7 Spiritual Lessons From Your Narcissistic Mother-in-Law

Updated on February 18, 2019
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Lana is a freelance writer, blogger, and editor who helps women to regain their power after experiencing toxic relationships.

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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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • My mother-in-law is a full-blown hoarder. She also wears the pants in her marriage; always has. She is mean and manipulative. Is there a link between hoarding and whatever else she is? I can't entirely put my finger on it, but she definitely will never apologize for her bad behavior, and has her favorites in the family. She recently cut off my husband and I "until further notice." I'm just trying to understand how or if these issues tie in together.

    That's an interesting question. Your mother-in-law definitely has narcissistic tendencies, and hoarding can be a by-product of narcissism. There's significant overlap with: the need to control, selfishness, emotional regulation, playing the victim, disregard for other people's needs and well being, angry lashing out when confronted, etc.

  • How do I put a stop to mo mother-in-law's abuse?

    Well, if you've read this article, you know that it talks about a spiritual...purpose, if you will...of having a toxic mother-in-law. Basically, this is about gaining a different perspective that will allow you to see her behavior in a different light. Not making excuses for her, no, but having a less personal approach to it and understanding where that behavior comes from.

    What I'm saying is: she will never change, but you can.

  • How do you find a balance between self-love and forgiveness when it comes to dealing with mother-in-laws?

    I don't think it's a choice between self-love and forgiveness. You can forgive your MIL if you want (or not), but it has nothing to do with you standing up for yourself. At the end of the day, the most important relationship you're ever gonna have is with yourself. So don't let your MIL treat you we anything less than respect. She doesn't have to like you, but she has to respect you.

  • My mother-in-law treats me poorly, and talks about me openly. She even told me straight that she doesn't want her son to marry me, and that she wants him to marry a girl from her village. Must I forgive her?

    Do you want to forgive her? Is that how you feel? It's ok to be angry, frustrated or hurt; but don't dwell on those feelings.

    Forgiveness is a powerful spiritual tool. Just remember: it has to be sincere to work.

  • How do you deal with toxic inlaws - MIL, SIL, BIL after spouse's infidelity?

    You don't. If you're dealing with infidelity and not sure about the future of your marriage, this is a time for them to support you, or at the very least, to leave you alone. Take as much time as you need, and if you do decide that infidelity is a deal breaker and you want to move on, this is your decision and it should be respected, no matter what.

    So if your in-law family is trying to get involved with "advice," politely express your thoughts to them and ask to respect your privacy and your decisions.

© 2017 Lana Adler


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    • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      4 months ago from California

      Your MIL won't change but you can change the way you react to her. Your own peace is in your hands. Don't let anyone take it from you.

    • profile image


      4 months ago

      My MIL hurts my feelings but i am actually getting stronger. i have been forgiving her but the next time she will say or do something else. i secretly hope we move farther it gets exhausting thinking every meeting with her is a new meeting just like every day is a new day. and then she does something else. oh well.

    • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      6 months ago from California


      you have to understand that this is in no way a unique situation. This is exactly what toxic (narcissistic) people are like. They don't know how to relate to others in a healthy way, so they have to use emotional manipulation to get their way or to feel important. The dad in this case plays the role of a "flying monkey," doing the mother's bidding.

      The more you guys distance yourselves from her, the more guilt tripping there will be. Ignore it. Just know that what you're choosing is the wellbeing of your family.

      Good luck!

      P.S. You only have one mother - but you also have only one of you. Your spouse and children are also one of a kind, so that argument doesn't really make sense, does it?

    • profile image


      6 months ago

      My MIL, Has never had a good relationship with her son. When we started dating he had just spoken to her after a year of no communication. I had two little girls from my previous marriage and she was not happy about that. He has never been close to her because she has always treated his brother like a son and he was treated like an annoying neighborhood kid. She moved out of state our relationship was perfect and she came back things went south- when we got married he adopted our girls which cause a lot of backlash from her, She ignores our girls or brags to them about what she does with her real grandkids- these girls age 2-4 when we met her, mean nothing! Fast forward 3 years and we got pregnant- again she was ticked off until the moment she found out it was a boy. She started calling my husband, texting him and the following Thanksgiving 3 mths later she had the family target me- I was accused of sending hateful texts to an adopted family member who I did not even know. I was not allowed to prove I was innocent or even talk to the said family member as I didn't even know who it was. She told me to let it go, Afterwords calling my husband to make sure he wasn't mad at her.. yeah! now my entire pregnancy she and her husband ( My husband's stepdad) tried everything they could to break us up! My husband still had me allow her to help with my baby shower and she made me miserable even making sure that we had mint cupcakes- ( I told her i was fine with any food but mint was a no go)she yelled at my mom and sister for getting me a cake! She haded the fact that i was going to breastfeed so much that all her and her mother bought was bottles, making sure to tell my husband to send them pics of him feeding the baby! I can keep going on how horrible she treats all of us and for the first time last year ( after my son was born, ) actually called and told the girls happy birthday promised gifts they never got but called. She asked him flat out if she was going to be in his life and our sons- She calls and starts arguments, she tells family members our daughters are stupid. We haven't been around her in almost a year - but that doesn't stop the drama and phone calls- telling him on the last one he needs to think of whats important because she wanted him to skip our daughters birthday to go to her stepdad's birthday party she was hosting. Now all she has to do is call his dad and his dad tells him you only get one mother- let what she says go in one ear and out the other! He didn't answer her phone call on his birthday ( mind you this is the first phone call on his birthday he has gotten in over 6 years) because he just wasn't ready for that drama ( only calls when it's about her) so she called his dad and now he feels guilty because his dad tells him that he only has one mother- So my question is, Why is it okay for her to make us all miserable and get away with it because she is his mother?

    • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      8 months ago from California


      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll check it out.

      Great tips too, I’m sure they’ll work for some, but I was never that good at manipulation ))

    • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      8 months ago from California


      Couldn’t agree more! That’s a great way to look at life. Thanks for reading!

    • profile image


      8 months ago

      My MIL has always been a big gossip and talks bad nonstop about everyone. So finally one day I couldn't take it anymore and interruped her bad talking someone and said, "Boy we sure wonder with the way you talk about everyone else behind their backs all the time, just what you must say about us behind our backs when we aren't around? She was embarrassed! If your MIL says nasty things to you in public or in front of other's, call her out on it, she'll do one of two things, duh duh duh cause she was just being nasty, or she will apologize due to being embarrassed in front of the group, and try to explain herself, and maybe change for a little while, maybe forever if you're really lucky, only fearing embarrassment by you in front of other's of course. Use their manipulation to your advantage, they gossip, only tell them things you want them to pass on... then they are doing what you want and don't even know it... They don't like your cooking, when they visit, take the week off and make her do all the cooking, she's so much better at it anyway! Give her lots of compliments on cooking and how excited eveyone is to finally get lots of good food for a change but thinking only in your head "cooking vacation", or offer to have her teach you since you need so much help, but disappear only later saying you sure didn't want to spoil her master techniques. What's for lunch, what's for dinner... If you're bad at cleaning so says her, have her do it, but watch for your personal items as they may snoop. Make the toilet sparkle like only a MIL can, here's all the cleaning stuff. Remember lots of compliments and be sincere. Remember: Some people never change, and if you're not careful they'll change you instead, and usually not for the better. So don't let them or anyone else have that kind of power over you. Read the book Trapped in the Mirror. It helped me so much!

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      Lana. I can't believe you wrote this article. Speachless. How we deal with the attitudes of in-laws even life itself comes down to "INWARD" spiritual leasons. Our reaction to how others treat us are either "Stepping stones" or "stumbling stones" An opportunity to either stand or fall. But each time we rise from the ashes like the PHOENIX we become stronger each time.

    • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      9 months ago from California


      This isn't your fault. You have the right to choose what you believe is best for your kids. Having their grandmother badmouth their mother certainly isn't. Your MIL and FIL can still have visits with your kids when you're there, and maybe one day they can have unsupervised visits again. When they learn what's appropriate to say to your children. Good luck! :)

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      Hi ma'am, first when I used to go for work I left my kids with mil later got to know she was teaching kid wrong about me and my family.I took kid from her to another daycare...from then on she keeps telling around that I keep kids away from mil & fil and also curses me so much....what is my fault?

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      Today is mother’s day. My own mom is really kind and forgiving. She is always encouraging me to give olive branches to my nasty mother in law. My mother in law has spread rumors about me. Won’t invite us to family events. She is jealous and selfish. She is also very unhappy with life. I will wish her a happy mother’s day today and know that it won’t make any difference. Or will it???

    • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      12 months ago from California

      Hi Sukrutha,

      I admire your patience and I agree, in many cases it's best not to engage, especially if the person is trying to provoke you. You know best what works for you, and if it's counting to 100 and walking away that keeps you grounded and calm, do it.

      Peace :)

    • profile image


      12 months ago


      I have been married for almost 8 years and living with mother in law for almost 4 years.

      The hubby I knew after marriage has changed entirely after his mother came in to the picture.

      But I always feel it is our self esteem and will power that controls the fight. Any fight happens between me and my dear MIL, she will make sure that she will scold me my entire family and she will not spare even the dead people from my family side.

      Initially I was astonished, later amused. I used to reply her back the whole day or whole week.

      Now after years of experience I have realised I can never have a relationship with her.

      But also I have learnt not to answer her back only when it exceeds the limit. Even if I start answering her back and shouting back at her, I will make sure I will count till 100 by then the silence of mine would have given me peace of mind. At the same time she would continued nonstop and as no reply from me, it would have evn more frustrated. But by then wit peace of mind i would either walk away from her or go back to my room a d lock the door.

      By next day next week things would become silent....

      So it's always better if we keep quite and walk away... and answer only absolutely when it's necessary... and over years you will realise no point in answering back and walking away was better...

    • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      13 months 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 

      13 months 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 imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      13 months 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


      13 months 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 imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      14 months 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


      14 months 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 imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      16 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 

      16 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 imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      16 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 

      16 months ago from Beautiful South

      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 imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      16 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 

      16 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 imageAUTHOR

      Lana Adler 

      17 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 

      17 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.


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