A narcissistic daughter-in-law will always put her needs and desires above those of others, including your son and any children the couple may have. She may act disrespectfully toward you, frequently engage in manipulation, or refuse to admit fault. Dealing with her self-centeredness can be frustrating, so learning how to cope with it can make your own life easier.
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?
Narcissism describes behaviors that reflect a myopic focus on oneself and associated oversized beliefs about one’s abilities and achievements. Having a healthy ego and a strong sense-of-self are important to overall well-being and success in life, but narcissists’ perceptions of themselves are unrealistic and exaggerated. However, exhibiting a few of these traits isn’t the same as meeting the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Female narcissists are more likely to exert control over others through the provision or withholding of affection and engagement. They may cut off communications with those who don’t show them the attention or respect they believe they deserve. Narcissistic men are generally more aggressive when seeking control over others, whereas women use covert methods such as guilt or ostracism.
An overtly narcissistic daughter-in-law is likely to brag about herself and lack the patience or interest to attend to others’ needs. A covert narcissist may appear shy and sensitive, but will still hold strong beliefs about her superiority and level of entitlement. This often leads to difficult relationships with in-laws as well as in other social or professional settings.
Defining symptoms of NPD include:1
- Grandiose sense of self-importance
- Heightened sense of entitlement
- Lack of empathy
- Need for excessive admiration
- Interpersonally exploitative behavior
- Envy of others or belief that others are envious
- Demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
10 Signs of a Narcissistic Daughter-in-Law
Realizing that your child’s wife is a narcissist can be a disheartening and upsetting realization. Narcissists aren’t just jealous of others–they have a deep resentment of those who have what they want. Their inner skewed sense of justice drives them to see others’ success as unfair and undeserved. Depending on the level of narcissism your daughter-in-law displays, this trait may drive a wedge between you and your own child, as he may feel obligated to take her side and support her no matter what.
Here are 10 signs of a narcissistic daughter-in-law:
1. She Doesn’t Respect You
Narcissists must always be right, and they cannot value another’s perspective or opinion. Trying to put boundaries in place is impossible with narcissists as they do not believe anyone else has the right to have input in their lives. A narcissistic daughter-in-law may disrespect you by purposefully being late for family get-togethers, forgetting about important occasions, or name-calling.
2. She’s Aggressive
If she is an overt narcissist, your daughter-in-law may be verbally aggressive with both you and her husband. Narcissists lack the inner “governor” on their behavior that keeps most people from saying things they will regret later. A narcissistic daughter-in-law may never experience regret over hurtful words or actions. If she feels threatened by her in-laws, she may lash out in narcissistic rage.
3. She’s Manipulative
A narcissistic daughter-in-law will often use narcissistic manipulation tactics. She may refuse to live up to promises, such as showing up for family events, unless she is treated in a particular way. She may agree to meet up for dinner out, but refuse to pay for her part of the bill.
To separate you from your grandchildren, she may agree to bring them by for a visit, but decide to take them to a babysitter instead. She may also expect you to drop what you are doing to babysit whenever she wants, and act like you owe it to her. She will do whatever it takes to get her way.
4. She Gaslights the Family
Gaslighting is one of the most frequently used maneuvers of narcissists. A daughter-in-law’s narcissistic gaslighting could look like her denying promises you know she made. She may ask you to stop by on a particular day, but when you show up, she’s not home or swears she never invited you.
Other forms of gaslighting include twisting your words or accusing you of having said things you hadn’t. She might even tell you that another family member did or said things to hurt you in order to create conflict. The goal of gaslighting is to confuse the narcissist’s victim.
5. She Believes She’s Always Right
Narcissists cannot back down from an argument or admit that they were wrong about something. Your daughter-in-law may insist on making all of the plans, because she will always “know the best place to go.” She believes that she has the best taste, and will put down anyone who questions her supremacy.
