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Boundaries with a narcissist

The other week I posted about boundaries with someone who doesn’t “get” the concept of boundaries. Really, if you face someone like that it can be quite exhausting. I found that post came in high demand, so I am including one more element about boundaries...and that is how to set boundaries when someone falls into the narcissistic character style. This past week I was in a therapist training that included information about how to deal with narcissists. So, I want to focus now on what to know about a narcissist and how to set appropriate boundaries.

Some basics about narcissists:

1) They are stuck somewhere in their childhood

2) They are stunted emotionally

3) They may never “get” it

4) All of their tactics they use are to protect their delicate ego

5) They are amazingly averse to any type of criticism

When I was in my doctoral program I had a professor say the toughest type of client in therapy is a narcissist. They struggle to work on themselves because they have spent their life focused on things outside of them. What your actions say about them, what type of friends they have...and what that means about them. Basically, it's more about blaming outside of themselves to avoid the introspection process which could be horribly painful. On the outside they are strong, but deep down inside there is a wounded child. Even if you know that deep at their core is woundedness, their actions can still reap havoc and hurt those around them. So, I want to continue with how to set boundaries with a narcissist...

What to do when you find a narcissist in your life:

1) Set boundaries with a firm, yet kind tone

When doing this, it's important to a) understand your wounding b) understand your own limits. What has led you to form the type of relationship with a narcissist up to this point? Does it feel familiar to other relationships you've had? Often we repeat patterns in our life. Then, once you have some understanding about yourself and your past, you can start to understand your own limits. No one can tell you what type of limits and boundaries are best for you. While I don't want to tell you what type of boundaries to set for your unique situation, here are some ideas: make sure boundaries allow you to experience your emotions (narcissists like to downplay what you feel and how you feel it), set boundaries that leave no room for inappropriate name-calling, set boundaries that start leaving room for YOU in the relationship.

And while you're setting boundaries, be mindful of the tone you use. I say this more for you than for them. Be kind (no need to sugar coat), direct, and honest. I say kind, because if they bite back after you set a boundary you can know in your heart of hearts that you were kind and it's their ego that can't take anything that seems like even a hint of criticism. Also a very big thing to remind yourself, BOUNDARIES ARE NOT MEAN. Boundaries are a step to showing yourself that you are important and that your needs matter.

2) Get support

Dealing with narcissists can be exhausting. Be VERY aware of who you confide in while learning to set appropriate boundaries. It's wild to think of how many people we often turn to who are not healed themselves and have never learned to set appropriate boundaries. If you turn to the wrong people it could make you question your judgement way too much for any growth to happen.

3) Be ready to set boundaries time and time again

If there's one thing I've learned in my own life and the work I do with clients is boundary setting is NEVER once and done. We must set a boundary time and time again. Sometimes it feels like it's not worth the effort, but if you DO decide to stick to it, there can be breakthrough. I've seen it many times, but it certainly take a ton of perseverance. Know that you are doing your part, and God needs to also work in their heart to shift years of inappropriate behavior.

I wish boundary-setting were easier! It can take stepping out, even what it feels uncomfortable, to start creating new patterns of interactions. Happy rooting, everyone!

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