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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello ESFJs out there! I could really use your help.

I am having troubles with my ESFJ mother-in-law and need to set some boundaries soon. :rolleyes:

I want to start by saying that I never set out to wage war with my MIL. I actually wasn't aware that she didn't like me until my husband (then boyfriend) told me that she was calling me cruel names and spreading rumors about me to our circle of friends. OUCH!

Many years have passed, and I now know all about my husband's emotionally and physically abusive childhood. No need to get into the details, but the important part is that nothing she has done to my husband or myself has ever been acknowledged or apologized for, yet she still tries to control and manipulate us both on the rare occasions that we see her.

I have typed her as an ESFJ, but she is definitely of the unhealthy variety. My husband, who is still dealing with his deep-seated coping mechanisms, usually regresses when he is around her and sort of acts like a teenager again, letting her think her manipulations are working instead of facing her head-on and calling her out on her inappropriate tactics... which is an issue all its own.

As an INFJ, I truly hate conflict. But more than conflict, I hate deceit. And more than deceit, I hate when people feel that they have the right to abuse and use the people who are dearest to me, especially my husband.

It drives me insane when she and the rest of the family pretend everything is perfect. And then when I notice her inevitably attempting to control and manipulate, I usually lose control and start my self-defeating slew of rude sarcastic comments. She will usually then play the "unaware" card or the "victim" card, which consists of the silent treatment and then occasionally lashing back at me in a "woe is me" tone, especially when she knows my husband can hear her.

I know I am terribly out of line in my sarcastic reactions and would really like to end this cycle that gets us nowhere.

I am horrified of what will happen when we have kids if we don't get some boundaries set soon. I would appreciate any help you have to give. I know that I cannot change her and I am not aiming to be two peas in a pod; so how can I change my own behaviors and perspectives to help this relationship?

I am ready to try to take a step in the right direction! :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Do any of you ESFJs know any INFJs?

How do you perceive them? What do you like and dislike about dealing with them? Do you feel misunderstood by them?

I appreciate any feedback you might have! Thanks :)
 

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One of my childhood friends is an INFJ, and I still see her occasionally. She and I got along really well. We had this instant connection as soon as we started talking to each other. They have a demeanor that just calms and soothes you immediately, and they are excellent listeners. I love that they are true to themselves and to the people they care about. This INFJ would do anything for her family no matter what the personal costs, and I really admire that devotion and loyalty. I love how their Fe helps them really understand and care about others. I like that they think deeply about the world around them and can talk about it easily. They can be a little set in their ways but I understand that because I tend to be too. :)

As for your situation, it is a tough one. Before you do anything, I think your husband himself needs to take the initiative and let his mother know that there are boundaries. It sounds like the abuse really took a toll on him, but he owes it to you to confront her about it instead of letting you fend for yourself. The fact that she is calling you cruel names and spreading rumors about you is totally out of line, and he should be clear that that is unacceptable. You are part of their family now whether she likes it or not, so she should start acting like it.

If he is totally incapable of doing this, then maybe you can sit down with her some time and tell her how her treatment of you is making you feel hurt and isolated. Tell her that you want more than anything to be closer to her and to understand her, but that you feel like there may be a disconnect somewhere along the line. Don't make it sound like you are blaming her for it, because then she'll immediately shut down and stop listening. She'll probably deny it, but ask her if there's anything specific that you do that is making her act like this. Being open and honest with her first is important, since it will allow you to defend yourself should it later get out of hand. If this proves unsuccessful, then maybe there is someone else in the family who can help. Does your husband have any siblings who you are close to?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
lenabelle, thank you for your reply! It means a lot to get an ESFJ perspective in this.

It is great to hear that you have an INFJ friend that you admire. In a perfect world, I could really see my mother-in-law and I getting along quite well with our Fe syncing up and with different background functions to add interest to the conversation. :) I know that I have had a tendency of showing a very ugly side of myself for some time now and that she probably doesn't realize that she is really seeing the worst of it. She seems to put on her best 'face' when she is around us, so she might think that what she is seeing in me is also my best.

I think you are spot on with my husband being the one to set the boundaries. I posted this on the INFJ forum too and have received multiple responses that also get at this.

I have a specific question for you. In our many discussions, my husband has fought me on something. I think we should start from the beginning with his mom and dad, and speak about the things that have been done in the past that were never resolved. My husband, speaking from experience dealing with his mom, does not think this would get us anywhere. He thinks that she would feel attacked and that it would cause an all-out blow up and unnecessarily stir the waters. Similar to the "shut down" possibility you mentioned. The way I see it, however, is that we should start from the beginning and slowly work our way up to a nice simple relationship from a true foundation. I have a strong need for authenticity and closure, which his family, both mom and dad, don't seem to value.

My husband thinks that instead of bringing up anything from the past, we need to set clear boundaries in the here and now and then maybe sometime down the road we might be able to get into that territory. What is your take on this?

I have thought about maybe inviting her to start doing an activity with me every so often. Like maybe going for a bike ride or a group fitness class at my gym. Do you think that might be a good strategy to building some kind of healthy relationship?

