How do you deal with a Narcissist?
January 11, 2018 8:29 AM   Subscribe

My Father in Law is a Classic Narcississt and I literally cannot deal with him any more. I need some advice on how best to cope, phrases I can employ, ways to calm myself in his presence because I'm losing the battle. I'm biting my tongue at every family event and I'm not sure how long I can hold my tongue! My wonderful husband was raised by a narcissistic man, has 2 narcissistic brothers and all sorts of issues stemming from growing up in this environment. This question has really, really resonated with me.... my husband struggles with a LOT of the issues mentioned in this question and I hadn't connected the dots back to his narcissistic father until I read it.

Over the years I am finding it harder and harder dealing with my Father in Law. No-one has EVER got under my skin the way he does. After several incredibly draining and distressing family events over the last few years, we decided to "re-claim" our Christmas this year and instead of doing the usual Xmas Eve, Xmas Day and Boxing Day with my in-laws, we had a lovely Xmas Eve dinner on our own, spent Xmas Morning with the Narcissist and the people we usually spend it with, and had Xmas Lunch with my Sister in Law instead. We went home that evening and spent Boxing Day alone. (My family is in the UK so we always spend the holidays with my in-laws in Canada)

This is the first Xmas we haven't had Xmas dinner with my Father in Law, and even though we informed the family weeks in advance and the hosts were more than fine without us attending, of COURSE my FIL derailed all of the Xmas conversations with talk of how we are terrible people, who did we think we were, not coming to Christmas???? We are a disgrace to the family etc etc You name it, he said it (this information was passed onto us by people who were at the dinner with him). This is the ONLY major holiday we have ever missed in 10 years by the way. Every other Birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Baby Shower - we are there. And we didn't even "miss" Christmas because we spent the morning with them, giving them their Xmas gifts (and getting nothing in return by the way and NO thanks for the gifts we gave to them)

My husband's family dynamics are incredibly complicated and I can't possibly go into detail about all of the history here, but basically there is a "Golden Child" who also didn't attend Xmas but nothing was said about him at all. The "Golden Child" is an even bigger narcissist that my Father in Law and we have no contact with him. The sister we chose to spend Xmas dinner with is estranged from my FIL and the Golden Child and has no relationship with either of them.

My FIL expects the world from his children but gives nothing in return. He expects a song and dance for his birthday but forgot my husband's birthday this year and doesn't even know what MONTH my birthday is in (I've been here for 10 years). In contrast, my family make an effort to send gifts to my husband from the UK every year, for his bday and for Xmas; my husband feels ashamed of his parents for putting no effort into making me feel a welcome addition to the family, but would never dream of bringing this to their attention. In fact, it took his Dad about 6 years before he really spoke to me with any respect, before that he just kept saying things like "Oh - You're still here are you? I thought for SURE he'd be bored of you by now" Followed by a self-servicing laugh at my expense. I've said to his face before "Just because you laugh at something after you say it, doesn't mean it's funny".

I have managed for years and years and YEARS to just get on with things, primarily because there were SOOOO many great things about the rest of the family. I was very close to my Sister in Law but she passed away from Cancer in 2015. We still have great times with a lot of the other members of the family, but I'm at my wits end with my Father in Law ... I hate him. There I said it. I hate everything about him. I hate how he raised my husband. I hate how we have attended family functions for years and years with no thanks, but the minute we "displease" him he bitches about us to anyone that will listen. I hate that nothing we do will ever be good enough. I hate being around him. I know that these feelings aren't really fair because I don't know how he was raised and what he went through as a kid, but I've watched him demean other people far too many times to be all right in his presence. He doesn't understand that he can make himself feel good without knocking others down. I know he suffers from low self-esteem and insecurities. But it doesn't change the fact he is plain nasty, to mostly everyone else.

