Inappropriate Gifts

In response to a comments on the blog where several of you readers discussed weird gift giving behaviour I’ve put together some of my own experiences with this topic. It links in with the blog post on “Gifts with Strings Attached“.

It is a universal truth that people with NPD are poor at giving gifts. Remember that a person with NPD has little or no empathy with others and therefor have little chance of choosing something appropriate and welcome. To do so would require them to be able to imagine you as a separate person with your own valid interests and preferences, that just isn’t going to happen this side of Hell freezing over.

There are various ways in which my MIL’s attempts at giving have fallen short of normal never mind desirable. When gifts are bestowed for birthdays or Christmas she struggles to buy them without a huge fuss, struggles to get them delivered without a huge fuss and what she does choose is weird if not outright insulting.

My MIL can become stuck on one thing, having deduced correctly or otherwise that I like chocolates I will be given the same type every year without fail until I’m sick of the sight of them. Why? Because she simply can’t be bothered to put in any more effort to find out what I would really like, there is no pay off in that for her.

I mentioned once to MIL in passing that I liked writing in purple or green pen. This she took to an unnecessary level by insisting on tracking down all sorts of different green and purple biros and giving them to me one birthday. You may think this was very considerate of her but no, every pen was delivered with the most laboured description of how hard it was to find them to ensure the entire transaction was focussed on her extraordinary benevolence. Even though I hadn’t asked her for them.

Narcissists will give gifts that are all about them; a framed photo of themselves that they expect to see on your wall, a photo mug that they expect you to drink from every time they come round or something they would actually like for themselves, as why on Earth wouldn’t you want what they want? So I get sent garden centre vouchers, books on topics she likes to read about, costume jewellery that she would wear.

One year she sent me two small pairs of pliers for my birthday taken out of their packaging and wrapped up with no explanation. Yep, I was as baffled by that as you probably are. Then when I arrived at her house for a family visit weeks later she presented me with about a dozen tiny parcels that constituted the rest of my present. I had to sit and open each one in turn in front of her, talk about excruciating, while she smirked as I unwrapped small plastic bags of ugly beads and wires. She likes jewellery you see, and TV shopping channels, and had ordered some jewellery making bits and bobs on special offer. This explained the pliers. What it doesn’t explain is why she sent such a weird gift to arrive on my birthday and why she waited until I visited her house before subjecting me to trial by endless mini parcels. The explanation for that of course is control.

She uses gifts to try and control our kids also. We were adamant that we didn’t want our children stereotyped into roles before they were old enough to choose for themselves so requested generic toys that either sex would enjoy and specifically asked for no pink, girly princess stuff. Every other family member shrugged and said yeah, ok. MIL did not take kindly to be told. She sent our then 2-year-old daughter a pink, flowery tea set. When this was pointed out she denied that she knew it was pink and flowery. Despite having seen it in the shop, picked it up and carried it to the counter, taken out and wrapped it at home, despite the front being clear cellophane and the words “Pink Flower Tea Set” being written on it, despite the photo of the contents on the box, no she just hadn’t noticed.  The tea set went to a charity shop. She sulked for weeks and only sent money, no presents, for two years afterwards presumably as some sort of punishment.

The best way to deal with inappropriate presents is to laugh. Give them away and don’t expect to ever get anything really nice from her then you won’t be disappointed. Or offer them back to her, “my what a lovely picture of yourself, wouldn’t that look so much nicer hanging on your wall…”

There is another more insidious way in which a narcissist can manipulate people with gifts; they can use them to show status. Narcissists often have a preferred child or set of grandchildren. The lucky recipient of their golden child status will be bestowed with numerous and expensive presents. The unlucky one singled out for disdain and disapproval gets little or nothing. My first child was deluged in presents from her grandmother. In the first two years of her life she was given more things by MIL than the rest of the family put together. When our second child was born she got nothing for a whole year, not even a pair of booties.

