Narcissistic Grandmothers and Abusive Behaviour

Abusive behaviour towards children takes one of several forms; physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. It is very rare for a grandmother to sexually abuse her grandchildren. A narcissist is far more likely to be emotionally abusive or neglectful but physical abuse and cruelty can also occur.

I’ve described the tendency for NPD MILs to demonstrate favouritism towards their children and grandchildren. This is a form of emotional abuse. It compares and excludes and thus implies inferiority or flaw in the excluded. Such conditional affection is typical. Demonstrations of love by an NPD sufferer really depend on what you can do for them. Sadly they often decide that the best thing one grandchild or set of grandchildren can do is provide them with an archetypal “bad” family for them to dump all their negative emotions on. Psychologists call this splitting. The damaged personality of your MIL is unable to contain good and bad and all shades in between in their mind at once so all the good gets projected onto one child or grandchild and all the bad onto the other. That way they enact their own internal split between the false perfect self they display to the world and the deeper flawed self they are so disgusted and ashamed of.

If your spouse was the disfavoured child when small, seeing this repeated in their own children can be incredibly hurtful. It is baffling as it is wounding to see one new little helpless baby being ignored while the older child is doted on or vice versa. It can be just the smallest thing that triggers the rejection. In the case of our children the eldest had blonde hair and thus reminded MIL of herself and her own children, the youngest had brown hair when born and so looked like me and was rejected. There is always some justification in the MIL’s mind for the favouritism, the rejected child did something to deserve it.

Other emotionally abusive behaviours towards grandchildren include name calling including unkind nicknames, belittling, undermining, unfairly comparing siblings or cousins, criticism, mockery, withdrawing affection, sulking, passive-aggressive acts like “forgetting” a birthday, withholding praise or compliments, denigrating parents or friends.

I think one of the most insidious things a MIL can do is undermine parental authority thus creating confusion in the child’s mind as to how their parents’ rules should be viewed. Narcissists think they know best and my MIL positively enjoys feeling she has got one over on an authority of some kind. Combine these two and you can see how she is never going to accept our parental authority over our children. If you say bed at 7pm and grandma who is babysitting cheekily ignores this, whispers to the child how this is their little secret and sends them to bed at 8.30pm you have one confused, guilty and manipulated child.

Any conversation with a relative where a child is pressed to keep a secret is abusive in my opinion. I try to use the word surprise rather than secret when talking about birthday presents or plans. A surprise is something that is kept quiet for a while before being revealed, a secret is something you never tell to anyone. Children should not be asked to keep secrets from their parents by anyone. This interaction is abusive. By taking a child into their confidence an NPD MIL elevates them to equal status, something that should not happen because they are not intellectually or emotionally the equal of an adult. Then using their status as an adult relative they coerce silence and cooperation. The only way people can or should keep a secret is if they are equals and they do so through mutual consent. Children cannot do this. If your child tells you “grandma says it’s a secret” or similar you need to take action. This is a red warning flag of further manipulation and emotional abuse.

Even normal conversation can result in the child being used as a go-between “Little Jenny, will Mummy let you have a biscuit?”, “Little Johnny wants to go to the park, don’t you?” as people with personality disorders struggle with direct communication. Watch closely how your NPD MIL phrases things, children can be made to feel they have to serve their grandmother’s needs, “Grandma is sad, give me a cuddle”, “I want to read you a story, come and sit with me”.  Manipulation at its heart is the use of covert ways to get someone to do something they would not have otherwise done. Some NPD MILs will goad a child into doing something wrong, “go on take the biscuit, no one is looking” a then go and tell on the child, watch them get told off and delight in rescuing the child from the nasty mum or dad who is disciplining them. They have little empathy and play with people creating discord and antagonism and they enjoy doing this.

My MIL views her grandchildren as treats to be wheeled out for her enjoyment. On one of her birthdays she wanted our two year old to be delivered to her to be taken out all day as MIL’s birthday treat. I said no. Children are not objects to be ordered like a new toy, played with then sent away when bored. They are little people. Narcissistic MILs will not appreciate this fact.

I have not experienced my MIL being physically abusive or hurting our children. She has done that to my husband under the guise of discipline by forcing him to eat pureed food from the meal before that he hadn’t finished, or “jokes” like spraying him with cold water from a hose repeatedly until he ran away down the street and also through outright neglect by leaving him unattended and uncovered on a beach for so long he had second degree sunburn. I can make sure this doesn’t happen, she does not have contact with our children without myself or my husband being there. She cannot slap, poke, pinch, shove or otherwise interfere with them under our noses.

The first and only time I left my MIL to babysit was in her own house with our then just two-year-old while my husband and I went to the movies. We arrived to stay for a few days and found the front room filled with dozens of toys, books, colouring pens, paper and thirteen jigsaw puzzles piled up in boxes on the floor. She didn’t think this was enough however and said she would go up into the loft and get yet more down. Now this was unnecessary and since our daughter had worked out how to climb up loft ladders we said we’d prefer if MIL didn’t do that. While we were out this instruction was ignored.

I have no idea what my very overweight and arthritic MIL did with our daughter while she waddled into the spare bedroom to set up the wobbly stepladder she uses to squeeze herself through the loft hatch. MIL’s house has never been childproofed with safety catches and poisons out the way, we arrived one day to find she had taken up the carpets and left all the carpet grip exposed for the baby to crawl over.  Our daughter was either left alone out of sight and sound of her grandmother who risked knocking the ladder away from the hatch, getting stuck or falling, or she took the toddler into the loft with her, despite being sufficiently incapacitated that she struggles to get herself up from the floor. All for some paltry, plastic toy. Both of these scenarios would have exposed our small child to a significant risk that MIL failed to recognise. If our childminder had done this while caring for our daughter I would have complained, I would never leave a friend’s child unattended out of sight and sound and go rummaging around in our loft if I were babysitting. Would you?