I am literally finding it hard to cope. Please help me keep calm when in his presence. Please help me let his sly, manipulative, malicious comments just roll off my back. How can I best deal with a man like this? I will NOT pander to him, I cannot. But I would appreciate ANYTHING that I can employ to help me when I inevitably see him again. Do I deflect? Do I ignore? Are there any great put downs I can attempt? It's not an option to cut him out of our lives completely, it just isn't. We have significantly, significantly reduced our contact with him, but we don't want to punish my mother in law who has been in this abusive relationship for years and is a shell of a person, but is a lovely woman and loves her son. Please help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I think the missing piece to this equation is how your husband deals with his father and how he deals with your father when you’re involved.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:35 AM on January 11, 2018 [30 favorites]

I deal with people like this by making them wary of pissing me off. I'll reply quietly and privately to their comment with something incredibly nasty and cutting and the implication is clear that I'll repeat it aloud and in public if they continue. Basically a standoff. Be polite old man or I'll make you look bad, your greatest fear. It works well if they know you mean it.

Once I turned about 30 I decided I didn't have to put up with shit from older relatives. I was a grown up and they could respect that or get a snack on the nose every time they stuck it out too far

Nosy aunt complaining about my brothers wife, who is perfectly lovely but they live abroad and she is therefore keeping him from his true family. I said quite sharply " they have a whole life together you know nothing about as you won't visit". She shut up.

Ex MIL who gave me shit for not being the same religion as her. She's a born again Christian of course, and was blathering on about how she didn't believe in living together before marriage. I said neutrally that I didn't believe in divorce. She's divorced I said it in front of her son and sister and I know her failed marriage is a sore point. She watched her mouth around me after that.

The trick is to forget about having a good relationship or getting along like normal humans and just train them where the line is and what will happen when they step over it
posted by fshgrl at 8:42 AM on January 11, 2018 [54 favorites]

Came to say, firstly, what raccoon409 said above; make sure your on the same page as your husband for how to deal with this.

To keep yourself sane, cultivate the subtle art of not giving a fuck. Every reasonable person that is around your father in law sees how he is. His tirade at Christmas dinner had nothing to do with you and everything to do with him and anyone who knows him well at all knows that. Work on accepting him for who he is and then just refusing to engage with him. Tolerate the times you have to see him and work on continuing to not include him in as many things as you can.

Even in families where there's no particular problem with the in-laws, many, many people start to do some things separate from their birth families once they get married. That's a normal thing to do and his failure to recognize that doesn't change that basic truth.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:43 AM on January 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

I have two tools I've learned (from other people) that help me deal.

The first is to treat that person as if they are an alien from outer space, and to view everything they do or say is ... coming from outer space, and an alien culture. As in, how odd that's you'd expect us for Xmas dinner, I've never heard of such a thing! Hmm, I'll give it some thought, but (wow people from your planet have strange customs).

The second is to remember and remind yourself often that these outbursts and demands are symptoms of a disease (and they really are) that are ultimately more painful to him than to you. And really, it's got to be painful to have to DEMAND that people see you on Xmas dinner, to have no other vocabulary for human interaction. He's locked into his demands and insults by his disease, and as a result he never gets sincere affection back at him. For all his demanding, it doesn't work out the way he wants. That hurts. You can feel sorry for him in that way, that it's really too bad he feels so compelled to act that way.

In addition to some serious boundary-setting and massive lowering of expectations, these are helpful as in-the-moment ways to disengage.
posted by Dashy at 9:10 AM on January 11, 2018 [15 favorites]

I dealt with someone similar for 16 years in a work situation. She took away my self esteem and my belief in myself as a good person. Every night I came home and whispered to myself, "But I'm better than that." I was weak and powerless against her bullying and after one too many days of tears, I finally had to courage to make the decision to leave. In hindsight, here are phrases I wish I had the courage to say when she came after me.

"If that's what you believe." And walk away.
"Did saying that out loud make you feel better?" And walk away.
"I don't think so." And walk away.

