Mother-in-Law Controlling the Family. Is This ADHD?

Reader’s Question

HELP!! My mother in-law has a severe case of untreated ADHD. It is very much the big family secret as it is painfully obvious, hurtful to everyone, but no one ever does anything about it. Having married into the family and otherwise not feeling the venom of someone with ADHD until now, I simply don’t know how to react to her anymore. She is literally the most rude, obnoxious, pushy, and irritating person I know. She doesn’t listen to anyone, talks non-stop, behaves like a child, and thus far I have yet to be able to express to her in a manner where she comprehends what I’m saying that she can’t continue to walk all over my wife and me.

Aside from the psychological and emotional strain she puts on us and her repeated hurtful comments and actions, she actually destroys our property by making terrible decisions and simply being very careless. When I’ve tried to talk to her about anything — she blows up, acts like the world is literally ending and that I’m the devil, and doesn’t pay the slightest attention that SHE is actually the source of the problem. In her world, she literally isn’t doing anything wrong, but leaves a wake of sadness and hurt with everyone in her life. I feel like a rape victim who gets put on trial no matter what I do. And the only result of this whole thing is that she is ruining my marriage, her relationship with my wife and me, heading down a very dark path with her family, and stomping all over everyone in her life without any obvious signs of acknowledgement, control, or interest in changing.


Psychologist’s Reply

Right off the bat…this isn’t ADHD! She’d like everyone to think that because it’s more socially acceptable than having a Personality Disorder. She uses that as an excuse to control the family and excuse her behavior. What you are describing is a Personality Disorder, with Histrionic, Antisocial, and Borderline features. Individuals with these conditions are highly manipulative, self-centered, abusive, deny personal responsibility for anything they do or cause, have a tremendous sense of entitlement, and feel entitled to punish or abuse those who don’t meet their continuous selfish demands. If challenged they become explosive, theatrical, dramatic, and hostile. They are totally preoccupied with their needs and have no problem controlling, intruding, and ruining the lives of those around them. Highly manipulative, they use guilt, intimidation, threats, and their rage to control folks in their environment. When their phone number appears on a caller ID, the hair stands up on the back of your neck.

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Personality Disorders have been recognized in mental health work for years. I’d recommend reading my article on Identifying Losers in Relationships as it outlines some of the strategies used by Personality Disorders. It’s available on this website.

As a couple, you and your wife need to develop a strategy to deal with your mother-in-law’s behavior. Setting boundaries is very important — what you will and will not tolerate or accept. You must protect yourself from her behavior as she has no concern for protecting you and your family. She will ruin your marriage and destroy the self-esteem of all those in her grasp. These are very powerful people because their behavior is so overwhelming and aggressive. While we can keep a Lion in the family, it’s good to keep it in a cage to protect everyone from what it is…a dangerous animal. The same applies here, sadly. You must protect yourself and marriage first, keep her at a safe emotional distance, don’t take her behavior personally, etc. Your mother-in-law wants the entire family to focus around her nonstop demands and antics. When she starts acting up, leave. Allow her to say anything she wants…but leave. The same applies on the phone. If the conversation is polite, talk. If not, hang up. As the family has discovered, accepting her behavior only intensifies it.

Consultation with a counselor may also help you and your wife develop an effective strategy. Eventually, if you strategy is effective, other members of the family will need to use it as well. In short, her behavior is not caused by ADHD. She is clearly mean-spirited and manipulative, something not associated with ADHD.

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