How to Deal with a Covert Narcissist Mother In Law
How to Deal with a Covert Narcissist Mother In Law

Have you ever found yourself in the midst of complex family dynamics, grappling with the challenge of a covert narcissist mother-in-law? If you’ve ever wondered how to navigate these intricate relationships with compassion and resilience, you’re not alone.

In this comprehensive article, we will demystify the world of covert narcissism and its impact, particularly when it comes to a mother-in-law. We’ll explore effective strategies to maintain your emotional well-being while fostering healthier family ties.

So, if you’re seeking practical advice on how to deal with a covert narcissist mother in law without the drama, without ruining things with your spouse or partner, then you’re in the right place. Let’s dive in.

Covert Narcissism Defined

Covert narcissism is a less conspicuous yet equally manipulative form of narcissism, characterized by an individual’s constant need for admiration, validation, and control over others, but with a more subtle and hidden approach. Unlike overt narcissists who openly display their self-centeredness, covert narcissists cloak their manipulative behaviors beneath a façade of modesty and victim-hood.

Key Traits of a Covert Narcissist

  • Manipulative: Covert narcissists are skilled at manipulating situations and people to meet their needs. They often use emotional manipulation techniques to gain control.
  • Controlling: They have an innate desire for control and can be exceptionally controlling in their interactions with others, often subtly dictating the course of events to serve their own interests.
  • Critical: Covert narcissists are highly critical of others, but they tend to do it in a more passive-aggressive manner, making it difficult for their victims to identify their intentions.
  • Demanding: They have unrealistic expectations and can be demanding, leaving those around them feeling obligated to meet their constantly shifting standards.
  • Envious: Covert narcissists are prone to envy and may become resentful when others achieve success or happiness.

The Mask of Modesty

One of the distinguishing features of covert narcissism is the ability to wear a mask of modesty and vulnerability. They often present themselves as selfless and humble, which makes it challenging for others to recognize their manipulative behavior.

However, behind this mask lies a fragile ego that needs constant validation and attention. When their desires aren’t met, covert narcissists can resort to emotional manipulation, gaslighting, and victim blaming to maintain their sense of superiority.

Unique Challenges Handling a Mother-in-Law

Handling a covert narcissist mother-in-law isn’t the same as handling your own mother. When you marry someone, you inherit not only their love but also their family dynamics. The relationship between you and your mother-in-law can be fraught with its own set of complexities, especially when dealing with a covert narcissist. Here, we’ll delve into the unique challenges you might face:

Relationship Between You and Your Mother-in-Law

The relationship between a daughter-in-law or son-in-law and their mother-in-law can often be a delicate one. It’s a bond that’s forged not out of choice but out of circumstance. Unlike relationships with our own parents, this one is navigated without the foundation of shared history and upbringing. When your mother-in-law is a covert narcissist, this relationship can become even more challenging.

A covert narcissistic mother-in-law may view you as a threat to her control over her child, your spouse. She might employ subtle tactics to undermine your confidence or diminish your role in the family, creating tension and discord.

Your Mother-in-Law’s Influence on Your Spouse/Partner

A covert narcissistic mother-in-law can exert a significant influence on her child – your spouse or partner. They may have grown up in an environment where their parent’s needs were prioritized over their own, leading to a sense of obligation and guilt. This influence can manifest in several ways:

  • Guilt-Tripping: Guilt-tripping is a classic tactic deployed by a covert narcissist. Your spouse may feel compelled to meet their mother’s demands, even at the expense of your relationship or their own well-being.
  • Emotional Manipulation: Your mother-in-law might use emotional manipulation to maintain control over your spouse, making it challenging for them to assert their independence.
  • Enmeshment: Enmeshment refers to an unhealthy level of emotional closeness between your spouse and their mother. This can lead to difficulties in setting boundaries and making independent decisions.

And so while figuring out how to deal with a covert narcissist mother in law you will need to be very aware of that impact on the relationship with your significant other. Let’s talk about that now.

Impact on Your Relationship with Your Spouse/Partner

The influence of a covert narcissistic mother-in-law can strain your relationship with your spouse or partner. The constant pressure to appease their mother’s demands can create tension and conflict within your marriage or partnership. You might find yourself feeling neglected or second-best, which can lead to frustration and resentment.

Moreover, when your spouse is caught in the web of a covert narcissistic mother’s manipulation, they may struggle to provide the emotional support and validation you need. This can create a sense of isolation and frustration.

How To Deal with A Covert Narcissist Mother in Law

Now that we have a clearer understanding of what covert narcissism is and the unique challenges it presents in the context of a mother-in-law relationship, let’s explore how to deal with a covert narcissist mother in law with effective strategies. Remember, your goal is not to change your mother-in-law but to protect your well-being and maintain a healthy family life.