Nothing YOU will do or say will change this man. The only option to deal with this is to not be in his presence.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:13 AM on January 11, 2018 [16 favorites]

Don't play the game. The worrying about him bitching about you is playing his game. Don't engage because any engagement is a "win". Seriously the only way to win is not to play the game. Don't pander, don't do anything. Don't lose your cool & get angry or cry, that is what he wants you to do. Accept that nothing will ever be good enough & stop trying. While you still care what he thinks he has power over you. Not saying it's easy to not give a fuck, but it is an attitude that can be cultivated.

I'm assuming other family members that you do like seeing know what he's like to. So arrange gatherings without him to see them. Take MIL out for a "girls day" at a spa or a just for a coffee for some "girls talk" imply what you're doing is beneath him & he'll leave you alone. Spend time with that Aunt/cousin whatever you like in one on one or meet that family you like for lunch somewhere next time you're in the area. We'd have invited you oh narcissistic one but we didn't think you'd be interested in. If he says anything "shrug" it's not your problem if you're not seeing him as often as he'd like. If your husband wants to see him let your hubby go by himself. You don't have to meet family just at family events & you don't have to invite him to things if you meet them in other circumstances.

You have this strangers permission to never see him again. Burn that bridge down to the ground. I stopped visiting my husbands grandparents for 3 years because they were so narcissistic, when I finally went because my husband asked me to, they were so damn surprised to see me they were actually nice to me. We now see them once a year, on our terms where we meet for a lunch in a restaurant of our choosing. The meet up lasts until I need to leave I have hubbies OK to start making excuses to leave if the narc levels start getting to high for me. Knowing I can leave when I want & my husband will have my back makes it easier to take.

Of course the important question is how does your husband wish to handle this is a big part of the question? Make sure he has your back whatever stance you want to take.
posted by wwax at 9:15 AM on January 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

In addition to all the great advice above, consider limiting your holiday contact even more. You know he'll be angry over anything besides 100% holiday participation, so it doesn't matter if you are participating 90% or 40% or 5%. If you and your husband are planning on adding any children to your family, you'll probably want more pleasant holidays for them - that's what helped me reduce my holidays with my NPD/BPD mom. Oh, sure, I can stand the torture, but I don't want my family to deal with that garbage every Christmas.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:55 AM on January 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

I've observed someone else successfully deal with a similar narcissist by basically having an extremely short temper and immediately ramping up to threatening levels of hostility and anger in response to the slightest sign of disrespect and calming down just as rapidly once the narcissist stopped their bullshit.

That person was a physically-intimidating man, though, so mileage may vary if you don't fit that description. fshgrl may be describing an approach that operates on the same basic mechanism.
posted by XMLicious at 10:23 AM on January 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Stop caring about what he says or does.

I don't say that lightly and I know that it's not easy to do. But, as the daughter of a narcissist, I know it's the only way to retain your sense of self in the face of this sort of disordered bahavior.

He complains about you behind your back? Oh well. His opinion doesn't matter to you and doesn't mean that you've done anything wrong.

He doesn't know when your birthday is? Oh well. He's not an important part of your life and his lacking doesn't lessen your value as a human.

He's mad because you didn't do a song and dance for his birthday? Oh well. His anger is none of your business and doesn't reflect on you.

Narcissists use the social contract to their advantage. He knows that your normal social expectations and sense of humanity will keep you tied to him so he can manipulate and use you. You expect his social expectations or a sense of humanity to keep him in line. It won't. Suspend the rules of our social contract when you are around him. Just disengage.
posted by mcduff at 10:33 AM on January 11, 2018 [17 favorites]

You're getting really good advice about what to do and say in the presence of FIL, but I want to call attention to the fact that you would not have known anything about your FILs complaints if other family members or friends didn't pass them onto you.

