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Does my mother-in-law suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder?

Thursday, 11 January 2007
Answered by: Dr. Ashu Rajan Gandhi
Consultant Psychiatrist
Adult Mental Health Program, Eastern Health
Australia
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Q. I wanted to know more about narcissistic personality disorder as I think that my mother-in-law has this problem. I have been married for two years and from the day of the marriage I never saw her happy at all and found her pointing out mistakes at everything my parents and I do. She created a big fuss on the day of our marriage and this seems to continue till today. Initially, I thought my husband understood his mother and would know that she is wrong but unfortunately this is not so. He too agrees to whatever she says as if he can't think what is going on instead he just agrees to whatever she presents of a situation. Initially, we thought they are a nice family but only later did I realise that something was wrong. I got to know that they are not good with any of their neighbours and relatives except only one relative of her whom she praises and everyone else in the world is bad. As my father-in-law passed away even before we got married, she uses this in every problem she creates to get mercy and makes everyone feel that she is being victimised. As I too was emotionally and verbally abused, I started getting depressed. I read about having a narcissistic personality and I felt a lot of similarity and browsed the Internet on it and got to know about it. I really feel she suffers from this. I think my husband behaves similar to her many times and I am scared he will end up in full-blown narcissism. There is no peace in my life. What should I do? For an Indian it’s not so easy to come out of a relationship and when he is good he is very good but when he is bad it’s difficult to live that moment. I don't know how to keep him away from his mother’s bad preaching, as we don't discuss about it anymore. Please help me deal with this?

A.  I think what you have described is inherently reflective of relationship problems. It also is reflective of expectation problems. These problems are characterised by expectation of certain attitudes and behaviours from people known and unknown. When the attitudes and behaviours do not match our expectations, one starts to feel distraught and distressed. And more one gets distressed the more one is not able to bear the behaviours and the attitudes and behaviours seem more away from the expectations and this leads to a chronic vicious circle leading to conflict of interests and conflict between individuals. The way to cut this out is to probably take a leaf out from “ Lage Raho Munnabhai”. This means let us start being courteous, and instead of focusing on expectations start focusing on duties and doing the required thing. This would lead to a slow but definite change in the cycle and things will start seeming better. Regarding, knowing more about Narcissistic Personality disorder, while I think the set of attributes described by you does not really match the core description and understanding of this personality disorder, I would encourage you to gather more information about this by maybe visiting a library and reading about it in the psychiatric or psychology section books. The best way to deal would be to visit a psychologist or counselor who may help you to cope with this situation by empowering you with positive coping skills. All the Best.

A.  I think what you have described is inherently reflective of relationship problems. It also is reflective of expectation problems. These problems are characterised by expectation of certain attitudes and behaviours from people known and unknown. When the attitudes and behaviours do not match our expectations, one starts to feel distraught and distressed. And more one gets distressed the more one is not able to bear the behaviours and the attitudes and behaviours seem more away from the expectations and this leads to a chronic vicious circle leading to conflict of interests and conflict between individuals. The way to cut this out is to probably take a leaf out from “ Lage Raho Munnabhai”. This means let us start being courteous, and instead of focusing on expectations start focusing on duties and doing the required thing. This would lead to a slow but definite change in the cycle and things will start seeming better. Regarding, knowing more about Narcissistic Personality disorder, while I think the set of attributes described by you does not really match the core description and understanding of this personality disorder, I would encourage you to gather more information about this by maybe visiting a library and reading about it in the psychiatric or psychology section books. The best way to deal would be to visit a psychologist or counselor who may help you to cope with this situation by empowering you with positive coping skills. All the Best.

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