#1. Maintain Respectful Distance

Maintaining respectful distance is crucial when dealing with a covert narcissist mother-in-law. While it’s important to respect the role she plays in your spouse’s life, it’s equally important to establish boundaries that safeguard your emotional well-being. Create a balance between involvement and distance to protect yourself from manipulation and undue stress.

#2. Support Your Spouse

Your spouse may be caught in the crossfire between you and their mother. Offer them your unwavering support and empathy. Encourage open communication about their feelings and experiences, and remind them that you’re a team. Together, you can navigate the challenges posed by a covert narcissistic mother-in-law more effectively.

#3. Prioritize Your Marriage

Remember that your marriage or partnership is the foundation of your family unit. Prioritize your relationship with your spouse above all else. Ensure that you both invest time and effort in nurturing your bond, even amidst the complexities introduced by a difficult mother-in-law.

#4. Set Clear Joint Boundaries

Establishing clear and non-negotiable boundaries with your mother-in-law is essential. Discuss these boundaries with your spouse and ensure they are on board with enforcing them. These boundaries might include limits on unsolicited advice, personal space, and expectations regarding family events.

#5. Practice Patience and Empathy

While it can be challenging, try to empathize with your mother-in-law’s insecurities and vulnerabilities. Remember that covert narcissists often mask their fragility with a façade of modesty. Practicing patience and empathy can help diffuse tense situations and reduce the risk of escalating conflicts.

#6. Limit One-on-One Interactions

If your interactions with your mother-in-law tend to be particularly draining or manipulative, consider limiting one-on-one contact. Try to engage in group settings where her covert tactics may be less effective. This can also provide a buffer against any attempts at gaslighting or manipulation.

#7. Maintain Open Communication With Your Spouse/Partner

Healthy communication is the cornerstone of any successful relationship. Foster open and honest communication with your spouse, encouraging them to express their feelings and concerns. Create a safe space where both of you can share your thoughts without judgment.

#8. Seek Allies in the Family

It’s possible that you’re not the only one in the family who has experienced your mother-in-law’s manipulative behavior. Seek out allies within the family who can provide emotional support and share their own coping strategies. A united front can be a powerful force in dealing with covert narcissism.

#9. Support Your Spouse’s Self-Care

Encourage your spouse to prioritize their self-care. Covert narcissistic manipulation can be emotionally draining, and it’s essential that your spouse takes steps to protect their own well-being. This might include therapy, self-reflection, or pursuing personal interests.

#10. Stay Focused on Your Family Unit

Amidst the challenges posed by a covert narcissistic mother-in-law, remember to stay focused on your family unit – you, your spouse, and any children you may have. Keep your long-term goals and the well-being of your immediate family in mind as you navigate these difficult waters.

#11. Choose Your Battles Wisely

Not every situation requires confrontation. Pick your battles carefully. Sometimes, it’s best to let minor incidents slide rather than engage in a potentially damaging conflict. Focus on what truly matters to you and your family’s happiness.

#12. Involve a Neutral Third Party

If conflicts persist and tensions escalate, consider involving a neutral third party, such as a therapist or counselor, to mediate discussions and provide guidance. Their objective perspective can help you and your spouse find healthier ways to cope with the situation.

#13. Stay Flexible

Flexibility is key when dealing with a covert narcissist mother-in-law. Be prepared to adapt your approach as the situation evolves. What works today may not work tomorrow, so staying flexible allows you to adjust your strategies as needed.

#14. Respect Your Spouse’s Choices

Ultimately, your spouse may choose how they want to handle their relationship with their mother. Respect their decisions, even if they differ from your own preferences. Trust in your partner’s judgment and support them in their choices.

#15. Remember Your Long-Term Goals

In the midst of challenges and conflicts, don’t lose sight of your long-term goals. Whether it’s building a strong, resilient family or nurturing your marriage, keep these objectives at the forefront of your mind. This perspective can provide clarity and motivation during difficult times.


Figuring out how to deal with a covert narcissist mother in law is no small feat, but armed with understanding, empathy, and effective strategies, you can protect your emotional well-being and maintain a healthy family life. Remember that the ultimate goal is not to change your mother-in-law but to safeguard your relationship with your spouse and nurture your own family unit.

By maintaining respectful distance, supporting your spouse, setting clear boundaries, and practicing patience and empathy, you can find a path through the complexities of this situation. Stay focused on your long-term goals, prioritize self-care, and seek support when needed. With these tools at your disposal, you can navigate this challenging journey with compassion and resilience.

Recommended Reading

If you’re interested in delving deeper into the topics discussed in this article and seeking additional insights on dealing with challenging family dynamics and narcissistic personalities, here are some books I recommend:

“The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family” by Eleanor Payson – Payson explores the dynamics of narcissistic relationships and provides guidance on how to cope with and heal from these challenging interactions.

Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed” by Wendy T. Behary – This book offers practical strategies for dealing with narcissists in various contexts, including family relationships.