Lana is a freelance writer, blogger, and editor who helps women to regain their power after experiencing toxic relationships.
Do you have a toxic mother-in-law?
The term refers to a particularly malignant in-law that breeds self-doubt, emotional vulnerability and chronic stress.
If you feel worn out from manipulations, verbal attacks and constant drama, struggling to appease your mother-in-law and never quite achieving that goal, chances are, you're given your power away to her.
But it's never too late to reclaim your life. Here are 10 steps to taking your power back from a toxic mother-in-law.
1. Don't get sucked in
First and foremost, don't get sucked into her world!
It's a very twisted place where everyone is a jerk and she is always a victim. And you know what they say: misery loves company.
Your toxic mother-in-law loves to complain: about the weather, the traffic, her horrible boss, the government, ungrateful family members, her back (neck, head, leg) pain, and everything else under the sun. The glass is always half-empty with this one. After spending time with her you'll notice that you feel drained, lifeless and sad.
Stop getting sucked into negativity! Just be your usual happy self. That'll repel her right off.
2. Work on your confidence
Your toxic mother-in-law loves to tear people down. She does it in a subtle way, so that you'll start questioning yourself before you question her. You'll wonder if you're being "too sensitive" or "overreacting." You're not. You're reacting like any normal human being would to being attacked or disrespected.
Putting you down makes her feel better about herself, and allows her to have a sense of entitlement. Don't fall into that trap!
Your mother-in-law simply exploits your insecurities. The more insecure you are, the more hurt you'll feel by her remarks. The more confident you are, the more you'll feel like everything she's saying is total rubbish. A confident woman knows her worth, and the only opinion that truly matters to her is her own. Be that woman!
3. Stop trying to please her
Spoiler alert: no matter how much you try, you will never succeed. Toxic people don't change, and they don't change their minds. Once she's decided how she feels about you, she'll continue seeing you in that way, finding more reasons to prove that she was right.
I know you just want everyone to be happy, and you think if you compromise a little bit, that will have a positive effect. Generally speaking, it's true, but not when you're dealing with a toxic person. It will never be enough. You do one thing, she'll expect ten more.
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4. Learn her methods
The reason your mother-in-law is so good at manipulation is because she's had years of practice, and she really perfected certain methods of emotional abuse. Most people in her life don't even see it as abuse - that's how good she is. Toxic people are crafty that way; you'll never see them come out swinging. They're more about stabbing you in the back.
So the best way to deal with her is to learn to recognize her tricks. Once you do, their power with be greatly diminished. For instance, once you learn what gaslighting is, you'll always recognize it when she tries to convince you that you "misunderstood" or "heard it wrong."
5. Learn to be a rock
If you've ever read literature on narcissistic abuse, you might be familiar with the "gray rock method." It's an extremely effective method for dealing with narcissists, and let's face it, your toxic mother-in-law probably has some narcissistic personality traits.
The essence of the gray rock method is to remain as animated as a rock in the presence of a narcissist. What they want is ATTENTION, DRAMA, EMOTIONS, and to be the center of it all. But you can't give it to them. You're just a gray rock. It's an emotional equivalent of playing dead. The idea is, after a while they'll just leave you alone. Similarly, a cat will play with a dead mouse, but then it'll get bored and move on to more interesting objects.
6. Forgive and forget
Let me spare you some suspense: she'll never apologize for anything. But that doesn't mean you can't still forgive her.
I know it seems like a bizarre idea because
- she didn't apologize
- she doesn't deserve your forgiveness
- she'll do the same thing all over again
But you don't forgive people for them. You forgive for you. As long as you're holding on to hurt feelings, anger, resentment towards your toxic mother-in-law, she has power over you. If you're serious about taking your power back, all of it, you have to forgive her. Sincerely. Totally.
Let it GO, once and for all.
7. Set boundaries
Boundaries are essential when dealing with toxic people. Otherwise they'll walk all over you. Not much power in that, is there?
There are two things you need to know about establishing boundaries:
- The boundary has to do with your need, not hers. She may not think that it makes sense, or that it's important. But if it's important to you, it's all that matters.
- Boundaries have to be backed up with consequences. Undoubtedly, your toxic mother-in-law will try to cross the boundaries you set. That's why you need consequences. One cannot exist without the other.
For example: "I know you gave your kids sugary treats but we're doing things differently. If you can't respect that, we can't trust you to be alone with our kids."
