It was a second marriage for Clark and Claudia so they were both prepared for a difficult first couple of years as they blended their families together. But what they did not expect was the added difficulty of Clark’s parents. He knew that they were narcissistic and even prepared Claudia for their limited encounters. However, the holidays brought out an intensity that Clark did not expect. It also was Clark’s birthday and his mother invited them by saying, “Only I know how to properly celebrate our special day.” The passive-aggressive comment was just the beginning of the strange behavior.
Clark’s mom treated her son like he walked on water; nothing was his fault, everything was Claudia’s fault. It was as if he was a demi-god of sorts and Claudia was not good enough to even wash his feet. When Clark sneezed during the visit, his mother said, “If Claudia took better care of you this won’t happen, you never got the flu with me.” Clark learned in the past to ignore such comments but for Claudia, who was still trying to impress her in-laws, she took the criticism to heart.
Yet the most revealing statement happened while they watched Clark’s kids playing. His mother turned to Claudia and said, “Enjoy them now because one day they will leave you for someone else.” That was it. Again, the remarks seemed to roll off Clark’s back while it bothered Claudia. After that remark, Claudia secretly vowed to stay away from her as much as possible.
Desperate to figure out a way to survive the pending doom of the weekend, Claudia revisited her reads on narcissism. She decided to settle on these five strategies of survival.
- Charm is a trap. At the beginning of their relationship, Claudia thought she connected with Clark’s mother. But just before the wedding, Clark revealed a telling conversation in which his mother encouraged him to walk away from the pending marriage. Ever since then, Claudia felt displaced, uneasy, and confused. This time was going to be different. Claudia vowed to not fall prey to her charm. Instead of seeing her pleasantries as an attempt to improve the relationship, Claudia would view them a bait to draw her in so she can be attacked later. She chose to not believe the flattery and view it as a trap.
- Conversation is an opportunity. Looking back on their relationship, Claudia realized that Clark’s mother would draw her into a conversation that quickly turned into a competition of who showed more love to her husband. It was a sick cycle that Claudia tried to avoid. But dodging discussions with her mother-in-law only resulted in comments like, “Your wife hates me, she won’t even talk to me.” Instead, Claudia decided to intentionally converse with her mother-in-law about herself. That way, Claudia would avoid talking about herself and her mother-in-law could retain the spotlight.
- Confession is a vulnerability. Claudia began taking an inventory of their past discussions and realized that she often apologized for things that were not her fault. Her mother-in-law used her confessions as further evidence of Claudia’s ineptness as a wife, mother, and human being. Claudia thought that by expressing regret her relationship would improve and she would keep the peace. Under normal circumstances, this might be correct, but with a narcissist, this is viewed as weakness and an opportunity for a future attack. So Claudia decided not to say, “I’m sorry” for the whole weekend.
- Charades are a cover. In talking with Clark, Claudia realized that her mother-in-law’s memory of grandiosity was greatly exaggerated. Her husband just dismissed the stories as fictional while Claudia took them to heart believing them to be some standard that she needed to achieve. In reality, the false mask that her mother-in-law wore was a covering for deep-rooted insecurity. The greater the story, the larger the insecurity. Just grasping this truth eased Claudia’s own insecurities and helped her to see her mother-in-law as a flawed, not perfect, person.
- Confidence is golden. The larger than life persona her mother-in-law displayed caused Claudia to shrink in comparison. Without her shield of confidence, Claudia was defenseless to the passive-aggressive personal attacks like, “Every good mother knows how to do this.” This immediately put Claudia on the defense while her mother-in-law remained safely on offense. No game was ever won with a good defense only. So Claudia rehearsed some comeback lines in retaliation, “Good mothers might not know that, but great mothers do this.” By anticipating her mother-in-law’s negativity with Claudia’s new solid counterattacks, she was able to confidently survive the weekend.
These five strategies allowed Claudia to walk away from the weekend feeling more secure, not less. Surprisingly, the more confidence Claudia demonstrated, the less her mother-in-law attacked. The temptation after such success is to believe that things are permanently changed or fixed. However, this is not the case as narcissists will patiently wait for future opportunities to attack. So Claudia decided to keep repeating these techniques over and over again.