Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.

Do you think difficult people know they are difficult?

(32 Posts)
StreetFighter Sat 19-Nov-16 09:24:46

I've been pondering this in the run up to Christmas with family visits looming.

I'm generally pretty good at getting on with people, but after twenty-odd years, I've made my peace with the fact that I'm never going to be able to spend any time with my MIL without being driven to distraction.

It's really not because of the dynamics of the MIL/DIL relationship - she drives everyone crackers. She's self-centred (is only interested in talking about herself) domineering, has a hugely inflated sense of her own importance/expertise in any given area (including areas where the person she's talking to is an actual expert) and often rude. Family gatherings tend to involve everyone walking on eggshells and colluding in trying to placate her and not become embroiled in any contentious conversations with her.

It's not restricted to family, either. She has repeatedly alienated and offended acquaintances over the years, resulting in extended outraged ranting from her, with a complete inability to consider accepting any responsibility for the fall-out, or to identify patterns in her behaviour. She has one long-standing friend, a relationship which has survived due to this person being incredibly meek and never disagreeing with her and always allowing we to dominate and have her own way. FIL is a coward, and has enabled her poor behaviour for four decades; while he rolls his eyes at her and pulls faces behind her back, he never pulls her up on it, and often colludes in her self-righteous rants about the ways in which she perceives herself to have been wronged.

Anyway: I'm fascinated as to how she manages to maintain such an unshakeable belief in herself as likeable, reasonable and rational (indeed,she prides herself upon these things), in the face of all evidence to the contrary. How do people like this avoid self-reflection to such an extent and remain so utterly oblivious to their own faults? She's objectively a very, very difficult woman, but she has no idea whatsoever that this is the case. I just can't understand it - I'm very able to identify my less desirable character traits and behaviours (even if I struggle at times to change or modify them) and I think most people are similar.

What are your thoughts? Do you think difficult people are ever able recognise that they are difficult, or is this lack of recognition part of what makes them difficult?

Giselaw Sat 19-Nov-16 09:29:44

What evidence? You said your entire family enables her behaviour - colluding and placating her.

Nobody tells her she's out of line when she is, especially her closest family. Like you.

That's how.hmm

Slowmow Sat 19-Nov-16 09:35:14

I have a MIL like this

They just surround themselves by placating, accommodating people and then when you joined the family you were expected to jump on the bandwagon too and you probably felt some pressure to do this.

Also people who are closest to them like your FIL like to delude themselves with the idea that these people are "good underneath" or they "mean well," which is just self delusional bullshit to not face up to the situation they are in.

AmberEars Sat 19-Nov-16 09:37:53

I think people do have a great capacity for self deception. My MIL isn't nearly as bad as yours, but I nearly choked on my tea when she described herself as 'a hands on granny'. This is the same woman who, when I needed to pop out for 10 mins to pick up something from the local shop, made me take all three DC with me rather than leave any of them at home with her!!

It's like the online dating thing too. Everyone thinks they have a good sense of humour and are able to admit when they're in the wrong!

lljkk Sat 19-Nov-16 09:39:49

The difficult people are pretty clueless about it, ime.
I was told at a job interview "Oh, we all get along really well here. I can't think of any personality issues."

You can guess who was disliked by almost everyone.

toptoe Sat 19-Nov-16 09:43:08

Because they don't care what other people think and have no interest in what's going on in the minds of others. They simply don't have the ability to understand how their behaviour makes other people feel.

thinkingcrumpet Sat 19-Nov-16 09:54:35

Are you describing my MIL wink?

Google narcissistic personality disorder. Often occurs when the individual suffers significant trauma as a child, particularly around the ego stage (pre 5 years old). They remain "frozen" effectively in the emotional state of a toddler where they are centre of the universe and everyone exists to flatter or appease them.

They simply don't have self awareness or empathy, so there's no point using the same kind of hints that normal people would respond to.

Read "Toxic In Laws" by Susan forward for how to handle them.

YouOweMeATenner Sat 19-Nov-16 09:59:36

What giselaw said.

GrabtharsHammer Sat 19-Nov-16 10:04:47

My sister is 'difficult'. She doesn't like most people and can be incredibly rude and cutting. She knows it though. She often says that she's thought about being less of a bitch but it doesn't suit her.

I love her, and she has plenty of friends. She manages a large department at a multinational company so her forthrightness has served her well.

My mother on the other hand would be mortified to be described as difficult. She thinks of herself as a loving and hands on mother/grandmother when actually she is over critical, controlling and likes to play favourites. She is very prickly and quick to anger.

I think it depends how much insight the person has.

cosytoaster Sat 19-Nov-16 10:06:34

No, I don't think they do - it's that very lack of self awareness that makes them difficult. Thankfully, I've only ever experienced it with colleagues, although that's bad enough.

glitterandtinsel Sat 19-Nov-16 10:08:59

Narcissistic personality disorder. She knows everyone else has a problem and she is perfect.

FaithAscending Sat 19-Nov-16 10:16:37

Depends on why they're difficult. I know I'm difficult. I like things a certain way, I'm fussy about food and textures (can't wear certain clothes). I know colleagues are a bit hmm because if they're chatting while someone is handing over I have to tell them to be quiet because I can't concentrate! Turns out it's because I have ASD (diagnosed this year). I know people make allowances for me, my family are very supportive.

