Denial and the Cassandra Complex

It has taken me quite a while to get this post up on here. I started writing it two weeks ago and then sat on it. I could tell you this was because my sister got married and we were busy with the house sale and people came to visit and we visited people all of which would be true, but these are not the reasons I didn’t post it. I have struggled with this post because I am struggling with this issue. It was all a bit too close to home and I had to wait until the emotions it woke within me were more manageable before I could write this down. So here it is, and I’ll start with a declaration. I am Cassandra.

Mythology and Archetypes

Cassandra had a hard life. She was a princess in Greek mythology, the daughter of King Priam of Troy, the same Troy that was attacked and destroyed by the Greeks to avenge the abduction of the beautiful Helen by Cassandra’s brother Paris. Cassandra was a priestess in the temple of Apollo, she devoted her life to the proper worship and respect of the Gods. Apollo saw her in his temple and was overcome by her beauty. He gave her the gift of prophecy which would have been highly desirable in a priestess as Greeks consulted oracles to help guide their decisions, but then he wanted to have sex with her. She refused as all priestesses are obliged to remain virgins, and he cursed her gift so no one would believe the prophecies she made.

Cassandra proclaimed her visions, but her family and the people of Troy thought she was mad and a liar. She saw in her prophetic visions everything that came to pass regarding the destruction of Troy, when Helen came to Troy Cassandra tore at her golden veil and her hair in fury at what Helen would do to her home city. Repeatedly misunderstood, ridiculed and insulted her tale did not end well, she was brutally raped by Ajax, one of the Greek warriors who sacked Troy, in a temple to the Goddess Athena who viciously punished the Greeks by sinking many of their boats as they returned from the war. Eventually she was taken as a concubine by King Agamemnon, before being murdered with him by the king’s adulterous wife and her lover.

So what exactly does this have to do with you and your dysfunctional mother-in-law? Cassandra is an archetype, a mythological character whose story reveals truths we can relate to. Her experience of telling the truth and being disbelieved is common to anyone who lives with a spouse in denial and a disordered mother-in-law.

The branch of psychoanalysis developed by C.G. Jung emphasises the repeating patterns found in stories from all around the world. There are many commonalities between the main characters in legends from many differing cultures. Jung made the obvious point that there seems to be a common mythology which everyone on the planet shares. Then he went a step further a postulated that this is because we all have a shared unconscious set of symbols, characters and tales which we can all relate too. These symbols and archetypal characters appear in dreams as well as myths and legends and are a way our minds have developed to try and articulate what is going on in the subconscious and unconscious of our individual minds. Spookily it also describes the subconscious and unconscious of our collective human mind, the collective unconscious.

The stories told around firesides for millennia tell us fundamental truths about our psyches. The characters we encounter in myths and legends are exaggerated versions of ourselves and the people we meet. Their trials are our trials. By seeing with whom we identify in mythology we can glimpse a part of our unconscious motivations and find ways to express our repressed emotions. I identify with Cassandra.

The Cassandra Complex

The term Cassandra Complex is used to describe a situation where valid warnings are dismissed or disbelieved. Within psychology the term is applied to individuals who are experiencing a real (not imagined) situation which is causing them great distress and emotional pain but who are disbelieved when they try to explain what is the source of their distress. These poor people end up feeling their concerns and pain are being ignored. Sound familiar?

Over and over I hinted, suggested and implied that maybe there was something not quite right about how my husband’s mother behaves. I was dismissed. My suggestions were batted away as misunderstandings and mistakes. Then I became bolder, I spelled out how she had been hurtful, how I was excluded, how I disliked being in her company and the stress it caused. This was met with surprise, astonishment even. What I described wasn’t what he had seen. He hadn’t noticed the snidey remarks, the deliberate exclusions, the dismissive and derogatory comments. I grew bolder still, like Cassandra wrenching at Helen’s clothes I called it out, your mother is ill, she shows every sign of having a serious behavioural disorder, she is not normal. Again I was not believed, my warnings were dismissed. I am living the Cassandra Complex.

Valid warnings are ignored when the person giving the warnings is surrounded by others who cannot or do not want to see their truth. People who have been brainwashed or indoctrinated into accepting something as normal when in fact it is no such thing cannot see what is evident to you/Cassandra. People in denial do not want to see what is clear as the nose on your face. Your spouse most likely has both brainwashing and denial operating to render them blind to what you see so clearly. So this is the Big One – you see a very disordered woman with a very dysfunctional family set up and tell it like you see it and no one believes you. If you say what you see, “Your mother is weird/crazy/horrible/evil!”, your spouse’s reply is “No she’s not you are mad/a liar”.

There are other smaller ways in which I am Cassandra as my husband denies things I can plainly see. These play out like minor battles in the siege of Troy that is our family life with the Trojan Horse MIL in our midst. He is very unconscious of his own feelings and can act in a way that quite obviously shows me he is angry with me but he will out right deny this when asked. Days later however, he may be able to say that he had been angry at that time. It does take days, even weeks sometimes. It took him two years to admit he felt anger towards me for having post natal depression after our second child was born. Two years of constant denial whenever I suggested that maybe he felt angry with me and blamed me for not being there for him. Now, finally he tentatively speaks of this. What is the effect of having your observations and reality constantly denied by the people around you?

Living with the Cassandra Complex

Let’s explore the effect of having your perceptions and insights dismissed over and over again by the one person you are most emotionally intimate with. What is it like to be Cassandra? In the myths she went insane. Nice. Fortunately myths and legends can be taken metaphorically not literally. At the very least this suggests that repeated denial of your reality leads to a lot of emotional turmoil and a reduction in your sense of who you are. Going insane would be total collapse of who you were.

One seemingly unrelated area of psychology – the field of autism – has thrown up an interesting and very useful concept. They even use the phrase Cassandra Syndrome to describe it. This is when a person marries someone with an undiagnosed autistic spectrum disorder. The spouse may well be holding down a good job and having a social life but there is something about their behaviour which is just, well, not normal. Tentatively the neuro-typical partner starts to point this out to people and ask questions in the family and amongst friends and, you guessed it, is disbelieved. This leads to a whole host of problems including depression, sleep problems, lethargy, social withdrawl, anxiety, loss of libido and mood changes. Some researchers have gone as far as to call it affective deprivation disorder, meaning a disorder experienced as the result of having a lack of emotional mirroring and closeness with your life partner. Wow, this is exactly what living with constant denial is like.

What happens is that doubt starts to creep in. Doubt about your conclusions regarding the witchy-woo mother-in-law and doubt about your perceptions. You would begin to question if you really had seen or heard what you thought you had. You would begin to doubt the conclusions and assumptions you had made about other relationships with other people for surely if you are so wrong in this case you may be wrong in others. You would begin to doubt yourself. Maybe you are the one with the problem. If your spouse says there is no problem with his mother, your sister or brother in law says no, the father in law says no and they have lived with her for years then surely you must be the one in the wrong.

To doubt yourself, the truth of your senses, your deductions, your very capacity to deduce correctly, this is what happens when faced with such outright denial of your observations. You are robbed of your very essence, your security in your own perception of the world. This is ghastly and damaging.

Alice Miller is a psychotherapist who works intensely in the area of allowing people to uncover the cruelties and pain of their childhoods. She says the central need of every human being is to express themselves and show themselves to the world as they truly are. Then comes the related and just as important need to have someone treat that true and honest expression with respect, to take it seriously and try to understand you with empathy. This is not happening when your spouse denies your perception of your MIL’s behaviour.

So how can you cope with this situation? One route to coping with this is to give in and stop saying anything about the MIL, effectively to collude in the spouse’s denial. If this was the route you had adopted you would not be reading this blog because you would choose to adopt the viewpoint of your spouse in denial and regard your MIL as normal but a bit difficult maybe (but you’d only say that in a really quiet voice). Cassandra did not do this, even when incarcerated in a jail she continued saying what she saw and never once took on the views of the townspeople that she was wrong. That should be a lesson to us.

Your spouse doesn’t have to agree with your reality, but to repeatedly deny your reality as you see it is abusive. Hold fast Cassandras. Your version of reality is completely valid and you can, you must express it. Do not loose yourself amidst all the crazy-making behaviour of your spouse’s family. To give in or start to doubt yourself will lead down the line to some pretty serious self-disgust.

When finally you realise that you were right all this time and that you have been blindsided by your spouse’s denial of the truth, you will feel anger. It will rise up from the root of your being as it is that very root that has been attacked. You will be furious and indignant. I-told-you-so doesn’t come close to the geyser of outrage that will boil up. The more dismissive your partner the more angry you will feel. Anger is a life-saving emotion. It spills out not only when you are in physical danger but to protect and defend your psychological integrity from attack. Get angry. You self is worth defending.

