How to Set Boundaries With Narcissists

How to Set Boundaries With Narcissists

Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

Those who have suffered emotional abuse have been programmed to feel guilty about living life in ways that benefit them, about loving themselves. And after being on the receiving end of selfish narcissistic behavior, the line between self-love and self-worship are blurred.

They are in fact two different things. Self-worship is selfish and ugly—it is arrogant, prideful, and egotistical. Self-love, on the other hand, is a beautiful thing. We are all meant to show appreciation for the gift of life we have been given by respecting ourselves, taking care of ourselves, and protecting ourselves. None of this is possible without a personal boundary system.

The boundaries we set with narcissists must be rigid. If we give them an inch they will take a mile. But our boundaries can be flexible when dealing with non-abusers. Applying your boundaries to real life situations takes practice. If you have never had healthy boundaries in place, it is best to start out being rigid. Flexibility will come naturally with time.

  • Clearly communicate your boundariesBoundaries must be stated to be effective.  Simply stopping contact with your narcissistic abuser will in no way communicate the limits you wish to set with him.  Narcissists do not have the capacity others may have to “get” the message without being told. Tell your abuser what you will and will not tolerate, and what the consequences for violating your rules will be. This can be done face to face, over the telephone, by email or by mailed letter. It will feel very uncomfortable at first, so do it in a way that feels the least stressful to you.  Email is the best way to go because you will be less triggered, you won’t get distracted by his lies and manipulations, and there is a record of what you say.
  • Only set consequences you are ready or willing to enforce. If you are not ready to completely discontinue contact with your abuser, don’t threaten that as a consequence. An example of a consequence you may want to set for the first violation might be: No contact for one or two weeks. Consequences for the second violation may be no contact for one or two months. The harshest consequence should be reserved for the third violation. An abuser who crosses your clearly stated boundaries three times has no interest in respecting them. Recognize this and make a decision about how you wish to proceed in the future.
  • Enforce your rules firmly. Do not buy into the lies told and the excuses made. Do not feel pity for the narcissist. You have been emotionally abused by her over a long period of time and have every right to protect yourself against future attacks. Stand your ground. Show your abuser that you no longer fear her and that you mean business. Your limits will be pushed and tested. Do not allow her to step one toe over the line. If you do you will lose whatever control you gained. Never second guess yourself.
  • Communicate and enforce your boundaries unemotionally. State your boundaries calmly and resolutely, and enforce them the same way.  Explain to your abuser that he may not be happy about your decisions or agree with your rules, but in order to have you in his life he must respect them. Do not allow yourself to be pulled into your abuser’s anger, manipulation or drama. That is a clear violation of boundaries, and you must enforce the consequences you had stated.
  • Be gentle and forgiving with yourself when you falter. Establishing boundaries with an abuser for the first time is not an easy thing to do. Before you get it entirely right you are going to make mistakes. You are likely to slip back into old patterns or get sucked back in a few times before fully succeeding. That is perfectly fine. Everyone does. Just keep practicing.

Setting boundaries with your narcissistic abuser is the first step in rebuilding your self-esteem and regaining your personal power. As Mark Twain said, “Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.”

The boundaries you establish will prevent you from falling into the traps of other abusers. Not only that, but your entire outlook will change. Everything will improve; your career, your relationships with others, your parenting skills and most importantly your relationship with yourself.

Randi Fine is an internationally renowned narcissistic abuse expert and coach, andthe author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.

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