There are countless victims of psychological abuse perpetrated by the narcissistic mother-in-law. She is the controlling matriarch. One classic situation is the triangulation of the narcissistic mother, her son and his wife. In the beginning she pretends to care deeply about the new member of the family. The NMIL praises her son’s choice of a partner and skillfully pretends that she wants the marriage go to be successful. But this can never be the case with a narcissist in any family role.
The narcissistic matriarch spreads lies about her daughter-in-law, beginning with subtle digs and innuendos about her character and family background. These lies are dropped like pedals on a lawn–meant to be barely noticed. In secret she goes to her son and slowly and skillfully drops poisonous bits of gossip about his wife. She puts doubts in his mind about her. At the same time the narcissistic mother is intimating that his ultimate loyalty belongs with her where it has always been. The wife becomes slowly aware that she is not welcome in this family. She feels a coldness and is ostracized by the narcissistic mother’s inner family circle. She turns to her husband who feels conflicted between loyalty to his mother and love and duty to his wife.
After years of hurt feelings, attempts at bending to the will of this impossible woman, being on the receiving end of insults and false accusations, the daughter-in-law is forced to make a fateful decision. She can stay in the painful triangle, make further attempts to break her husband’s pathological attachment to his mother or she will leave the marriage. These are difficult choices, especially if there is a strong pathological fusion between mother and son. These ties that bind are made of steel and cannot be unraveled.
There are successful outcomes that involve the wife freeing herself by separating and divorcing her spouse. This is a difficult path but can be accomplished. The individual leaving the marriage often benefits from highly skilled psychotherapy, a support group of close friends and her own family of origin. It is better to be true to yourself than to struggle under the yoke of a woman who is out to destroy your individuality and peace of mind.
Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D.