If you are thinking "my in-laws are controlling." I am going to assume here that you are not talking about an elderly parent who needs a lot of care and attention because they are living alone or someone who has a medical problem and needs frequent hospital visits. Or even a family who has lots of traditions and they expect that when you are in their house that you follow these traditions.
I am specifically talking about controlling in-laws who interfere in lots of aspects of your life, who give unsolicited advice that is not really advice but is more like orders, have no respect for boundaries and intentionally get between you and your spouse or between you and your child.
It does not have to be a mother or father-in-law, it could also be a brother-in-law, a sister-in-law, a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law. Any one of these can wreak havoc on your marriage as well as on your whole family.
The type of controlling in-laws I am referencing will engage in the following behaviors:
They take over the conversations, always putting themselves center stage.
Their opinions are always the right ones.
They expect to be consulted for not only major decisions but minor ones as well.
They make personal comments about you in public.
They criticize a lot.
They lie about you and spread rumors.
They are always around. They drop in unexpectedly, they stay a long time, or they have even moved in!
Things have to be done their way or they act upset and put out and make you feel guilty.
They may be openly hostile.
They may say cruel and hurtful things to you when everyone else is out of earshot.
They often make people financially dependent on them.
They are very good at making out that they are the victim and you are being unkind to them when you know the opposite is actually true.
They are masters of distortion and they twist and distort events in unbelievable ways.
You are afraid of upsetting them, even over little things.
I will talk here about a daughter-in-law but the same things apply with a son-in-law.
At the start of the relationship, she seemed like the perfect match for your son. She was charming, friendly, energetic and so on. Your son was head over heels in love with her very quickly. Despite that, you may have felt that there was something wrong but you couldn't put your finger on it. At some point she changed. This change was probably shocking. It seemed out of character for her.
She isolates your son from you. At first it may be subtle, you assume now that your son is married he has his own life to live. However, over time, you realize that it's more than that. She is deliberately telling him things to turn him against you. They spend a lot of time with her parents but less and less with you.
He may be spending much less time with his friends or doing his sports and hobbies.
You realize that your son is afraid of her. He cannot stand up to her. He basically does whatever she wants. He may or may not be aware of this.
She controls the finances.
She organizes the family calendar.
She keeps him very busy so he does not have time to think.
She may have given up her job and is living off him now.
She lies. She lies to your face. There is no shame or embarrassment.
She starts arguments with you over unreasonable things and then blames you for being too demanding.
Nothing is ever her fault. She never apologizes.
She expects people to apologize to her for all sorts of things.
You fight a lot with your son over her. Your son stands up for her and won't hear anything bad about her. In fact, at times you are afraid to say anything bad about her in case you lose him.
She may take him to another place to live. You may not even know where he is.
She makes excuses for your not seeing the grandchildren.
She says horrible things to you and about you in front of the grandchildren.
You believe you shouldn't interfere because you think he is an adult and is making his own decisions but at the same time you can't believe some of the things he does and you need to say something.
Obviously not all of these things need to be in place for there to be a problem with a controlling daughter-in-law.
Here, I will talk about being married to a man whose mother is controlling. The same obviously applies to a wife whose parents are toxic.
Your husband has to run everything by his mother before deciding or doing anything.
He will defend her and take her side whenever things get heated.
He will justify her rude and inappropriate behavior.
You are expected to just put up with her without complaining.
You argue over your mother-in-law as much, if not more, than any other topic.
She is always about, or phoning, and she is forever asking questions and probing for information. Somehow she is in your head a lot.
Your husband is afraid of her. He tiptoes around her so as not to upset her. Family plans and activities are organized around her wants and needs.
She lies about you. She spreads rumors about you. She criticizes you behind your back and to your face.
She makes you feel inadequate, never good enough for her son (really never good enough for her), stupid, selfish and worthless.
Your husband tells her everything, sometimes more than he even tells you.
She demands a lot of his attention as well as yours. She needs help with that, she needs a ride here, her health is bad. She makes you feel very guilty if you can't provide in the moment.
You don't normally hate people but you find yourself absolutely hating these.
She does and says things that are outrageous and you don't know how anyone can possibly act this way.
These types are not the typical people who like things their way and are not good at changing or adapting. These controlling in-laws are in a different category altogether. Have you noticed that they can be cold, calculating and cruel? There is no remorse or guilt. They can do and say the most awful things and it never phases them. On top of that they look down on you and they have a huge sense of entitlement. They expect special treatment, they want things their way and they don't take no for an answer.
These types are psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists.
If your controlling in-laws are doing many of the things mentioned above, then you need to consider that they may have a personality disorder. This changes everything. The rules are different when there are psychopaths or narcissists involved.
Trying to deal with them the way you would with normal, feeling people will not work. Psychopaths, or sociopaths, do not have emotions, so appealing to their better nature is a waste of time.
In fact, much of the advice you will read about how to deal with controlling in-laws will, at best, do nothing, and at worst, will cause more upset and heartache. Stand up for yourself, set boundaries, tell the in-laws that they are upsetting you, tell them they should come to you instead of gossiping about you, don't get upset with your partner, you need to unite with your partner against the controlling in-laws, are all standard suggestions.
You have probably tried many of these things. Maybe even for years. And you realize that they don't work. How come they don't work?
There are important things about being in a relationship with a psychopath that you have to consider if you are going to be able to make any sense of what is going on.
