How to handle a mother-in-law who’s a narcissist.

By offering beautifully designed zafus, Allison Dundovich is creating a product and a brand to facilitate people toward their happiness. She currently lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where she teaches mindfulness and personal growth.

How can you use loving-kindness to create a safe barrier from a narcissistic family member?

Interview with a warrior: The Women Co interviews Allison Dundovich started Bloom a few years ago — Bloom is about helping people become more self-aware and mindful, leading to a happier life.

Please tell us a bit about your experience with the narcissist(s) in your life…

Allison — My ex-boyfriend’s mother is a narcissist and she was really the first close person in my life who is a narcissist, so I was ill-prepared for that type of relationship. After a number of traumatic experiences, I started looking for help with dealing with narcissists. That’s when I started utilizing my mindfulness practice.

One of the things that was so hard was how energetically draining it was. I began to envision a bubble around myself where I could create an energy field with light and love — I realized I could send energy out, then could control whatever energy was coming back to me. It became a buffer of whatever negative energy she was sending my way. You can create it in your mind. Whether you envision a bubble or not, you don’t have to let yourself absorb that vibe. You don’t have to receive that energy.

This mindfulness practice became at the forefront of my mind, so that on the drive to visit her, I would feel this energy bubble of happiness and love all around me. I tried to maintain that throughout the entire experience and found that I felt a lot less drained because of it. 

Now, I felt like I had a sidekick or a life hack. 

For me, the bubble really helped because I’m a visual learner. If you bring the awareness to yourself before the situation occurs, you’re already loaded up and ready to go. It’s not a surprise. You’re prepared for it. Knowing and anticipating how you’ll react in a triggering situation; knowing what your default is; separating yourself from it, so the triggers don’t affect you — that’s all essential when it comes to dealing with a narcissist.

What would you encourage anyone else going through a similar journey as you have gone through to focus on or do?

Don’t take it personally! It is so important to know that it’s not YOU and what you’re doing, it’s just the way a narcissist is. Focus on what you can control — and that is the energy you put into that relationship.

I have such a selfless mom. She was the most nurturing, empathetic, selfless parent you could have. She was the breadwinner in my family. And, my dad was a stay-at-home dad. I thankfully got to see gender roles reversed. For me, to go into this relationship with my now ex and to see a totally different type of parent who lacked empathy and who always needed to be right or have her story validated — I was like, “Whoa whoa whoa, this is a completely different experience than I’m used to.” 

I still felt the need to be liked by my ex’s mom. I think that was something growing up, I took pride in excelling and being acknowledged, so for the first year of our relationship, I did not know the extent of her disorder. 

She was very good at covering it up and seeming like a bad–ass business woman. I thought for the first year and a half that we had an awesome connection. That’s what made it so devastating when I realized she wasn’t approving of our relationship, and had made moves to manipulate my ex and affect our relationship. 

When that came out, the jig was up, and she was just not hiding it anymore. It got really extreme after that. Even in the early stages, I don’t know what her intentions or motivations were, I think she just wanted to control her son. My initial response was that I was going to be the nicest sweetest person, not being disingenuous, but be my best self for her. After months and months of realizing it wasn’t enough, I saw that it wasn’t right. 

I needed to take a step back and realize that the only thing I can control is myself, my opinion, my experience. I couldn’t control what she thinks of me, I needed to stop letting her opinion impact me in the way that it does. 

By practicing mindfulness, and reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k, I stopped walking around on eggshells. I began to know that I was completely fine. Other people could react however they wanted.

Once I stopped caring if she liked me or not, that was when I had that weight lifted off my shoulders. In every situation, I was still hyper aware of their personality. You can’t be 100% relaxed, but at least I was able to be myself. 

You have to change what you want from a relationship with a narcissist. You have to decide. When you have that awareness, you can alter your expectations of that relationship. 

While healing from a narcissist can be exceptionally challenging, what gifts have you received or lessons have you learned that helped you grow from this experience?

So. Many. I learned to stop caring about what others thought of me. I think I had a somewhat toxic self-esteem before this entire experience. I found a lot of confidence and happiness in being loved and accepted by people. When that was put into question, I was really hurt at first. 

Once I put energy into healing myself instead of my relationship with this narcissist, it opened up a world of self-compassion and good vibes. I used to love being “selfless” but now I am so proud that I can be more “selfish” and put myself first whether that’s my feelings, preferences, goals, etc.

I have always loved looking for the silver-lining in every situation, and this experience is jam-packed with silver linings. To find the silver lining, you have to practice repetition on a regular basis. You have to look for it and start creating those connections and synapses in your brain. It’s really uncomfortable and foreign at first. 

If you want, you can also create a gratitude journal or write out what happens in your day, then create an indent space to find the silver lining — you have to intentionally write for it. When you start looking for things to be grateful for, it is easier to find it. Build that habit with a journal. 

It’s helpful to create that pathway, so that once you are going through crappy situations with a narcissist or whatever it might be, your mind is more trained to look for those silver linings or things you can take away that were challenging that promoted your growth.

What helped you most in recovering from your relationships with narcissists?

The best practice I can recommend for someone dealing with a narcissist in their life is loving-kindness (or metta) meditations. I am a mindfulness teacher and I started to use this practice to intentionally mend our relationship. 

I had to realize I could not control who my ex’s mom was or what she thought of me, I could only control what I thought of her and how I treated her.

A loving-kindness meditation focuses on bringing loving energy to someone you love, then someone you are neutral with, then someone you’re having difficulty with. Ultimately, I just worked on moving her from someone I was having difficulty with to someone I’m neutral with. I wouldn’t stop doing the practice until I could hear her name and not have a gut reaction with something negative. 

I wrote about how to do a metta meditation. You can also find a free metta meditation on Insight Timer.

Learn more about Allison Dundovich and Bloom.

Interviewed as part of The Women Co’s series looking at the lives of women who have healed from a Narcissist. Join their 8 week digital Heal from a Narcissist program here.

Who is The Women Co? They’re the first #ChangeHacking wellness platform. They curate courses using the latest innovations in research and the best experts in mind, body and soul to help women tackle the big issues no one talks about…but should!

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