We made it clear to her that if this continued we would refuse to accept any gifts at all.  The children were to be treated equally if she wanted to continue having access to them. It is trickier to deal with a grandmother who favours one set of grandchildren over another. What if your sibling’s kids get better treatment than yours? If the sibling is on your side you both sit down and talk about it. If not, the sibling has always been the favoured one, then you are stuck with this situation I’m afraid. Don’t take it personally; you do not need her approval or her presents. Be completely honest with the children, you do them no favours by trying to cover up her misbehaviour. For them to properly recognise and deal with nasty behaviour themselves they need to see you respond appropriately. That means acting honestly and with integrity. For example: “Grandma gives cousins Jane and John better presents because she is not a very well person and has little idea how to properly and fairly treat others. This is not our fault or Jane and John’s. They are not better than us. Grandma is playing favourites, a nasty game. We will not play along by getting upset about it.”

Money is also used to convey a message of worth to MIL. She uses the amounts to reflect her favour. One Christmas my husband got a cheque for £100, the grandchildren got £50 and I got nothing.


Filed under Controlling behaviour, Describing narcissism, Effects of NPD on others, Examples of narcissistic behaviour, Manipulations, strategies for managing NPD MIL

24 responses to “Inappropriate Gifts


    This describes my MIL perfectly. I once got a bottle of lotion in the scent I like from everyone in the family (she bought all her sons’ gifts for me). So I wound up with 5 bottles of it. Who can use 5 bottles. And after 1, I was sick of it. She also buys sets (a hat and a scarf) and gives me one and then gives the other to someone else (one of her sons) to give me. I’ve been given used wine glasses (the kind you get free at a wine tasting)…but only one half of the set. SIL got the other one. I get gifts she wants for herself but can’t convince her husband to shell out the money for (antiques and art that is not in my taste at all.) Or the best, when she gives a “gift” that requires I spend time with her (vacations that she only pays a bit of the cost of and we have to shell out the – large- remainder of. Or tickets to sporting events so we have to sit by her. But she only buys DH his ticket and makes me pay for mine.) I could go on and on.
    She also favors grandchildren, giving more to one set than others (DH’s sibling sucks up anything they can get from MIL). She also favors my older son. (My N-mother, on the other hand, favors my younger son as of late. It’s really hard to explain to my older son why he suddenly is being given less than his brother.) I had suggested before on your blog, but I’d love for you to write more about dealing with N-grandmothers and how/when to protect your children. I find your methods on dealing with the Ns very helpful.

    • JSRelease, I am writing a post on grandchildren right now. I’ll put it up in a day or two. It has proved to be quite a long one so I may end up splitting it. The topic has been difficult to write about as it makes me quite emotional. We all feel so protective of our children.

  2. Wow…so relateable in so many ways. Funny thing, I’m the “scapegoat” and my kids are her favored grandkids. WTF? My kids are the “good ones”.

  3. Penny

    My husband & I got engaged mid-November. I barely knew my future MIL, but in her quest for power & control, she thot it was appropriate to give me a bra & panties for Christmas, in the ugliest dirty-orange color I have ever seen and would never wear. The “eewww” factor was off the scale. Who the hell wants mommie dearest to know what they are wearing in the bedroom? But it gets worse: it was a stretchy “training” bra, with stretchy panties to match. Are you kidding me?? MIL was sending a subtle message that I wasn’t woman enough for a “real” bra, exerting power & undermining me from the get-go. As if it mattered~she had already accused me of not being “lady-like” enough for her son. Little does she know that my husband chose me precisely b/c I am nothing like her! We have been married for 40 years now, & 2 years ago I finally went NC, & I will not allow her anywhere near my kids. If she is too toxic for me, then she is too toxic. Period. I told my husband that our kids were NOT going to have a relationship with anyone who abuses their mother. Ever. Even tho we live half a country away from her, I got rid of our landline, blocked her email, blocked her number on our cell-phones, so she went out and got a new phone number (which of course wasn’t blocked b/c I didn’t know) and then called my kids anyway, even tho we had set a clear boundary to not call. Talk about a control freak. I do not accept gifts, checks, birthday cards, etc. She sends them anyway, but they go immediately in the trash, unopened. She’s 88 years old and will never change, never stop, never honor boundaries & never stop smearing me. I am afraid that she will never die.