But under this rage at the doubters and deniers will be anger at yourself, for having doubted yourself. How, your true self will howl, could you have believed even for a second that you were wrong? Hot angry tears at having rejected your own gut feelings, your instincts and your conclusions will spring in your eyes. You may well feel very ashamed of yourself. It is one thing to have others doubt you but something else entirely to doubt yourself. We do not have to go down this route.

Dealing effectively with the Cassandra Complex involves setting boundaries and respecting differences. You do not have to share a world view with your spouse. He likes coffee, you drink tea, so be it. In a disordered family everyone is expected to agree with the disordered person’s world view, there are no boundaries or respect for differences. Your spouse is going to bring that level of enmeshment into your relationship and will naturally expect you to mesh into his or her family way. Resist. Your boundary is around your  mind. You can think whatever you want and  you can come to whatever conclusion you want even if that conclusion is starkly at odds with your spouse, their father, sister, brother, second cousin twice removed or whoever.

Verbally express your view “I found your mother’s behaviour really abnormal and rude today” and hold the boundary when they reply “No it wasn’t, you are so unfair on her!” get’s met with “I am entitled to any opinion I want, and to express it. If you continue to deny that right this conversation will end”. Alternatives are along this lines of “what I see and hear does not have to match what you see and hear, we are different people” and “what I think and feel does not have to match what you think and feel…”. You will also have to reassure them as this emphasis on difference and the implicit threat of conflict with someone who is holding a different view can be very threatening to a child of an NPD mother. So say something like “our different viewpoints together give us a better overall picture of what is going on” or “it’s healthy and normal to have different perceptions and opinions”. They do actually need to be reminded that you are you and have a whole world in your head which is not the same as theirs because their mother has spent years trying to force her world into their heads in total disregard for their own thoughts and feelings. They will do the same just because they don’t know any better. They need to know that differences in relationships are desirable, not to be erased.

Remember denial is all about not facing an unpleasant truth. It is our unpleasant truth to realise that sometimes our partners find it easier to inflict damage upon us through their constant denial than to face up the the mummy-monster and their own fears. We do not have to go insane. Cassandra in another version of the story remained completely sane and held fast in her prophecies in the face of all the doubters and disbelievers. You can do that too.

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57 Comments

Filed under Denial, Effects of NPD on others, emotions, Helping your spouse deal with NPD mum, How NPD MIL affects a marriage, marriage and NPD MIL

57 responses to “Denial and the Cassandra Complex

  1. alabaster77

    Thank You SO much! This post is Perfectly timed, very applicable/ informative and such a huge confirmation for me. Thank You for highlighting and encouraging us to trust our perceptions. It certainly is the defining line between sanity/insanity. I know it goes much deeper than this but my internal catch phrase in the chaos is
    “Whatever your selling, I’m Not buying it” and in a small way, it helps. As for you Miss Fiercecorkwoman, you help in much bigger ways. Thank You!

  2. Al

    Thank you for writing this. I can imagine how hard it must have been to write this. I have been going through experience quite similar to yours, and it was hard for me see this in black and white.

  3. green star

    Wow, great post! I can see how this was difficult to write….it’s a difficult topic for many of us here I think. I’m very grateful that my husband and I are on “the same page” now when it comes to nmil, but it certainly wasn’t always that way. Funny too how you should mention autism in this post as well, as that is something that has also touched my family (although not exactly in the way described here – in my case it was my son’s diagnosis I was seeking, not my husband’s). The level of frustration and anger you describe really hits home, and something I am still dealing with as well.

    So, I if may ask you FCW, and other readers as well, do you harbor any resentment toward your husband for his denial and the role he played while you were dealing with nmil’s snarky comments and general bad behavior? And how did you overcome it? Sorry, if that’s too personal a question. Like I said before, I’m grateful that husband and I can see eye to eye now, but there were many years of me being excluded by his family, harassing questions, and other slights by nmil that he swept under the rug at the time, and I’m not sure what to DO with those feelings. I find myself depressed and anxious at times, with little confidence in my ability to see things clearly or to speak up when things don’t seem right, and think that these experiences have much to do with that.

  4. Male in his 40s

    FCW, that is an excellent article. It resonates with me on every level. It is almost my story exactly… It took our marriage counsellor (a clinical psychologist) to pull me aside and let me know his theory as to what was going on. At the time, he just said that he thought she had a PD – he didn’t say what type. I typed ‘personality disorders’ into Google and NPD ticked all the boxes – he later clarified that for me and began helping me (but I have had to keep my knowledge so secret). Nine months later with a lot of personal and couples therapy, my marriage is in a better place – but the issue with the NPD is still the massive elephant in the room.

    If I may Green Star, with regard to your question, I don’t feel resentment to my wife – it isn’t her fault that she is co-dependant to her NPD mother. I used to though, and it used to make me so angry that she couldn’t see what was going on, and deny, minimise, make excuses for her mother, etc.

    I recognise that my wife was conditioned, manipulated, brainwashed (and still is) I feel frustrated that I am powerless to do anything about it. I love my wife, and my family, and knowing that there is a constant threat to our peace and happiness is energy sapping.

    However, I do now have a strong feeling that my wife suspects that her mother has a PD. There have been many subtle clues over the last few months. Due to her profession, my wife is also no stranger to working with people with mental disorders.

    The next time, she raises her mother in conversation, I plan (depending on circumstances), to say something like, ‘I have a gut feeling that you know what is wrong with your mother, and I hope you’ll be able to find the strength to talk about it one day’. I’ll leave it at that and see what happens.

    I hope for a day that my wife finally acknowledges that her mother has a destructive personality disorder. I believe if that happens that will strengthen the love and unity within our own family.

    BTW everyone, from the start of this year, I keep a diary, an electronic one that is password protected – it helps me keep my sanity.

  5. BT

    FCW…Thank you for sharing this very personal post. You have such strength putting your feelings into words. I have found so much comfort in your posts because I have realized that I am not alone in this type of situation. For me, I spent the better part of my marriage being Cassandra and can truly relate to every thing that you have written about. My husband and I were on the verge of divorce when we finally found a counselor that got my husband to realize the affects of his dismissive reaction had on me. I had lost so much of myself when my feelings were dismissed. I felt traumatize because the one person who said he loved me made me feel as if I didn’t matter – only recently have I realized that I was living with abuse. It has taken a lot of time for me to get over this. I harbored so much anger. I was angry at myself for going along with this way of living for as long as I did. I was angry at my husband because he did not protect me from his family and I was angry at my FIL for not doing anything to step in to protect his son. It took time for me to realize that a lot of the behavior my husband demonstrated was to some extent learned…my husband learned not to step in to help others in the family because as I stated before, no one stepped in to help protect him. My husband has learned to dismiss feelings of others because that was how he was treated. It truly is a sad situation.

    One thing that has helped me (so far) to get past the anger at myself and the anger at my husband (I still have a lot of anger at my FIL, so I’m still a work on progress!) has been to train to become a yoga instructor. This has actually helped me find who I am, err… who I was, so I can start being that person again. There is one book in particular called “Start Where You Are” by Pema Chodron. The book can be a bit confusing at times and I will say that I had to read chapters 2-3 times before they resonated with me. However, once the chapter clicked I was able to apply some of these practices to my life to help with lessening my anger and to put me on a path to forgiveness in order to keep my marriage intact.

  6. Jessie

    This is a wonderful post. I’m always amazed at your level of clarity and your depth of insight. Your ability to home in on the core issues of being married to an ACoN is brilliant. Thanks for your posts and your willingness to open yourself up.

