Setting boundaries is the first step toward taking back your power after narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship. I can’t think of a quicker way to regain personal power and your own sense of self in a situation than knowing what your boundaries might be and being able to set them with others. Toxic people notoriously will try to destroy your boundaries. They will use many forms of manipulation to make sure their will is asserted over yours and push your boundaries farther and farther back until you cease setting them.
What are boundaries?
Setting boundaries can be confusing when you may have never had healthy examples of them in your life. Boundaries can be many things including physical, material, mental, emotional, sexual or spiritual. Boundaries create a separation between yourself and others including your needs, will, wishes and actions. They are your personal choice in saying no, in setting limits, in maintaining personal belongings, in having your own thoughts and opinion, in what you will do or won’t do with your body or in your feelings about personal beliefs or faith. You can see how a narcissist with their need to control and create a delusional reality based on THEIR own wants and need for supply would not want others to have boundaries plus do all they can to break down any boundaries a person may have.
Know your boundaries: what do you need?
Do you ever struggle with knowing what it is that you want or need? Do you then feel ok about creating the boundaries necessary to make sure those needs are met? Boundaries can be difficult enough without dealing with a toxic person as well. When you place a boundary in a healthy situation it can be difficult because of the fear of the reaction of others and your perceived beliefs about how others feel about you. WIth a toxic person, this is made worse because of the abuse. Not only that but have you noticed that the longer you are around toxic people the less you even know how you feel about things or what your needs even are? Having your thoughts and actions devalued and criticized really can lead to so much self-doubt that it can be hard to even know if what you are thinking is reasonable and right. One thing that can help to ask yourself, “what do I need?” or “ what do I think about this?” before replying to things. Knowing or even just asking that “includes you” – it shows you that you matter and allows you to begin understanding where your boundaries are.
Learn to grey rock, say no and stick to it!
A narcissist will see any boundary you place as an invitation to argue, manipulate, or criticize you. They may also see it as an ultimatum placed by you and give you anything from heated arguing to silent treatment because of it. As with all dealing with narcissistic abuse, it is not going to get better. One key characteristic trait of narcissistic abuse is the pushing and disregard of boundaries. Grey rock when your boundaries are not being respected, do not engage, argue, defend, plead or any other reaction besides calm indifference.
Here are a few tips for setting boundaries with a narcissist:
- Know what you will not tolerate, understand where you personally draw the line. For example, like name-calling, devaluing, silent treatment all will be met by grey rock and disengagement. You will not argue, plead, debate, defend or give much attention to such treatment
- Set your own time/agenda. You choose how long you will wait, do things, sleep, eat, visit friends or family, or any other time/action related thing and all abusive manipulation will not be argued with or defended. Again, grey rock!
- Do not have expectations that this will resolve anything within the relationship with a narcissist. Generally, this boundary-setting is a one-time event. Nothing will fix the relationship with a narcissist and living a life of grey rock is not a solution, it is a technique meant to help you diffuse a situation until you can get away.
- Focus on your worth. You are a thinking, feeling and loving person whose needs are as valuable and important as anyone else’s. You deserve a say in your own life and that should be respected. Respect yourself while you place boundaries. Focus on yourself and your needs.
- Exit plan! Create an exit plan and get away. Ideally, you will see you have worth and value far beyond the way you are treated by this toxic person and get away from them as far as you can. Going no contact is the ultimate boundary.
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Lise Colucci is an intuitive healer and certified life coach, as well as a certified narcissistic abuse recovery coach. She is a long-time admin and mentor for the SPAN Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Group, actively helping survivors of narcissistic abuse in the expansive community to learn and heal.