      My MIL also bought me a pair of “fancy” panties when we got engaged (not really for the bridal shower. She just sort of threw them at me.) No bra – she’s often made fun of my “small” chest. It is completely gross to have your husband’s mother buy you stuff for the bedroom.

    • My husband says he married me because I am the exact opposite of his mother! Hats off to you for surviving 40 years! Your boundary setting is admirable.

      • Maia

        My N mother once gave me a set (panties + bra) she had originally bought for herself but she tought it “didn’t fit” her.
        The problem is, my hips are tighter than my mother’s, and my breast far bigger-the set just did not fit me.
        I tool it, thanked her. .. and threw the hell thing in the trash bin.

      • Oh Goodness how yucky! She knows they were the wrong size, my MIL does this all the time. She disposes of things given to her or that she has bought by passing them on to us. Not a single visit from her has passed by without a bag or two of junk really that she couldn’t be bothered to recycle or give to a charity shop being left with us.

  4. Anonymous

    My husband is the Scapegoat and SIL is the Golden Child. Therefore, SIL’s children get preferential treatment. However, of my 2 children, MIL favors myth oldest child and ignores my youngest. It really bothers my husband. MIL and SIL live in another state, everyone in my family (my husband and 2 children) have been invited to visit and I have never been. MIL and SIL do not want me to see the preferential treatment, cars, money, wealth, etc. I am positive the display of “stuff” is OBNOXIOUS.

    • Thanks for your comment, how do you deal with the biased treatment of your two kids?

      • Anonymous

        Honestly it has been very hard and difficult to deal with. I try to take the high road with her and hold up a tough front whenever I am around her. My kids are now getting older and they are becoming more aware, so they know. I just always tell my kids to be kind, appreciative and respectful to her. It’s a shame she can’t do the same in return but I must remind myself that she is sick/disordered. She doesn’t have the capacity to behave normally. The best thing for me and I think my husband is starting to realize this, that low/minimal contact is the only way.

  5. Penny

    Personally, I don’t care if the N is a grandmother, aunt, cousin or whatever: if they are toxic, manipulative, undermining, divisive &/or cruel, then “stick a fork in me”, b/c I am done. DONE. Being elderly or a relative does not give the N a “pass” on bad behavior; if the grandmother is too toxic for you, then they are too toxic for your kids. Kids need to see that boundaries are for self-protection, & boundaries must be respected. Being a parent means to lead by example; what example am I setting if I allow abuse? If anything the, the bar should be higher, not lower. I no longer have the patience for “mean girls” of any age, and I do not care to be in their pathetic little club. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, and I am just…gone.

    • Absolutely! Are you sure you aren’t a FierceCorkWoman? My pseudonym comes from the mercifully short speech my father gave at my wedding where he warned my husband that he was marrying into a long line of fierce Cork women, my mother is Irish, and that we took no s**t.

  6. annie

    My MIL is definitely a “strings attached” gift giver. She is like this to the extent that we didn’t even cash her wedding check on purpose (although we cashed everyone else’s). She also gives unequal gifts to incite jealousy. Now that this is no longer working with her children she appears to have moved on to her grandchildren. She gave her three grandchildren cards at christmas, and she gave two of them twenty dollar bills and one the middle (very sensitive) child a ten dollar bill (these are my nephews, not my children). My BIL claims that “her eye sight must be getting poor,” but considering that my husband has been the “sensitive” one we suspect otherwise. This is very painful for the family and causes a lot of drama and strife. I also believe that she may be trying to make her son my BIL look like a jerk when he tries to “rectify” the “mistake.” I can hear her now telling everyone that he embarrassed her by pointing out the mistake that she made (pity me…whaaah). I am also sure she will cite her plethora of health problems during this pity party to make him look like a total ass (as she has been doing for years unbeknownst to him I’m sure). I am also sure that she is telling him things that makes him angry with us for being so insensitive to her struggles. She has been driving a wedge through these siblings since my husband returned from Iraq 8 years ago (which is when the family needed each other’s support the most). Very sick/Very sad

    • Ah the health problem pity party. We had to deal with a dollop of that over the Easter Holiday. To give different amounts of money to siblings in the same family is wicked. What a horrible thing to do. It is important I have found for siblings to have communication regularly that doesn’t go through their disordered mum and doesn’t involve talking about her either. A strong sibling relationship and honesty about their problems with NPD mother is very helpful all round.