Then to run salt in the wound she bragged about having done this in a phone conversation with my mother. She bragged that my husband had been upset when he found out that she had done exactly what he advised her not to. It was funny to her and worthy of a boast to show how she wasn’t ordered around by anyone. My mother was sufficiently disturbed by this to ring me and ask if I knew that MIL had left our child unattended while supposedly babysitting.

Narcissists overestimate their capabilities and this includes their physical abilities. They think they can manage physical feats and take risks that you or I would think twice over. MIL has rung us to say how she has been up a ladder chopping trees with a chainsaw or walking along the sea wall while huge waves are crashing around her. She does not see herself as nearly seventy, obese and creaking at the seams. In her mind she is fit, strong, attractive and capable and how dare we suggest otherwise. Narcissists think they are omniscient so don’t need to be told to keep their eyes open for cars or dogs loose off their leads when out with small children, they just know, right? This is something that makes a narcissist dangerous when around children. They do not correctly assess their own capabilities, they think they know best and so they are poor at determining risk and acting sensibly to minimise that risk. I cannot trust MIL with our kids and she hasn’t babysat them again. She never will.

If you have an NPD MIL your children will be in a relationship with a woman who has a track record of harming people close to her. Just read that through again to make sure you have grasped the full importance of that sentence. Your MIL is a bitch and you know it. She will be a bitch to your kids, it is simply a matter of time. She will make them feel bad, she will manipulate them and she will do these things to you in front of them.

Unless you have some very firm boundaries in place they will see her do this and think that either it is OK to treat others that way or that the best way of dealing with hurtful behaviour is to meekly take it. Your reaction to her abusive behaviour potentially more damaging than the behaviour itself as your relationship to your kids is much closer. They will follow your example, not just with her but into all relationships with difficult people. This includes school bullies, boyfriends or girlfriends as teens, work colleagues, their boss, their spouse.

So how should you intervene to ensure as little harm as possible comes to your children if you decide it is worth them having contact with their grandmother? Managing the narcissistic grandmother is the topic of the next post.


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

45 responses to “Narcissistic Grandmothers and Abusive Behaviour

  1. Mandy

    Love your posts…my MIL is fixated on my daughter, being the most-important person in her life is MIL’s main objective and her ploys are downright underhanded and repulsive. It is interesting how skillfully created her “mask” is and only people very close to us understand MIL has these unhealthy tendencies. It is also interesting to look back and realise she has been jockeying for special status all along.
    Unfortunately, being “nurtured” by MIL, resulted in hubby not being equipped to set boundaries with her (and if he ever does, she’ll ignore them). The challenge now is to protect my daughter from emotional manipulation and co-dependent “grooming”, support my husband in dealing with the deluge of emotions coming to terms with this creates. I have another child who has become chopped-liver as grandmother pursues “winning” my daughter.
    I was naive to all of this in my younger years and just thought MIL was a bit of a control-freak and we had typical MIL-DIL power-struggles. I had to constantly set boundaries and I am glad I did that right from the start. It was my mistake to give more weight to the “mask of MIL”, I did this in effort to be fair. I was also raised by healthy (authentic,genuine) people and did not anticipate, or was saavy to, this mind-warping garbage. Sadly, in hindsight, I wish I had not actively promoted a relationship between my children and their grandmother.

    • I too made the mistake of thinking my MIL was normal and would behave as my own mother did. It also took years to wake up to what she was like. To be fair on both of us, we don’t live with her full time so it would take a while for the pattern of behaviour to emerge. Don’t beat yourself up about that.

      It is never too late to assert the level of contact you want with your MIL. How old is your daughter? Is she old enough to have you explain a bit about what is going on? I am all for educating children in emotional/psychological matters and empowering them to identify and act with integrity on their own emotions.

      • Mandy

        Thanks for your encouragement FCW. I agree with you about educating children on emotional/psych intelligence and thought we had been doing that all along. We didn’t twig onto NPD until our daughter returned from a recent visit with beloved Grandma, she is 13 and seems to be subject to a long-standing, covert agenda. The agenda is securing Nsupply through high-level manipulation tatics…planting small, destructive seeds of half-truths and no-truths that garner my daughter’s support and alignment.
        It’s a difficult situation because we have learned that these “seeds” were being planted for quite some time – effectively disabling us from countering with reason as our daughter is on high-alert to defend Grandma. Apparently, we too, have served-up injustices by setting boundaries and saying “no” at times. Clearly, we didn’t set enough of them! Our daughter is highly sensitive regarding Grandma, she is her “flying monkey”.
        I had wanted my kids to have a good relationship with all of their Grandparents and was very careful not to interfere with that by influencing them with my take on Grandma as her DIL as she has a history of covertly selfish behaviour. Now it’s like Grandma is on a feeding-frenzy to fill herself up on the adoration of a young girl and she’ll get her fix at any cost, including causing family discord. Deprogramming this mess will be a long and dificult process. I know my daughter has well-developed critial thinking skills, we just need to extract her from Grandma’s indulgences (aka campaign) so that she may start to apply them.

  2. Anonymous

    Another excellent post, thank you FCW. My NPD MIL as I have mentioned many times before favors my oldest child and my younger child basically does not exist. My husband has become VERY aware of this and confronted his mother about it. She has thrown a full blown birthday party for a younger cousin (my husband’s sister’s child) a day before my youngest child’s birthday. At this party, she completely ignored me. When my husband recently confronted her about her attitude towards our youngest child, she replied: “I just don’t know how to relate to __________.” I was baffled. She is an ADULT and this is a CHILD. I agree with Mandy about regretting trying to promote a Grandmother/Grandchild relationship. It hardly seems worth it however, I am grateful for the boundaries I have kept up thus far.