  7. bls

    Wonderful post, very insightful as always. I am at the sad point of realizing when you marry someone that does not care about your feelings and cares more about pleasing a narcissist because they are brainwashed from birth you really do not have a very intimate or full filling marriage. It took two counselors explaining to my husband his parents actions were abusive and to keep them away from our kids for him to follow through on that. I have realized I married someone I do not trust to stand up for what is right and I cannot respect someone I have seen appease pure cruelty. I am staying to protect my children, period… I have had to come to grips with my own failings in choosing him as a partner because the warning signs were there in the beginning. Truth is I grew up with a horrible example for a father and as much as I tried to heal from a tough childhood I choose a man similar to my own father, supportive and weak. I have also came to the ghastly realization my husband is a lot more like his narcissistic parents than not. He is completely passive aggressive and lacks the capacity for empathy. I am staying until our toddler is school aged and then getting out of this empty marriage. You simply do not have much if your partner can see you suffer at the hands of his parents or anyone for that matter and deny deny deny your feelings…nothing special sadly

    • Alabaster

      Thank You BLS, I hear ya and I can Totally relate…. One the bad days, I feel this way too and you really nailed it on the head… You are in the no B/S trauma/ victimization of Narc Abuse and it’s sad, sick and very very wicked….. I commend you on your insight and clarity regarding this evil web and would encourage you to stick FAT to your version of reality… It grieves me greatly that after all my families been through with NMIL my husband would still, blindly hand our children on a platter to her… When I even reflect on his lack umm, balls, with her I can get really really messed up and scared……. Boundaries x 3, and I don’t kid myself that we have to be in one accord about them… For my personal safety and as the responsible parent, I enforce them.. If there’s a breach, I do and would do whatever it takes….. I call cops, speak with neighbors, change locks and set alarms…. But this is not my point entirely…. Time takes time, the reversal of years of brainwashing can’t be done overnight…. gently, gradually I keep chipping away at the distorted thinking and I’m happy to say… I think we’re getting somewhere… Chin up girl and keep fighting the Good Fight!!!

  8. Male in his 40s

    Dear BLS, I feel your pain, as I have been there too. Earlier this year I made the decision to stay in my marriage until my youngest was 16 (only 12 years to go!!) – purely to protect them. I too lost all my trust in my spouse. Just recently there has been a turnaround in my marriage – for the better. While there is still the big elephant in the room, she has decided to make a conscious change, to be more mindful, less self centered, not jealous, express empathy, etc (the exact opposite to narcissism).

    It took a lot of work to get there and a lot of time and expense from my/our psychologist. And I read a lot of books. I nearly gave up at one stage – in fact I briefed a lawyer friend of mine to go out and find a family lawyer that has experience dealing with personality disordered people. I felt abused, lonely, unheard, etc.

    Now as I write this, I am actually enjoying my marriage, and our family. My wife is being a lovely partner and a great parent for most of the time. I know the Dark Lord of the Sith will rear its ugly head again soon to upset the balance, but I think I will be better prepared to deal with it.

    I know it’s hard. If you were me, first and foremost, I would be striving to trust my integrity, and my sanity – and get regular counselling with an expert. I took the courage to share my experiences with friends that I could trust. I I decided to take the role of being the ‘Adult’ in our relationship. I set myself small challenges, tackling one thing at a time. For example, I set myself a three week challenge of only using ‘I Statements’ when conversing with my wife – it was really powerful stuff, and I think the catalyst to reintroducing empathy…

    Alabaster is right in that things cannot change overnight. Your spouse has had years of conditioning and brainwashing… You know it’s funny, two years ago my NPD MIL accused me of brainwashing my daughter against her!!! What she hasn’t worked out is that my daughter is quite emotionally intelligent and probably realises her Grandmother isn’t the full ticket.

    Stay strong.

    • alabaster77

      Your So right – Male in his 40’s, the little ones can be very discerning. My eldest is a blessing child with Autism and can sense the emotional climate of a room before walking through the door.. It’s quite intriguing just to consider the slightest possibility that there may be some connection with NPD and Autism…He wore the brunt of her scheming…..anyways..
      Yes, we need an express bachelors degree in personality disorders, that’s for sure!!! Have to know what your dealing with before we can know a How to deal with em….Must Must must have a safe (preferably professional ) person to relate all the twists and turns to… And again Yes!! Journaling is a huge help for me…. Some days though, with the slightest underhanded maneuver by her, knowing her never ending depths of depravity- I get scared sh##less. Then I remind myself that her past Behavior is a very good indicator of tomorrow’s potential. The difference being, Today I can see it coming!!! 😉 I call it as I see it to my spouse, kick back and watch it play out! Ever so gently whacking his denial with a bat wrapped in silk… Recently I predicted that NMIL and her rented goat (Husband and Father of) were scrambling to by a house before school was out in the hope of having our 2 sons (not our Daughter)stay over Summer… Like clockwork my Hubby gets the call that very last day of school, we bought we’re moving in ‘Will the Boys be coming over this Summer?” My Dear Hubby can’t remain in his denial and succumb to her spell of infantilization. I give him the heads up, I make alternative arrangements, put a cherry on top and the rest is up to him……
      So, All’s well that ends well… Months later and a random gift box arrives for our kids (full of clearance videos for toddlers) same verbatim letter with the names change and a whole $1 bill in each…. I do an address search on their newly built home and I guess they must’ve been in a rush or something…… It turns out that their new neighborhoods quite active with a bucket list of recent arrests and reports with 2 of those being on their specific Brand New Home!!!! Let’s just say that Hubby had to let them know and hasn’t heard a lick since…. Oh Shucks!!
      Oh! By the way…. Next time you have to create a username for a similar female dominated blog perhaps use – YougotMale – I think that every time I see your username!!! Cheers Mate!!

  9. Male in his 40s

    Just wanted to mention that I also keep a journal. I use I cloud, so I can jot things down on my phone or computer – I keep it just in case I ever need to use it (eg family court). it’s great because you can track dates, times etc. you can insert documents, pictures, write heaps of notes. it’s password protected (I put entries in as a code, so I know what they relate to). It’s good for maintaining your sanity!!

  10. green star

    Alabaster, my son has autism too and has never felt comfortable around my NIL’s (don’t know really if fil is an N, they are so enmeshed it’s hard to tell). In my son’s case I think it’s their indirect communication and constant use of sarcasm that puts him off. And their digs, always complaining about other people…but with a laugh and a smile. So hard to read even for a typical person, much less for a socially challenged child. In his black and white world people should be direct with each other and treat each other nicely, and I can’t disagree with him there. You’re right too about the predictability of the N’s behavior, good for you for being able to see it coming and make appropriate plans ahead of time.
    I can really relate to everything everyone has said here…the marriage struggles, anger at myself for allowing this to happen in my own home and for not seeing it for so long, everything. I love the journaling idea Male, a safe place to lay out these these thoughts and feelings. Lol on YougotMale.;) BT, I’ll look for that book next time I’m at the library. Hang in there everyone!

    • alabaster77

      Absolutely Green Star! I have been meaning to reply to your comment since it posted… It’s one thing having the beautiful struggles raising a ‘Blessings Child’ (Spec Needs) but to face off with a NPD inlaw as well must make us truly exceptional people, don’t ya think!! 😉
      After re reading your recent comments you hint at something that I can also really relate to… The dynamic’s of, or just the not so dynamic FIL…
      I struggle with that tremendously, I mean, how on earth do these messily men sleep at night next to those witches… In the face of inconceivable chaos mine just shrugged his shoulders, rolls his eyes and gives the ‘Well, I can’t divorce her! It’s against my belief’s” Aaaaggh!! Many wise crack’s in response to that one…. Anyway, my FIL is the Flying Monkey of monkeys and willfully does her bidding on command….. NMIL uses FIL to communicate with DH. My spouse thinks his politely shut the door to her but he just resumes that same ‘Do as thou wilt’ game with his father being the major player..I’ve read some on the co dependant, inverted narcissism or co narc’s because I just couldn’t put my finger on his game..I’m still not sure exactly but I DO Know that he can be equally destructive!!!!
      Happy Day Everyone!!!

      • green star

        You are totally right about the fil thing Alabaster. I can’t quite put my finger on it either. Is he enabling, or an N too? Weird dynamics there. Nmil gets upset, says some things, using guilt and other tactics, next thing you know its fil calling repeating the same things nmil said earlier only in total rage mode. But then she’ll play the hero, trying to pull him back. She’ll blame him too (“oh, fil doesn’t want to do that” or “I would like that but fil doesn’t”) when we all know its her. Well, not all of us. GC bil thinks its fil that’s the problem, he takes nmil at her word when she blames him. I think he’s just weak. He may bluster and grumble, but he is sulky and passive, not strong, he’s the perfect partner to nmil.

        “It’s one thing having the beautiful struggles raising a ‘Blessings Child’ (Spec Needs) but to face off with a NPD inlaw as well must make us truly exceptional people, don’t ya think!! ;)” Yes, I agree! We’re getting it from both ends, lol. At least in my son’s case though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

    • alabaster77

      Hey Green Star, just a quick response (I need sleep) yep yep yep! FIL’s??
      Early on I had read something that was referred to as Inverted Narc’s. Basically the same psychology as Covert/ or In your face Narcs but lacking in the drive and energy to implement their dastardly plan!! Makes for a perfect marriage to the Narc and somehow they co operate and actually switch positions… It’s clearly my NMIL who’s the master planner with FIL some deviation of Co Dependent but some days I’m not too sure.. Oh Yeah, isn’t it amusing when NMIL pushes them into front battle. Mine actually tries to play subservient Wife… and only when it improves her position to do so… Otherwise, watch out whipping boy!!!! Night night!!!

