Event Hijacking

What is it about someone else’s Big Day that brings out the worst attention seeking nonsense in my MIL? I know I’m not the only one with this problem. I’ve read so many stories about other people having weddings and birthdays spoiled by their MIL trying to control everything or creating some drama which is all about her on the very day of the celebration.

Looking back I realise I first came across this when I got engaged to my husband-to-be and she did and said nothing. I’ve come to realise that an inappropriate non-reaction is just as hijacking as a stirring up some drama about herself.

Then there was her appalling behaviour at our wedding. She refused to take part in any pre-wedding social events between the two families because her ex-husband, my FIL, would be there. My parents who were hosting were at a loss as to how to explain to my various aunties and uncles, siblings and family friends why the mother of the groom was a no show. In an attempt to get her to take part in some of the proceedings and feel welcome and included my mother exaggerated some difficulties she was having with the flower arrangements at the church and asked my MIL to help. Well it was years before I heard the end of how disorganised and incompetent my mother was and how MIL had saved the day.

MIL did not speak to me once throughout the entire day, no comment on my dress, no welcome to the family, nothing. She did not attempt to introduce herself to my family and friends, there were about 100 people at this wedding and she spoke to maybe 4-5 people in total all of whom were in her immediate family. During the speeches she had arranged to have someone shove a Father Christmas hat on my head and on my husband’s head while he was talking as the wedding was the week before Christmas. Never mind it had taken 1 hour to do my hair that morning or that embarrassing the bride and groom in front of an entire roomful of people is very wrong. She sat with her two sisters in their own secluded area outside the main hall where the party was all night and didn’t dance or socialise, they all got drunk instead.

Similar things happened at other events large and small. I passed my driving test late in life and everyone sent a card with congratulation, except her. Throughout my first pregnancy she refused to discuss the anticipated baby or share in any excitement in case it died and she should be upset by that. She refused to hold the baby the first time she saw her, complaining how tired and stressed she was from having to drive all the way to see her! Actually refused to hold her first grandchild in order to keep the attention on her not the baby. Mind boggling.

Birthdays and christenings follow the same pattern, she arrived at her granddaughter’s second birthday with a folder full of printed out lists of my husband’s old toys, books and possessions and proceeded to talk him through the list for twenty minutes, ignoring the toddler who’s birthday it was while my parents and siblings sat open mouthed in disbelief. She didn’t even bother to turn up to the second child’s christening and left everyone wondering if she had been injured in an accident throughout the church service. No she was sat in a carpark and decided being in the same room as her ex was too much. This is the mild-mannered, introverted academic she verbally and emotionally abused for years before leaving him. She didn’t call, didn’t text, just screwed up the child’s christening gift and shoved it through our letter box. She then concocted a lie about how it was the fault of the clock in her car telling her the wrong time before weeks later admitting she did it to avoid my FIL.

All these behaviours point towards two things I think. First my MIL seems to want to downplay any attention other people may get by ignoring or minimising another person’s legitimate right to attention around special days and events. She does this by pretending it’s not happening or by ignoring the person on the day. Secondly she creates dramatic and sympathy-seeking situations on other people’s big days to make sure she gets a lot of attention instead. Sometimes her drama is around taking control of things and insisting they be done her way creating friction so she can get attention from disputes, sometimes she plays oh-poor-me, sometimes she deliberately times things to coincide with important days.

A good example of the last case was the night before my first child started school, my husband had a big job interview and I was due back to work for the first time after our second child was born. It was going to be a really stressful few days with a lot of getting used to new routines. She knew this as she had spoken with my husband several times over the proceeding fortnight. The night before she rang up to say she was being wheeled into an operating theatre to have surgery on her ankle which she had broken two weeks before and had said nothing about it until that precise moment. For absolute maximum effect all round.

Why do narcissistic people play these games?

A therapist explained it to me once as a form of need panic. Imagine you feel a bit peckish and go to see what might be available in the fridge for later. The fridge however has nothing but a wilted lettuce leaf and a hard lump of cheese. At this point some people suddenly feel even more hungry. The lack of food, even though they don’t need it right then, sparks concern and a desire to get the food straight away in case it’s not there when you do really need it. Narcissists have a need for emotional feeding, their narcissistic supply which is as ferocious inside them as hunger is to a normal person. And just like hunger it crops up several times a day, all day, everyday. People who are extremely narcissistic need almost every single encounter they have with another person to go their way, they are addicted to the supply of attention and approval.