    • “I just don’t know how to relate to __________.” Oh please! She is making up some pity-party excuse. Don’t be baffled, that suggests you are still expecting a normal response form her. She is disordered and quite incapable of a normal response. If you want to pursue the matter, throw a grandparenting book her way and suggest she read it and gets some of the necessary skills to “relate” to all her grandchildren. I am so glad your husband is supporting you with this, it is very hard if the spouse is still not seeing what is going on while it hurts your kids. Good on him.

  3. 18mitzvot

    Great post. Thank you for reiterating that it is never okay to ask children to keep secrets.

    • Thank you, it’s something that doesn’t get mention enough when it comes to dysfunctional families but secret keeping and the guilt that goes with it is a big part of emotional control.

  4. Jessie

    Great post. Thanks for the information and validation. I look forward to reading the next post.

    Recently, my NM was watching my sons for 45 minutes while I went out for a walk (I rarely leave her for long with the kids, especially lately as she’s been more and more aggressive in her attempts to manipulate my kids and get her narcissistic supply). Anyway, while I was gone my son broke a lamp. In attempting to clean it up, NM came across some gifts I had hidden away for my kids and revealed them to them. So, she made my son a “deal”. She wouldn’t tell on him, and he wouldn’t tell on her. The thing is, her finding these small gifts was not a huge deal and it wouldn’t have been a big deal to tell me the truth. I think, more to the point, she wanted to start grooming him to keep secrets from me. To create a “bond” between them. Not only was this appalling to me, but I was sickened by the lesson she taught him: that an adult can coerce you to keep secrets and that you then owe them your loyalty (I was horrified that this might make him vulnerable to adults in the future with horrible intentions). I also was upset with her teaching my son that it was OK to keep something from someone if you “fixed” the problem. That he shouldn’t have the integrity to BOTH admit his mistake and then fix the problem. She couldn’t understand why, as a grandparent, she should be helping to shape my son with integrity and honesty instead of teaching him to lie. Needless to say, she no longer babysits.

    And both my Nm and NMIL are “fixated”, as Mandy said above, on my kids. My stepfather labels NM as “obsessed”. Both women think this is just being a doting grandmother, but to me it seems so very unhealthy. And it creates situations in which they try to compete with me for the attention of my children. I try to remember that I don’t have to compete, but it still feels very horrible to feel like someone is competing to take away your child’s love from you and suck it up for themselves. If they only realized, a child has enough love for EVERYONE.

  5. Goodness what a nasty situation, no responsible adult encourages a child to be deceitful. You are right not to let her babysit. The situation you describe with the obsessive attention to the grandchildren shows clearly what your NMIL must have thought about her own children, that they were there to supply her with attention, love and adoration and make her feel good about herself. How insecure must they be to have to try and “steal” some of the affection between a mother and her children?

  6. bls

    Thank you so much for all of your writings on this painful topic. Me and my husband are in therapy and almost divorced recently due to his state of denial and his wanting to subject our children to his Mom. She completely ignores our daughter and gives 10 times the gifts to our son compared to our daughter. She didn’t even see our daughter for 3 months after she was born and never acknowledged her birth. We are in cut off mode with his parents at this point. He has read this with me and it has helped him along with therapy to see the truth behind all the “odd” behavior she always has an excuse for but is, in reality, emotional abuse. I am feeling at some points I am staying in this marriage to protect my children, which is sad really but has to be done for now. The damage they have done to my husband is shocking and he is so confused as to what is right or wrong it has taken TWO therapists telling him to keep our kids away from his parents for him to finally accept this. He is an only child and tells himself their behavior is normal. Thanks again for shedding light on this – It has been 14 years of hell for me dealing with the head games

  7. Relieved

    This is my first ever post on a blog, Fierce Cork Woman!

    Thank you for taking the time to set down your thoughts. Your post on emotional abuse was spot on.

    My MIL sounds similar to everyone else’s on this site. She is liked by people who meet her, still very beautiful for her age, very involved in charitable events (albeit only ones where she gets to do her hair and go and meet important/wealthy people – she wouldn’t be caught dead actually helping someone who couldn’t assist her with social climbing) and a fun Grandma.

    I have woken up this year to what Grandma has been doing to my oldest child. Child tells me in dribs and drabs what Grandma says. This includes comments about how Daddy is cruel, how child shouldn’t listen to Daddy, about how Daddy tries to leave Grandma out of the family and she doesn’t know why but she is very, very sad (probably insert tears in eyes here), about how Grandma didn’t marry Papa any more because he was drunk (when I asked child whether they knew what drunk means, child told me it means when you’ve had too much coffee. In Papa’s defence, I would be drunk all the time if I had to be married to her and he met and married someone nice after their disaster divorce and they have been married for over 25 years). I asked child whether Grandma ever tells child things and tells child not to tell Mummy and Daddy. Child nodded “yes”, and when I said, “what kinds of things?”, child said “I forget” and scuttled away. Mandy’s comments about grooming and deprogramming really resonated with me.

    I have informed Grandma that she won’t be having children unsupervised again. She lied and made up excuses when I asked her about what I had been told she’d said – “child brought it up”, “child is very stressed about all this conflict, you know”, and “what am I supposed to say?”. I have initiated two catch-ups since I put Grandma on her new routine, one of which she spoiled with an epic sulk (seriously, have you ever tried to have coffee with someone who won’t talk to you?). For the other, she was perfectly behaved because I put her in her place a couple of days earlier when she sent me a text saying she and my children were “victims” of my husband’s “persecution”. Grandma hasn’t once initiated a catch-up, preferring to tell people behind our backs that she is being denied access to the children, they miss her and she misses them, and she doesn’t know what she has done but she would like a chance to apologise for it. You would all know that NPD people never apologise for anything and that she is merely seeking attention, but I am intrigued by the thought of a sorry … I would need to schedule a good few hours for her to apologise for everything she has done over the years.