6. She Is Selfish
Narcissists cannot share tangible or intangible things–if something awards her the spotlight, a narcissistic daughter-in-law will do whatever it takes to claim ownership. For example, a gift to the couple is quickly co-opted as her own special present. She may even ask, “What did you get for my husband?” If there’s a party held for another member’s birthday, she may act out during the event as a way to ensure the focus is fully on her.
7. She Can’t Lose
No matter what the game is or what the stakes are, a narcissist will not lose gracefully. A narcissistic daughter-in-law must always be right and recognized as the “winner” in an argument or friendly competition. If there’s a family card game and she’s not on the winning team, she may get frustrated and walk away. She might even accuse others of being “cheaters.” Narcissists will play the victim card if they can’t come out on top fair and square.
8. She Says One Thing, but Does Another
Narcissists have no problem making promises they can’t keep. Your daughter-in-law may promise to pick up dinner on the way to your home, then arrive empty handed. Making plans is not a problem, but a narcissist’s disregard for others’ makes keeping them challenging. Always expect your daughter-in-law to “forget” things, be “too busy” to follow through, or simply offer no explanation for unexpected absences.
9. She Uses Emotional Blackmail
A narcissistic daughter-in-law may use her husband and any kids as leverage to get you to go along with what she wants. She may threaten to limit or end the time you can spend with your son or their children if you engage in behaviors that she doesn’t like. She may use narcissistic triangulation, which can involve efforts to turn her husband against you.
10. She Tells White Lies
Narcissists have no scruples about lying if it makes them look good. They have no shame regarding being found out, either. If your narcissistic daughter-in-law is caught in a lie, she will challenge your own memory and call you the liar, not her. The truth your narcissistic daughter sees is only the one that she creates in her own mind. Accepting that her grip on the truth is pretty slippery can help you minimize your frustration and moderate your reaction when the next falsity slips out.
How to Deal With a Narcissistic Daughter-in-Law
By naming your daughter-in-law’s behaviors, you can gain a sense of clarity about how to respond. Once you understand that you’re dealing with a narcissist, you can understand that the problem is not within yourself, but within her. Learning to avoid taking her hurtful words and actions personally is an important first step in coping. Continuing to show your own child unconditional love and acceptance is also essential in ensuring that his wife does not completely rupture your relationship.
Not only do in-laws have to carefully navigate their relationship with the narcissist, they also must continue to maintain and nurture their relationships with their sons. Each family’s cultural background, constellation, and dynamics may influence the ways in which the daughter-in-law’s behavior is addressed.
Here are some tips for dealing with a narcissistic daughter-in-law:
Set Realistic Expectations
It is unlikely that you will be able to make a narcissist change their behavior, but you can definitely change how you engage with your daughter-in-law. By setting realistic expectations, you avoid personal disappointment and can relish any minor successes without being frustrated they aren’t more significant.
Don’t expect your daughter-in-law to be supportive of your successes or your suggestions. Don’t assume that she will always do what she says she plans to do–especially when it involves spending time with her husband’s family. Narcissists assume that everyone feels that they are special and deserve to be treated differently than others.
Try Grey Rocking
Using the grey rock method involves keeping your comments and your demeanor as boring or uninteresting as possible. This can be effective because you purposefully refrain from giving the narcissist any material she can use to her advantage. Additionally, by not giving her any particular attention, she may have to go elsewhere to find her supply.
When your daughter-in-law is engaging in manipulative or self-aggrandizing behavior, don’t ask questions, show any interest, or even make eye contact. Narcissists feed on attention and when the supply dries up, they take their exit.
Don’t Fall for the “Victim Card”
Narcissists often try to convince people that they are the victim of others’ negative intentions or actions. This is especially common among covert narcissists who try to make others look bad to build themselves up–they will take no responsibility for any of their own failings. They will claim others took unfair advantage or cheated them out of their rightful place. When your daughter-in-law tries to blame others, refuse to take the bait.