For a long time I underestimated quite how strong the narcissists need for supply actually is. They not only need it right here, right now but they panic if they anticipate that the need may not be met in the future due to some circumstance like another person’s wedding or birthday. That’s why these events result in worse than normal behaviour from NPD MIL. What seems to go through their head is “but what about me? what about MEEEE!!! I need you to notice me not be distracted by THAT!”. They even get angry if they hear you talking about the event that is not all about them.

The closest I have come to understanding it was watching my 4 year old daughter have a bit of a meltdown and refuse to take part in party games at her older sister’s birthday. All the attention on the other sibling, her friends round for tea, lots of gifts got too much and the little sister burst into tears and flopped down in a corner. That is age appropriate behaviour for a 4 year old but my MIL is in her 70s! But that’s what it is, a need panic tantrum.

How to manage events and limit hijacking

This is what I have learned from dealing with my MIL. Firstly you have to anticipate the reaction. She absolutely will have a problem if anyone is hosting a big event and the more people who will be there or the more significant it is the worse she will be.

I have sat down and brainstormed every way she could cause a problem and then put in place some strategy to deal with it. For example

  1. MIL doesn’t show up when she has RSVP’d to say she would – one phone call and one text message at the start of the event to check if everything is OK. After that another person (family member) not one of those taking part in the main event calls later at a convenient time. If we get no reply then we leave a message saying the police will be contacted to check she isn’t lying in a hospital and then we leave it.
  2. MIL arrives but diverts proceedings and inserts some urgent topic (could be her holiday pictures at a child’s party or whatever) – this is shut down with “not right now, today is about … we’ll discuss that later” and we move on ignoring any subsequent attempts to engage with her.
  3. MIL creates a health or emotional crisis the morning or event (or night before) – the event goes ahead, unless she has actually had a heart attack, we do not let her drama scupper things. We identify a more suitable family member she can offload on and make it clear that we will be proceeding as planned and our attention will be on the event and the guests.
  4. MIL causes problems during an event – we have briefed a family member or friend on how difficult she can be and enlist their help in literally steering MIL away from the main event and it’s participants if necessary, “why don’t I see if I can deal with that MIL…” etc or your can respond with “I can’t help you right now, I have guests to see to”  which is honest and reasonable. She’s an adult and should be taking care of herself.
  5. MIL attempts to organise the event herself – oh no, that’s where boundaries come in. You can throw her a bone if you like, something unimportant that she can sort out to feel special but if it’s your event, you have the say on how everything goes. If you are accepting her money to pay for the event then you need to make clear from the start what exactly she expects in return and that YOU expect to have control over your event even if she offers to pay for it. If you ask for her money then you may have to go along with some of her ideas if they are reasonable and fit with your general intentions. But let’s be clear, she offers money to pay for YOUR wedding or whatever she does so voluntarily as a gift. In no way does this oblige you to do it her way, it is YOUR wedding and she knows that.
  6. MIL ignores an important event – if it is to your face, so to speak, like refusing to hold her grandchild then she can be called out on the spot, “you seem to be ignoring …..   that is not appropriate given the circumstances mother/MIL, something important/special is happening here”. If they ignore by refusing to talk about it or send congratulations or a card then that can be dealt with in a conversation or message, “I noticed you didn’t acknowledge…. that made people feel…. . We will be talking about the birth/graduation/promotion again and would appreciate if you could join in as part of the family”.

 

Underpinning all responses to an attempted hijack is the medium chill setting on how to respond to MIL. Medium chill is when you keep a clear emotional distance from MIL, having little or no expectations of a sympathetic response from her and choosing to keep your own emotions well out of the way, keeping conversation very superficial. I have learned that if I expect her to act up, anticipate and discuss her likely behaviours beforehand and then remain emotionally aloof from her nonsense on the day that it doesn’t anger and distress me like it once did. She really is like a toddler having a hissy fit.

