How to Get Feedback Without Feeling Defensive

How to Get Feedback Without Feeling Defensive

If you know that feedback is good for you, why do you sometimes respond defensively when you hear it? It’s natural to want to protect your feelings, but cutting yourself off from useful input interferes with learning and growth.

Fortunately, defensive mechanisms are learned behavior that you can train yourself to overcome. The next time you feel like you’re under attack, keep these points in mind.

Accepting Feedback – Understanding Your Defense Triggers

1. Examine your past. Feeling like you’re being judged unfairly can dredge up unresolved issues from earlier years. Ask yourself if you’re responding to the immediate situation or still caught up in trying to justify yourself to a parent or ex-spouse.

2. Consider the source. Maybe you’re okay with feedback in general, unless it comes from a stranger or someone you don’t get along with. Keep in mind that strangers and adversaries may bring up valuable information your loved ones tiptoe around.

3. Keep it private. It’s more uncomfortable being lectured in front of an audience. Let others know that you’d appreciate talking one-on-one.

4. Reframe conflicts. Airing grievances has its upside. You bring disagreements out into the open where they can be resolved instead of festering into something worse. Plus, the process of collaborating on solutions tends to deepen the connection between colleagues, friends, and family.

5. Shift your mindset. Look at feedback as an opportunity to grow instead of a sign you flunked some big test. You’ll feel empowered rather than threatened.

6. Affirm your value. Shore up your self-esteem so you’re ready for your next performance review or family meeting. Remembering your accomplishments as a top salesperson or gourmet cook will give you the confidence you need to brush up in a few more areas.

Accepting Feedback – Working on Communication Skills

1. Slow down. Pausing for a deep breath will give you time to calm down and hear what’s being said. That way you can decide how to respond instead of automatically shutting down or lashing out.

2. Listen to your body. If being defensive has become a habit, you may need to watch closely to notice the symptoms. Check whether your pulse is racing or your jaw is clenched.

3. Face your feelings. It can be hard to look at ourselves honestly and navigate a sensitive conversation. Acknowledging that you’re stressed or uncomfortable makes it easier to deal with your emotions.

4. Avoid retaliation. Your first impulse may be to strike back by pointing out the flaws in others. If you resist that temptation, you’re more likely to have a productive discussion.

5. Offer validation. Let others know that you respect their opinions and want to understand their point of view. Repeat back what you heard in your own words. It will give you time to think and show that you’re sincere about collaborating on solutions.

6. Search for truth. Sometimes feedback is off base and delivered without much skill or good intentions. Before you dismiss it entirely, remember that there may still be some valid insights buried in there. Think it over or ask someone you trust to help you sort it out.

7. Suggest alternatives. Receiving feedback skillfully doesn’t always mean acting upon it. That decision is up to you. You may want to explain your position and express your willingness to work things out some other way.

Constructive feedback helps you to enjoy more happiness and success. Being open to comments and criticism will strengthen your relationships and put you on the path to achieving your potential.

Toxic Abuse in Relationships: Inside the Narcissist’s Devalue and Discard Phases

Toxic Abuse in Relationships: Inside the Narcissist’s Devalue and Discard Phases

There are three main phases that people who are in relationships with toxic narcissists can expect to experience.  The love-bombing (or idealization) phase, the devalue phase and the discard phase.

The cycle of abuse may also include a “hoovering” phase that follows the discard.Often the narcissistic cycle of abuse is repeated over and over again throughout the relationship.

You might also like to read Take Back Your Life – a guide to overcoming gaslighting and narcissism in relationships.

About the Love Bombing (Idealization) Phase

We discussed love bombing recently. Love bombing is also known as the idealization or courtship phase in a toxic relationship.

Here’s more info about the idealization phase.

Today, we are going to dig into the emotions and specific kinds of behavior that happen inside of the last and most painful part of the cycle: devaluation and discarding.

What is Devaluation in Narcissistic Abuse?

Devaluation is what is happening when a narcissist tears you down emotionally, insults you (outright or covertly), and makes you doubt yourself and your self-worth. This is done as part of the cycle of abuse and when effective, it can cause you to believe you don’t have a chance of finding someone better, or that you’re not worthy of love or consideration.