This is the first Xmas we haven't had Xmas dinner with my Father in Law, and even though we informed the family weeks in advance and the hosts were more than fine without us attending, of COURSE my FIL derailed all of the Xmas conversations with talk of how we are terrible people, who did we think we were, not coming to Christmas???? We are a disgrace to the family etc etc You name it, he said it (this information was passed onto us by people who were at the dinner with him)

WTF? Who are these people passing on hurtful comments to you? You need to talk to these gossips and pot-stirrers and tell them to stop. Be clear with everyone in the family that you aren't interested in hearing what FIL has to say about you, your husband, or anyone esle. That you aren't interested in participating in family gossip and drama. And when those people try to pass on some obnoxious comment that your FIL said, then you need to stop them before they go any further and say explicitly, "I do not care what my FIL says about me, my husband, or anyone else in the family and don't wish to hear anything about him or his opinions. Please don't bring this information to me, I don't want it." And if they persist, walk away.

You don't need pot-stirrers in your life anymore than you need narcissistic FIL.
posted by brookeb at 10:34 AM on January 11, 2018 [55 favorites]

Oh man I really feel for you on this. I also have a narcissist FIL and it is so tough. You sound like you could really use an outside source to vent to. Maybe find a forum of people with narcissists in their lives? You can also memail me. But I wanted to say that brookeb is right. These people don't exist in a vacuum. It might be a good idea to really look at the family dynamics playing out. My guess is the people relaying this info to you were doing so because in their head, you and your husband didn't play the game and the rest of them were being punished for it. They want you to fall in line for their own comfort. My MIL does this to me and my husband A LOT.

I would really try to get on the same page as your husband about this. I know it's easy to want to complain about FIL to him but I strongly recommend against that. Ask him how he feels. Ask him what frustrates him. Ask him if he has any recommendations for how to handle FIL. You want to start working as a team and you want your husband to start concretely thinking about how this affects him and you. It's probably going to take a while.

As far as dealing in the moment, I would just remind myself how fragile FIL his. His ego can't take the smallest threat. That isn't your fault or your problem, I would view it like a small child throwing a temper tantrum because they literally haven't acquired the skills to cope with their situation. Just go in with a resigned DGAF.
posted by Bistyfrass at 10:48 AM on January 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

The book Toxic Parents by Dr. Susan Forward contains lots of information about managing interactions and/or reducing contact.
posted by sutureselves at 10:49 AM on January 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

Before you try to figure out the magic key for dealing with him (there really isn't one), I'd focus on getting your husband into therapy for this issue. Children of narcissists have trauma and damage from being raised by this specific type of abuser. Seeing a therapist who is experienced in working with people who were parented by narcissists can be so very helpful. It'll also help him to be part of a united front with you when it comes to his family.

You may have to try different tactics. Many narcissists love confrontation and will happily escalate when you push back at them. It allows them to create drama and play the victim. Some people who have to deal with narcissists have much better luck with being absurdly agreeable and just agree with the narcissist even if it's clearly empty and disingenuous agreement. I've seen narcissists revel in clearly patronizing agreement just because it's agreement.

For yourself, consider making it a game somehow. Maybe bring a little notebook and spend the visit making marks for every one of his terrible behaviors or comments. Create a prize for yourself for getting through it. You probably will also annoy the hell out of him by being so consumed with making little hatch marks in your special book.

Make your opt-out for Christmas dinner a permanent tradition. You'll be punished either way; don't yield the new ground you created this year. Add a new opt-out every year.
posted by quince at 10:58 AM on January 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

As you already know, but I'll affirm it: you can't change him or how behaves. You can only change you and how you behave.

If you feel you must continue to associate with him, consider setting a rule: the first time he misbehaves, you and your husband leave. Second rule: the next time a family member calls you to tattle about what FIL did after you left, shut them down. Tell them you're just not interested in getting sucked into their family's drama.

It might mean that you and your husband will have to drive separately, if you decide to leave and he doesn't. But you're allowed to do what you need to do to preserve your peace of mind.