The relationship is based on coercion and domination.
They are calculating and manipulative.
They have no emotions so they never feel bad about anything they do. They can be cruel, hurtful, abusive and even destroy a person's life but they don’t feel bad about it.
They are practiced liars.
They are not going to change. The only change they undergo is an improvement in their manipulative skills with time.
They have very particular effects on their victims, including changing their personality.
You've heard of parents saying that their son went on some weekend seminar and when he came home they didn’t recognize him. What used to be good was not bad and vice-versa. He was saying and doing all sorts of odd things. A different person had come home to them after the seminar and they were worried that he was in a cult.
This new personality is one the cult imposes on their members. It's called a pseudopersonality, or false personality. It dominates and represses the real personality and it is programmed in various ways. This new personality is trained to believe and trust the leader. It is trained to do what the leader says. It is dependent on the leader for all sorts of things. The whole world view of the pseudopersonality has been put in place by the leader. The doctrine of the leader becomes the master program for the pseudopersonality. It knows what to believe, think, decide, do and say because the doctrine, the belief system of the leader, is what informs the pseudopersonality. This is why cult members believe the same things, they think the same, act the same and in some cases, they will dress the same.
Many, many cult leaders are psychopaths. Psychopaths use the same mind control techniques in a group of 500 people as they do in a family of 5 people. So even in a family situation, the psychopath will be imposing pseudopersonalities on those around them. This idea will begin to explain some of the behaviors you will see with the controlling in-laws.
Your controlling daughter-in-law has changed the personality of your son and basically made him her slave or servant. He is programmed to be on her side, that's why he fights with you when he didn't before. That's why he tells her everything. That's why he defends her. Have you ever seen somebody told they were in a cult? They go mad! They get angry, defensive and even aggressive trying to stick up for the cult leader. Your son (or daughter) is doing the same thing when you attack the controlling spouse.
Cults take people away from their families. This is Mind Control 101, separate the victim from their support network so that the cult becomes the only source of information of the victim and nobody can tell the victim what is actually going on. Your controlling in-law is doing exactly the same. Your son or daughter is being programmed to move away from you and not to trust what you say. They are being told things such as these: you don't want them to be happy, you are trying to control them and that you are trying to keep them dependent. So when you point out the nasty things about their spouses, it seems to your kids that what their spouse has said is true. They actually feel that you are trying to control them and not allow them to make their own decisions. (Emotional control is central to controlling others.)
With respect to the controlling parents-in-law, they have installed a pseudopersonality in their own child. This is why the child is so dependent on them. The child was never allowed to become independent. They may even still be financially dependent on their parents. They may be paying off the parents loans. And the spouse doesn't find out about it until after the marriage. (Yes, these things do happen!)
Outsiders may comment that the son or daughter should separate from their parents, they need to pay more attention to their new spouse, they need to support their spouse over their parents, they should start making their own decisions apart from their parents. This is blaming the victim. The fact is that the controlling parents are actively doing things to make sure that their son or daughter cannot move away. Fear and guilt are major factors used to control such victims.
This explains why the controlling parents-in-law can insult, abuse and belittle those around them and their own son (or daughter) does not stand up to them. The controlled child sees their own spouse being treated badly but does nothing about it. The thing is that the controlled child has been treated like that all their lives and such behavior has been 'normalized' for them. They have also been trained that you are not allowed to complain or object in any way about such treatment or things just get worse. So they say such things as "Oh, you know how my parents are, just ignore them" or "Well, they do have a point. You said this and you know how such things annoy them."
First of all, what won't work are the usual things of telling the controlling in-laws that what they are doing is upsetting. They already know that, that's why they are doing it!
Nor does it help to set boundaries. The controllers are much better at destroying them than you are at putting boundaries in place. You try and do it nicely and politely and this will never work with psychopaths. They know what you want and they just don't care. And they have no intention of letting anyone tell them what to do either. Remember that idea of being superior and the sense of entitlement? You tell them what to do and they will go against it simply for the sake of going against it.
Telling the victim what they should do, "you should stand up for yourself, tell them what you want, don't let them treat you like that" will not work either. (But you already know this, you have been trying it for some time now.) The patterns of the pseudopersonality are too deep, the fear and guilt are so much that the victim cannot override them, no matter how much they want to.
What does work is for the victim to learn about mind control, psychopaths and narcissists. They have to learn what tactics were used against them, why those ones and what effect they have had on their perceptions, thinking, emotions and decision making. Once the victim understands how they were influenced, the effects of the techniques wear off, the pseudopersonality disappears and the person can begin to think for themselves and make their own decisions.
This is not an easy process and it's very difficult for the pseudopersonality to initially accept that it was being controlled by people that it thought loved them. Introducing the information to the pseudopersonality at the start has to be done carefully and thoughtfully. Expert advice is invaluable in such situations.
At some stage the abuse has to be stopped and that usually means separating from the abusers. The abusers are not going to stop what they are doing and often the only way to take power away from them is to not have contact with them, even if it's only temporary. Once the pseudopersonality is gone, the individual can then decide how much time they are willing to spend with the manipulator.
You can read more here about the signs of emotional abuse, more about abusive relationships, the dynamics of pseudopersonalities in these articles about narcissistic boyfriends and narcissistic husbands, the characteristics of a psychopath, dealing with a toxic family, how to leave an abusive relationship, and abuse recovery.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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