What you're describing sounds like NPD. My MIL is like this. One of DH's siblings is NC with her because she's so awful. MIL has no insight into how she comes across. She lies and twists things all the time, she is exhausting to be around. She can't accept that SIL is NC because of her behaviour, she has decided it's because SIL is jealous of her relationship with her DH hmm There's not a lot you can do with someone like this. Some people with a diagnosis can take steps to change but given that most people like this get their own way, where's the incentive to change?!

ChuckGravestones Sat 19-Nov-16 10:18:46

I remember inheriting a staff member who described herself as a 'can do' person.

Yes, I can tell people that I am unable to help.
Yes, I can tell people that they can't do that.
Yes, I can tell people that the system won't let them do x, y or z.

All said, in an actual interview when she kept applying for a role that she was never going to get. But because we always had to interview internal candidates, I had to sit through this shit every few months as she kept applying. No self awareness at all.

MidnightVelvetthe7th Sat 19-Nov-16 10:20:20

No I wouldn't think they would have such an insight, I think they would probably reconcile it themselves as everybody else's problem or acknowledge that they are being unreasonable but have a reaction such as 'its just me, everyone knows what I'm like' or 'aren't I adorable' sort of thing

StreetFighter Sat 19-Nov-16 10:21:39

Re: the pulling them up on it - in my case, it's part cowardice, partly it not being my role (I've married into the family, so need I think to follow the lead of the biological family to a large extent), and partly awareness that it would be utterly useless.

There is no way on God's green earth that my MIL would accept any part of being pulled up on anything, so it would cause almighty ructions and achieve precisely nothing.

So tricky. I feel that there should be a way of dealing with people like this, other than trying to avoid dealing with them and keeps by your mouth shut. grin

MaudlinNamechange Sat 19-Nov-16 10:22:19

I agree, they don't know.

what I find very difficult about these people is that they often think they are exceptionally lovely. If they were missing how difficult they were and just thought they were averagely reasonable, that would be less galling. But they often have an inflated idea of themselves as being remarkably likeable, warm people.

Namechangearoo Sat 19-Nov-16 10:22:55

I'm the difficult daughter in law.

I know that's how I'm seen by DH's family (especially MIL) and it's down to how different our personalities are. The women in his family are simpering, think it's "cute" to sound silly and giggle a lot. Won't ever contradict their DHs, very concerned by how people view them.

I think they consider me bossy, loud and argumentative. I know I indirectly intimidate MIL sometimes. She seems scared to ask me anything as I'm likely to tell the truth rather than a Stepford-wife sugar-coated version.

I really do try with her, but it's the mental equivalent of trying to sit on my hands... I can do it for a while but then my personality bursts out.

I have never been more acutely aware of my failings than when I am around MIL. I worry that I am hard to live with, emotional and a "strong" personality (none of which she has said, but her body language says it all). I am besotted with DH and I think/hope he feels the same, but I feel so sad that I can't have a good relationship with his Mum/sisters.

So yes, I know I'm difficult and I try my best to be more accommodating, but I don't seem to succeed.

paulapantsdown Sat 19-Nov-16 10:25:13

My dad was a narc. He went through his whole life believing that he was a wonderful, caring, reasonable person, whose family and friends adored him. He was fucking deluded.

BadRespawn Sat 19-Nov-16 10:32:53

To add to the NPD claims, you might want to Google Harry Frankurt's amusing thesis 'On Bullshit' - basically, some people have no interest in reality if it conflicts with their agenda and simply use confirmation bias to filter out any contradictory data. I don't think being surrounded by 'enablers' even makes much of a difference to these people either way, due to their effectiveness at narrow-mindedly following their own (generally unfounded) beliefs.

FaithAscending Sat 19-Nov-16 10:32:56

Oh yes! MIL thinks she's lovely. She's also said I'm the least selfish person I know!

StreetFighter Sat 19-Nov-16 10:34:34

Ha! YES to the utter conviction that they are uncommonly warm and lovely and admirable.

TheNaze73 Sat 19-Nov-16 10:35:31

I do feel for you.

High maintenance, needy, difficult pricks tend to live in a bubble & lack self awareness. Why no one picks them up on their abhorrent behaviour is beyond me

IllMetByMoonlight Sat 19-Nov-16 10:42:54

Faith, my sister has similar issues to yours, and has been described as "difficult" in her workplace (took redundancy to get out of it). Really upsetting for her as she was super-effective at her actual job, just needed conditions to be right; quiet, good lighting etc.
DP can be "difficult" too, he suffers with anxiety which sometimes manifests in social situations and can make him withdrawn and a bit edgy, misinterpreting things and over-thinking interactions. He is aware of this and feels very self-concsious about it, kicking himself afterwards when the anxiety has passed.

ThisIsStartingToBoreMe Sat 19-Nov-16 11:20:42

Yes they know they are difficult. They know exactly what they're doing

HunterHearstHelmsley Sat 19-Nov-16 11:24:20

I can be difficult. Probably more awkward. I never used to be but I got sick of other difficult people and thought "fuck it, I'll do what I want".

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now