws' drama. This is not your responsibility. This is not your karma. Whatever your partner wants to do with his family, let them figure it out. I don't think any extra encouragement is needed on your part. You've done enough. Whether they come around or not - it's out of your hands now. Let go. Don't let it infect your spirit.

      Peace and light,


    • Ceo Seanchai 96 profile image

      Ceo Seanchai 96 2 days ago

      My MIL has done everything but #6 on your list of "signs of a toxic MIL" and I'm pretty sure that's only because my significant other and I have only lived together at least an hour away from her.

      Not by my choice, but his. I encouraged him to call her every week, respond to her texts, go to every family gathering...even after I'd been so negatively impacted by them that I decided to stay at home. I made flower arrangements on mother's day, got cards so her sons had something to give her, made her handmade gifts, and put up with a lot of selfish, rude, cutting garbage from her (including insulting me like I wasn't in the room, right in front of her, and blaming me for his school/career/religious/political choices) before I gave up in my heart on that ideal relationship.

      I've lost my mother and couldn't understand not wanting a relationship with my own...but my partner has fought my encouragement tooth and nail over the past four years. Doesn't WANT to visit "home", doesn't WANT to call his mom. He feels he's a trophy to her, and she takes everything he does as a personal affront. When he did go "home" while he was in school, he'd get anxiety attacks, every time. She was stressed, and made everyone around her stressed under her expectations.

      I understand that his view is not the whole story, and encouraged him to reach out in hopes they would get along better after...whatever thing she was mad at blew over. But she's always upset about something. Every call. Every visit.

      Recently, other family from his side who live with his mother (BIL and step FIL) openly verbally attacked me, called me vulgar names, accused me of an elaborate, manipulative ploy to seduce him and sever him from his family, of faking illness to gain his sympathy, of being a man-hater, that I had "torn their family apart" on and on...when they don't even know me- never took the time, never cared. It didn't sound like them, though, and I HAVE gotten to know his mom, have listened to so many of her conversations ...it wasn't their phrases, their eloquent insecurities...it was hers.

      After trying so hard to keep things pleasant, being accused of trying to keep my love FROM his family -which I neither wanted nor was capable of- ...was hurtful. And I believe, is the straw that breaks the camel's back. I want to stop trying. Stop trying to be pleasant, stop trying to connect them, stop trying to be part of their angry, bitter, victim-complex family. I love my partner, and I choose my partner everyday...but he doesn't choose them.

      I know I am flawed. I know my beliefs and personality clash with hers. I know I shouldn't have ever thought she'd be anything close to a mother...but I'm tired of the hostility, tired of caring about relationships that only hurt me...tired of shaking. I have my father, my spouse, and my young siblings who need my attention, and I feel like it's being wasted on my in-laws.

      Is there anything I should do to support my spouse if he does decide he wants to spend time around them (because I don't)... Should I just give up?

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 2 weeks ago from California

      Hi Liz,

      it sounds like you're pretty set in your decision not to have any contact with your in-laws. I can't tell you whether that is the right decision or not. In some cases, it's best to cut off the toxic people and move on. In other cases, it's never too late to make peace, especially if your marriage is at stake. Remember, if you're the first one to break the silence, it doesn't mean you're caving or bending to their will. It just means you're a bigger person who can rise above the petty squabbles.

      Again, no contact is great when you and your husband are on the same page. But if you're not, it puts an enormous pressure on your marriage. You have to decide if you're gonna let your in-laws ruin your relationship. Hope things get better!

    • profile image

      Liz 2 weeks ago

      It's been 30 years of marriage. My MIL & sister in law (She never had children, so she & my MIL think that my girls are my Sister's in law). They have always gone behind my back doing and saying things about me. In the past 9 months I have not spoken or do I want to speak to neither of them. Yes, my marriage is on the rocks but I'm tired of always bending my arm. I'm a very strong Christian women and I have extended the Olive branch over and over again. I happier not having to deal with them. It's been to many things and years.

      I do want to save my marriage but at the cost of dealing with them No Way. Any advice??

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 6 weeks ago from California

      Hi Randi,

      thank you for sharing. I know it can be painful when we are treated as if we don't exist, but I guess at some point you start developing coping mechanisms, a.k.a. "not taking it personally." You're right, it's not personal. But it's also emotional abuse.