The malignant narcissist will often use devaluation (as part of the “devalue” phase) to keep you from leaving by implanting negative and false beliefs and ideas about yourself in your head. Some narcissists (those on the “higher” end of the cluster B spectrum of personality disorders who may also be sociopathic or psychopathic) do this on purpose and with full intent and knowledge of their plan to manipulate you.  Those on the “lower-end” of the cluster B spectrum often don’t even recognize they’re doing it since it’s part of the standard cycle of abuse. They’re just behaving in a way that feels natural to them. And sadly, devaluation can happen to a “thing” just as easily as a person when a narcissist is involved.

Devalue and Discard: The Painful Part of the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse

You’ve been walking on eggshells for a while now, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the narcissist. They are no longer even polite to you, much less kind. You often find yourself wondering what happened to the amazing person you first met.

These days, you feel like you can’t do anything right. In fact, literally, nothing you say, do, think, or feel is acceptable to them. And as always, the narcissist makes sure you know it. Everything you do elicits the same kinds of responses: anger, irritation, “justified” rage. At some point, you will have learned the hard way that you need to keep your mouth shut, or that you need to react a certain way to minimize this narcissistic rage.

If you call out the narcissist on this behavior – or, God forbid, you somehow prove them wrong, watch out. That’s when they will go ballistic, pulling no punches, digging deep to find a way to hurt you.

During the devalue and discard phases, the narcissist will painfully insult you, picking at your most profound psychological wounds. They will do everything in the power to make sure you know that not only is it your fault but that you are in fact SO flawed and defective that you obviously DESERVE the treatment they’ve been dishing out.

(For the record, that is completely false.) But either way, the narcissist might even tell you, in no uncertain terms and right to your face, that you are so bad/lazy/fat/whore-like that you deserve the way they’re treating you.

They will make it clear that, as far as they’re concerned, you’re not important, and you’re certainly not worth their time. They will imply and even outright say that they don’t respect you. And in every single case, they will minimize anything that really matters to you.

Can your love help the narcissist change?

Meanwhile, you teeter on a precipice somewhere between emotional numbness, deep-down (actually) righteous anger, and hope. You have by now recognized that this phase might end, at least for a while. You know that there’s a cycle in an abusive relationship, and you know that there are bits and pieces of “good” that come with this person. The unfortunate thing is that you also know that there is far more of the painful stuff than the good stuff (at least sometimes). But maybe the good stuff is SO good that you decide to keep trying. Maybe you think that one day you will help them change – or that “when” something happens (“when” the mortgage is paid off, “when” the kids move out, “when” you finally figure out how to be perfect, etc.), THEN they’ll change.

Maybe you think that if you love them hard enough, they will just choose to change. I wish I could tell you that was true. But unfortunately, the truth is that this is probably not going to happen – because narcissists typically do not change. But either way, this ongoing pattern of intermittent reinforcement keeps you hoping – and it keeps you from moving on, which is exactly what the narcissist wants. You hope that this soul-crushing phase will end soon. But every time you get your hopes up for more than a minute, you’re quickly brought back to reality when he next spits his venom at you.

You Start to Go Numb…

Your mind stops thinking as clearly. You find yourself zoning out when they start winding up to another “episode” of abuse. You’re doing this because, in order to survive without going completely insane (which the narcissist seems to be pushing you toward with all of the gaslighting you’re dealing with), you’re learning to stop being as directly affected by this narcissistic abuse by finding a place to go, in your head at least. You literally zone out and just go numb when they start raging on you. You can’t stand to do anything else.

Related: Understanding narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury

If the threats and fear tactics don’t work the way they hope, the narcissist may shift to behaving like a victim. That’s when he will stop being actively aggressive and switch to a more passive way to manipulate. This is the narcissistic injury tactic.

At this point, life is going to be very difficult for you. You’re likely on your way to being subjected to even more gaslighting and a bunch of other sneaky forms of manipulation.

Related: 44 ways a narcissist might be emotionally abusing you

This often leads to the silent treatment – one of a narcissist’s go-to tools. They will ignore you, withhold affection and call you crazy for desperately trying to fix whatever it is that they’re saying or implying is wrong – even if you have no idea what you’ve done this time.

