Setting Healthy Boundaries Is Just The Start With Narcissists

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!  


Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Mental Health, Narcissism

5 responses to “Setting Healthy Boundaries Is Just The Start With Narcissists

  1. Thank you so much for this. I assume you were referring to me as one of your favorite blog followers. What a nice compliment!

    I loved this quote, “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.” Amen!

    I think the “no emotion” is the key to all of this. I have a cousin who always encourages me to express “my truth”. She hasn’t struggled with narcissism, so while I value her opinion, I’ve mostly continued on my “gray rock” path. But over the week-end, I received a text from my narc mother saying she would like to talk and would just “listen”. I decided to take her up on her offer, thinking of my cousin, and how withholding information might be unfair.

    I said pretty much everything I wanted to say, but I did so in a calm manner. The narcissistic injury was felt pretty quickly, and the rage started. I let her express her rage. When it was my turn to talk again, I just went onto the next bullet point, keeping the focus on me. I didn’t defend myself. I didn’t respond to what she had just said. I didn’t show emotion.

    By the end of the call, the black and white thinking had settled in. Her conclusions were that I just didn’t “like her”. I have never “liked” her. I have always been “against” her. And, my narc brother is the only person in the world that truly loves her.

    One interesting thing – I said that after the divorce from my father, she made me feel like I was a burden. She denied this at first, saying she loved me so much, etc. But as the injury and rage kicked in, she let me know I should feel lucky she hadn’t just given me to my father’s parents. This seemed odd, so after the call, I did confirm with my cousin that my paternal grandparents did occasionally take in stray children. So this was truly an option my mother had considered. It’s funny how the narc’s mask comes off once the injury and rage sets in.

    If I do have to interact with her again, I will resume gray rock. But at least now she has all the information. I didn’t withhold. I feel my conscience is clear in that regard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I was & yes you are 🙂

      Sadly it’s true! I remember telling my father once he was hurting me by complaining non stop about my mother. He said, “Oh ok.. just one more thing..” then went on for another 45 minutes to complain about her until he left my home! It was eye opening.. I realized others did the same thing & later learned they were all narcissists.

      Your cousin definitely sounds like she’s had no interaction with narcissists. Not trying to be critical of her.. encouraging you to tell your mother “your truth” just shows me you’re right about that point.

      It sounds like you handled the conversation with your mother very well! Good job!! It’s also good you have a clear conscience. That is extremely important. You don’t want to have regrets!

      It is interesting, isn’t it, how the mask comes off when rage sets in.

      Liked by 2 people

      • LOL on the “just one more thing”!

        My maternal Grandmother poked her nose into everyone’s business. When she was ever told to back off, she would go into her diatribe, “Well, everything I say is wrong. I just won’t say anything else. But I will tell you “ONE THING”…and then she’d keep going for another 40 minutes or so.

        I have this committed to memory, she did it so much.

        None of the “advice” she offered during her diatribes could ever be conceived as helpful to anyone. But, by damn, she was going to say her piece!

        Liked by 2 people

        • Wow.. maybe your grandmother & my father were related.. sheesh!! “One thing” shouldn’t last for 40+ minutes.

          That’s narcissism for you.. they’re delusional enough to think their advice & opinions are so valuable they should be shared with everyone, no matter what. Ughhh!! Goodness.. .I just remembered my father trying to give me advice on something I was either knitting or crocheting. He never did either but he once thought he could tell me how to accomplish what I was doing. I’ve been crocheting since I was 5, knitting since 19. I don’t need advice, especially from someone who hasn’t done either.

          Liked by 1 person

    • ibikenyc

      And now you, too, have all the information, or at least a lot more of it!

      Good for you for speaking up and standing up! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

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