Instill Healthy Boundaries & Defend Them
All in-law relationships benefit from healthy boundaries. However, when a daughter-in-law’s narcissism is putting your family’s emotional wellbeing at risk, setting healthy boundaries is especially essential.
Examples of important boundaries include not allowing unexpected or unplanned visits, demanding respect in conversations, and banning insults or name-calling. Some parents only allow visits when both their child and their daughter-in-law are present. Others won’t engage in solo phone conversations or allow texting that goes beyond logistical planning.
Keep Communications Open With Your Son
Remember that your son’s choice in spouses is his own, but don’t lose sight of your relationship with him. While your daughter-in-law may be trying to isolate and manipulate him, don’t give up your efforts to stay in contact. Sending texts or encouraging him to call when he’s alone–like during the day at work or on his commute–are options to consider.
Limit Your Interactions With Her
Seldom do members of a family get along all the time. There may be rough patches, conflicts, or hard feelings that get in the way of positive interaction. While these can’t all be prevented, you should have the choice regarding how much time you choose to spend with your daughter-in-law. If there are events you cannot avoid, use the grey rock method if she tries to engage.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
If you find yourself blaming yourself for negative comments from your daughter-in-law or second guessing what you should or should not say in her presence, cut yourself some slack. You are not responsible for anything your daughter-in-law is doing and you should never take anyone else’s comments or behavior personally.
Everyone is responsible for their own actions, so if you begin doubting yourself, remind yourself to stop. Your daughter-in-law is an adult and she’s acting out of her own self-interest, and her choices have nothing to do with you.
Choose Your Battles Wisely
Dealing with a narcissist is challenging. When the narcissist is your son’s wife, this creates unique challenges as you try to manage the complications that this presents within your parent-son relationship. Narcissists are eager to make everything a battle if you don’t agree with their perspective. When it comes to the small stuff, practice saying nothing and just “going along to get along.” Narcissists are unable to see the consequences of their behaviors, so rely on your own “big picture thinking” to know when you should just let things lie.
When to Seek Professional Help
Narcissists seldom recognize their own shortcomings or that their behavior is a problem. Thus, it is only those who are in relationships with narcissists that are likely to benefit from therapy. A narcissistic daughter-in-law can hold the power to turn your son away from you–possibly even your own partner if that is her aim.
Narcissistic abuse takes many forms, and they will do whatever they can to ensure that they keep the attention on them and eradicate any rivals they feel threatened by. If you decide to seek therapy, it’s important to find the right therapist who is familiar with narcissistic abuse and family dynamics. You might seek a therapist through your doctor’s referral, a family member’s referral, or an online therapist directory.
Therapy options for recovering from narcissistic daughter-in-law abuse include:
- Couples therapy: When a narcissistic daughter-in-law is trying to disrupt their in-laws, this may create rifts in an otherwise strong marriage. Couples therapy can be especially helpful when parents feel that their son’s wife is trying to divide and conquer by wooing one of her husband’s parents while alienating the other.
- Individual therapy: In cases where no one but you see what a problem your narcissistic daughter has become, you may benefit greatly from participation in individual psychotherapy. This provides a space where you can openly share your observations, feelings, and experiences in a safe and validating environment.
- Family therapy: Family therapy is especially useful in helping family members recognize the ways in which their behavior affects others. Ideally, all members of a family are present. However, if your daughter-in-law is resistant, family therapy can be helpful for parents and other family members willing to participate.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT often includes the use of worksheets and diagrams to help people understand where their negative behaviors appear and what they can do to change their responses. Because you cannot force a narcissist to change, learning to manage your own emotional responses is a very helpful option.
Getting along with a daughter-in-law can be challenging as each person learns how they fit into the family puzzle. Unfortunately, a narcissistic daughter-in-law can further complicate the situation, as their interpersonal behaviors are designed to protect their egos in ways that alienate others. Recognizing the limits of what your daughter-in-law will and will not tolerate while working to maintain a healthy relationship with your son can be difficult. However, it can be helpful to remember that you may be the most important support system in your son’s life.