Unfortunately, the only consistently effective way to deal with a narcissist is to not deal with them at all, but if you simply have to meet with him sometimes, keep it short. And don't feel bad about your refusal to play the dysfunctional family game: you weren't brought up in it, so you recognize it as toxic. They don't, or they're too invested in it to want to stop playing it.
posted by Lunaloon at 11:14 AM on January 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've observed someone else successfully deal with a similar narcissist by basically having an extremely short temper and immediately ramping up to threatening levels of hostility and anger in response to the slightest sign of disrespect and calming down just as rapidly once the narcissist stopped their bullshit.

That person was a physically-intimidating man, though, so mileage may vary if you don't fit that description. fshgrl may be describing an approach that operates on the same basic mechanism.

That is what I'm describing. Because putting shock collars on your nasty old relatives is illegal.
posted by fshgrl at 11:20 AM on January 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

Agreed with everyone else that if full no-contact is not an option, you need to bring a tactical nuke to a knife fight. He will think you're being unfair. Too bad.
posted by PMdixon at 11:34 AM on January 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yikes - in laws can be tough and it sounds like your FIL is a doozy.
What I found helpful in dealing with my problematic MIL was getting my husband to go to marriage counselling with me to talk about how we were going to tackle a lengthy family trip *together*. We lean on our marriage counseller to help us talk through tricky subjects where neither one of us can be objective - and this certainly falls into that category. Up to that point, my husband was happy to agree with me when I bitched about my MIL, but would get mad at me sometimes for "triggering" his mom, or blame me for my reaction to her drama.
Ideally you end up with your husband able to lay down some boundaries that you're happy with, or at the very least you end up mutually agreeing to how you're going to handle the situation in advance of any potential conflict.
posted by dotparker at 12:00 PM on January 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

When my bio-dad started pulling this shit on my spouse it made me think about how he had warped me in a new way and I thought about what this would do to spouse over time and saw future things I didn't want to see and that was compelling enough that I finally told him off and publicly broke contact.

8 hour drive home and spouse is apologizing like it is something she did.

I still had to deal with her family, parts of which were just as toxic. They were a hell of a lot more considerate to me after we told them that story.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:22 PM on January 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

Perhaps the mental exercise of imagining his funeral and imagining all the stuff that will get said then. Perhaps the eulogy will start with something like "He was a difficult father to have..." and everyone will laugh knowingly. (This was how the eulogy for one of my grandmothers basically began.)

When she was elderly, I just walked away whenever she was mean. She was too feeble and slow to keep up. That was liberating too.

I second the suggestion to make Christmas dinner without them etc. the new tradition.
posted by purple_bird at 1:37 PM on January 11, 2018

Nthing that you need to stop caring what he says, thinks or does by cultivating as much detachment and indifference as possible. Anything other than that, any reaction or attention at all, even negative, is narcissistic supply for these folks. It makes them feel significant that they can affect you.

Ideally, you would detach by reducing contact as much as possible (preferably to zero). When you need to deal with him, a method like gray rock can help you stay nonreactive. Unfortunately, you may also need to consider going no contact with the folks who passed on the FIL's hurtful comments. Narcissists have an amazing ability to use mutual friends and family as "flying monkeys" to abuse by proxy.
posted by jazzbaby at 1:52 PM on January 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

The alien concept is good. Narcissists come from their own planet, which is the inside of their heads. If you just remember he is a solitary cave dweller, who is also deaf, somewhat, all of his shoutings are misunderstandings, because he has no understanding. Always be nice when you come, and nice when you go, and otherwise neutral, and brief. Set a time limit for any visits.
posted by Oyéah at 2:07 PM on January 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Second rule: the next time a family member calls you to tattle about what FIL did after you left, shut them down.