8. Find your joy
Joy and happiness are incredibly powerful states. If you're anchored in joy or at least in peace, your toxic mother-in-law will have a hard time shrinking you down to her size.
What makes you happy? What makes your eyes sparkle? What always brings a smile to your face?
Not your mother-in-law, I get it. But what does? Really dig deep inside and find that source of joy. Not to sound like Marie Kondo, but focusing on things (people, activities) that spark joy is empowering and liberating, because you're consciously choosing to shift your attention, change your emotional state, and, therefore, change your reality.
Recommended For You
- 7 Spiritual Lessons From Your Narcissistic Mother-in-Law
Some relationships bring out the best in you. Others test you, drain you and push your "buttons." Ironically, the latter ones are more transformational.
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.
© 2018 Lana Adler
Elia on August 25, 2020:
For almost 20 years I wondered why she was acting strange with me, never wanting to get closer despite everything she says about who she is. One day I woke up after realizing how she makes me feel inferior to her children on purpose all the time, and insulting things I do to be nice to her. I decided my relationship with her is over.
nine on July 22, 2019:
thanks Lana, it feels better when you are reading this :) I can't take it anymore, waitting the day to move with my husband in a new flat, we are living together with his mom and its like a hell to me. I cant even eat what i want, she makes me sick!!! guys give me some hope please :) I dont want to leave my husband becouse of her terrible mom.
Lee on April 29, 2019:
Yes there mothers in low who will stop at nothing bat to make you lose your self
Lana Adler (author) from California on April 18, 2019:
Hi! Have you read the article? It addresses the issue of controlling MILs, and has suggestions on how to take your power back.
Harshi on April 17, 2019:
My mil want to have total control on me, she wants me to serve her. She trains my husband saying negative things on me. How to get rid of this
Lana Adler (author) from California on February 17, 2019:
Don't be too hard on yourself. It's a process. You'll get better at tuning her out, not just physically, but emotionally. If you see through her tricks, you've come far already. Keep it up! You'll be fine :)
Likekrish on February 17, 2019:
Hello thank u so much for Ur tips . I was very successful woman in my career n love life too . After got married due to my toxic mil without knowing I became less confident in myself due to believed her completely. Now I stopped talking to her n still I can't able to tolerate her betrayals n still she simply using my husband n my daughter n living happily n indirectly hurting me. Means I'm pregnant for 7 months now she not even asks about my pregnancy to me but only to my husband pretend to be gud mil . Still I feel pressure inside my head. How do I handle her I dunno. I'm successful in everything but not on her tricks . Bcoz she talks sugar coated but in behind she manipulating me . Still not able to over come by her tricks .
Antonio50S on February 11, 2019:
Lana is right.
One good way of taking the power back from MIL without saying to much to her, regardless of whether she gets upset or not, be ( Assertive ) and take control of the situation.
But if you don't want to offend her, then you're wasting your time even mentioning it. Its not about her anymore, its about ( YOU ) and she needs to realise that sooner, rather than later when the damage is done.
Lana Adler (author) from California on January 27, 2019:
looks like your MIL got you right where she wants you - scared, intimidated and powerless. I can sympathize... BUT
As bad as she is, you're the one who's allowing it. You and your husband. You guys are so busy trying to please her, she's completely taken over!
I'm not blaming you; I just want you to stop being a victim in this situation and start taking some responsibility. This is a two-way street.
If you want change, it's gotta start with you. Stop letting her walk all over you, or act like she owns your daughter. And if she gets upset, let her. And if she becomes rude, walk away. You let people know how to treat you. YOU are the one in charge, so start acting like it.
I'm sorry if it sounds harsh :) but it's the truth. Good luck, be strong! It will get better eventually, I promise.
PeeJayH on January 27, 2019:
Firstly, thank you! Your words really resonate with me and I needed to hear them. I've definitely been obsessing over my MILs behaviour way too much.
My MIL has always been very manipulative, passive agressive and will often sulk and be incredibly rude when she doesn't get her own way.
The thing that gets me so angry is her attitude of entitlement when she is in our home and spending time with our daughter (her only grandchild currently!). She walks in and takes my daughter from us and then acts like she is her possession - expecting to feed her all her meals (whilst I run around preparing them); sitting practically on top of her while she plays. At my daughters first birthday recently she held my daughter the entire time pretty much and stood in the corner away from the rest of the guests. She made everyone feel like they couldn't have cuddles or even get close to her.