  7. Cinderella Charming

    I’m miffed that the narcissist brother-in-law has not got our second son a card or present for his first birthday. He has complained in the past when we didn’t send his girlfriend a card – we did not know when it was her birthday cos he never invited us to her birthday BBQ. But he had never got me a card in the past and I was never bothered. Now he is fishing for sponsor money for a half marathon but he can get f**ked because he can’t be arsed with us. Although I suspect my husband will give in and sponsor him. He has texted the husband to say he has bought our little boy a book and will give him it when we see him next. It was his birthday two weeks ago. Aaaaagh. He infuriates me because he is such a knob. And don’t even get me started on the mother… Love your blog btw. If we can’t beat the awkward bast***s, then let us vent…

  8. LM

    My Mother always taught me to give gifts that will make the receiver “always remember you”! Ha! Even when I was a very young child, I thought this made no sense. She NEVER got somebody something off their registry because it would just get lost in the sea of other gifts. And if it was a baby shower or other occasion where all the gifts were opened in front of a large crowd, she would spend weeks sewing a handmade piece of clothing or something that would make all the guests oooh and ahhhh.

    One year at Christmas, we all had agreed that we would not exchange any gifts (because of how out of control she had been in years past) and keep it simple. Mid-afternoon my mom said that they didn’t have any gifts but had a little surprise in the backyard for our family. She took us out back where there was a new camper waiting for our family, hot cocoa and music playing, an ice skating rink set up and new ice skates for the kids. When I attempted to address how inappropriate this was, she said, “Well sue me for being nice!” Ugh!

  9. Rivka

    The best was the year I realized she was disordered and started to stand up for myself. That year, in front of the whole family she gave a book about how to deal with being mentally ill!! The only time in 17 years my husband has ever stood up for me. He demanded she apologize but of course she felt perfectly justified and he let it go *smh*

    • Rivka

      That was ALSO the year we had to spend ALL of our gift budget on HER (including PAYING for the privilege of having Christmas dinner there, which she didn’t even cook!) because of all she demanded. My family got diddly squat because she got ALL of it! But it wasn’t enough, she threw a hissy fit in front of everyone that she didn’t get more and then went around telling everyone she knew that we didn’t even get her anything. Such a lovely woman *barf*

  10. Wife of ACoN

    This article gives me a completely new perspective on why my mother-in-law has always given me such awful gifts. They have either been completely inappropriate for me (the most recent gift she gave me was a “nail art set” designed for teenage girls) because she can’t be bothered to ask about my interests (even though my husband has told her multiple times); or they have been things that she herself likes and thinks I should like too. Christmas at my in-laws’ has always been strange and uncomfortable – MiL insists each person take a turn opening her gifts, and then we have to essentially praise her about how wonderful and thoughtful they are. This article has really helped me understand these unusual behaviours.

  11. Maia

    My N mother does not stop with useless gifts. She can’t even allow OTHERS to make me gifts. So she manipulates them so that they take me exactly what i DON’T WANT-NEED
    I’m pregnant. To avoid double and useless gifts, my hubby and me made a “birth list” in a specific shop with what we wanted. I explained my NM where the list was, how it worked and how people could buy from it on the net without even leave their home.
    But she could not allow people to buy me gifts. So she told everyone she knows that birth gift must be bought AFTER the child is born (even if there were things in the list I need from the very first moment home with my daughter-e.g. the changing pad). In the meantime, she showed the online list to everyone, and had people calling me to tell me I shouldn’t have chosen that, or should add that.
    Now that my due date is only days away, people start making gifts-not the things on the list, but exactly what is NOT on the list. And my mother cheerfully texts me about those “wonderful” gifts, as if they had bought me diamonds. I reply with the usual coolness (“ok, thank them”) but inside I’m so angry. I know she’s acting as a child and I shouldn’t mind. But it hurts anyway. Not only I will have to buy the things I need, but I’ll have so many USELESS things. And I will have her badmouthing me because I will refuse them. All this while nursing a newborn.
    Hope I’ll survive.