  11. wow, this is fascinating. I grew up with a bpd mother who gaslit me my whole childhood – anything I said was not believed, so of course I always had doubts about my version of stories. (“maybe I AM wrong…”) I married a man with an npd mother who parentified(s) him. There was no issue with her until my husband moved us close to her to help with her business after she was widowed. Almost immediately (after 17 yrs of marriage), he turned into her partner/spouse, the golden child, a role he had as a kid. i was bumped out, she told me that in so many words. When I pointed out to my husband my discomfort and what she had said to me, I was evil and unsupportive and had clearly misunderstood. He then began an (emotional??) affair with a woman who treated him also like superman, cue academy award level gas lighting, and I am told how crazy and paranoid I am (in 17 yrs of marriage, I never once thought to check in on him, the one time I did, my instinct was spot on). I began to doubt my version of events again, as well as (what I viewed as) his odd relationship with his mother. After news of the affair blew up the family business, mil cut off all contact with me (it’s a MARRIAGE counseling business) and suddenly my husband began to see his mom in a different light. His sibling has also been shocked, after being in the “mom’s best friend”, she has been cast aside (and is hurting). What they thought was motherly behavior is in fact pretty unstable behavior. I’m not sure if any of this has happened soon enough to save my marriage – I would love to run away and never stop – but I do feel a bit validated that every shudder I have had about this woman for almost 20 years was not imagined, but fact, and that my instincts and body (I would get so tense and uncomfortable around her – but she’s so nice!) were not lying to me. Remarkably, I do wake up at 2am wondering if I’m the one who’s off kilter – maybe I did read that situation wrong, just like everyone said, maybe I am a bitch looking for problems. But in the light of day, when I see the damage and disrespect one person can do to a family, I remember I’m right. My 16 year old said to me – “mom, she took us to lunch and a show,but all she did was spend the meal telling the waitress all the great things she was doing for us – she was more concerned with impressing a stranger and talking to her than her 3 grandkids – she never asked us anything, she just told us how much she was influencing us – I’m making memories for you, I’m the grandma who takes you to shows”. It makes my skin crawl. sorry about this rant, but this hit me hard in light of all the ways I’ve been deceived in the last year. Knowing I’m not alone in this craziness is a godsend.

    • green star

      Oh my daisy, the irony there, that they are in a marriage counseling business! My heart breaks for you, and the other commenters here too. If we take nothing else away from these experiences but one thing it MUST be to listen to our instincts.

      My nmil does the same thing to my kids. Spends tons of $ to take us all to Disney but hardly says two words to my kids the whole time. Travels 300 miles to attend one of their bday parties but hardly acknowledges them. Instead she spends the time blabbing to anyone who’s around, building herself up to people she hardly knows. Constantly constructing the facade. “But she’s so nice!” Yep, she’s generous (but there’s always a price to pay for these “gifts”), she’s always offering to help in some way (but never follows through), she’s always laughing and joking (at you or your loved ones expense), she flatters (because she wants something). It’s absolutely crazy making. Take some solace in knowing that you were right the whole time. Hugs!

    • alabaster77

      Hey Daisy, I’m sorry you had to go through all this mess to finally arrive at something bigger then ‘Ben Hur’. Perhaps theres a connection between your upbringing and what you married into… It just plays out differently. Most importantly though, is you must trust yourself and your instincts. Those who don’t know PD types just won’t get it, period! It’s not our job to convince them otherwise because the craziness of the facts can actually make us look crazy…. Isn’t that Crazy??? 😉 Its like Casting your pearls before swine, waking up at 2am from a nightmare about being shot with a pearl BB gun… Only to start questioning whether we’re the wacko ones. 😉
      Granted, we gave the pig the pearls but we don’t load and pull the trigger!
      The feeling we get when in NMILs or Narcs company is very interesting to me… In the beginning I just ignored it or tried to rationalize it away then I used the NMILs ability to change the atmosphere by her presence, as a warning to others. Indiscriminately draw their attention to the vibes in the room and let them make the connections.
      The comparable of the Then and Now’s, before she arrived, now that she’s here facts were the strongest warning to my husband about her destructive nature…. We were Happy, now it’s miserable, what’s the connection???? Be Strong Daisy and don’t write off the old man yet (DH) you just never know…

  12. Becky

    Wow I’m so glad to have found this site!! Never before really saw in print what I have been living with for the last 17 years. My husband is in complete denial about my NMIL………in his eyes she walks on water and I am the one with the problem. But my youngest daughter is only 6……….I am afraid to get a divorce and end up having my kids spend half of their time with HER!! She already has been repeatedly abusive/gaslighting to my 14 year old daughter. I feel that as long as I am here to protect them and set boundaries they will be ok; I cannot imagine what would happen to them if that were not the case. MIL has 3 children: my husband, who worships her, and then a son who committed suicide at age 16, leaving a note blaming his mother, and a daughter who lives in another state in poverty, hates her mother and is so mentally ill that she really cannot function. So my fears about this woman are grounded in reality. Still it is so lonely living with someone whom you cannot trust and who will allow someone to abuse you and your children and do nothing to protect you. and yes, we are seeing a marriage counselor………….our fourth or fifth one, and we have been seeing him for the better part of four and a half years. He tells me husband: yes, your mother is a narcissist, yes she is hurting your marriage, etc etc., but it has done NOTHING at all to break through my husband’s denial about his darling, perfect mother, whom “everyone loves”. It is hard sometimes to have any hope at all, other than counting the years until I can get out.

    • Becky

      Update to my earlier post. In March of this year, my sister-in-law that I described above as living in another state in poverty also committeed suicide, just as her brother had done years before. So of the three children my NMIL had, two have taken their own lives. That speaks volumes about the kind of damage that people with this personality disorder can do. Now the only child she has left is my husband.

  13. Shannon

    I know this is a late response, but I just had to thank you for your blog. Your words are literally and horrifically and eerily mine.

    • Hi Shannon, it is all a bit horrifying isn’t it? I get an actual cold creepy feeling up my spine when I write some of this stuff down. It gives me the shivers. I take that as a sign that I need to go and do something very life affirming and true to myself to ward off the evil. 🙂

  14. I wanted to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly loved every bit of
    it. I have you saved as a favorite to check out new things
    you post…

  15. Claire

    I love this blog – and much of it resonates with me and my current situation. Husband is in major denial. MIL is hard to peg because I believe she is a covert narcissist. She presents herself as kind, generous, giving (to a fault), but if you unplug from her as a source of supply, you will be targeted for character assassination. She has perfected the martyr/victim role and if anyone DARES say anything bad about her, you are worse than an infidel. She spoiled my children beyond comprehension, and in my naivete’, believed they were the luckiest children alive. Now I know that every gift had an emotional price tag that they are now (as adults) expected to repay. Loyalty to her is the repayment. I have only in the last two years began to realize she is personality disordered. I was under her spell for many years, but when I began counseling and discovered my codependency, the boundaries I set with her led to an all out covert assault on me. I disengaged from her and she began to turn my children, husband and extended family against me. She tried to break up my marriage. Now that I have eyes to see her for who she is, I am almost maddened by her manipulation and covert tactics of attack. To the uninformed eye, she goes about this almost undetected. I have brought this to our marriage counselor’s attention, but not seeing a tremendous amount of movement in our sessions. My husband does not know I think she is a covert narcissist. I like our counselor, but I have no idea if he takes me seriously or just blew me off. I am not imagining this woman’s behavior! I am Cassandra!!!

    I would like to know if anyone else out there is dealing with a covert narcissist mother-in-law? I have not been able to find a lot of resources on this.

    • Yes I am, and it is very difficult. Looking back, the pattern was there the whole time!
      Are you seeing passive-aggressive rage as I am?
      I guess the folks that fit into this category are more conscious that their thought processes deviate from typical people and they try very hard to compensate for it. Try as they might, they just don’t truly understand what a truly loving person with a deep level of empathy would behave like. Try as they might, their lack of an inner moral compass will give them away.

      Before I identified covert narcissism, there were many instances that confused me. Now I realize that expecting NMIL to understand and balance the needs of all involved is akin to expecting me to speak Russian at a dinner party. It’s foreign and does not come naturally, no matter how much I might like to. Moving forward, I need to reduce my expectations accordingly. I think you need to find a counsellor who is very familiar with manipulation/cluster b personality disorders.

