When reading about how to recover from narcissistic abuse, you are guaranteed to see something about how you need to set & enforce healthy boundaries. I think every author mentions it. I know I have. Repeatedly. There is a problem with this however, & I am just as guilty as other authors of it. We fail to mention that setting these boundaries is only the beginning, it’s not a guaranteed solution. One of my favorite blog followers pointed this out recently & I thought I would cover the topic.
Setting healthy boundaries with anyone is a very good thing, especially with narcissists. They need to be made aware that you will tolerate only so much from them. Often though, this is where the trouble begins.
It’s empowering when you start setting those boundaries too, especially after years of tolerating anything they do. They see their once meek victim gaining strength & realizing that they don’t have to tolerate abuse, which makes narcissists panic. They seldom show that panic at first. They may be so stunned to see you, their favorite punching bag, saying no, that they go along with the boundary. As time goes on however, & more boundaries are set, the more unsettled the narcissist is. You need to be prepared for what is going to happen.
Rather than respect boundaries like your average functional person, narcissists turn up the abuse. Overt narcissists may rage loudly, as many do. They may yell or call you names. They may mock you, call you arrogant, selfish, stupid or other nasty things. Covert narcissists, true to their nature, aren’t so brazen. They may make snide, subtle comments, implying that you are arrogant, selfish, stupid, etc. They may go all passive/aggressive & give you the silent treatment. They may show they are angry with you in sneaky ways, yet deny feeling any anger. They may attempt to make you feel guilty or even ashamed of yourself for having any boundaries with them. Most likely, the covert narcissist will fall into their favorite role, being a victim. They will twist the situation around to where you look completely unreasonable or even abusive, & tell everyone how mean you are to them for no good reason whatsoever.
Whether the narcissist in your life is overt or covert, your response should be the same to their antics – show absolutely no emotion. Any hint of emotion is nothing but narcissistic supply to narcissists. Show them nothing, no matter what you are feeling inside. Once you’re safely out of their presence, you need to deal with those emotions however works best for you, of course, but in their presence, be completely stoic. That can be hard to do sometimes, I know, but remind yourself that it is for your best interest. If you can be unemotional for the time you’re in the narcissist’s presence, it will help you in the long run.
When the narcissist tries to convince you how awful you are for setting your boundaries, it helps to have some responses ready. What will your narcissist most likely say? Think about stoic responses you can have. Some examples are:
- “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
- “If you want to do that, that’s up to you. I meant what I said though. If you do it, I will *insert your consequence here*”
- “I didn’t ask for your opinion & don’t need it, but thanks anyway.”
- “You’re entitled to your opinion, but I am too.”
Another thing I found incredibly useful was to ask God for creative & effective ways to set boundaries. When you say to a narcissist, “It hurts me when you do that.. please don’t do it anymore” that only makes them want to do that more. You’ll need much more creative & effective ways than that, & God will give you such ideas. He certainly did me. My mother began to respect some of my boundaries, even though she clearly didn’t want to. It was amazing!
When you have to enforce your boundaries with the narcissist, don’t back down. Just keep in mind that setting them is just the beginning & be prepared for their resistance. I know it can be scary at first, but you can do it!