    It’s so hard to explain to people what it’s like dealing with an NPD person. You just have to experience it. Bless my husband, he has been aware his mother is ill since his early teens when he went on an extended overseas sports trip and woke up to the fact that his home wasn’t normal. He would be happy to cut her off tomorrow if I said the word. She says she knows he “turned” in his early teens, but she tells people she thinks there is something wrong with him emotionally/mentally and it started then because he was sexually abused on the sporting trip. Seriously. It has been me all these years trying to maintain contact because I guess I still thought somewhere underneath all her crap she still had human feelings. I think she knew this and I think I have been “managed” for a number of years because it suited her. She has let the mask go in the last 6 months and I have come to see how disturbed she really is, and how amazing my husband is for having survived her and being so sane. I am also lucky in that much of MILs family doesn’t speak to her or keeps her at a great distance and knows what she is like; my family is at the point where we sometimes laugh about the stuff she says. She does do some damage as she knows people we know socially (for example, parents at children’s school) and I am getting better at training myself not to care what lies she tells others and what they must think.

    So thank you, your posts help so much. I have been struggling with guilt in feeling as if I am being hard on Grandma but your words give me new resolve. Keep them coming. My husband also said my new Internet obsession with NPD, which led me to you, is helping him to demystify a few things. xxx

    • Oh my goodness what a horrible woman to be dripping this poison in your children’s ears. Ugh. You acted quickly and stopped it, I have nothing but admiration for that. I’m glad you have a strong husband who can see the situation for what it is. It is hard when our natural compassion and sense of right and wrong (being kind to Grandma) is confronted with someone who just cannot respond appropriately no matter what. I have heard people say how it is important to step back “with love” and while not wishing them evil or getting angry just to detach and keep yourself safe. I have a post on fear, obligation and guilt coming up which may help. You sound like you are doing well managing the MIL.

  8. Anonymous

    I agree with Relieved, my husband as also fantasized about cutting off NPD MIL (his mother) as he became aware of her sick behavior. I was the one who stopped him from doing so. Right now we are low contact which seems very manageable. Thank you again FCW, your blog is the best I have read on this topic and also better than any book I have read. I cannot wait until your book is released, my husband wants to read it. He asked me if I knew of any book (he is not one to sit online and read a blog) and I told him about your future book.

  9. LM

    Wow! Thank you for this post! You articulate grandma’s actions and motives so well!

    Here are some of my favorite quotes from Grandma to my kids:

    “I’ll give you this candy if you tell me who you love more…your other grandma or me?”

    Grandma to talkative little six year old boy, “Aren’t you going to ask Grandma how she is doing and what is new with her?”

  10. Trish

    I can’t stress enough how important it is for women to be careful when it comes to their children being around grandparents suffering from NPD. Had I been aware, my life would not be what it is today. I lost my children to my own mother, even though I was warned by Social Workers and others to keep my children away. No one ever gave me a description of what NPD is, I blamed myself for everything which went wrong in my life and the guilt still overwhelms me today.

    • Trish you poor thing. It is not your fault. Every child and adult wants to have their parents in their life and always thinks one day they will be the kind people they hope for. By keeping contact with your mother that is what you were doing right? Trying to be normal. Please let yourself off the hook. How could you have done better with the knowledge you had at the time? It is so irresponsible for solial services and doctors to suspect a personality disorder and not inform those who may be affected. I know confidentiality is an issue but common sense a clinical experience suggests close family will be being abusively treated by the disordered person and some moral obligation is owed to them to keep them informed and warned. This was not your fault.

    • Max

      I am the child victim of the very same thing. It took me over 20 years to understand that it wasn’t my mothers complete fault. The emotional wreckage has been devastating. It helps to read other people’s stories, for so long I thought that I was all alone in this


  11. Jay

    After a year of supporting a abused mother and child the grandmother has her way once again. She cut her daughter off from all family. Called cps, police searched my home, went to police 9 months after the fact she bit her soon to be ex in a fight, got her fired from her job and went to court with her husband to support him. Two days before the court date for custody they got to her and pushed the court date. Both parents and myself were mentally evaluated. There are restraining orders both criminal and family with zero contact. The grandmother told them they could and should drop the restraining order with the courts. I have been in contact with other grandparents and tried to point out and explain there is more to it. They don’t understand the only reason I’m hated is calling her out. She went off the hook. Their granddaughter isn’t ok to be left alone there with her. Most likely think I’m just saying it to be hateful. No I tried to protect a abused woman and her child. I believe there was abuse I learned the root came from the grandmother. Parents with restraining orders back together and the only one happy is her. I deleted all numbers and crossing fingers.

  12. V

    Hi, does anybody have any good advice for talking to an 8yo child who is sad about not seeing an NPD Grandma?

    We put in place some firm boundaries with Grandma last year after Grandma’s behaviour got too bad. We made it clear that she could see our children whenever she liked, but not without one of us present. She tried a catch-up a couple of times (usually instigated by me) but stopped when she realised the arrangement wasn’t temporary and when her ego got the better of her. She said to me in a frightening e-mail, “Why would I want to put up with feeling that I’m supposed to be lucky or something?”. The rest of the e-mail went on to explain her view that our children would end up hating us.

    The damage she has done to our children is insidious and much like Mandy talks about above. Grandma plants seeds, particularly with our older child. Her years of work became really clear when we tried to assert our boundaries with her last year and our older child turned into her advocate. Our older child thinks it is their fault that we don’t see Grandma at the moment.

    So, Grandma currently doesn’t speak to us and she would rather die than ask us for permission to see the children. I sent her texts in response to strange texts from her and I asked her to name a day and time when I could bring the children to see her, but she didn’t respond. She took to showing up in public where she suspected the children would be, sometimes with binoculars, and approached the children in order to see them … yes, she stalks them. I think there is some part of her which does miss them, but I suspect that most of what the public approaches are about is her showing us her power and that she can get to our children, without our say-so, whenever she wants.

    I sent her a letter by registered mail last year to warn her not to approach the children in public without one of us there. She was cunning enough to see that for what it was (I suspect it’s not the first pre-restraining order letter she has had in her life). She now shows up at our children’s sport with the grandad of our 8yo child’s team mate, claiming that she is there to watch the team mate play. For God’s sake. I can imagine that grandad of the team mate has been spun a big teary story about how her psycho son and daughter in law won’t let her see her grandchildren, and he thinks he’s helping a sad, beautiful lady. She stands in a group with his family, chatting like she doesn’t have a care in the World. We just say hello if we have to, let our children say hello, and move on. Last week when we “ran into her” – what a coincidence! – she called out over her shoulder, “I LOVE YOU!!” to our child as we walked away.

    Child confessed later they wished everyone just got along so child could see Grandma. Child loves Grandma … in the way any groomed victim of abuse thinks they love their abuser. She was fun, she was cuddly, and she was there a lot for the first years of child’s life.

    Child cannot see how manipulative and lacking in conscience Grandma is. What Grandma does to my husband and his brother, by way of manipulation and triangulation, is vile. My husband does not talk to his mother but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t use his brother to get to him. The last incident upset him so much it made him cry. I love him and I love our children and I refuse to let Grandma spread any more of her pain. My husband’s brother has not been so lucky … his wife has just given up on 20 years of marriage and has moved away with their children, tired of how my husband’s brother lets his mother into their marriage.

    We are trying to explain things to child at a high level, but we don’t want to drag child into the drama. Child deserves to be a loved, stress-free, happy child.

    Has anyone had success with explaining things to their child in similar circumstances?

    • Hi V. Good God what an utter bitch your MIL is being. The main issue is how to explain all this to your child as you seem to be firmly holding your boundaries with MIL. I would go for the completely straight approach to be honest. Children need to see and understand dysfunctional and abusive behaviour and to know how wrong it is and how to deal with it. Yes I did just say that. They see bullying and cruelty at school, some of them get it at home. Stress is caused when kids live with secrets and they don’t feel stress when they know that their parents are aware of and dealing with any problems. They don’t need to be shielded they need to trust you have got it under control then they relax.

      You need to tell the child honestly that their grandmother has behaved and continues to behave in a way that is nasty and unpleasant and hurts people. They need to understand that her turning up and calling out to them is part of that. They need to be told the grandparent is ill/disordered/not behaving normally. I think it is really important that you explain how abnormal it is and give examples of normal behaviour. You are right to say they have been groomed. Have you considered contacting charities and help groups that deal with children who have been abused? You may think that is over the top and not applicable but I think you are describing emotional abuse. No normal grandmother torments and causes anguish in a child by doing what she is doing. You do not make a child doubt their parents unless you are trying to emotionally steal that child. That is completely and utterly abusive. Get help from the equivalent of the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) which is a UK organisation. Or go straight to a child psychologist.

      • Relieved

        Hi FCW, thank you. Phew. Hope you’re going OK. I will refer my sister in law to your page, as you have such good, heartfelt and comforting advice for those whose marriage is impacted by an NPD MIL.

    • Chad Beadle

      I been following this site for some time. It has helped notice the signs of everyone involved

    • Mandy

      I feel for you V. I believe FCW’s advice is sound. I myself have taken that honest approach and explicitly discuss the harmful consequences of the behaviour we see, I do so with as much diplomacy and grace as possible.
      The way I see it, MIL’s actions had been putting our credibility in question, as a result, our daughter became hypervigilant in defending MIL, (she was subject to triangulation to reinforce this). This has demanded that we diffuse the persecutor and victim roles by not acting like “persecutors” even when antagonized. It’s a challenge, but I believe compassion, respect, and objectivity have to be demonstrated to the child while they are weaned from these grips. That has helped us rebuild what MIL was actively undermining.
      If you haven’t acquired one already, I highly recommend you delay your child getting a cell phone.

  13. SoManyQuestions


    That is an excellent tip – delaying a child’s access to a cell phone.

    My teenage daughter is making a point of not giving her cell phone number and email address to her grandmother. She has made it crystal clear to my husband that the information is not to be passed along to his mother.

  14. CS

    Hi FCW,
    My 3 children, ages 13, 10 & 8, just got back from a week long trip with my NPD ex- husband and his mother, whom I’ve now decided must also be NPD. A lot of your readers seem to be married and decide with their spouse what their children’s exposure will be to their MIL. I feel very helpless as the abuse happens during custodial visits. My ex has been the lesser of the 2 evils lately and his mother’s behavior has escalated. She verbally abused, bullied and badgered them while their father silently stood by. The only thing he said to contradict something, he did so while his mother was safely out of earshot in the shower; I think fearing a full-blown dramatic response. He let our children stand, unprotected, so that he wouldn’t be on the receiving end of her wrath. I am sick about this. I don’t have the legal right to deny him visits with the kids, nor can I dictate who he takes the kids to see while they’re with him. Has anyone ever written about a similar experience? I’m wondering if having them see a psychologist (which, ironically, is my ex-MIL’s profession!), and documenting the abuse, would make any difference in determining whether or not they have to see their grandmother?