In the end, the narcissist may leave you, temporarily or permanently. Or, the cycle may begin again – many narcissists go back to the courtship phase following the discard phase.

Related: Portrait of a Codependent

The Abuse Cycle Repeats Before It Ends

If you’re one of the “lucky” ones, the narcissist comes back, or they never actually leave. Even if they do leave you, they might not stop abusing you. In either case, once the devalue and discard phases end, you are left reeling. The first several times you experience this part of the cycle, you’ll come out feeling like you were the one who was wrong. Maybe you WERE expecting too much/overreacting/otherwise wrong. Maybe he DID have a point. Maybe you DO need to become a completely different person.

Related: Top 10 Warning Signs You’re Being Gaslighted 

But over time, as the cycle repeats, again and again, you find yourself doubting everything. You begin to notice that nothing ever changes, you just continue the toxic cycle. The cycle is destroying you, one abuse episode at a time. You feel completely lost and you don’t understand why the narcissist has to hurt you.

Related: Inside a Gaslighting Attack

When You Realize You’re Dealing With a Malignant Narcissist, You Can’t Unsee It.

Now that you know what you’re dealing with, you’ve got things to consider. And you’ve got a choice to make. Do you stick it out, or not? While a lot of people will instantly tell you that you’ve got to leave, there are things you need to consider first. Maybe leaving isn’t an immediate option for you, or maybe you’re just not ready to consider the idea yet.

(For the record, if you are, you should download my free PLANning (Planning to Leave A Narcissist) Toolkit)

Related: Look inside the toxic, twisted mind of the narcissist 

In your head, you know a narcissist can change their ways about as surely as a zebra can change its stripes. (Highly unlikely in both cases.) But your heart may be arguing with you. Because your heart finds something deep within the narcissist that is loveable. And, if we’re being honest, because you are probably dealing with trauma bonding.

Find out if you’re dealing with a trauma bond to the narcissist by taking this trauma bonding self-assessment.

Related: Why you are still in a relationship with a narcissist 

When You Recognize You’re Dealing with Narcissistic Abuse

As you go forward, you need to take time to decide if you want to continue the relationship. If you are relatively sure the person you’re dealing with is a toxic, malignant narcissist, then you know they are unlikely to change. So, again, you have to decide for sure if this is something you can live with forever – because this abuse cycle is going to go on for as long as the narcissist remains capable of it.

But please understand this: you are not obligated to keep this person in your life! You have the right to have a life that doesn’t make you miserable. Truly, the most important thing to remember is that you’ve got every right to be happy. I don’t mean just “okay” or “not being hit” – I mean you have the right to feel SAFE and HAPPY in your home and in your day-to-day life. You deserve to have peace in your home, and you deserve to be able to feel entirely comfortable in the place you spend your time.

In other words, if the narcissist cannot allow you to do that, or if they otherwise negatively affect your ability to find your bliss, you need to decide if their happiness is more important than your own. And then comes the hard part. You’ve got to take action.

Do you recognize yourself or a loved one in the above situations? You might be dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship. Not sure you’re dealing with a narcissist? Take this free self-assessment to find out. 

Get Help WIth Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

These resources will help you with your narcissistic abuse recovery.

These articles might also be of interest if you’re struggling with narcissistic abuse recovery.
Surviving Toxic Relationships: How to Co-Exist with a Narcissist (If You Must)

Surviving Toxic Relationships: How to Co-Exist with a Narcissist (If You Must)

So, you’re in a relationship with a toxic narcissist who is all about him or her self. By now, you likely understand your role of narcissistic supply quite well, am I right? You are the constant scapegoat, caregiver, cheerleader and general whipping boy/girl. Right?How to Co-Exist With a Narcissist
 
Of course, on the flip side, you also understand that the narcissist isn’t capable of offering genuine emotional support; in fact, he thrives on making your problem much worse – and on making it all about him or her.
 
(Example: your best friend dies and your spouse focuses on how upset he or she is, rather than on supporting you emotionally in any way, shape or form. And then he/she gets angry at you because YOU can’t support HIM/HER when your best friend just died.)
 
And often, you hear those little sticky phrases – the ones that are repeated over and over until they become unintentional guides of your own self-perception.
 