If you feel you can't come up with a passable phrasing for this, may I suggest -- "Please don't bring *his* crap into *my* day." Follow up, as needed, with "I don't want to hear about it." And "This hurts me; I don't want to hear about it."
posted by puddledork at 2:20 PM on January 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh hey. It's like you had Christmas with my dad.

First off. I am super sorry you and your husband are going through this. The bad news is I don't have a perfect solution for dealing with this junk. The good news is that I have some practice on making my relationship with my NPD father mildly more manageable. YMMV

In terms of things that have helped:

-Reduced frequency of visits

-During visits, making sure there are planned activities. Family walks are great because you can lag behind or walk ahead and whisper chat with your spouse on all the weird stuff that was said that day.

-Scheduling a professional massage shortly after your visit. (Just did this after an extended visit and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.)

-When things get heated, taking a time out. "I can't discuss this right now, I need some time to think." This allows you to gather the best words for what you want to say and allows your FIL time to simmer down a little.

-Separating your wants from your needs in discussion. This one has worked surprisingly well for me recently. An example statement might be "What I want ideally is for you to respect people of all orientations. At the same time, I realize that I can't control your feelings, so I'd like to focus on what I need. What I need is for you to not make derogatory jokes about homosexual people."

-"I feel" statements can also sometimes help.

-Try to keep your voice calm and firm. Regulating your breath will help with this.

-Sooo much meditation before, after, and during visits.

When all else fails and you and your husband can't deal anymore, name the behavior to give it a chance to stop before you exit e.g."We would like to enjoy the time we are spending together now. Part of that means focusing on the present. If you continue to comment on how we weren't at dinner last night, then we are going to leave." Make sure your then clause is something you are comfortable following through with. Consistency is super important.

THANK YOU for having your husband's back. It's really easy for children of narcissists to be "put back in their place" when they visit their parent. Your husband is super lucky to have someone like you on his side.
posted by donut_princess at 3:15 PM on January 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Hey, child of a narcissist here. First, know that narcissism is one of the most difficult psychological disorders to treat, because if you have it, you don't think you need treatment. Narcissists don't change unless they are forced to. Second, your mother-in-law may not be actively participating in the behavior, but she is allowing people to be treated poorly in her home. So I would caution against seeing this as a black-and-white situation.

The standard advice to limit contact is standard for a reason. For me, a couple multi-hour visits in a weeklong trip is about all I can tolerate, as it's almost impossible to avoid being frustrated when interacting with a narcissist on a normal, human level. They moan about how they never get to (fill in the blank) and then in the same minute make it difficult and unpleasant for that thing to happen. Witness your father-in-law, who claims to want to spend time with his family but does nothing but complain about them when they arrive to spend time with him. Literally nothing will ever be good enough for them. You could rearrange your entire life to visit them exactly on the requested schedule and that would only prompt complaints about sometime else that you could be doing better. The best you can do is limit contact, totally detach from the experience, or go grey rock on them. Whatever you do, again as previously noted, consistency is essential. If you set a boundary and maintain it ten times, but break it once, that boundary will be constantly attacked because narcissists don't do anything they aren't forced to.

But beyond dealing with it, is this the sort of behavior that you would want future children exposed to? As noted, you're an adult, you can tolerate a more severe situation. But would you want to? Again as noted, the narcissist exploits the social contract for what you're "supposed" to do. Don't you deserve to have a Christmas where you don't have to listen to someone complain about you?
posted by wnissen at 3:26 PM on January 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