My husband has a younger brother who she gets along with much better. He is an ENFJ so they have the primary Fe thing going on. He is dating a girl that the family is absolutely in love with, I think she might also be an ESFJ, though she seems much healthier than their mom.

My husband's dad is very logical and patient, I think he could be a key player in making this work if he is willing to hear my husband out.

Would you recommend I do anything specific before my husband lays down the law? We are meeting up with them soon and I would like to make a little progress then.

Thank you!
 

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What are the types of your husband and his father?

I have a specific question for you. In our many discussions, my husband has fought me on something. I think we should start from the beginning with his mom and dad, and speak about the things that have been done in the past that were never resolved. My husband, speaking from experience dealing with his mom, does not think this would get us anywhere. He thinks that she would feel attacked and that it would cause an all-out blow up and unnecessarily stir the waters. Similar to the "shut down" possibility you mentioned. The way I see it, however, is that we should start from the beginning and slowly work our way up to a nice simple relationship from a true foundation. I have a strong need for authenticity and closure, which his family, both mom and dad, don't seem to value.

My husband thinks that instead of bringing up anything from the past, we need to set clear boundaries in the here and now and then maybe sometime down the road we might be able to get into that territory. What is your take on this?
I know what you're getting at, but I'm going to have to agree with your husband here. If your mother-in-law has shown that she doesn't feel comfortable around you, she may feel offended by you trying to dig into that part of their history too fast. Some ESFJs are very image-conscious. They like to pretend that their lives are perfect and get upset when others, especially people they haven't let in, imply that they aren't. We also tend to perceive that others are blaming us for bad things that happen, even when they aren't, just because our Fe means we feel personally responsible for the feelings of others around us. Despite all your good intentions, there is the danger that she will see this as an attack on her and her family and close herself off to any discussion. You are all about authenticity, which is great, but ESFJs value harmony over authenticity. If things seem "fine" for the time being, and you are suddenly trying to bring up this discussion (which in her eyes is conflict), she will react negatively because she will think of it as disturbing the order and natural way of things. Your husband was raised by her, so I think he probably has a better idea of how she is likely to react to things. I just want to throw out the disclaimer that I am just one opinion though. I'd be interested to hear what other ESFJs would have to say on the matter.

I think these things are going to take time. You have to build a stable foundation of trust first before you tackle the tougher problems. And I know to you it seems crazy to have a trusting relationship where things like this go unaddressed, but for an ESFJ, it's perfectly reasonable. She needs to see that you are not a threat before she will let you approach that private side of her. Work your way slowly into her life. Be very patient with her, even when you really want to be sarcastic. It might even help to pull her aside and apologize for getting off on the wrong foot and telling her that you want to take the time to really understand her better. I think your idea of doing a regular activity with her is great. It'll help her be able to see you outside of just the standard "daughter-in-law" role and maybe she'll let her guard down.

It's good to hear that your husband's dad and brother are more cooperative. In the future they could be a good line of communication in case the relationship with the MIL goes sour. Just make sure they know they can trust you. I don't have anything specific to add besides that unless you have more questions!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
lenabelle,

My husband is an ENTP and I believe his dad is an ESTJ.

I had never really thought about it that way! The fact that an easy-going upbeat environment would be a prerequisite or even foundation for going deeper with an ESFJ. Very interesting, I will have to shift my perspective so it seems! I also value harmony, but not surface harmony, so I am brimming with my 'explosive' feelings when I step into the same room as her because I know nothing is truly resolved or that their is a lack of deeper harmony at hand.

One of the things that drives me crazy about her is that she will shout from the rooftops things she is planning on doing almost like she is claiming them as 'her thing' before even starting. This seems backwards to me, I would MUCH prefer to do something and do it well and then maybe tell the people I care about that I have done it. This might be mostly an E/I difference.

She is absolutely very image-conscious and I think that you are spot on with your 'diagnosis' of an ongoing problem here :) I would also love to hear what other ESFJs think regarding this authenticity-harmony dichotomy.

You have really given me a lot to think about. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!
 

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Your husband is really lucky he met a patient and thoughtful person like you.

You and your husband are exerting a lot of effort, thought, planning, and strategy to deal with one toxic person. It's good that he's willing to establish the boundaries, and you're willing to extend yourself to build a rapport with her on a personal level. Good for both of you for being intelligent and resourceful, finding solutions instead of getting bogged down in the problem. I find it incredible that you're willing to work with her, given her abusive history, dragging your name through the mud, and attempts to pit your husband against you. You might not be able to change her, but you can definitely find creative solutions to deal with it.

A book I found very helpful was "In sheep's clothing" by George K Simon, which helps the reader identify and deal with covertly aggressive personalities. Might be worth a look. It will help you to better appreciate the psychology of manipulative people, and give you skills in dealing with them.

If all of your tactics to create peace with your MIL don't work, you can always move. That's the ultimate in minimizing contact with toxic people.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
violetblack, thank you for your feedback and encouragement. Yes, it is easy to forget that the only person I can change is myself. I will pick the book you suggested up, thanks for the recommendation. I love how you worded that, "covertly aggressive," that hits the nail on the head.

Moving might end up being the best option if boundaries keep being broken, especially once we have kids...
 
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