“These are the choices that you have made…”
 
(Implied: I told you so. And now you will be punished for disobeying me or ignoring my advice.)
 
This phrase stuck in my head for years. Every time I’d ask my narcissistic parent to support me emotionally (which I specifically and stupidly did, over and over again), that phrase would be repeated, and it would be the reason that I didn’t deserve to be comforted.
 
The fact that I didn’t take the “advice” or direct orders given me made me wrong and deserving of my pain.
 
It made me not worthy of comfort, and it made me worth less respect and concern.
 
The only way to prove myself worthy again would be months of following orders, doing as I was told, becoming the person I was “supposed” to be, according to the narcissist. It was a process, earning back a narcissist’s trust.
 
And under no circumstances could that process be sped up. It was all part of the narcissistic game. 
 
Living with a narcissist is like living with your own personal psychological terrorist. You feel me?

If you can’t leave, this is how you deal with living with a toxic narcissist.

Recently, we discussed what to do when the narcissist gives you the old silent treatment – but what about when their manipulation takes a whole new turn – what happens when the gaslighting and other sneaky tactics become a way of life rather than an occasional issue.
 
Is it possible to co-exist with a narcissist in the same house? What about one who is actively gaslighting and manipulating you? What do you do?
 
You already probably know what my first and preferred answer is: you go no contact if possible. But, since life is as it is, we know that isn’t always an option, at least not in the short-term. 
 
So, how do do you survive co-existing with a narcissist? Start here.
 
Remember that, just like a leopard, a narcissist never changes his spots.
 
So, you’ll need to focus on both educating yourself and using the facts that you know about narcissists to your advantage. And, while I may joke on occasion that it’s possible to control a narcissist or to beat the narcissist at his own game, the truth is that in the end, you’ll always be a loser if you stick around to find out the score. 
 
With that being said, understanding that narcissists are incredibly similar to one another by nature can help you to remember that not only is it NOT REALLY ABOUT YOU (the insults, gaslighting and other psyhological terror tactics), It’s really about something that is broken inside the narcissist – there’s NOTHING wrong with you.
 
Understand that any emotion you direct at or express near the narcissist must be either in praise of or defense of the narcissist’s thoughts, ideas, appearance, possessions and/or general existence. If you can’t figure out a way to express your thoughts and feelings in that fashion, it may be best to keep them to yourself, if you want to keep peace and your sanity in tact. The fact is that if you go outside of those boundaries, the narcissist will quickly make you wish you hadn’t – so save yourself the trouble and talk to someone else – even if it’s just a private journal.
 
If you don’t have anyone you can trust, join my free online support group and start talking – we are a confidential and close-knit group of actively engaged survivors.
 
If you absolutely need to express something to the narcissist that isn’t within his spectrum of tolerance, you need to do it in a way that makes him feel like he’s the one in control. So, if you need him to be at home to meet the plumber on a day you can’t, you have to tell him something like, “I’m just not as smart as you are about this stuff – you’d totally be my hero if you’d help me out on this one. Can you keep an eye on the plumber today and make sure he’s not screwing us over on his bill?”
 
This puts him in a position of both authority and control and lets him know that not only are you not “as good as” him, but that you are aware of it and willing to beg for his help (in his narcissistic perception). 

Quit Your Stressing and Take Back Control of Your Mind (And Your Life)

 So you’ve been stuck to the narcissist for awhile now, and maybe you’re becoming someone you don’t even recognize (much less like). From your perspective, you occasionally wonder if maybe the narcissist IS right and maybe you’re really a total screwup, after all. Maybe you are a little crazy, huh?
 
No, you’re not. If you’re dealing with a narcissist, you already know all his tricks – and he knows this. That just causes him to keep at it, always looking for new ways to fool you and/or control you into doing what he wants.
 
If you find yourself constantly complaining about what is happening TO YOU, thanks to your narcissistic relationship, that means that you must believe you have a real need to complain and your life isn’t where you would like it to be – and that means you have got t change your thinking if you want to change your situation.
 
So if you focus on what you don’t love about your life, you’ll just get more of it. Of course, if you focus on what you DO want, you’ll get more of that too.
 