      I found Dr. George Simon to be a helpful resource on what he calls “covertly aggressive” people. He has an excellent blog as well as some books.

    • Male in his 40s

      This resonates with me Claire, and I feel your pain and anger. Mine was a covert Narc until she came out and revealed her true colours. I still don’t think after two and a half years later that I can grasp the extent of her contempt and the disgraceful levels she has gone to control my wife (and my wife’s siblings as well). And she still continues to tell nasty lies about me to my back.

      Like you I didn’t get far with the marriage counsellor (but he did introduce me to the wild world of Cluster B).

      I now have tougher issues in that I recognise the damage that she has done to my wife, and the knock on effect to my relationship with my wife. There are lots of layers to peel back, which ain’t gonna happen until my wife gets out of her inpenetratable denial.

      Personal counselling has helped me (with a psychologist). That with lots of reading, and regular communication with friends that recognise the situation I am in. NarcMIL (FCWs Blog, this one) is one of the best resources I have found.

      All the best

  16. JDS

    This post on Cassandra resonated with me. I too am Cassandra!!!! Once I could put a finger on what I was dealing with in NMIL with the help of a therapist and then looking up NPD on the Internet and finding websites like this have I been able to begin to make sense of it all.

    Our marriage was in a shambles , I was diagnosed with cancer and the fallout from all the love and support from friends in my community and my family proved to be too much for NMIL to keep hidden and have her reveal herself in a way that finally my husband had to acknowledge she was the most selfish, self centered, ugliest human being in the planet! He still struggles for sure, but for now we can maintain LC as I am not in the clear health wise and I have power, or an excuse, to put myself in a healthy environment.

    The anger I feel upon recognizing what has been going on the last twenty years, the denial of my husband and his family over the years over the way I have been treated is SCARY. I have been told it was me, I’m negative, it’s simply not true (the behavior I have had to deal with from her) or my husband would go radio silent and walk away leave me hanging, use me as a scapegoat to avoid the wrath (which is beyond hurtful and a betrayal) . This denial thing has wreaked havoc on my psyche. I have always been a strong person, an optimistic person, an honest person and one my friends would call empathic but I hardly recognized the person I had become until recent with this last round of therapy and after this website in particular.

    I am finally defrosting and coming back to life. Here is my question to you… I have been told with the cancer that stress and negative emotions must be cut out of your life as best as possible. The angst I feel days before I know I need to see her and the days that follow from just being around her cause me a weeks worth of anxiety, depression, anger at my husband and FIL as they just sit there pretending nothing was just said or done or the fact that she triangulates people, is a MASTER manipulator, does things when no one is looking despite my efforts at working feverishly to never be alone with her is almost too much to bear. My three children are graduating and I will be seeing her this week and next. The father’s day is coming up. That’s a lot of back to back.

    What have people found as a coping strategy for the negative toxic emotions she elicits?

    • Mandy

      I am still struggling with this myself! I am seeing that the more I identify and anticipate dysfunctional behaviours, the more apathetic and less threatened I feel. No matter how fine-tuned NMIL’s “act” is, she won’t be able to hide the core unhealthy issues she struggles with.

      You have uncovered the truth and discussed your concerns with your family. From here on in, she will provide support for your concerns with every visit, she cannot help herself. This will slowly minimize her stranglehold of toxicity and the damage she is capable of with the people you care most about, you just need to be patient, the truth will set you free.

      It’s all a mind game, she only has the power you give her, you have to flip it in your mind. She really is just a sad, lost, spoiled, child, and you have developed and experience the most fulfilling human traits she will never have the joy of knowing. I repeat: SHE WILL NEVER EXPERIENCE THE JOYS OF LIFE AS YOU DO. I hold that thought in my mind and it really helps me. At times I can actually feel sorry for her now, I cannot imagine experiencing motherhood (and life) as she did and still does.

      • JDS

        Hi Mandy,
        You are so right! I like your suggestions and it really is about what I entertain in my head. You are also correct in that she will provide support for my concerns as she cannot help herself. I should find humor in it, if it weren’t such a downer to hear her constant criticism and jealous nature and negative talk about everything and anything but that needs to be expected and realize that it’s a limited time I will need to tolerate it, if I am not holed up in the ladies room, catching my breath. LOL! Thanks for your response…it is aprreciated and I will let you know how it turns out!

      • Good luck JDS! I am also feeling dread in anticipation of a 2 night visit scheduled this month. Ugggghhh…

  17. needpeace

    I am blown away at the moment after reading your blog and the following comments. I have NEVER felt this eerie feeling as if I could have written many of your words myself.
    I am in the middle of this nightmare right now, I told my husband to leave today (he didn’t assuring me he loves me and does want to be with me) after yet another argument about his family and his subsequent bad behaviors that have arisen because of his resentment toward me. Quite literally, this was one of hundreds of arguments on this topic in our 5 year marriage. It really escalated when our first baby was born and is getting really bad now. My once devoted, attentive, romantic, amazing husband is pushing me away more and more. He’s even lying to me about little things and has no respect for my feelings or my wishes. He recently went on a trip with friends that I didn’t approve of at this delicate stage if our relationship despite my warnings of the damage that would result. I am heartbroken.
    I am so THANKFUL that I found your blog tonight, I want you to know that I am moved to tears right now because I don’t feel CRAZY and alone. I felt hopeless that we’d ever be able to stay together but after reading this, I have a glimmer of hope!! I am desperate for advice. My husband was raised by his Step-Gma and bio Grandpa from 5 mos to 8 years and then his mother and step dad until adulthood. I am certain that his mother has NPD after much research, I never knew it existed luckily stumbled upon a quiz and it changed my life. I had begun to doubt myself and instincts because of the way my husband and his controlling family make me fee I nearly had myself convinced that I had post partum depression after both of my children were born. I am also sure that his Gma has a form of NPD as well but a different type….possibly covert after reading here. Long story short, I am on l the verge of seeing a doctor for depression and possibly leaving my husband in hopes of getting his attention since nothing else will work. I am in love with him and do not want to separate but I cannot get through to him that his refusal to put me first and emotional abandonment has hurt me almost to the point of no return. Even if I didn’t love him, I would feel forced to stay to protect my children as many of you have expressed. Those women would swoop in and raise my babies themselves as my husband has no backbone to stand up to either of them. In this case, the breakdown began with his failure to see that the behavior that these women demonstrate is hurtful, crosses healthy boundaries, and is completely undeserved (luckily his mom doesn’t live in the same state but exerts her control nonetheless) as I have been nothing but respectful to each of them and have gone as far as initiating sit down talks with each of them to ask what I have done to deserve their treatment. I have apologized if I have ever done anything. They all hate that I won’t step aside and allow them to control my little family and blatantly refuse to respect my rules regarding our kids. This has resulted in deep resentments on both of our parts. He is in complete denial regarding both women and I fear that his stubborn nature may prevent him from ever admitting it if he does finally see the truth. I might add that I have recently realised that I am highly sensitive perhaps an empath so I am struggling tremendously with his treatment toward me. We haven’t seen a therapist in 6 mos about this issue and I am very fearful that if my therapist doesn’t understand, I could be on the road to divorce. We have only had 2 sessions and as soon as I mentioned that I experience anxiety days before visiting, my therapist chose to focus on me instead of the issue at hand. He even told my husband it was his choice to come back or not. I can say that I need to work on living in the present but the other issues are NOT mine. Any advice is welcome and appreciated, I want to keep my family together and fight to get my husband “back”. I am dealing with expert manipulators to the point that my husband knows nothing else and has accused me of that behavior stating that I play the victim! I told him that I am being completely honest and that he’s projecting their actions on me.

    • Anonymous

      I have lived or am living your exact life! You are NOT alone. My first piece of advice is to NOT have more children. It will only complicate your life. You are correct in that if you were to leave your husband, they would swoop in and care for the kids, which is disastrous. I was diagnosed with cancer and my MIL came out and told me she would take the kids if need be. You can only imagine how those conversations went. Doesn’t that feel sensitive and empathic?! I know my husband would allow for it despite the kids strong desire about never wanting to be with his parents.

      My husband took a job two states away leaving me with three kids to handle while going through my health issues. For years I was manipulated, confused, and minimized over things going on in my life and the children’s lives. It has always been about him despite my efforts at trying to explain and get validation over family matters related to raising a family, issues with in-laws, finances, his jobs, etc.