    • That is frustrating especially if you were relying on gifts for some of the baby essentials for the first few weeks. It can be so expensive to buy everything yourself. I am not surprised she is meddling in your affairs, that is a very common trait in smothering narcissists. She has absolutely no business telling other people how to use your baby gift list. She has no boundaries, she is treating your business as if it were her own to play with as she likes.

      What I wonder is if you have opened the door for some of that meddling and could maybe learn from this how better to manage her next time.

      Now if this were me (and you can ignore this advice by all means) I would not have told her where the baby list was. I would have told everyone else and given her a different list just for her. We have done this with birthday and Christmas gifts for our children, Christening presents etc. As a general rule I would try to keep as much control over information and logistics (like what is on your baby gift list) in my hands as is humanly possible.

      People ringing you to offer their opinions on what to have on your baby list could simply be other experienced mums thinking they are helpful. Different families and cultures tolerate different levels of input and opinion on matters such as child rearing. Here in the UK people are generally more reserved and would keep their opinions to themselves but in places like the USA it seems family and friends are more used to adding their tuppence worth. It is perfectly acceptable for you to manage those conversations by saying “Thank you for your advice but I have made my choices and they are on the list.” That is not rude although if you have a smothering narcissist for a mother you may well think any statement which asserts your boundaries sounds rude. That is the result of you being raised to have no boundaries and being punished if you try to establish them. You have the right to tell people no thank you.

      Your final paragraph describes how you responded to your mother with a cool “OK thank you”. Cool is good, narcissists will call you crazy, mean and unstable if you show them hot anger. But by saying OK thank you you are actually conveying to her that she has done nothing wrong. Why on Earth would you do that? Why are you letting her get away with this gross violation of your boundaries and business? Consider other ways you could respond which convey your authentic feelings on the matter and to hell with her being upset. You are not responsible for her butt hurt feelings because she is the one creating the problem in the first place.

      Tell her how you feel, what behaviour has caused the problem and why and what you will do about it if it happens again. This is how you set a boundary. I am feeling this ____________. This action _____________ has caused this ______________(this could be practical difficulties or your own thoughts and emotions like this has caused me to doubt your sincerity) and if it happens again I will _____________. “Mother I am disappointed you have told people to delay buying these gifts. My husband and I deliberately set up the list early so we would have these essential items which we carefully considered and chose. This is now going to cost us money and leave us with items we have no use for. If you go against our wishes in this way again we will not share future gift lists with you/communicate our wishes directly to friends and family/return all unwanted gifts.”

      Now how to deal with the fallout. Ignore it. Utterly and completely refuse to be drawn or to engage. “I have told you how I feel about this, you do not have to agree with me but if you do not respect my wishes there will be these consequences” walk out of the room or put the phone down if it continues “mother you are not respecting me in this conversation, I will not be subjected to blaming, I am going to end this conversation now.” Get your husband on side and make it clear you need his physical presence in the room and his verbal back up of you as you say this sort of thing. Plan how to get her out of the house if necessary or better, tell her somewhere public like a coffee shop so you can both leave. Do not get drawn into any further discussion just shut it down. Dealing with difficult people comprises of keeping calm, sticking to facts, repeating yourself, making the boundaries of the conversation clear and knowing when to walk away or shut it down. It is so important that you are able to do this as once the baby is born she will keep violating your family’s boundaries and start interfering with the baby. Good luck Maia.

      • Maia

        Thank you very much for your answer and your advice! I’m going to discuss the situation with my husband. Of course I have learnt my lesson: even a list is too much to tell her, she can try to manipulate me and give me problems even with so little. I know she does so because I’m telling her almost nothing about myself and she holds on the scraps she has. But even scraps are too much. I’ll remember- and stay safer next time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s