    • fleur66

      My advice to you would be document everything you hear, in a spreadsheet or similar. You have every right to protect your children from toxic people, even if they masquerade as ‘sweet Granma’. Also document your husbands failure to defend them (and I suspect he failed to support you when you were together). Do not be afraid to enforce boundaries. YOU CAN dictate who sees your children. If you dont stick up for them who will? Your husband has likely been trained by her over the years and justifies her BS ego trips. He is enabling her toxic behaviour.

  15. Debra

    But what if it’s the single parent who is like this ?
    And you live with him/her as you are the grandparent watching this behavior??

    • Hi Debra, my blog is about having a narcissistic mother-in-law as this is what I have directly experienced. I don’t have any personal insights on dealing with a narcissistic adult child. The website “Out of the Fog” has a well moderated and useful forum with a whole section for people like you with children who show signs of personality disorders. You may find the help and support you are seeking there.

  16. Er… There are so many things here that are ringing bells cause we have seen our mother’s mum do a lot of this shit. Everything was a secret (spoiling our tea with chocolate) and we were treats to be wheeled out for her pleasure- if we didn’t sit still and act like she expected, we were pariahs until next time, when we had to redeem ourselves. Thank you for writing this. X

  17. Sarah

    Hi Fierce Cork Woman. Thank you so so much for this blog. I started reading because I discovered in the last few months that my mum has narcissistic tendencies. I have found it hard to process this. My husband has been aware of my mum’s (his MIL’s) negative behaviours for a long time so I searched for a site to help me provide support for him in dealing with a N MIL (as well as me dealing with a N mother) (Yes I know focussing on sorting out other people’s problems is a good distraction from dealing with my own!). Anyway, I have found your blog so helpful as you describe things so clearly. I think my mum’s mum (who I loved dearly, and felt very loved by) also had narcissistic tendencies. When I was a teenager (I can’t remember what age it started) she would tell me how much she had done for me and my sisters and my parents, and how awful my dad was (he wasn’t). I listened and supported her as I thought it would stop her telling my mum all this. When I got to 18, she wanted me to tell my dad what she thought of him! I didn’t. Although I heard her abuse of him I did not for a minute believe her, I would just try to cheer her up and get her onto other topics of conversation. She died when I was 20 – I am now 43 and am starting to process all the inappropriate stuff she thought was acceptable to pass on to me.
    Relationships with grandparents can be wonderful, but I don’t think they are a necessity, and the grandparents certainly should not off load their feelings onto grandchildren and try to encourage family divisions.

  18. Cam

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m an actual victim of type of behavior from my grandmother. I live with my parents and grandparents and my grandma tells me to keep secrets from my parents often. It was all very suspicious to me.

    Once I got in a fight that was not really as big a deal as she made it out to be. I had lost my temper and cursed at her. Once it settled she acted like the victim and scolded me for cursing. She wasn’t sympathetic and she wasn’t comforting afterwards. If that were either of my parents they would be frustrated at first but would be very understanding. Now I know that she is a narcissist. This piece was strangley comforting and I thank the writer. I won’t be influenced by that women anymore

    • I’m glad you can see her for what she is and know how far you can trust her in future. It is sad to realise a person close to us cannot be fully relied upon and must be kept contained at a psychological distance from us for our own well being. But this allows a relationship to continue in a controlled way. I am in a similar situation with my father who had a drink problem and was abusive, although he doesn’t live with me.

      It is amazing how simply contrasting the behaviour of a dysfunctional person with that of a loving person (your parents as you describe) allows us to see what is amiss.

  19. Danielle Rodriguez

    THANK YOU for this post! My 16 year old daughter just returned from an 11 day stay with my Narc mother. I warned my daughter about going to visit, but she wanted to go to the beach, my Narc mother allowed her to bring a friend. A very smart and sweet young lady. I am appauld and embarrassed how the trip went.

    I knew it was not going well when my mother called to complain daily about the girls. Finally 5 days ago I said, what would you like for me to do regarding this siutation? She said take my side! I said please do not call me 600 miles away to complain. She said THIS IS MY HOUSE I can do and say what I want! I said goodbye and hung up. Only to receive a very nasty email that I filed with the others.

    My daughter begins to text me how the verbal abuse has gotten more intense. I am sure this was to get back at me. She told my daughter she had no heart, how my son was perfect and she sends him money to college all the time. How my almost 45 year old brother(who has always been the golden child, never married and is a recovering alocholic) and his 47 year old girlfriend were better house guest than her! She belittled my dauther and her friend.

    THen my mom is sending me pictures of work being done on her boat dock. I do not respond, then she sends me a text telling me to have MY daughter call her as she is out in Fla and she is not answering her phone. I call my daughter who answers and I said you need to call your grandmother, she said I am on the phone with her. right now. Again another attempt to get me to interact with her.

    Since my father’s death almost 6 years ago she has gotten worse. I have been in therapy regarding her for many years. She tells people she graduated from college, she did not, dropped out at 19. I have a Masters degree and I have never said implied that i am smarter than her. She has told me my entire life she is smarter than me, I am a liar, my firends talk behind my back.This has caused me to be a people pleaser. In addition it has caused me to marry, (divorce) and date Narc Men.

