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Dear Dr. Yael,

In reference to your response last week to the woman with a very difficult mother-in-law, I understand why answering positively or complimenting will help. But why should the mother-in-law, or for that matter any toxic person, get away with mouthing such venom? Shouldn’t there be a way of saying that that kind of talk is venomous, and should not be allowed in our conversations? I also had a very difficult mother-in-law. Most of her kids pushed her away when they found her impossible to deal with. The more they pushed her away, the crueler and decidedly insulting she became, and she kept on asking “What am I doing already?” She missed four of her grandchildren’s weddings because her daughter wouldn’t have her there. (My mother-in-law told everyone bad things about my sister-in-law at one of the l’chaims, so my sister-in-law threatened to call the police if my mother-in-law came to the weddings.) Somehow, I wish I could have kicked her out too, but my husband wouldn’t hear of it. She saw that at my parents’ Shabbos table, I was basically ignored, so when she wanted to dig deep, she said to me “Your own family doesn’t even talk to you,” i.e. you’re basically worthless. Why does nothing get through to these people? Don’t they realize they’re repeating the venom that was poured on them?




Dear Anonymous,

The situation that you are presenting sounds even more difficult. Your mother-in-law was cruel and painful in her remarks. It is challenging to write this column since as a frum person, I know the halachot of kibbud av v’em are sometimes difficult to observe.

However, it sounds like your mother-in-law may have a personality disorder and a problem with boundaries. Your husband sounds like he is a tzaddik with a challenging mother, but it probably was very painful for you. It is unclear if your husband respectfully stood up for you when your mother-in-law hurt you or if he let his mother say these things without responding. If the latter is true, it was probably an extremely painful situation, so it makes sense that this response does not resonate with you. I know that many therapists would preach boundaries and maybe even cutting off this relationship. However, I do not advocate cutting a parent out of simchas, even if they are difficult. In your situation, it may have been beneficial to have tuned out what your mother-in-law said and to have been respectful with boundaries. Being respectful doesn’t mean that you allow a toxic person to hurt you again and again. You can respectfully maintain your boundaries, but it was probably very hard if your husband wanted to maintain a relationship at all costs.

Understanding the cause of why your mother-in-law behaved this way may help you come to terms with it more. Underneath this “venom” lies a negative person who probably had a very dysfunctional childhood. Your mother-in-law must have been very insecure and probably needed to belittle others to build her own self-esteem. “Don’t mind the mind that belittles you, he is trying to cut you down to his own size.” Once a person realizes that someone is negative with them because they have their own issues, they may be able to tolerate it better and not let it be as painful.

Please seek professional help and daas Torah to learn how to be strong in the face of adversity. I still believe by being positive with a negative person you will be in a win-win situation. You will also get more reward for having kibbud em. However, this type of extreme situation definitely warrants more intervention and professional help. Hatzlacha!


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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to [email protected]. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at