It took quite sometime to make the shift in thinking to this new place. Before I felt hurt, sometimes really personally, deeply hurt that she behaved so callously on days which were very important to me. I did think she was doing it with the intention of conveying her contempt for me personally. It re-opened a long held emotional wound about having my needs and emotions ignored by people, my family of origin. Only by realising how she was triggering old patterns in me and seeing how very immature and needy her behaviour is did I manage to take back the power I was passing to her in these situations. Now I just roll my eyes and pretty much ignore her antics.

So in summary I anticipate and plan for her actions just like I might arrange for my small child’s best friend to come along to her older sister’s birthday or have Granny or a fun uncle on hand to distract her with some one to one attention. I wouldn’t let a child’s tantrum disrupt a party and we can benefit from viewing MIL in the same way.

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6 Comments

Filed under Controlling behaviour, Describing narcissism, Effects of NPD on others, Examples of narcissistic behaviour, family roles, Helping your spouse deal with NPD mum, How NPD MIL affects a marriage, Manipulations, narcissistic mother, NPD MIL and grandchildren, strategies for managing NPD MIL

6 responses to “Event Hijacking

  1. S

    Hi, from your article I can recognise a lot of similarities between your MIL and my parents. In October we heard that my oldest son passed the eleven plus – a very big achievement for him. A couple of days later my parents (who live one mile away from us) dropped a card through the door and quickly left, without knocking to check we were in (which we were).

    When I phoned them about this, they told me they had been out to Church and various shops and were very hungry, so wanted to get back home which is why they dropped the card round, rather than spend time congratulating my son in person. During the phone call I mentioned we were going over to visit my MIL to hand over her birthday present. A few minutes later my parents called back -‘ If you are going over to visit your MIL have you got time for us to call round with her present to save us posting it?’ I said no. I should have said – why are you too hungry to congratulate your grandson, but not too hungry to deliver something (ie carry out social niceties) for someone not so close to you?.

    Ironically (ha!) when we heard the news in March that my son had got into the school of his choice (which he was thrilled about), Mum and Dad also were busy that day and could only post the card through the door. However, they ended up coming round that evening – as they had something to lend to my sister’s FIL – as they came into the house I said to them, ‘while you are here, you can congratulate your grandson in person’ and they ended up having to spend ‘quality’ time congratulating their grandson. With them, things, social niceties and people other than family come way above family.

  2. Positive thinking

    Thanks for writing such an excellent blog. I am working my way through it and finding it so helpful and makes me feel not so isolated with dealing with my nasty NPD MIL (no one can understand if they haven’t been on the receiving end of one). I’ve been married 16 years and have enough stories to fill a novel – the event hijacking stories rang so true with me (she will literally hijack her own grandchildren’s birthday parties, Mother’s Day is of course all about her as are Easter and Christmas and she wants to control any celebration I try to organise (so I’ve stopped)).

    I’d be so grateful for any advice please FCW and anyone else further along the process of dealing with this issue than me: hubbie is still very much in denial about her. The most he will acknowledge is that she can be a bit controlling but mainly sees her in the martyr, loving, kind, matriarch role she has successfully portrayed with the entire family (they all actually believe she is a much better person than most people in this world and misunderstood by almost everyone – she even has Gandhi quotes hung up round her house which I guess are supposed to re-enforce this image!.).

    Anyway I have over the years following a lot of pain and problems it has caused in our marriage, finally managed to perfect medium chill and this year decided to go low contact (in that I made the decision in January not to see her or NPD SIL unless absolutely necessary- i.e. My own kids birthdays – which are on my own territory so I can handle and possibly hubbies birthday. As my husband is still in denial I will have to pull sickies or similar to get out of other events or else risk major rows (along the lines that if I loved him I would make an effort). I hate being dishonest but can’t see any other solution.

    However I have no idea how to handle Christmas this year (I know we are only in April but it is really playing on my mind!). It is supposed to be at his family this year (he is adamant about that as we were at my family’s last Christmas before that we just had it at home me, hubbie and the kids, with major guilt trips from her) but I really can’t bear to go (she and SIL are just so toxic especially on their own territory). Do I let him go with the kids and openly tell him I won’t go? It would be upsetting for me to be away from the kids on Christmas Day and I feel unfair on the kids too but going will be worse for me and them (as she will do her best to sneakily provoke me or sneakily create a horrible atmosphere if I go). After 15 years of trying I’ve given up on my husband ever seeing her for who she is so have to deal with this myself.