You could just tell your husband you're not up for this every year. Does he actually want to do Christmas with the folks, or does he merely feel obligated? Plenty of couples switch off every year; you could just switch off his parents forever until the happy day when his father dies. It doesn't really matter, if your husband is equable, because your father in law is going to go on demonizing you guys no matter what. You might as well do as you like and have an enjoyable time. But if your husband can't see that as a possibility and you feel bound to accompany him, while your father-in-law mammers on, paste a holiday smile on your face and retreat within yourself and focus all your attention on two things:
One, this is not your monsterdad. He's nothing to you, really, and you have no responsibility for trying to make him behave like a decent person or trying to get him to like you or anything, beyond maybe heimliching him if he should choke on something mid-rant. Imagine if, like your poor husband, you'd grown up with the POS! Reliefamundo, you did not. Instant happyplace.
Two, he's old, and one day he's gonna die! And you are going to still be alive. And you can then proceed to forget that he ever existed and live for many happy decades without listening to him ever again, trala! Happyplace just got happier!
posted by Don Pepino at 3:50 PM on January 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Child of a narcissistic father here. I have tried over the years to do many things to shift the dynamic between my father and I, to make him see that his behaviors hurt me and hurt our relationship, to use actual words both written and out loud and in person and on the phone to tell him what exactly those behaviors are and how he can change or shift them.

I have tried lots of contact, trying to please him, trying to impress him, trying to share my life with him on a deeper human level. I've tried a medium level of contact where I would (in my own mind) limit the length of phone calls to no more than 30 minutes (because he used to keep me on the phone for 2 hours.) I've tried sending an occasional card or letter or email, which went unresponded to and then I was chastised for not being in enough contact and given the passive aggressive speeches about "I didn't know if you were dead" and the like.

I have tried very low contact, a very short phone call once a month, no letters, no cards, no emails, and cut down to keeping any real details of my life to myself and just not telling him anything that could invite his commentary or judgement or whatever.

NONE of these things worked, up to and including my finally cutting him off completely. I cut off all contact with my father in August of 2016, and to this day, I still get long drawn out overly dramatic hyperbolic emails (to the email address I no longer use because of his harassment!) about how he doesn't understand why I'm doing this (despite my having explained repeatedly my boundaries,) mocking me, and even things that verge on threatening, such as "No one can really hide on the Internet, so I see you." I probably get at least one email a month from him full of bullshit, and every single time I am amazed that he has not changed ONE bit, it is still exactly the same garbage as he has been saying my actual entire life.

I tell you this not to say that I think you should cut off your FIL - I understand that that path is not for everyone and isn't always possible - but to say that I genuinely believe that it does not matter in the slightest bit WHAT you do to try to manage or respond to a narcissist such as my father and your FIL, because it will not change their behavior or their opinion about their own righteousness. Nothing you do will change this, so my advice is to simply do whatever thing will bring you the most peace. Whether that's walking out of the room every time he starts in, or literally putting on headphones and listening to music, keeping a hotel room close by that you can escape to, whatever that is, find the thing that will bring YOU the most peace and just do that. Because nothing can create understanding in the mind of someone who does not have the capacity for it.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 5:09 PM on January 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Been there, and uh, keep up the new tradition you just started. Keep going to your SiL.

You got this treatment because your time with SiL was considered a betrayal or a power move. He thinks you all sat around talking about him. He did a vicious sermon to others to cover up the anger or hurt that he's being (rightly, appropriately) marginalised, and his power is slipping. SiL sounds nicer, provides validation of your husband's experience and can help his move away from such a toxic parent, as well as feel she has support too. Being estranged sucks, so having dinner with her is a nice step.

The thing about narc parenting is the crippling paralysis you feel whenever you have to take any kind of stand to leave that shit behind. I've found that my first disrupting of usual Xmas was filled with anxiety and panic. In your case you've already got a few things going for you - you've got an ally in SiL; your husband's/your growing awareness of the fleas one catches from being NPD-adjacent needing attention; and, as painful as it is, you've got this Incident. It's fucked up that he bitched at the table about you. (This happened to my former husband and I all the time, and we flew from Australia to Ireland for the 'honour')

Next year, when you do your new tradition of eating with SiL, cheer yourselves on. You know how how horrible, conflicted and upsetting it is to get out of a snare - so whenever you do it give each other high fives.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:37 PM on January 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

my advice is to simply do whatever thing will bring you the most peace.