    As an adult I realize why I was so close to her mother/my grandmother, because I had not relationship or healthy communication with my own mother. I was very close to my father. I am attempting to break the emotional abuse with my mother, and with my children. It is hard and exhausting. My brother has Narc tendicies and see’s how difficult my mother is but when you are the golden child you can say and do what you want. My brother currently lives on the family 400 acre farm free of charge with his girlfriend, and can not hold a job. I am a single mom who works two jobs has a son in college and I am told what a horrible mother I am. Outside of going no contact with mother I have no idea how to deal with her evil ways. Suggestions would be helpful. Thank you,

  20. Beyond fed up

    “Don’t listen to her, listen to granny. Granny gives you candy.” This is what MIL said to DS after she disappeared with him, failing to answer our phone calls. We were in a big public park and she had him for all of 20 minutes, which turned into two hours. I was frantic, and about to call the police at this point, when my husband found them. We had split up to hunt for them. For all I know, she only “appeared” because he may have told her the police were about to get involved. So this was her response, right in front of both of us. She gave him candy because we had told her not to, due to DS’ food allergies and bad reactions to food dyes and preservatives. He would get an asthma type of reaction, so we were worried about anaphylaxis. He was undergoing allergy testing at the time.

    That is what she did, and it was the last time I saw her. It took another three years for my husband to come to his senses and join me in no contact.

    This time she phoned my husband while I was out of town, at my mother’s bedside. Mom was in intensive care with heart problems for several days, which culminated in surgery. My H told his mommy everything. MIL called him back and asked him to send DS out of town to a pediatric nephrologist appointment that her golden grandson was attending. She instructed my husband not to tell me. Even my H realized this was not a good thing. He declined and phoned me. I was extremely upset, and my H finally realized that Mommy Dearest meant to harm our child. This stunning “insensitivity” was not the end for him and her. The end came a few weeks later when I received a threatening anonymous letter in cutout, ransom-style. DS asked his daddy why mommy was crying. I wanted to call the police again. I had had enough. We consulted a lawyer and sent MIL a cease and desist letter, followed by a no-contact letter she ignored. We moved. Disappearing ended all contact with her.

    • Oh my goodness! What a catalogue of outright abusive behaviour. Bravo for going to a lawyer and getting it sorted. I am sorry to hear what you had to tolerate, having someone try and get hold of your child while you are away dealing with your mother who is having a health crisis is just awful. Narcissists can take blatant advantage of someone’s misfortune to get their own way. Your MIL sound like she has some overlap with anti-social personality disorder (or psychopathy). I hope you have been able to relax into your new home and this is receding into the past for you.

    • Tiffany

      ‘Beyond fed up’ Oh my, big hugs! She sounds soooo much like my mother. Feeding my child dairy products while taking care of her. She is lactose intolerant… I wondered why she stared to have regular diarrea and stomac cramps, until I realised grandma’s game. It is a year ago, we went low contact ever since, visit my parents only once a year now. I had called the police, if anything to prevent my husband to aply violence (he is a very peacefull guy with a big heart, would literally never hurt a fly. At the same time, he is skilled in martial art, and he WILL fight if anyone treathens his family.) Much love to you, you are not alone! We just visited my parents, this my husband and I took turn breathing down her neck, which forced her to play nice. Only FIVE SECONDS she had a headstart to the kitchen and I found her wispering in my daughters ear 😦 Luckily, it was “ONLY” -hurry, eat that cookie before your mom finds out, she will never allow it- totally undermining my autority in front of my child. I am so thankful for this blog, I’ve been looking for resources how to handle NARC grandmothers. Such a big help. We chose to keep low contact, and then to show by example how to set boundaries and openly set aside politenes when something is off. My mom is forious. She now lost interest for my smallest child, as she realised she will never be able to groom him he way she did my oldest. But my oldest is getting away from her as well, so I suspect she will loose interest if my sister ever starts to have children (new toys for grandma).

      • Al

        What is about these people that they don’t understand allergies? My monster-in-law left peanuts in my toddler’s room and his sister is severely allergic, and the doctors had told us not to bring peanuts in the house. She left them where he would’ve ingested them. He had not been tested, but there is a good chance.
        When my husband wrote a very calm letter to his mother urging her to “take these concerns seriously” she went into full-blown I-am-so-upset mode. Then he got phone calls from his dad for being cruel to her. “You are killing your mom” he said. Then we both got scolded for taking the kids to restaurants (any restaurants).

      • Lisa

        It’s all about power. My mother was the same with my nephew. My sister told my mother that he did not eat chocolate and as soon as she had gone she gave him chocolate. I was accused of “telling her off” after I pointed out that my sister had a reason for her decision and she had to respect that. It was as though I was her mother. Growing up I always felt the power struggle as I’m similar in personality to my grandmother, its very confusing. The “secrets”, “deals” and other selfish immature behaviour has affected me so much and I did my best to heal from it. As a child i was allergic to cows milk and had to have soya milk, but i grew out of the allergy (apparently). when this happened to my nephew I realised that my mother is so self absorbed that she could have made a similar decision for me to drink cows milk and say I wasnt allergic to it. It as it was a cheaper option that made her life easier and no one would have known. I have no proof of this of course but I am horrified to think I have endured a lifetime of digestive problems due to this.

        I tried to protect my nephew as much as possible but my sister did nothing, as far as I’m aware. Both my mother and sister enjoy power games and belittling others. I struggled with this, but now I see it for what it is and for nearly 20 years now have done my best to dismantle the beliefs and programming that allows abuse. Its awful that people feel its ok to do this, just to defy some invisible auhority that told them what to do when they didn’t want to and forced them to do it. That is the only rational reason I can come up with. It’s cruel.

      • It’s weird how narcissistic and dysfunctional adults can switch from being the disapproving dominant parent to acting like naughty children. My MIL delights in recounting stories about how naughty she was as a young person. Narcissists have little or no respect for authority as they think they know better than everyone else.