    Any advice/tips, especially from anyone who has actually successfully refused to attend important occasions such as Christmas in these circumstances would be very gratefully received. Thanks v much ps sorry for long post!

    • OK denial is tricky. That is problem number one, I wrote a couple of posts on this denial and the Cassandra complex and denial and your spouse. Problem number two is emotional blackmail, your husband’s that is, as any variant of the comment “you’d do it if you loved me” is emotional blackmail, here’s a book on that Emotional Blackmail. Thirdly is the lack of respect your husband has for your wishes and feelings IRRESPECTIVE of whether he feels the same way (he’s the one not able to handle your differences here and this article introduces the idea of ways to manage relationship differences respectfully Men’s Health – Overcome Your Relationship Differences) and finally your inability to set boundaries around your family life and within your relationship, here’s an introductory article but I’d recommend you read a good book on boundaries as well in-law-issues.

      I think you would be well served by seeing a therapist by yourself and taking your husband to a relationship counsellor because none of this scenario is OK.

      You do not have to “pull sickies” to get out of seeing people who you can’t get on with or who are unpleasant to you. You tell you husband straight out what the problem is. Do you think he really knows how objectionable you find his mother and sister? Have you been completely honest about how you feel because pulling a sicky is not being honest as you say is it? It suggests a longterm pattern of hiding problems. If it causes a row so be it, rows are a necessary part of any functional relationship, avoiding them causes all manner of problems.

      You have to be able to say exactly what has happened between you and your in-laws and exactly how bad they make you feel. Your husband has to be able to listen to you, take it seriously and support you by either speaking with his family and enacting appropriate measures if they don’t change or by supporting you in avoiding them. If either of you can’t do these things, you can’t speak honestly for fear of rows and he can’t listen and support then you need to work this out in front of a marriage therapist. This is bread and butter relationship stuff here, without this you have a dominant-compliant dynamic which is more master-slave than equal partners.

      Marriage does not mean doing the same, feeling the same, thinking the same and pretending to be the same. It is a continuously moving state of cooperation and support between two individual people. It doesn’t mean accepting your partner’s values as your own, their family way as your own or being expected to do this by your partner. He may never see his mother as you do, but he doesn’t HAVE TO in order to support what is right for you. You have an absolute equal weight in the marriage, that is not being reflected in what you have written here. You sound very used to accepting scraps thrown your way and trying to squeeze your needs around everyone else’s. Fuck his family, fuck Christmas. Why are you playing this game of taking turns to have Christmas here and there? Insist it is where you want it, I mean actually INSIST and if he doesn’t like it tell him to go sleep with his mother. I know I sound angry but I am angry at them, not you, I’m angry for you. You need to find some of that outrage yourself.

      I said to my therapist once that I felt bad about asserting myself and my wishes as I didn’t want to make my husband choose between me and his mother, you know what she said? Of course you have the right to make him choose, he chose when he walked you down the aisle. Remember Positive Thinking he left mummy and married you, remind him of that fact and if it doesn’t work go all Lysistrata on his arse. If he wants a wife he has to start treating you with some damn respect.

      Denial in a partner is one thing, he could just not see her behaviour as a problem and yet still support your decision to go low contact. This is not just denial that you are describing, this is the requirement that you subjugate your will to his family’s, that you accept his mother’s inability to keep her distance and not interfere. There is a big problem in your marriage and it’s not your MIL, it’s that dynamic, his expectation and inability to treat you as an equal and how you go along with it.

      The number 1 problem people with NPD MILs have in their relationship is the belief that the NPD MIL is the problem in their relationship. She is not the problem, how she has shaped your husband’s ideas about how relationship and boundaries work is the problem.

