The problem with narcissists is that they don’t realize that they’re narcissists. For them, the world should—and does—revolve around them. Their needs will always be paramount. They lack empathy, and for the most skilled narcissist, they will do whatever they can to gain control of you. While their compliments and sweet talk may look attractive and inviting on the surface, it’s nothing but a manipulation tactic they use to get you on their side. They need to do this because no one plays a bigger victim than a narcissist; while they might use flattery in an effort to gain control, they will also often use guilt and shock to manipulate you to feel bad for them. This only perpetuates their cycle of control over you and the lack of sincerity that exists in your relationship.
For those of us who know or live with someone who has a narcissistic personality, it can be quite draining because you never really know what went wrong during a conversation. You tend to always be on your toes, and oftentimes, you continue to victimize yourself by trying to rescue them. If this sounds like you, then here are 10 things you need to understand about establishing boundaries with a narcissist.
1. Determine what kinds of behavior you won’t tolerate early on.
Boundaries look different to everyone, so it’s important to establish what feels right for you. Let’s say you have a friend who has vastly different interests from you and they want to go out and do something you don’t feel comfortable with. A good friend will respect your decision; a narcissist may bully you or insult you, calling you names for not wanting to go or put yourself out there. In this example, a healthy boundary would be telling your friend, “If you continue to insult me, I’m going home.” While it may seem harsh, you have to actually go home if the toxic behavior doesn’t stop. Narcissists may act out, but you essentially have to draw a line as to what you will and will not accept in the relationship. A narcissist has to learn that their actions have consequences.
2. Confront them about their actions in a way that stops them in their tracks.
Narcissists like to use guilt in order to control their victims. For example, if you decide to spend the holidays with your girlfriend’s family and your narcissistic mother asks why you never spend time with her (despite there being no proof of that), you can confront your mother with this matter-of-fact question: “Are you trying to put guilt on me?” This kind of statement will immediately call out their actions and stop them in their tracks. While they will still try to manipulate you by playing the victim, you regain control of the situation because you’re not allowing yourself to question whether or not your decision was right or wrong. This reminds the narcissist that you are not only capable but allowed to make decisions of your own accord.
3. You need to follow through with consequences.
You might be able to talk a big game, but unless you practice what you preach, the narcissist will continue to abuse you and your relationship. As strange as it sounds, you have to kind of retrain a narcissist to have a different relationship with you. This can only be done by enforcing consequences when they disregard the boundaries you’ve set up. While this can be hard to do, you have to follow through, otherwise the toxic behavior will continue. If you tell a narcissist that you will end the conversation if they continue to cross the line, then you have to end it, regardless of whether or not either of you have more you want to say. Eventually, they will get the hint.
4. Keep your cards close to your vest.
In other words, don’t overshare. A narcissist is a master manipulator, so anything you share with them can—and will—eventually be used against you. Try to limit the amount of information you share with them, especially as it pertains to any major life decisions such as moving, your finances, relationship or your family. A narcissist isn’t above using one of your struggles to manipulate or hurt you, so it’s best to keep a surface level relationship with them (as tragic as they really are).
5. Remember that it’s not you, it’s them.
When you begin to establish healthy boundaries with a narcissist, they will get angry. It’s unavoidable. And since a narcissist is so well-versed at playing the victim and getting people on their side, you may find that other friends or relatives reach out to you, urging you to apologize to the person you “hurt.” Don’t buy into it. The people that the narcissist rallies against you are just as controlled as you, however, they’re being controlled by flattery and praise. This is what prompts them to defend the narcissist at all costs, which can make you question your actions and perspective. Remember that a narcissist’s anger is the result of their failed attempt at trying to control you, not actually about you as a son, daughter, friend or spouse.
6. Do not take ownership of their feelings.
You are not responsible for anyone else’s misery or happiness. A narcissist is impossible to please because what you give them will never be enough. When you try to break away from this control, they will use every weapon in their arsenal to guilt you. If this happens, remind them that you are not taking ownership for something you didn’t do wrong.
7. Stop fighting.
A narcissist thrives off having power, which is why they enjoy fighting as much as they do. This is often why someone with a narcissistic personality will gaslight you during an argument or discussion. They will do whatever they can to disarm you and make you feel powerless because vulnerability is much easier to mold. When you notice a narcissist trying to fight, disengage. They can’t control you or the situation if you refuse to get on their same level. They are entitled to feel angry, just as you are entitled to walk away.
8. Become familiar with common phrases a narcissist says.
Maybe you’ve stumbled upon this list because you think you know someone who has a narcissistic personality but aren’t 100% sure. Here are a few common phrases narcissists say, so consider them red flags:
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“I’m scared to lose you.”
“Why are you being so defensive?”
“You’re too sensitive.”
9. Leave when it becomes unhealthy.
Sometimes you can try and try and try, and at the end of the day, nothing changes. But honestly, good on you for at least TRYING to have a healthy relationship. It’s just that the narcissist in your life doesn’t want one because they’re not CAPABLE of having one. Sometimes a narcissist isn’t really to blame for the way they are. Their tendencies could have stemmed from toxic parent-child relationships growing up, receiving excessive criticism or praise, and in some cases, it may even be genetic. Regardless of where the narcissistic traits stemmed from, they don’t require your dedication and healing. In many cases, people try to talk it out with a narcissist in order to salvage the relationship, but all too often, the narcissist isn’t ready to hear what you have to say. They’re too busy projecting their feelings onto you, blaming you, and gaslighting you to ever really absorb the true toxicity of their actions. In this kind of situation, it is okay to say, “I’m leaving and I’ll be back when you’re ready to have a genuine dialogue.”
10. Accept them.
This doesn’t mean that you have to accept their behavior, but it does mean you might have to accept that the person you love is a narcissist and at this current moment in time are unable and unwilling to change. This doesn’t mean you’ve stopped loving them. It doesn’t mean you’ve stopped being supportive of them, their career, or their life. Make the decision to cut them out or interact with them as little as possible if that’s what feels healthy to you. If you are unable to cut them out of your life or if you don’t want to, then try applying the techniques above. While their behavior might not necessarily change, the way you feel will improve, and honestly, that’s the most important thing when you’re dealing with a narcissistic personality.