        There is a branch of psychology called transactional analysis which explains the child-adult-parent interactions that can play out in dysfunctional families. It really does look like your mother is trying to be the naughty child and paints you into a corner as the rebuking parent. The key to breaking this is to take on the adult role and not fall into the role she is trying to push on you. It makes me wonder what sort of childhood these people had. Does your mother act like this because she is repeating how she was naughty and indulged without proper boundaries as a child? Or is she trying to provoke a reaction from a “parent” that she never had as a child, no one ever showed enough interest in her or made her feel secure by setting appropriate limits on her behaviour? Children can become very stressed and narcissistic if they are the ones running the show, if the adults around them cannot act as adults and impose boundaries. You seem to be describing a pattern of behaviour repeating down generations.

  21. Michelle

    Hi, I am really interested in your opinion of how to keep a narcissistic grandmother away from children. We have tried to cut her out of all of our lives to protect our kids however she continues to threaten us with courts and legal action if she does not get her own way. My husband and I are really desperate, he suffered as a child being raised by her and still suffers from her abuse as an adult today. We don’t want this for our children! Any help you could give would be very much appreciated

    • Hi, I am unable to offer legal advice. I live in a country where grandparents have no legal right to access to their grandchildren. I know there are some countries where grandparents can have recourse to the courts.

      Obvious things that help in this situation are to keep a detailed diary of incidents that have occurred and are ongoing. You need evidence incase she actually manages to persuade someone to legally represent her. You should also consult a solicitor/lawyer who specialises in family law for an initial consultation so you are fully aware of what your rights are.

      People often use threats to get their own way but don’t follow them up. I don’t know if that is happening here. Bullies do eventually need to have their bluff called. You can’t live your life under her threats and intimidation. I would have thought your husband giving evidence against his own mother would be listened to in a court. A lawyer in your own country would know best how to proceed.

  22. Kristyna V

    Hello, I also have a narcissistic grandmother and I really don´t know what to do with her.
    Here is my story: (Excuse my English, please, I´m not native and I´m sorry that it´s so long).

    My mum always knew she has a horror like mother in law, but she tought that, at least, she was good granny to me.
    She was nice at first, I think, altought when I was about 4 or 5 years old, she spent hours talking to me about her bad and ruined life and all the people that hurted her. Later she started filling me with all the details that my own mum did wrong, how she is so mean to her, how she is mean to me. She thought me to tell that I will “tame” my mum when I am older. I was very confused. I didnt know what to think and felt guilty for feeling good while being with my mum. When she is such a bad person.

    And I really did felt the best with my mum. My dad suffered from untreated depression for many years (for whole my childhood and half of my teen years) and it was very stresful living. He often made a scenes, was arguing with my mum all the time and was verbally abusive to me.

    And then there was granny. Not just she talked to me badly about my mum and other people close to me, she never cuddled with me or showed me love in any way expect when other people were around, then she was a fairy grandma. She was also very mad at me when I was homesick and missed mum, she told me to shut up and just sleep. She wanted me to be with her often, but I WAS with her often, for most of my holidays (even for the summer holidays) and during my frequent illnesses. But I didn´t want to be with her, I wanted to be with my mum, with whom I felt good and safe. She never showed me love but wanted to me to show her love desperately, and made me feel bad when I didn´t want to be with her. She was (and still is) a master of emotional blackmailing and distorting. I felt so bad, I couldn´t sleep, I just wandered throught her dark flat and wanted to be desperately somewhere else, with someone who loved me and would help me.

    Grandma was also making fun of me, constantly throwed me down emotionally, and was manipulating me completely. For example I couldn´t wash my hair more often then once a week in puberty, even when my hair were very oily. I did, of course, but I had to lie to her. I remember her laughting to me so much because of something stupid I said or did, I begged her to stop but she didn´t, she laughted even more.

    I also had to spent almost whole summer holidays in my grandmother´s brother´s house, where I hated it. It was often dirty here, someone was always arguing there, (they all hated each other) and I simply had to be there. Emotional throwing down and taunting got even worse there.

    When I was 16, I broke down mentally completely.

    And now, when I´m 21 years old, she is so suprised I am not visiting her often. But I just can´t. Memories are killing me. But she still wants me to be with her, she is still trying to make me feel bad about not visiting her.
    I understand she is sad and lonely, but I just can´t. She is still very manipulative and I don´t know what to do with her.
    Any advices on how to deal with her? Thank you, Kristyna.

    • I would keep doing what you are doing. You are listening to the messages from your body and your emotions and acting on them to keep yourself safe. That is very important. Years of emotional manipulation and abuse can make people doubt their instincts. Keep listening to yours and do not feel guilty about doing what is necessary to keep yourself away from a toxic person.

      You are describing a history of emotional and verbal abuse. This will have had a damaging effect on you which as a young person of 21 you are only just beginning to come to terms with. It is great that you are able to see the difficult and dysfunctional behaviour in your family and describe it. You have a long way to go before you can say you have successfully dealt with the fallout.

      At your age it is normal and healthy to break free from family ties and move out into the world a bit more. Everyone does. Rather than feel bad about not visiting an abusive women who treated you appallingly, allow yourself to feel the normal and healthy process of becoming who you are. You do not have to visit a relative. Her loneliness is a direct result of her mistreatment of many people over many years and is not your responsibility to fix. It is normal for a young woman to be busy with her own life. Go and get busy with your life and leave your vicious grandmother to hers. We have a saying in English, “You made your bed, now lie in it” to describe living with the consequence of your actions. Your grandmother needs to be left to lie in her lonely, old bed.

      If in a while, maybe a few years, when you feel you have stronger boundaries and the trauma of what was done to you has lessened, you can choose to have limited contact with your grandmother. I would not advise contacting her regularly and visiting her house to stay while you are vulnerable and coming to terms with her abusive behaviour towards you.

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