One-Upping: The Game Where Everyone Loses

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My problem with my daughter-in-law is awful. I can’t figure out why she reacts to me as if we’re in a competition, which we aren’t. Why would we be? We’re family.

My daughter-in-law quizzes me like I’m on a TV show:

  • What perfume do I wear? (I say a department store brand and she insists that the natural oils she wears are better.)
  • What type of bread do we eat? (I say all types – she, of course, eats only 12-grain, gluten-free, organic, non-GMO bread.)
  • What type of makeup do I wear? (I say a common brand – She wears herbal makeup from a natural food store.)
  • How do I exercise? (I walk everyday and she trains for marathons.)
  • The final straw was – Would I have plastic surgery? I’m in my fifties and she’s 24. She said she thinks we should be happy with what God gave us.


I was irritated and said, “God gave us brains to decide for ourselves what to do. And, no, I haven’t had plastic surgery … yet.” Heaven forbid, I tell her I get Botox. I’d get a lecture on the poison that it is.

She told my son (her husband) that I was angry with her just because she was trying to get to know me better.

She’s beautiful and they just had a gorgeous baby boy. They seem to have a great marriage. Why does she judge me and try to one-up me?


Not a one-upper

Dear Mom-in-law,

It’s simple, but hard to accept: she thinks you are worthy of being one-upped. She wouldn’t do this if she didn’t think a lot of you.

The problem is that she doesn’t think a lot of herself.

Self-doubting one-uppers can’t resist judging others as “less-than” because of their own insecurities.

It takes a lot of energy to keep up the pretense of being better than others, and even more energy to keep up the invisible contests they start. It’s worth it to her, because she gets a temporary “win” and builds her false self-esteem with it. She has to “win.”

However, you both lose this game. You can’t change her, but, you may help the situation by refusing to play her games. Don’t respond, no matter how insistent she becomes. Change the subject, in a matter-of-fact way, and your positive definition of yourself, which you already have, will shine.

Hopefully, she’ll start realizing she doesn’t need to play a game to win confidence – she can follow your good example and it’ll be a “win-win” for everyone.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri