10 Steps to Taking Your Power Back From a Toxic Mother-in-Law

Updated on February 18, 2019
kalinin1158 profile image

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 thorny in-law that schemes, manipulates, and verbally assaults to maintain control and a sense of self-importance.

If so, you might say something like this from time to time:

She makes me feel...

She forces me to...

I have no choice.

She did this to me.

There's nothing I can do.

I just want to give up.

Don't give up just yet. Here are 10 steps to taking your power back from a toxic mother-in-law.

1. Adjust your focus

You give power to what you focus on.

So stop dumping all your precious energy into that toxic cesspool and direct it towards your creative pursuits, professional achievements or anything else that would make you feel good.

Quite simply, the more you focus on your mother-in-law and all the negative things she does, the less space you have in your life for the positive.

2. Build your confidence

What does confidence have to do with it?

I'm glad you asked. A strong confident woman doesn’t need anyone's approval. She knows who she is and if you don’t like it, your loss.

Your mother-in-law has power over you because she exploits your insecurities. Plain and simple. It’s the insecurity that causes an emotional reaction, a.k.a. “hurt feelings.” So taking your power back means WORKING ON YOUR CONFIDENCE!

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

— Eleanor Roosevelt

3. Stop complaining

Complaining is a two-edged sword. It can be useful for venting your frustrations and getting sympathy. But at the end of the day, it's just another way to squander your energy and give your power away.

When you complain, you feel both innocent and victimized. And when you assume a position of a victim, you start believing that you have no power in the matter. You also fail to take any responsibility for yourself and your feelings.

4. Accept responsibility for how you feel

Even if you think that you’re right to feel a certain way, recognize that on some level you choose to feel this way.

That decision happens very quickly, on a subconscious level, and it's a habitual response. So making a different choice can be life-changing and yes, super empowering. To do that you need to…

5. Identify your triggers

When you identify your triggers, they become much more manageable.

So what triggers you? Perhaps, it’s when your mother-in-law is critical of you. Or when she’s ignoring you. Or when she’s trying to control you. Then ask yourself: why you might be triggered by that? What past experience or childhood trauma is the blueprint of that trigger?

Be as honest as possible, and with time you will be able to “disarm” your triggers.

6. Watch your language

Words matter. What you choose to say and how you choose to say it shapes your reality on a powerful subconscious level. So stop using disempowering language!

Saying things like “She makes me feel bad about myself” or “She forces me to be rude to her” absolves you of any blame, but it also strips away your power.

And while you’re at it, get rid of those “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” “I will try.” Use clear direct language that communicates confidence and intent.


7. Let bygones be bygones

Holding a grudge is a sure way to continue feeding the victim consciousness. It adds zero value to your life while robbing you of peace and joy!

So here’s how to let go of past hurts: express your feelings FULLY. Don’t hold back – talk, cry, write in a journal, beat up a pillow – whatever works for you. Let it OUT. Then let it GO, once and for all.

8. Establish boundaries

When establishing your boundaries it's important to pick your battles.

Figure out what you can live with, and what you can't and won't accept ever. Then let her know, firmly and respectfully, that it bothers you and you'd like her to do [this] instead.

For example: "We love when you visit but we'd really appreciate if you let us know you wanted to come over, just to make sure we're home and ready for company."

9. Find your power

This is your journey. So find out what empowers you.

If it's saying nothing and walking away, do it.
If it's speaking your truth, no matter how it lands, do it.
If it's creating physical distance and literally removing yourself from a toxic environment, do it.
If it's writing about it, do it. That's what I'm doing, and it's been tremendously empowering.

10. Make a clear commitment to change

Giving our power away is something we do subconsciously. We do it when we give someone (or something) control over our lives, our choices, our mood, our confidence.

But we have to consciously choose to take it back.

It’s always scary to make a change, and part of us resists it. But without that courage we’d spend all our lives in misery and despair. So no hesitation. No ifs or buts. Just say it out loud: I’m taking my power back, and I am my not giving it away to my mother-in-law or anyone else ever again.

What empowers you? What makes you happy? Do more of that and your mother-in-law's shenanigans won't seem oh so important.
What empowers you? What makes you happy? Do more of that and your mother-in-law's shenanigans won't seem oh so important. | Source

What happens when you take your power back?

What happens when you get off the merry-go-round and reclaim your power?

Your life becomes yours to enjoy again. The flowers bloom with dewy sweetness. The birds sing the songs of love. Even that creepy neighbor who steals your Amazon packages looks dear and only slightly psychotic.

Yes, it will rattle her cage.

Yes, she will try harder.

You just smile and nod. Smile and nod.

And FYI, I am not saying that you don't have the right to feel the way you feel. But it's possible that at some point you became so immersed in the drama, you're no longer thinking clearly.

If you keep obsessing about your MIL even when she's not around, simmering with rage or re-living her hurtful words over and over, she's got you right where she wants you. Powerless.

You need to take a giant step back. Breathe. Do something you enjoy - even something small like splurging on a mani-pedi or going to a movie.

Your MIL is not going anywhere, so you might as well find a way to – no, not get along with her, that’s impossible – find balance and strength even in the midst of the chaos toxic people create.

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

    © 2018 Lana Adler


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      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        4 weeks ago from California

        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 :)

      • profile image


        4 weeks ago

        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 .

      • profile image


        4 weeks ago

        To PeeJay.

        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.

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        7 weeks ago from California


        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.

      • profile image


        7 weeks ago

        Hi Lana,

        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.

        Please help!!!

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        2 months ago from California


        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 )

      • profile image

        2 months ago

        Is there a book or class I can look for to help me get my power back on this subject

      • profile image


        4 months ago

        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" :)

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        6 months ago from California


        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!

      • profile image


        6 months ago

        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.

      • profile image


        6 months ago

        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??

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        6 months ago from California


        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!

      • profile image


        7 months ago

        Helpful article when gearing up for a visit!

      • profile image


        7 months ago

        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?

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        7 months ago from California

        Hi Anthony! I like that too. Words really are more than words. They define the reality we live.

      • profile image


        7 months ago

        Words have power. I like that. That show's it's it's not just about the words we use.

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        7 months ago from California


        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 )


      • profile image


        7 months ago

        Plz i need helpi luve with a 84 yr old narssasistic mean physicallly and verbally abussive mother in law

      • profile image


        7 months ago

        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

      • profile image

        Golden Girl Rose 

        8 months ago

        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.

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        8 months ago from California


        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!!!

      • profile image


        8 months ago

        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.

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        9 months ago from California

        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.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        9 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        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.

      • kalinin1158 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lana Adler 

        9 months ago from California

        Thank you Otomita! I'm your fan too :)

      • profile image


        10 months ago

        Another great Article Lana I'm your fan!


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