      My best piece of advice is to find yourself a counselor who understands these disorders. What I learned is that I tend to take on his internal crazy. Because I am rather porous, empathic, sensitive (IN A GOOD WAY). He comes across as so put together, calm, but inside he is bubbling with angst. I am in the process of learning how to keep his internal emotions from being expressed through me. Does this make sense? Stay calm! The start to my keeping calm journey began with counseling, finding a book about mindfulness: “Emotional Chaos to Clarity”, was a good start, this blog FOR SURE, and setting boundaries and sticking to them in a calm way. I am in the midst of this journey and my tendency to is give away my personal power because I am a collaborator by nature and desire so badly to collaborate and be a team with my husband. But as I am coming to realize and ACCEPT is there is no “I” in TEAM, so I need to accept, raise the kids as best I can, because I know, for me, divorce would be a $hit storm.

      We just started family counseling and it is somewhat beneficial in that there is a mediator but I am realistic about the manipulations. I keep working to stay mindful during our sessions and calmly point out that certain things may be his truth but they are certainly not mine.

      Do whatever you can to regain your personal power!!! You must maintain your dignity as a person! Be confident that you are a good person. I have also leaned hard on my faith. There is a book called “The Power of a Praying Wife” and “The power of a praying parent” by Stormy Omartian.

      • Rivka

        NMIL has came so close to destroying our marriage many times, but I could never do that to my kids, she is just PRAYING something will happen to one of us so she can swoop in and take my children! If it were me, he’d let her have unrestricted access and if it were him I don’t doubt for a second she would do anything she could to manipulate the legal system to try and take them from me. Good grief, when my son was born she actually told me if anything ever happened to me she would work to start RE-LACTATING for him!!!! Anytime she’d take him out she’d tell people he was hers 😡 . She bought a BEAUTIFUL bassinet when he was born. She showed me, knowing it was the EXACT one I had wanted to get for him. I thanked her profusely (I was under the impression she was giving it to us for him) but she said she couldn’t give it me because she would need it if anything happened and she needed to raise him!! She STILL HAS IT TOO!! Our youngest is 9 and it’s well known we aren’t having any more and dh is an only child so no babies coming from anywhere else, but she keeps it around as a little reminder. Occasionally she’ll put it somewhere, then send me to go get something near where she put it, or to go look at something which she set it on, you know so I’ll see it and remember that she’s just DYING to raise my children! Sick puppy that one!

        (I posted a comment on another post under another name but then realized it was probably not the best to use that one :p )

      • Your MIL sounds nuts! ANyone that intent upon passing another person’s baby off as their own has no grasp of boundaries at all. She doesn’t see anyone as not her toy to play with. That is dangerous. I am so glad you see this and can prevent the unrestricted access your husband would allow. Of course he would allow it, he was raised by a woman who has acted his whole life as if she can have and do anything she wants and he is just following the pattern he was brought up with.

  18. Male in his 40s

    Question. Does your spouse try to cahrm and manipulate the counsellor and lie during the session? Does he talk over you when you hit a nerve or point out something that is indefensible? Have you noticed if he might be okay with you in the morning of the session, but changes just prior to the session and in the session (like a Mr Hyde).

    Just wondering…

    • Anonymous

      Yes! He has perfected the art of charm. What he does behind closed doors is unbelievable. In addition, he uses guilt masterfully, and implying you are not loyal to the nth degree. Not only that he uses the wounded victim card like nothing I have ever seen before. The way he can turn a situation around is beyond my comprehension. He does not talk over ( I DO THAT BECAUSE AFTER 20 YEARS I AM SICK OF IT ALL- I CAN’T HANDLE THE LIES) what he does is control the conversation with what he calls “pregnant pauses” and “Playing dumb” like “I forgot” or “I don’t know.” He has a very high powered job that if he ‘forgot” or “played dumb” would not get him very far. I know his tactics because occasionally he has let me in on the game when trying to have me join him in the manipulations. It’s so very sick! Therapy is very tricky with these people because if you “OUT” them and their lies there is hell to pay and retribution with the kids as I am seeing.

  19. While I realise I am rather late to these discussions, the above comment about the mil wanting to relactate / calling grandchildren her own children, dredged up some old memories I have. It’s not that I can say for sure that my mil said she was my kids’ mother, but she wouldn’t correct strangers if they mistook her for the mother (I was 20 when my son was born, mil was in her early 40s, so it wasn’t implausible for people to make this mistake). But it was the other stuff too… Like how she’d say to people she cared about my kids more than I did (what a load of utter horseshite), and she made a huge song and dance about how incompetent she thought my parents were as babysitters. But I tell you what, my own parents might sometimes overdo it with the junk food but when my kids spend time with them they’re still humans by the end of it; I can’t say the same for when they’re with the NILs. Thankfully brother in law and his wife are just as narc so they form a wonderfully symbiotic set of relationships and everything’s all about my niece whose IQ is so terribly high that she’s the golden grsnd

    • Apologies for the typo, I hit “post comment” too soon – anyway, the niece, she’s the golden grand child now. I used to feel upset that my son was described as an idiot next to his slightly younger cousin (on standardised testing they got identical results, so there’s no rational basis for this assertion) but now I realise it’s a blessing in disguise because the spotlight isn’t on us.

      • Yes it is a relief when there is a sibling to deflect some of the MIL’s attention! My SIL has (on purpose) chosen to live in another country, argh! But she has had a baby of her own and I would be quite happy for the MIL to spend all her time obsessing about that little one and leave mine alone 😉

  20. I just found your blog and it is truly helping me deal with my feelings with my MIL whom I’ve had a conflict with for 2.5 plus years. It still affects my marriage to this day.

  21. JaneJames

    I don’t even know where to start when I say that I am so happy that I found this site. Everything hits the nail on the head in regards to our situation as well. For almost 10 years I have been dealing with my husband’s dysfunctional relationship with his Mother and Sister. Also throw in the fact his ex is just as bad and that we are a step family (he has 2 kids & we have one together), and the last decade has been hard. Up until about 18 months ago though, I was just confused I think, had lost basically all my self esteem and sense of being and things were pretty low. Sometimes all I could do was cry uncontrollably. The millions of passive aggressive acts towards me, comments, hostility and non-stop blaming led me to have an epic emotional meltdown, which of course made everyone clap their hands and pat themselves on the back. I have lost contact with my step kids who now refuse to visit our house because they say I have a ‘mental illness’ as that’s what MIL and SIL have been telling them for 9 years and my ‘episode’ of course confirms it. I felt so much guilt at first and my husband was sad to begin with, but as the months go by and therapy sessions start to work I realise that this – The Cassandra Complex’ was what I had experienced. The cumulative of years of being dismissed, minimalists and being told I was mad, manipulative, a liar and a basic bad person tipped me over the edge one day, I cracked and cried for almost 6 weeks. I called the suicide crisis line twice and felt like there was nothing left to live for. I can say that My therapist whispering ‘Google NPD’ possibly saved my life. I felt like I have been doing a Rubic’s Cube for ten years and suddenly I got to that point where you can see the way you can get it all to finally work: and click, click, click! It’s solved! I always felt like everyone else says – they know somethings dodgy but they can’t put a finger on it. The only conclusion that makes sense is that it’s us, we’re the bad person.

    Funnily enough it’s the little things that I have found weird that make sense, confirm it all. Like the gifts-giving phenomenon. I would have never picked up on that, but it’s so true. Over the years I have received everything from second hand gifts (or usually toiletries with the ‘free gift with purchase’ label still adhered), right through to dinner $200 vouchers for my favourite restaurant, then next year nothing, not even a Happy Birthday. Sometimes gifts I give are greatful my received, some years they don’t get opened and are left sitting unopened for months on a sideboard before disappearing altogether. My partner has a huge distaste for gifts, hates receiving them and won’t open them, he holds onto them for hours before finally opening them. I’m kind of beginning to understand why. His whole childhood must have been unwrapping his current worth or status as scapegoat or golden child.

    I have gone completely NC, since February, and feel so much better, happier, I feel the anger and resentment subsiding, I feel like there is hope with our enmeshed kids (although that’s a huge complicated issue), and most of all I feel safe.

    • I’m so sorry to hear you have had such a difficult time. To break down and release all those horrible pent in feelings is not something you should feel ashamed of, it will have done you so much good even if it was scary and confusing at the time. Being sucked into the vortex of a dysfunctional family is like finding yourself in a cult you didn’t choose to join. You have endured a great deal of brainwashing, gaslighting and coersive control from these people. These tactics are used by brutal governments to break political prisoners – is it any wonder you had a meltdown!! You reacted in an entirely normal and healthy way to such insidious and horrible treatment.