      I'm glad you've grown through this experience and taken it as an opportunity to stand up for yourself. The mishap with the texts - I think it's rare to catch a toxic person red-handed, but it does happen. And instead of taking the responsibility for it, she is listing excuses. Typical! But you didn't buy it. I'm proud of you! I wish you peace and happiness, and healthy boundaries with your MIL :)

    • profile image

      Randi 6 weeks ago

      This article speaks so much truth to me. I have been married to my husband for 10 years and I hve never felt accepted by my MIL and have always internalized her treatment of me as my wrong doing. She pretty much acts like I don’t exist and that I don’t matter. Thankfully, over the past couple of years I have started not taking it personallly and stopped trying to be someone I am not. Despite all this, I have still worked to develop a relationship with her because she strongly wants to be apart of my kids lives. I have bit by bit picked up on actions of hers with my kids that have bothered me. I thought it was my own bias because of how I felt about her, or Thought maybe I was jealous because she accepted my kids and not me. And then yesterday, she was texting me and said something very nice in response to a question I asked. A few minutes later I got a text that she meant to send to a friend that completely bad mouthed me about the conversation she just. It was such a disrespectful devious act, to be happy towards me and then intend to go behind my back. I lost all trust and respect for her in that moment. She apologized but blamed it on a bad mood, said she wasn’t herself. For me this was the last straw, I accepted this as a gift to finally stand up for myself and set the boundaries I should have set a long time ago. Your article spoke to about the lessons I can learn from my MIL, how to be a better more confident me. Thank you!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 2 months ago from California

      Dianna, I'm so sorry for your loss. This is the kind of relationship one would hope to have with an in-law, but I do believe your case is an exception to the rule. It also says a lot about you, to characterize your mother-in-law in such loving terms. And it's wonderful to know that this kind of connection is actually possible. Thank you for stopping by!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 months ago

      I was blessed to have a wonderful mother-in-law who taught me much through her actions. She passed away a couple of months ago and her last moments still demonstrated her unselfish love for those around her. I enjoyed your thoughts on this topic.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 3 months ago from California

      Thank you MizBejabbers! You were indeed lucky, most women are not, I gather. But I don't think it was just luck. Your first mother-in-law disapproved but you were still able to turn it around and have a close relationship with her. I command you for that! It's heartwarming and encouraging to know that some MILs can be like mothers.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James-MizBejabbers 3 months ago

      Very insightful, Lana. I never looked at it that way, but I never had to. I believe I'm the luckiest woman in the world because I've had two most wonderful MILs in the universe. My relationship with my first MIL was uncomfortable at first because we married so young, and I knew that she disapproved. I took it personally. She was a warm, kind, and loving person who understood that I felt insecure, unloved and unworthy (to use your words). She stepped in and, after a couple of years, she made me feel like the daughter she never had. After the marriage became abusive, she helped me divorce her son because she cared about the children and me. So I loved her like a mother.

      My second MIL made no bones about her dislike for my husband's previous wife, and she let him know that she loved me. Maybe I learned well from my first MIL. Anyway, both have passed on, and both have a special place in my heart. I've had three daughters-in-law, and only one of them has had that kind of relationship with me. It was their choice, not mine.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 3 months ago from California

      Thank you Larry! It sure is a good one to learn. Even though it's the kind of lesson that kind of goes against your nature :) Always good to hear from you!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 3 months ago from Oklahoma

      You don't write often, but it's always so intelligent and well done.

      One of the hardest lessons that we learn is that we're not the center of the universe.

      As shocking as that realization can be, it's also very freeing.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 3 months ago from California

      Thank you McKenna! You're so right. Mothers-in-law are tough teachers but their lessons are priceless. Looks like you've learnt yours, and you're a better woman for it.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 3 months ago from Bend, OR

      Wow, Lana, I hope every daughter-in-law reads this. It's all so incredibly true. I've learned these lessons, but it's taken me over 20 years and lots of heartache. There were so many times when I thought my mother-in-law was critical and unkind. But, honestly, she wasn't thinking of me at all. She has 6 children and 15 grandchildren and I'm really not very important in her life. That realization tapped into lots of my insecurities from childhood. But, what I came to focus on is that she raised an incredible son who's smart, thoughtful, open minded, and sincere—a marvelous husband and father—and that's why I need to honor my mother-in-law. She deserves that.