I don't really know how to take the power back because I feel like I'm going to explode. For example, how do I ask her not to assume that she is going to feed my daughter every single meal when she is staying with us? She literally snatches the bottle off me or sits right next to my daughter in her high chair and says sternly "will I feed her!". I just don't know how to talk to her. When I say anything she doesn't like she just stares at me, very aware she is making me uncomfortable. My husband wants to help but even he struggles to talk to her because he is so worried about upsetting her.
Lana Adler (author) from California on January 03, 2019:
I'm not aware of anything concrete but I'm sure a search online will reveal an abundance of info on empowerment. It doesn't have to be MIL-specific. Anything that helps you grow as a person will have a positive effect on your entire life, and will give you tools to deal with a difficult situation. Hope my article was of some help, too )
L on January 03, 2019:
Is there a book or class I can look for to help me get my power back on this subject
Antonio50S on November 08, 2018:
Lana Adler. "Words really are more than words. They define the reality we live"
That's a really "COOL" comment. Nobody agrees with everyone on everything, but i do like ( real people ), meaning, people who know themselves.
Every word that comes out of our mouth reveals something about us, what's in our hearts, and the motives behind the words used.
Though not aware ourselves, people on the receiving end of our words can have a better view of us than we do oueselves.
You just to "COOL" you are. "Love It" :)
Lana Adler (author) from California on September 11, 2018:
as you said, since your MIL isn’t going to change, this is about you changing the way you think and react to her. A good place to start is to ask yourself: why does she get to me? Why do I care about what she says/thinks? Why do I still seek approval from her/other people?
Then you start to heal the parts of yourself that feel unloved or unloveable.
Another useful thing is the grey rock method. They use it on narcissists, but I noticed it worked like a charm on my MIL. Research it. But basically, you are as exciting as a rock around your MIL. No reaction, no eye contact, no drama, nothing. It’s about disconnecting emotionally.
Hope this helps. Good luck!
MC on September 10, 2018:
I should add: We live in a duplex, so she has her own space. Doesn’t deter her from trying to control ours. She will let her side rot, just so she can sit and criticize my housework.
Tossing her out isn’t an option. We can’t afford to rent her a place, and on her own she’d be homeless in a year because she has horrible ADHD and can’t stick to a budget. Besides, I wasn’t brought up to turn my back on my elders, no matter how freakin’ crazy they get.
MC on September 10, 2018:
Here the shoe is on the other foot: MIL lives with us because she has trashed her finances and alienated the rest of the family. She’s not going to change, so how do I need to think in order to remove her power to convince me to hate myself, grovel for her approval, and remake myself to suit her whims??
It’s wrecking my health, our marriage, and the relationship H and I have with our kids. We’re turning into carbon-copies of FIL (deceased) and MIL. Neither of us want this, but can’t get her out of our house. How do we get her out of our heads??
Lana Adler (author) from California on August 30, 2018:
I feel like when you live with your in-laws, that’s a whole other ball game. Most of my blogs are written with an assumption that people do not live together. It complicates things tremendously, and obviously, it’s better to live on your own as soon as you can. But I understand that sometimes people don’t have the means so they live with their parents/in-laws. You find yourself in a similar predicament.
But just because you don’t have any money and you live in their house doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve basic respect as a human being. Remember that and stand up for yourself when you feel mistreated.
Then, of course, you have to regain the financial control. Have access to your bank account, or open a new one, get a job if you don’t have one yet, and start saving up for your own place.
That’s all I can think of from what you told me. I hope the situation improves. Good luck!
BethanyM on August 04, 2018:
Helpful article when gearing up for a visit!
thegirlhasnoname on July 31, 2018:
My husband and I stay with my in-laws.My MIL is so insecure about everything related to me and is making my life a living hell. She also has gone to a level , that she called my brothers wife and started complaining about me. She has a problem with whatever I do. I am so fed up with her that i dont wish to stay together. She also does not want us to be together. The problem here is my FIL has all financial controls in house and at work. He refuses to give us any money to move out. We have bank accounts but we dont have access to it. i feel like i am going on a battlefield everyday I wake up.MIL wants to exercise her control on everything inside the house and FIL wants to keep all financial controls. I literally feel like a slave. How should i overcome this problem?
Lana Adler (author) from California on July 30, 2018:
Hi Anthony! I like that too. Words really are more than words. They define the reality we live.
Anthony. on July 28, 2018:
Words have power. I like that. That show's it's it's not just about the words we use.