I came to say exactly this and fairlynearlyready beat me to it. Your FIL's power over you comes from any idea you have that you might change him, or what he thinks of you and/or your husband.

Instead of focussing on him, focus on what you and your husband need to be at peace with this. Whatever you do, do it for yourself and your family, not for him.

One additional important step is shutting down the sh*t disturbers who tell you about his nastiness. Just tell them you're not interested in hearing about it.
posted by rpfields at 6:03 PM on January 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

This post comes on the heels of conversations with a friend on dealing with a narcissist ex. The passive-aggressiveness! The power games! The mind-fucks! It's exhausting.

We also had the almost exact same "alien creature" talk. The almost unbearable burden of continuing to expect the narcissist to behave like a "human", and they NEVER DO, just takes over. It's awful. We can't seem to break ourselves of that hope, that expectation, that is never going to happen. It's just IS NOT.

And the only successful way I have found is to find something that allows me to stop expecting it. That person is relieved of the obligation to act like a regular person with emotions and feelings. They get a pass. Because they are an alien. And I choose not to give them power over me.

It may sound cruel but at some point you have to choose where to spend your energy and your life-force. I choose to save myself, and let that narcissist be their alien self. I have written them off, and wish them well, but I will not give another iota of myself to that emotional mess.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:27 PM on January 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I dealt with my narcissist mother by basically running away at 17, and having extremely limited contact for decades. As in, phone calls on birthdays, Mother’s Day, Christmas. I saw parents once a decade or so. This worked well until my mother developed cancer, and I spent the last year of her life living with her and taking care of her. It was absolute hell until I figured out the way to deal with her was to go full-on ballistic when she started her shit. At one point, I actually told my own mother to fuck off, which is not something I ever thought I’d say to a family member. Basically, I had to make it 100% clear that I was not going to put up with this bullshit, and just shut her down whenever she started. It felt weird to talk to my own mother that way at first, but after realizing how much she fucked up my whole life with what she did during my childhood, I decided I was not going to let her do that anymore, no matter how sick she was. Honestly, as near as I can tell, this is the only way to get them to stop, and even then it’s only temporary.

You don’t have to put up with this treatment from anyone. And it’s not rude to tell them off, because you are doing it in self defense.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:11 PM on January 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have an aunt like this. Honestly, the only thing that worked for me was to cut her out of my life (as my mother had long before me) and learn to laugh at all the horrible things she said about me, as they were relayed to me by people that thought "[I] should know".

Luckily, your brother has a sister who has already "escaped" as it were, so once you discuss your stresses and concerns with him (if you haven't already) it might be helpful if you and he talked to his sister about what she did, why, and how hard it was to get away. Having another family member in the same camp is always really helpful, in both directions. Just remember that you can't push him away from his father, he has to want to go, but you can certainly make it clear that it's a significant stressor for you and that you don't want him to discuss that with his father at all because it will make things worse.

A friend of mine actually has a father like this, right now, and the level of misery he can drop of them with just a word or two from several states away is amazing; there is absolutely nothing this friend can do right and nothing he can do wrong. It's a terrible situation, as is yours, and I really hope you can always remember that there's nothing you can do to alter the behavior of a person like this...all you can do is distance yourself as much as possible.
posted by davejay at 10:12 PM on January 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

With all due respect, because it’s a good strategy for some personality types, Fshgrl ‘s advice is wrong and the absolute last way to deal with a narcissist. They LOVE it when you react in that way. They feed off, and will do everything to provoke, those reactions. Look up “grey rock” in terms of dealing with a narcissist. mcduff’s advice is far more on point in this regard.

It’s also typical behaviour for them to launch a smear campaign when you break things off with them. So prepare yourself for that (it has started already, but may get worse).

If it’s possible to go full no contact with a narcissist, I’d strongly suggest that.

Count your blessings that you’re not trying to co-parent with one.

Good luck.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:49 AM on January 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

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