Even if you don’t complain to anyone out loud, you probably know someone who does and it makes everyone feel uncomfortable. And there’s a reason that happens – most people are naturally pushed away by negative energy – and those who would be drawn in by it probably aren’t people you really want to be connected to anyway, you know?
 
So what can be done to correct it and get back to positive living that leads to the life you really want?
 
Complaining and focusing on things you don’t love can become a really a bad habit. A habit, whether good or bad, is an urge to adopt that action no matter what the consequences. The more you feed the habit the more it will take control of your life and the harder it is to kick.
 
Complaining typically stems from negative thoughts you’ve created. You realize you’re the cause of your thoughts so you blame yourself and vent it with complaining. Refuse to let those negative thoughts become you. We become what we think just like we become what we eat, drink or do. If we put good into our body and mind then good will come out. Of course, if we put bad things into our body and mind such as drugs and negative thoughts then bad will come out. It’s inevitable – and it’s up to you to correct.
 
Negative thinking and complaining can be just as addictive as a drug.
 
Whatever your mind is used to thinking that’s what it craves. Admit you have negative thoughts and that you are their creator. Realize too that these thoughts lead only to more negativity and more addiction. You know what you’re doing but can’t help yourself until you admit to your problem and let it go.
 
Relax and let your negative thoughts disappear. It may take a while but it can be done and when negative thinking is stopped so will your complaining.
 
You didn’t become what you are overnight and you can’t expect to become what you desire overnight either. If that were the case we would all be perfect in mind and body. It’s a fight that can be won with constant dedication and awareness.
 
Don’t doubt yourself.
 
Believe in yourself. We choose what we think and we choose what we are and can become.
 
Accept responsibility for your actions and let it go. Then take positive steps to accept what needs to be done to achieve your goal. Dedicate yourself to getting it done. This will disrupt your mind’s pattern of thinking and it will be easy to fall back into the old ways.
 
Surround yourself with positive energy, people and things and these will seep into your mind until they become you and your new habit is formed. Whatever was bad in your environment that caused you to complain get rid of it. Each step toward a positive emotion gives you confidence to continue.
 
We all tend to blame others for stuff that goes wrong in our lives. And even though you probably have some very legitimate complaints, thanks to your narcissist, the truth is that only politicians can do that and get away with playing the blame game.
 
If you don’t like the life your living or the thoughts you’re thinking then change it. Take responsibility and take control today and discover a new you tomorrow – feel me?
 
 
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Let’s discuss it.
Surviving the Narcississt: How to Stop Toxic Thoughts

Surviving the Narcississt: How to Stop Toxic Thoughts

How Toxic Thinking Can Affect Your Health

Being in a good frame of mind helps keep one in the picture of health. ~Unknown

You know all about toxic families and toxic friends, but have you ever considered that your own thoughts can become toxic?

This is especially true if you love a narcissist–and even more especially if you live with the narcissist.

We’ve talked before about why it’s important to keep an eye on your thoughts–because you bring about what you think about. So, if you’re focused on all good things, then more good things will come your way. But, if your thoughts become toxic, they can and will draw negativity and toxicity into your life, and can even cause physical side effects if left unchecked.

Research has proven that the way we think can cause a wide variety of chemical reactions in our bodies. When we’re thinking happy thoughts–forgiving people, feeling patient and maintaining self-control, for example–our bodies will release chemicals that make us feel peaceful and healthy.

But when we’re feeling negatively and thinking toxic thoughts–like feeling and nurturing rage, holding grudges or wallowing in guilt or self-pity–our bodies release damaging chemicals. This makes us more susceptible to illness and disease.

Narcissistic rage can further complicate the situation, especially because narcissists typically aren’t aware that they have the ability to BE wrong–and if they are, forget about it–you’re going to have a cranky person dealing with a severe narcissistic injury.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, author of the book Who Switched Off My Brain, says that “stress and anxiety harm the body in a multitude of ways; patchy memory, severe mental health issues, immune system problems, heart problems and digestive problems.”

Serious stuff, right? The way you think can literally affect not just your day-to-day quality of life, but also your long-term health. (Check out my book on gaslighting.)

gaslighting quote

So how do you stop thinking toxic thoughts?