      You don’t mention if you partner has realised his family’s behaviour is a problem. I hope you are finding he is supportive. Please consider couple’s therapy in addition to your own individual support. It is not surprising his previous partner showed similar behaviours to his mother, it is unfortunate but true that people raised in dysfunctional families unconsciously find themselves most comfortable with others who remind them of those family dynamics.

      No contact is such a blessing, it has made a big difference to me too. Feeling safe in our own homes, in our primary relationships is a fundamental right that sadly our culture doesn’t emphasise enough. Good luck to you.

      • OrganicHispanic

        Thank you FCW for your response. In reply to your query about us as a couple. Well, we’re now in this together. A few years ago he had what I termed ‘an episode’, one morning he had a tantrum and left me. No prizes for guessing where he went. NMIL was on one of her annual trips abroad and had suggested he should have a break while she was away. Turns out SIL was in on it too, telling him they thought he wasn’t happy, I was manipulating him, trapping him with a child, I’m so dark all the time, black, moody, detached from them. The works. He was totally confused our entire relationship and eventually decided they were right, so he left and went to MILs house. The fridge was full of his fave beer and food, pantry stacked, cable TV with sports channels all subscribed too, keys to her new car and a pile of cash on the bench ‘to spend on yourself’. This was all organised before he left me, before she left the country and he never spoke to them about it. He later told me he became so brainwashed that he thought he owed it to them to leave.
        The only thing that had happened was that we had, individually, started working on ourselves in order to try and figure out what was wrong with our relationship, both willing to take full responsibility for our actions. Once he left, he realised after a few months that he didn’t feel better, he felt worse, he felt better when he was at home with us, and that I was the same person regardless of having him around or not. In other words I was strong and calm. His family were buzzing around him like an orgasmic feeding frenzy, falling all over themselves to be the one he ran too. I mean the way they went to the trouble and expense to ‘be there’ was ridiculous. His sister would come and visit me under the guise of ‘being there’ telling me he’s moved on, there’s someone else, I was better off without him, he never really loved me. But I called BS and she didn’t like it. So I said to him ‘is this true’. Then things started to fall into place for him. He woke up to something and it began to change. Then we got back together, regularly attended therapy together and well, his family: everyone pretended to be happy, but something was off. His Mother got even more rude and critical. Our son became left out, things were just not right. Then over Xmas there was an event involving our youngest where he ended up being blamed for being psychically and verbally assaulted (aged 5), which upset me so much that I called it all off and said no more. To their utter horror, instead of remaining passive, my husband stood by me. Since then, all hell has broken loose. It has been text book behaviour, scapegoating, gas lighting, smear campaigns, the ‘she’s crazy’ line on almost every communication. navigating this whole thing together with our therapist had made it easier to deal with because it IS just so classic and textbook!

        We did an initial year both NC and it was the happiest year we have ever had. No fights, just love. We couldn’t believe it. Then after that year NMIL who had been ‘unable to get out of bed because her only son abandoned her and broke her heart’ managed to get to his guilt. He remains low contact and almost every interaction is horrible resulting in an attack or rage or some kind of blame attack towards me and my ‘mental illness’.

        Things are hard, but all I want to do it be there for my husband, get his kids extracted from mom and sis’s evil web and protect our youngest from ever experiencing the BS the other kids have had too. It’s an insidious, deliberating form of abuse and people should be locked away for it.

      • OrganicHispanic

        And apologies for my typos! And subtle name change.

  22. Needpeacenow

    To those of you that were able to get your spouses to “see the light”, what did it take? My therapist is great, she sees all of this for what it is but cannot get a word out of my husband. He cannot see a single thing amiss about his childhood, nothing painful whatsoever.

    • My husband only really took what I had been saying to him about his mother seriously when a Relate counsellor here in the UK said “I know this is normal for your family but can you see it may not be normal for other people?” after I had described an example of his mother’s rude behaviour. Then I slowly fed him the occasional article about narcissism, started using the word more frequently to describe his mother’s behaviour. We eventually ended up in front of a marriage psychoanalyst who was excellent and picked up right away what was amiss in our relationship but it took 15 months of weekly therapy sessions and my moving into a separate bedroom and saying I saw divorce as the only outcome before the last of the avoidance/blame/denial defence mechanisms broke and he really grasped how serious I was and how he had to face up to the problem of his mother and how he had been raised in a controlling and emotionally neglectful environment. 15 months.

      You don’t say how long you have been seeing the therapist for, you may need to stick it out a while longer. Talk about it in an open matter of fact way in your day to day life and if he is amenable to it get him to read some books on the topic. “Toxic Parents” by Susan Forward, “If You Had Controlling Parents” by Dan Neuharth, “Children of the Self Absorbed” by Nina W Brown.

      Breaking through denial is like the sun warming a glacier, nothing much happens for a long time then a slow trickle of water emerges from underneath, gradually building up to a stream, then a river, then a flood. The trickle of water will appear as him occasionally mentioning it himself rather than prompted by you, then he will talk about it a bit more, then seek out information by himself, his emotions around the topic will start to defrost and come out, a little at first but potentially releasing a great deal of anger and hurt towards his abusive mother.

      One of the worst things about this situation is how you can see clearly from outside what the issues are but you cannot make progress as a couple until he is able to see it also. That is incredibly frustrating. It is really important you take care of yourself, and for sometime at least look for support, fun hobbies and social relaxation outside of your relationship. There is a danger in putting our needs on a back burner until, until, until that moment when our partners wake up enough to be able to work with us on repairing things. This can build a lot of resentment in you and put an unreasonable burden on your already stressed spouse. They may not show it but talking about these things will be working away on them under the surface.

      Ultimately it may be that the defences our partners have in place to cope with their abusive mothers are so stubborn that they make little progress even after years of couple’s therapy. At this point you have to decide if the quality of the day to day relationship that you have is good enough for you to continue with as it is unlikely to change. That does involve releasing many expectations you may have reasonably held about what sort of marriage/partnership you would have, it will involve finding ways outside of your primary relationship to meet the needs your partner is unable to meet. This is big loss to be mourned. Alternatively if this seems impossible and their behaviour is too distressing you can decide to end the relationship.

      • Al

        My husband could identify with all the signs of being an ACoN (Adult Child of Narcissist) but who was the N, not his mom, surely not … Took about a year of therapy on his own (without me).

  23. sdf

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  24. It is perfect time to make some plans for the future
    and it is time to be happy. I have read this post
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    • Maia

      I must confess it’s a relief to find out this actually happens. I was starting to wonder if I’m mad or something.
      The narc in my life is my own mother, not my husband’s (even if I strongly suspect my FIL is narc, too) and in the past months I’ve started to avoid her at least emotionally. I am polite but distant, and cool. I let her know nothing of my life if not necessary things.
      The problem is, she is trying to buy me (obviusly). She first tried to play the victim. Didn’t work. She then used the silence treatment. I was very happy of it. She then played nice asking how i was (since i’m pregnant). No way. So now she tries with gifts. She has bought gifts for her grandchild, gifts I did not expect (note that last time she bought ME a gift was 15 years ago and, you guess it, was inappropriate…)
      I took the things for the baby since she did not put strings on it. But I know she will want something back sooner or later. So i discussed it with my husband.
      Guess what? My husband wanted me to call her to thank her because it’s such an useful gift! I had to remind him she is the very same person who …. (here insert a list of horrible things shd did to both of us). He accepted my explanation but I’m not sure he fully understands. He is not aware of being manipulated by her- simply by a gift!
      Not to talk about the friends I talked to about her. Everyone tellibg me: don’t be so harsh, she just wants to be part of you life, to help you with the baby, be patient, she’ll change…
      I do not believe she will change snd I do not want her into my life and expecially not around my daughter. But everyone thinks I’m a bad person for this.
      It’s do difficult. I feel lonely, mad, and angry. I fear I will go mad.

      • Hi Maia, I guess it’s up to you to decide if thanking your mother is something you can do in a purely functional polite sort of way or if this makes you feel to beholden to her. And it’s OK if it does at this time. One of the things I learnt from dealing with my NPD MIL is that what felt too much for me at one point as I asserted myself with her can slowly change in time as she has less affect on me.

        Separating emotionally from a controlling, smothering mother like yours happens in steps and things which seem silly or unimportant to people on the outside (like a thank you or a gift) actually have a much greater symbolic importance which only you can fully appreciate. Stick with doing things which feel right to you. These limits may well relax in time when the emotional entanglement has unravelled more completely but for now you are not going mad! You are finding your own voice and your own way of relating to your mother, on your terms. And that is absolutely OK and what all adults need to do to be successful adults.