      • Positive Thinking

        Wow! Thanks FCW for this. I feel I’ve probably given you the wrong impression of our relationship!! It is very strong and we are extremely equal (in fact in many ways I’m probably the more dominant personality and role), other than in relation to this blind spot of his family. It is the only thing we really row about (of course we have the usual rows and disagreements all couples have but this is the only real reoccurring serious issue we have). Also we’ve had countless rows about it over the years so trying to avoid them now is not a symptom of me trying to be compliant (believe me I’ve told him in no uncertain terms about how his family make me feel) but rather trying to find a less stressful way of dealing with the situation by removing myself from their presence on a case by case basis (they are so seriously toxic to me).

        I realise this is not a good long term solution but one that I can deal with at the moment. My husband has acknowledged how I feel but as he can’t see her as having a serious issue i.e. he has no idea about NPD (which I am sure about as she fits all the criteria) sees it as an issue which could be worked out if we were both willing to make it work (e.g. he keeps suggesting we sit down and talk it over which we did years ago and was a disaster as she refused to accept any blame and used the opportunity to berate me for various perceived injustices).

        As he can’t see her underlying NPD issue he reasons that me not making an effort to get on with her (ie my medium chill approach) indicates some kind of lack of concern for him as he has been very low in the past about his family relationships. The more I think about it the more I think I need to point out the NPD issue (I’ve only just discovered through this site and various other research exactly what the disorder is that she has) and have a frank conversation about this and tell him that I need to limit contact for this reason.

        I’m not sure he will necessarily accept this view of her but it’s probably my best long term option. I don’t think he lacks respect for my feelings at all generally and infact he’s a very kind thoughtful person but it’s like he has no objectivity at all about this issue. It’s interesting you should mention emotional blackmail as that is her number 1 tool (which he’s obviously learnt from her and only uses in relation to this issue, which is interesting).

        She is not the aggressive type but rather the highly manipulative “poor me” type. She is a master at using emotional blackmail to get her family to do anything she wants and controls major decisions in their lives (e.g. where they live) using guilt and emotional blackmail (I don’t even think she knows she’s doing it, which is scary). If they don’t comply with the emotional blackmail (which she will happily ramp up to major issues such as “causing her to have a nervous breakdown” ) she will get more nasty. I could write a book about the things she’s done. ..anyway for now I’m going to take the dodging visits approach but after Easter will def sit down with hubbie and talk through NPD and boundaries including my intention to go low contact with her (whether or not he accepts that). I’d still be interested in hearing any other experiences though of how important events such as Christmas are managed where the spouse of the NMIL still wants to see her. Thanks again for your help

      • Hi Positive Thinking, I understand your situation a bit better now, yes I see how you can have a partner who has very specific issues and behavioural habits around their mother and not have that spill over into other matters. Sorry if I came across too strident in my reply.

        Please do consider getting your husband to read the book on emotional blackmail if his mother manipulates this way. I have come across many instances of partners mimicking their dysfunctional families behaviour when with or when discussing their family. It brings it up in their mind and they fall into a well worn habit.

        It is telling that your husband is unable to separate your feelings and respect for him from his feelings for his mother. They are entangled in his head, psychologists call this enmeshment. He should be able to emotionally separate himself and you from you and her. NPD mothers especially the poor-me type are very good at making their kids take responsibility for their emotions, if mum is upset then I have to fix it, that sort of thing.

        I wrote a post about managing NPD grandmothers which explained the steps my husband and I went to to ensure she didn’t control every visit with us. My husband now sees his mother around Christmas but not on the day which he spends with us and meets her at a neutral midpoint not at our house. The first year he didn’t see her on Christmas Day she sulked like mad but tough. She is not owed his or your children’s presence, that is part of accepting your children have grown and have families of their own. She should make arrangements to see her siblings, friends or whatever if she doesn’t want to be alone.

        https://narcissisticmil.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/how-to-manage-a-narcissistic-mother-in-law/
        and
        https://narcissisticmil.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/how-to-manage-a-narcissistic-mil-part-2/

  3. xxscharrer

    I can’t thank you enough for this site. I feel like people think I’m making up the stories when I openly tell them about my MIL. There’s so many similarities we have that it would take too long to type. I am so glad I’m not alone in this. I wish I had someone like you to reach out to so I don’t feel so crazy for the things my MIL does. Thank you for blogging about this!

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