Listen to Yourself Talk

You may not even realize how often you complain or lament about the things in life you don’t love. Maybe you are frustrated because you had to wait in line for a half hour at the grocery store, or the traffic on your way home from work was so terrible that you actually got out of your car and sat on the hood to get a little sun. Perhaps you found out that your kid failed Science or you didn’t get into the college of your choice–or your dog ate your knitting project.

If you’re a narcissist, you’re probably not reading this anyway–but those of us who are dealing with you are likely to get the brunt of your toxic thoughts. So hey, if you love us, why not try to get a brighter perspective? We’ll love you for it.

And honestly, does it really help you to rehash and focus on these negative things? Nope, it actually hurts you. So, while you should absolutely feel comfortable telling the people you care about what happened to you during the day, try to focus on the positive side of things, even when there doesn’t seem to be one. 

For example, if you waited in line at the grocery store, maybe you talked to someone who really needed a good conversation. If you sat in traffic too long–maybe you needed the solitude or you heard your favorite song. You get the idea–find the silver lining in every cloud.

How to Stop Toxic Thoughts: Use Mind Control (On Yourself)

I can’t stress enough how important it is to recognize and monitor your thoughts. You may not even realize how often you think negative thoughts. For example, if your friend wins an award that you wanted, you may think “she must be better than me” or “I deserved that award, not her!” But if you can bring yourself to genuinely congratulate and feel happy for your friend, you’ll not only do her a favor, but yourself too. 

If you find yourself FEELING negatively, take a minute to listen to your thoughts. You might be surprised to find out that you may be subconsciously thinking toxic thoughts. 

Take control of your mind, because you can. All you need to do is mentally cancel those toxic thoughts and replace them with positive and healthy thoughts that reflect your true desires. (Because whatever you think about and focus on is what you’re drawing toward yourself–so why not think about and focus on what you really want?)

Change Your Scene

When I feel like my thoughts are getting a little toxic, sometimes it helps me to just change the scene around me. Maybe that means just going into a different room or taking a walk–or maybe I need to get in the car and go somewhere. But inevitably, if I make the effort to change my scene, it changes my mind pretty quickly. 

Try going out for coffee with a friend, taking a walk or a bath, working out–or even busting out the Wii for a little karaoke or golf. Whatever works for you–just get away from the spot in which you started thinking toxic thoughts for awhile.

What do you do to control and eliminate toxic thoughts? Tell me in the comments section, below, or hit me up on Facebook

Check out my latest book!

take back your life coverAre You Being Gaslighted?

You’re at a party and you notice your husband getting a bit too close to another woman. After the party, you confront him. He tells you to stop being so insecure and controlling; that he’s his own man and if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t have acted like that in the first place. After arguing all night, you end up begging for forgiveness and apologize for the trouble.

Maybe it’s your mom – she’s picking on you like it’s a sport. She’s worried about what you’re wearing, what you’re eating – who you’re hanging out with – but it’s unhealthy. Instead of fighting back, you just suck it up and take it – maybe you’re too sensitive, or perhaps you really are crazy after all. Who can’t take a bit of criticism, anyway?

Or it’s your boss, who told you you had his support on your latest project, only to backpedal when it’s time to present it to the team. Suddenly, he criticizes you for your poor choices and he’s jumnped ship – but when you talk to him later, he tells you it was wrong from the beginning and you need to be more careful in the future. You find yourself wondering if your judgment might really be flawed, after all.

Maybe this stuff doesn’t happen in your life, but for many people, it’s an everyday reality. If you think it could never be you, think again! Some of the most intelligent and capable people are living in painfully toxic relationships with narcissists, and they’re plagued by regular bouts of gaslighting, an insidious form of emotional abuse and manipulation that can be crueler than more obvious forms of abuse because it sort of sneaks up on you.

Because of its insidious nature, gaslighting is one form of emotional abuse that is hard to recognize and even more challenging to break free from. Part of that is because the narcissist exploits one of our greatest fears – the fear of being alone.

This book offers a comprehensive plan for dealing with gaslighting and other forms of narcissistic abuse. TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE starting right now when you download this book and instantly start reading. 

