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Mother In-Law Acts Out and Is Faking Pregnancy

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I’m writing on behalf of myself and my three sisters in law;
Our 56 year old MIL has been diagnosed with anxiety in the past, and wants constant attention from everyone in her family, and behaves very disruptively to get it. According to her parents, siblings, husband and sons, this has been a continual issue since childhood. Most commonly, she picks fights or feigns illness or helplessness, such as:
– claiming to be legally blind and insisting that she’d need to be driven and accompanied everywhere (her vision returned a few weeks later)
– can barely eat anything, other than favorite foods, possibly from stomach cancer that was supposedly diagnosed at a walk-in clinic
– picking fights with, or claiming insult from someone who is getting more attention than herself , ie: I was horribly rude to her and she needed an apology immediately on my wedding day, when I was in labour, and when I was going to visit my dying grandfather.
– Her daughter-in-law, who had cancer, doesn’t call often enough
– Her brothers widow gave her nasty looks at the funeral and she wanted us all to leave immediately
Neither ignoring her behavior, or giving her her more positive attention, seems to make much difference. If you call every day, twice a day would be better.
Over the past 3 years all four of her sons have moved away (either to the next province or across country) and her behavior as only escalated. Recently, she claimed to be pregnant, despite a hysterectomy 15 years ago, and was furious with how little attention she received. The pregnancy, and how it would effect the family, was all she would talk about for weeks. Her husband and sisters say she used to claim to be pregnant several times a year. He and their sons are used to her behavior and say she’s just bored. But we are concerned both with the increase in her behavior, her dedication to this pregnancy claim, and her reaction to the lack of attention she received for it.

We’re not sure where to go from here, or how best to deal with this situation with her or our husbands. (From Canada)

Mother In-Law Acts Out and Is Faking Pregnancy

Answered by on -


Thank you for your letter. I am sure this will not come as a shock to you when I say that the collection of symptoms your mother-in-law exhibits is an untreated psychiatric condition. The pattern of her histrionics is such that, untreated, is not likely to improve. That being said, I would encourage a family meeting with a skilled family therapist. This meeting does not include your mother-in-law. Meanness and disruptive behavior need a managed approach by all those involved.

Communication skills and family therapy can help galvanize a unified response with family members. This will be necessary if there is to be any progress. The find help tab at the top of this page will help you find someone in your area. Or you can check with the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Mother In-Law Acts Out and Is Faking Pregnancy

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Mother In-Law Acts Out and Is Faking Pregnancy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 3 Feb 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.