  25. Maia

    Thank you very much for your advice!

  26. fionchaor

    Thank you for this post and blog! This has been a godsend. It’s a great help to know that I’m not alone in my experiences, and your posts are invaluable in helping me understand it all.

    It’s been almost 2 years since my husband and I have been living with my NMIL to save for a deposit on our own place. It has been one of the most difficult things that I’ve had to do in my life, and I can definitely feel the toll it has been taking on me, my mental well-being and our marriage. Luckily, we’re now both on the same page having identified the problem (though this didn’t come easily), and we are in the process of getting out and starting the long healing process ahead of us as a couple, and the even longer one ahead for my husband as the son of a NM.

    I was Cassandra…feeling I was going to lose my mind.
    How could my husband not see what I was seeing, despite my attempts to logically and rationally point it out? How could he not see that this isn’t normal? I didn’t know exactly what was wrong back then, but it was as clear as day to me that something was grotesquely wrong. And while there were times when my husband seemed to take on board what I said, and we were able to agree that some of my NMIL’s characteristics were very difficult to deal with and ‘not normal’, more often than not, he usually dismissed what I was feeling. As a result, I could feel my sanity slowly being eroded. I started going through this up and down cycle of feeling I knew in my gut what my NMIL really meant one minute – not only about what she said/did to me, but also what she said/did to my husband and his brother and even other people – and then doubting myself the next. “If everybody else says it’s ok, then it must be so…right? But then why do I feel so awful about it? Something must be really wrong with me if I can’t just cope with and accept this while everybody else is able to.” It was taking it’s toll on my husband too, but understandably so, he was unable and unwilling to admit something was truly wrong because of the 30 odd years of brainwashing and programming he was subjected to.

    Without getting into too much more at the moment, I just want to say to the others in a similar stuation – There is hope! Be strong! You are not alone! And you are not crazy! And there are amazing resources out there such as this blog to help and support you while you reign back in your sanity and work to repair your life/marriage. Thank you FCW!

    • Well done you for finding a way through this. Trusting our gut instincts is so important. I too knew there was something really wrong about my MIL’s behaviour but had been conditioned within my own family to comply with others wishes to such an extent that I stifled my feelings in order to go along with my husband’s way of dealing with her. Of course he wasn’t dealing with it at all, it was all denial and appeasement.

      You need to maintain a really strong sense of yourself in the face of this sort of psychological warfare and you did. Good job.

  27. Anon

    Thank you for the post, FCW. I’m supposed to be working but have spent hours on your fantastic blog!

    Reading all the comments, I find that most peoples’ SOs are completely in denial (as opposed to partially so, which is the case of myy DH) and that the Cassandra complex develops as a result of complete and total denial of all NMIL’s abhorrent behaviour on the part of the DIL as well as the ACON.

    In my case, it is different. My DH is the eldest child and only son of a NMIL. He is definitely the ‘golden child’ and his lovely sister is the scapegoat. Predominantly. My NMIL must be very high on the spectrum because she doesn’t bother to be nice to many people to their face. She obviously doesn’t know how people behave in social settings. And she can’t be taught, either. She can only ‘love-bomb’ for limited periods of time before she gets exhausted with pretending and the mask falls off. She is a full-time Minister in a large Christian church, so I suppose she doesn’t deem herself short of “new supply” as people are FORCED to listen to her and there are always visitors to share her “successes as the most perfect woman, wife and mother God EVER created”. My point is, though, that my DH appears to “know” there is something “off” about her but not ‘what’. He is very good at playing her game: telling her what she wants to hear, flattering her, spoiling her with gifts and agreeing with her every whim TO HER FACE… but intermittently he orchestrates scenarios that entirely tear her to shreds and humiliate her, forcing her to back off completely and go and bother his sister and her family instead behind her back. I guess you could call these ‘boundaries’ but to be honest; for me… having grown up in a loving and supportive family (albeit with problems like any other family) I find his potential to be cruel to his mother frightening. I am not controlling, manipulative or attention-seeking and so far (in 4 years) we have managed to navigate our differences well… but I do wonder sometimes whether he might one day turn on me.

    There is a real predictability to her behaviour that I sensed from her as a Pastor WELL BEFORE I even knew she had a son, let alone met him and decided to marry him. I don’t really find her behaviour surprising though, only desperate, pathetic, cruel and to be honest I feel very sad for her. Her fragility and exaggerated responses to IMAGINARY slights is so acute, it must be very hard for her to “play” a Saint Sunday in and Sunday out when she knows full well that about 1000+ people have been victim of her rage in the past 7 days. She thinks (maybe pretends) people genuinely like her! Love her, even. I can only imagine how exhausting it must be to be so concerned with SO many peoples’ impressions of you. Without any real personality. I guess it relieves her chronic boredom and deep sense of shame and self-hatred.

    He also sometimes is cast into the scapegoat role and his sister into the ‘golden child role’ because of his ability to periodically stand up to (read return fire on) his mother. It’s a strange dynamic where both children demonstrate extremes of what you call ‘echoism’ and narcissism dependent on the specific situation. It’s highly unbalanced as neither is entirely a victim nor is either completely abusive. I would say they both have pretty bad cases of ‘fleas’.

    I NEVER expected my DH to stand up for me. It never occurred to me to point out how abnormal his upbringing was, because I was afraid that I would “lose” against NMIL. Because of this, I never shared what she said or did behind closed doors directly with him. I vented on sites like this and in forums (like I said, I was on to her particular brand of grandiose exhibitionism after the second Women’s Conference at church where she described the details of her non-existent sex life with our Senior Pastor in the most horrifying detail and in such an unflattering light, as if we wanted – let alone needed – to hear how she punished him by withdrawing it!!!) and occasionally I would speak about things she had done as if some other couple are experiencing the issues. I’ve found it gives him space to acknowledge that “women like that” are not normal without feeling like he is betraying his mother. He seems to KNOW I am talking about his mother, and occasionally notes the similarities between that “other person” or my hypothetical scenario and his Mum but won’t outright say it. I understand this, and in fact loyalty is his strongest point, in my opinion. From time-to-time he uses the same tactic to confront her. But, like I said… when I witnessed first-hand (over the years) her supernatural ability to lie, deflect, blame, slander and gaslight people; I determined right away I didn’t want to even consider someone so badly abused and brainwashed capable of defending ME when they were not able to defend themselves or even develop tools to recognise this need until marrying me. So, perhaps that might help those who feel angry at their spouses. We need to remember that they were never permitted to develop their own personalities. It’s not a refusal to “man up”, it’s sincere INABILITY.

    My only concern if for the kids, which is rarely required as my NMIL is too lazy to fight; if we lay down rules, she just stops visiting ours and goes to my SIL’s kids until she stands on too many toes there and she comes back like a dog with its tail between its legs. The absence of learning from her mistakes is almost amusing! ALL the grandkids (ours and hers) can’t stand her and she loves to believe she is the best PARENT they have… I will tell you one thing: children have restored my faith in humanity! Collectively, the 4 of us have managed to produce kids who recognise and call out all the triangulation, favouritism, cryptic gifts, usury and accessorising of their existence just to get HER any attention.

    Anyway my NMIL is a particularly desperate narc. Whilst she PREFERS adulation and positive attention; if that is low in supply, she would happily have all eyes on her for being the “worst” of something as well. It makes no sense but is so confusing to all of her children and grandchildren that I think this has played a significant role in my not feeling the Cassandra complex the way many here did. Her whole existence is just so bizarre, I have never really needed to point anything out nor felt invalidated by her. Her tactics have such short life-cycles, I’m often too shocked at how callous and devious she is in a specific instant that by the time I’ve processed it, she has combusted and offended, insulted, abused and scared off everyone else, there is hardly anyone left to tell, anyway. I can’t bring myself to question my sanity when my NMIL acts so BLATANTLY insane. Standing back and letting her talk to anyone just a second time confirms the obvious!

    I’m wondering whether the Cassandra complex is felt more by people who had intense invalidation PRIOR to marrying ACONs? If that is so, perhaps considering THAT as a starting point to understanding the crazy NMILs would help diffuse the anger and some of the self-blame and shame. If (your) own parents didn’t validate you as a child, why expect your SOs to? If the lightbulb moment took 5… 7… 45 years to go off; perhaps we should be kind to ourselves and our SOs as they navigate their own awakenings? I wish everyone on the blog the absolute best as they discover the best way to counter denial and own that they, too, are Cassandra.

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