Boundary-Busting Narcissist? Here’s a Non-Toxic Boundary-Management Plan

Boundary-Busting Narcissist? Here’s a Non-Toxic Boundary-Management Plan

One of the most difficult aspects of being tangled in a narcissist’s web is learning to set firm boundaries with them. Narcissists typically have poor boundaries themselves; they like to win and maintain power, and they don’t like others setting boundaries on them. They even feel above the boundaries of the law — they don’t follow court orders and they find personal boundaries easy to violate.” ~Karyl McBride, MDHow to stop a boundary busting narcissist

If you’re in a relationship with a toxic narcissist, or have ever been in one, you might have a few boundary issues, am I right?

Have you ever thought about the boundaries you had for yourself and your life before you met the narcissist versus the ones you have now, or that you had during the relationship?

Wait. Before you answer that, let me clarify something.

I’m not talking about the fun or silly “I’ll never wear bell bottoms” kind of boundary here (had it, crossed it, can’t wait to do it again, y’all).

I’m talking about the serious, intrinsic, deep down in your gut, “gotta stick to it or your tummy will hurt” kind of boundary.

So, let me ask you – have your basic personal standards changed (or been altered) as a result of a relationship with a toxic narcissist?

The Boundaries Narcissists Cross QuoteAnd, while we’re asking questions – if you’re unfortunate enough to have a narcissistic parental figure or to have been in the relationship longer than you should, do you even really know what your personal boundaries are, or have they been defined for you?

Narcissists have a way of always pushing your boundaries, sometimes even as a way to amuse themselves when they get bored.

No, I’m not kidding and that is NOT an exaggeration. I’ve been told by more than one narcissist that they just “like to mess with people,” or that they “intentionally start drama to see what people will do.”

Related: How Self-Proclaimed Narcissist Sam Vaknin Gaslighted Me on Facebook

They think it’s funny. But sometimes, their agenda is more calculated than “just to amuse myself,” and that’s when you’ve got to be especially cautious.

And that’s because, when it comes to dealing with a narcissist on the regular, you’ve got to recognize that a certain amount of conditioning happens to all of us – even and maybe especially those of us who are very intelligent.

You might find yourself in a panic if you have to stand up for yourself or to say “no” to someone – and you might even have physical symptoms that include dry mouth, dissociation (where you get kind of confused and foggy) and you might even feel dizzy, nauseous or plain old anxious.

And, of course, this is exactly what the narcissist wants, because it allows him to remain in control. He knows that if he nags, discredits you and/or the boundary he’s repeatedly (or for the first time) crossed, you will eventually get tired of fighting and you’ll just “let it go,” as in, accept it, or at least not require him to justify or discuss it.

This allows the toxic cycle to continue and repeat.

An Example of The Narcissistic Boundary Busting Cycle (IRL)

So, what does this cycle look like in real life?

Let’s use this fictious situation as an example. So, we’ve got this couple, Ned and Jane. Ned is a narcissist, and Jane, his semi-willing victim.

They made a deal at the beginning of their relationship that neither would have close friends of the opposite sex. This deal was made at the request of Ned, and Jane happily complied, letting go of several close male friends to secure her place in Ned’s fickle heart.

Years later, Ned suddenly begins several new friendships with ladies at his office, and then within the couple’s sharred social circles. This doesn’t sit well with Jane, who has consistently avoided friendships with the opposite sex since the boundary was set by Ned in the beginning.

Jane raises concerns, and Ned tells her she’s being paranoid, that she’s got nothing to worry about, but that maybe he (Ned) does – because, clearly, Jane doesn’t blindly trust him.

And you KNOW a narcissist needs his victims to blindly trust him – if they don’t, he will do everything in his power to break them until they at least APPEAR to behave as he wishes.

Instead of attempting to soothe Jane’s fears, Ned plays them up and makes Jane feel like she’s worthless and this continued manipulation and gaslighting makes her afraid of asking about any of his choices, ever, lest he unleash a fury that only a narcissist can – th narcissistic injury and narcissistic rage one-two punch.

So:  
1. Ned the narcissist oversteps Jane’s personal boundary.
2. Jane complains, resists or refuses.
3. He pushes, pleads, prods, discredits and pressures until Jane gives in and accepts the overstep.
4. She redefines her boundary and says something like, “Okay, fine, you can have female friends, but I better never find you hanging out with one alone!”
5. Hours/weeks/days later, when she catches the narcissist doing (or not doing) what she asked him (to do or not do), she obviously confronts him again, reminding him of the previously crossed and redefined boundary.
6. Rinse and repeat. The cycle goes back through the steps.