Lana Adler (author) from California on July 26, 2018:
This is a very difficult situation indeed. I have a question though: you said it’s been going on for 17 years. So you knew she was abusive. Why did you agree to move in with her and take care of her?
I mean, clearly the woman is very elderly and she’s not all there anymore. In these situations most people opt for the nursing home...
But if that’s not an option, I would just advise you to be patient. Don’t take her abusive words or actions personally. At this age people might revert to childish behaviors - like throwing tantrums, being selfish, impatient, even aggressive. I’ve seen it with my grandma. It takes a lot of patience to take care of a person at that stage in their life.
However, I think that most of that care should be the responsibility of biological children. It’s not fair to expect you to take care of this woman who’s been mean to you for all these years and who’s not even your mother. I think ideally your husband and his siblings should have a rotation where everyone takes care of her for a certain amount of time so it’s not all on your shoulders.
Take care and stay strong! I hope it gets easier )
Kathyflores73 on July 25, 2018:
Plz i need helpi luve with a 84 yr old narssasistic mean physicallly and verbally abussive mother in law
Kathyflores73 on July 25, 2018:
I NEED HELP!!!!
We live in the same house as my mother in law ,we moved in with her to take care of her. None of her other children will live with her anymore they refuse and left it to us. She is 84 years old is chipawa indian and very narrsasistic she also due to memory and physical problems can not live alone. She is every one of the 14 ways to find out if u have a toxic mother in law. She is vindictive she ahows a happy nice face to others and downright mean and hateful to me. I have endured 17 years of this and her son , my husband stay here and deal with her mean rude comments physical verbal and memtal abuse from her and she calls her daughters and tattles saying im mean to her. We pay all the bills. And buy the food and gas for the car (she dont drive) But physically opens the shower curtain when im showering throws away our food saying she wouldnt eat it and if i rry to cook somethingshe pinches my underarms or physically bodily pushrs me away and throws my good away. My husband does dialysi i have to always be in his presence for her to leave me alone
Golden Girl Rose on July 13, 2018:
I have always said that I have the greatest MIL ever! But just recently she has turned into a different type of comic book character. She has always been a great listener, never got involved in our business and we enjoyed each other's company - she was a great grandmother. Her life has changed in the past 2 years and she is no longer involved with our family like she was before. My daughter got married in January and because she had not been coming over and visiting like she had before she was not aware of all the plans. My daughter decided on a small wedding with immediate family and of course grandparents were invited as well as one aunt/uncle from each side. Because her daughter had not been invited she was furious! She attended the wedding and was clearly not happy. After I called and explained to my sister in law why she (as well as many others) had not been invited she then went as far as to say don't bother inviting me to the baby shower. My daughter was due in May. Well we decided to invite both of them to the shower and neither attended. My MIL has not even bothered to purchase a gift for either occasion, but has attended one family get together since the baby was born. She has been very distant due to many family issues, but is clearly not the same person that she was before the wedding. I'm the kind of person that tries to problem solve and patch things up, but I don't understand why we have to explain ourselves for what we decided to do to stay within our budget. So at this point I fell that it's the SIL that is controlling her mother to the point that she doesn't want to be involved with the family to punish us. So whatever, I'm over it. I am truly happy for my daughter and her husband and my new grandbaby!! From this experience I've learned that you never truly know anyone. You can only love them and accept them as part of your family. We cannot control their feeling and they cannot control ours.
Lana Adler (author) from California on June 28, 2018:
I'm so happy for you! This is a very very important decision that will change your life. Not everyone is ready or willing to do it...Sometimes people settle into a victim mentality and get comfortable there...what you're doing takes integrity, character and courage. You go girl!!!
Natalie on June 27, 2018:
I really needed these words! Thank you! I have wasted so much of my life stressing over my MIL. I am done! I am finding my power again.
Lana Adler (author) from California on May 24, 2018:
That's a really good point, Mary, and a great advice to all newly-wedded women with difficult MILs: don't let her intimidate you in the beginning, playing ball so she "likes" you. The toxic mother-in-law will see it as a sign of submission and will have no respect for you moving forward.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 23, 2018:
My mother-in-law would have been toxic but I never let her intimidate me so in the end, we really had a good relationship. Some of my friends try very hard just as I do to make it easy for in-laws but we have friends who make life difficult for their kids spouses. We warn them that they are destroying their own children when they do this.
Lana Adler (author) from California on May 22, 2018:
Thank you Otomita! I'm your fan too :)
Otomita on May 21, 2018:
Another great Article Lana I'm your fan!