So I had hoped to have a relaxing weekend, without any upset or drama. Unfortunately that was wishful thinking on my part. You see, I have a narcissistic mother-in-law, who is the single most disagreeable and difficult person I have ever come to meet.
I have started to write the odd post about life with a narcissistic MIL. Okay, okay so for the past three weeks running I’ve posted consistently about my MIL, but that’s only because her behaviour has escalated to a point that I can no longer keep my feelings to myself; and to dump it all on my husband would be a quick fire route to the divorce courts. He is unfortunately only in the early stages of coming terms with his mother’s dysfunctional behaviour traits, having been subjected to them all his life and therefore not recognising them as anything other than normal. It’s only recently, when sat in the same room as his mother while she verbally assassinated my character, that he sat up and took notice.
My husband spent Thursday night (just gone) at his parent’s house, trying to discuss ‘issues’ with his Mother that crop up consistently in our lives. He returned home completely exhausted, having tried his best to effectively communicate with a woman whose communication skills are generally confusing, unclear and for the most part unreasonable.
But what makes communication with NPD individuals so difficult? In my career as a Mental Health Professional I have observed patterns of behaviour in adults with personality disorders that definitely serve to complicate communication, but no-one has explained these behaviour better than fellow blogger ‘Fierce Cork Woman’ in her blog Narcissistic MIL. Indeed, her post ‘Communication Problems 1’ gives a wonderful, evidence-based insight into the what’s and whys of the common communicaton pitfalls when dealing with NPD individuals. She talks about Triangulation, Proxy Recruitment, Mind-Reading, Indirect Speech, Ambiguity and Unique Vocabulary; all of which I’ve tried to summarise and relate to my own MIL’s behaviours.
The person uses a third party to find out information about someone. My MIL is an expert at this; regularly contacting my sister-in-law (SIL) to talk about something that she wants us to know about. And relying on my SIL to relay the conversation or message when my SIL speaks to us.
This is similar to Triangulation as it still uses a third party to convey a message, however it is a more deliberate, manipulative strategy. Now the third person is recruited to act as an advocate by the NPD person. A prime example of this was on New Year’s Eve when my MIL decided to call up my SIL to tell her that she wasn’t happy that she wouldn’t be seeing us on New Year’s day (despite us having other longstanding plans). My SIL was then encouraged to share my MIL’s disapproval with us via text, which she duly did!
Expecting people to know things without being told. My MIL expects us to know most things, without her telling us. She was unhappy about her last birthday present because we hadn’t bought her what she wanted; except that she hadn’t actually told us what she wanted! Many people with NPD hold thoughts that are so strong that they believe other people, somehow must know what they are too!
This involves not specifying details in a conversation, and leaving other feeling confused as to who or what is being alluded to. My MIL often uses this behaviour to avoid having to take responsibility for something; incorporating pregnant pauses, knowing looks and a plethora of non-verbal cues into conversations. She also makes use of the word ‘thingy-ma-jig’ just to confuse matters further.
Instead of using first person vocabulary, the person with NPD employs use of third person vocabulary during conversations. For example; Instead of saying “I’d like to go to the garden centre today” they will say “Perhaps everyone would like to go to the garden centre today…” where it is unclear of this is the persons actual wish, or whether they are hypothesising the wishes of others.
This involves the NPD person having their own unique use for common words, which mean something totally different to the universal meaning of the word. My MIL uses the phrase ‘just now’ to mean that she will do or attend to something later, or in the near future; whereas the common definition of ‘just now’ is to do something in the moment, or a little while ago. As you can imagine this has caused a great of confusion within my wider family; something that only serves to delight my MIL further!
A few weeks ago I was asked by another individual, also suffering at the hands of a MIL who exhibits strong NPD traits, how I knew so much about coping with NPD. Yes, I’ve worked in the field of mental health for a number of years, which serves as a good knowledge base for understanding NPD, but the truth is that most of what I have learned has been from reading about it! Books and Blogs are two sources I’d credit – books (non-fiction, textbook) because they tend to be factual and evidence based, and blogs because they outline the personal experiences of other people with similar predicaments. There is no better way to learn than from the experiences of others, especially the negative bits!
Unfortunately, when it comes to my MIL, no amount of reading or professional experience can instil objectivity in me. This woman meddles in my life; causing chaos and disruption to my little family on a seismic scale, on an all too regular basis! Hence if you’re expecting objectivity, you’re in the wrong place! When I post a ‘MIL Moment’ it will be because I have reason to get something off my chest. I may be brutal and to the point (no beating about the bush for me) but I can assure you that I will also be brutally honest! It is my hope that my experiences may even help some of you in dealing with your own narcissistic family members too.
I’d love to hear about your ‘MIL Moments’ – please feel free to rant, vent or share your experiences in the comments.