So, how do you set relationship boundaries with a narcissist?

love kissOkay, let’s talk about relationship boundaries, shall we? 

While everyone’s a little different, there are certain basic boundaries that most everyone could benefit from setting in their lives, if they haven’t already. 

When someone oversteps a relationship boundary in an otherwise healthy relationship, whether it’s spoken or unspoken, it becomes a serious concern for everyone involved.

The person whose boundary has been “overstepped” is made to feel uncomfortable (or worse) and the person who did the stepping doesn’t probably feel much better, assuming he’s not a narcissist.

In most cases, the boundaries can be easily defined and for most people, they can be maintained without extreme effort.

However, some people, especially those who have a tendency to lean toward “people pleasing,” like me, tend to have trouble enforcing boundaries with people who fail to recognize them time and again – enter the narcissist, because you know that they love people pleasers and empaths.

This, of course, leads to a clouding of our general purpose in life, which can lead to depression, anxiety and a number of other emotionally debilitating concerns – all of which can eventually lead to more serious and potentially harmful physical issues. 

Related: Identifying and Managing PTSD After Narcissistic Abuse

So what can you do if you’re stuck in a relationship with a boundary-busting narcissist?

I suggest you try the gray rock rule.

Start Here: Set New Boundaries to Enjoy Healthier Relationships

While many relationships have the capacity to become “good for you,” those with toxic narcissists are generally ill-fated. Still, the fact is that every relationship needs boundaries if you personally want to stay healthy.

Want a simple way to define what a relationship boundary looks like?

Think about it this way: there are certain things you discuss with your best friend that you’d never discuss with your child or your mother. Right? 

See, boundaries help to determine how much you give and receive from a relationship.

If any of your relationships are leaving you irritable and overwhelmed, reexamine your boundaries. That’s a good sign that it’s time to redefine them. 

The boundaries you set in your relationships are a reflection of your ego and self-esteem. 

If you have a low sense of self-worth, your boundaries are going to be unhealthy. You’ll likely to be too focused on trying to please others and receive love and approval. You’ll be overextending yourself and demanding too little from the narcissist.

If your ego is over-inflated, your boundaries are aggressively set to maximize your own utility. It’s your way or the highway. (That’s the role usually played by the narcissist.)

For best results, seek middle ground when setting boundaries.

Using these strategies will help you set boundaries that are empowering for both parties. 

Decide on your core values.

  • What is your comfort level?
  • Are you comfortable discussing your personal finances with others?
  • Do you like friends or family just showing up at your front door or would you like a little warning?
  • Are you willing to let others borrow your car, money, or a cup of sugar?
  • How much honesty do you want to give and receive?

Some of these values will vary depending on the other person. You might let your best friend borrow your car, but no one else. Certain people might be able to spend the night on your couch while others cannot.

Determine what you need from the relationship. Communicate your needs to the other person in a healthy, non-blaming manner. This will require some measure of assertiveness. It’s not fair to expect anyone to read your mind and predict all of your wants and needs.

Determine the other person’s needs. Think win-win and approach the other person with a pleasant conversation about their wishes and needs in the relationship.

Determine the consequences. How will you handle it if someone violates your boundaries? Remind others of your boundaries and then take action. It someone shows up unannounced, don’t let him in your home. If she’s late again, you could leave and go somewhere else.

Be consistent. It’s natural for others to test you when you change the rules. It’s important to be consistent, or you won’t be taken seriously. Follow through and keep your word. One slip into your old patterns and you’ll probably have a battle on your hands.

Be prepared to let go. It’s likely that some individuals will keep on behaving the same way, regardless of your efforts. If a person is unable or unwilling to appreciate your boundaries and requirements, it might be best to reexamine the relationship.

Are your relationship boundaries working for you? Redefining a relationship can be challenging and stressful. Change isn’t always popular. When people can no longer take advantage of you, you’re sure to experience some resistance. But when you maintain your efforts consistently, you and those around you will all ultimately benefit.

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