Narcissistic people view themselves as uniquely gifted and therefore feel entitled to take advantage of other people. They do not possess healthy boundaries, nor do they like it when others set limits against their intrusions.
Establishing solid boundaries around narcissists is essential. Here are 11 tips on setting boundaries with narcissists:
1) Know where to draw the line
Decide which behaviors you are willing to accept and which you are not. For example, if you are not willing to tolerate rudeness, bullying or name-calling, say so.
For example, one way of drawing the line is to say, “If you continue to call me names, I will end our conversation until you can be respectful.”
You don’t need to give a reason or explanation. If name-calling continues, say “As I told you, when you call me names I will leave our conversation. Goodbye.” Then leave or hang up. Don’t wait for a response. Don’t engage no matter what they do or say. The more quickly and decisively you act, the better.
Narcissists may call you more names, argue with you, or try to convince you that you are over-reacting or treating them unfairly. They will likely cycle through a variety of approaches to see if they can induce guilt or intimidate and confuse you.
While their pressure or wheedling may be unpleasant, your boundaries are not up for discussion or a vote. Establishing healthy boundaries can help you feel stronger, calmer, safer, and less overwhelmed.
2) Have an exit plan
You have the right to exit any unhealthy interaction with another person at any time. You don’t need permission.
There are many techniques you can use to exit a conversation. For example, you can glance at your watch and say, “Omigod, look at the time, I’m late.” Then leave.
Late for what? It doesn’t matter. With a narcissist who is being abusive, controlling or unpleasant, every moment you remain in their presence is one more moment you are late for self-care.
Or look at your phone and say ‘I’m sorry, I have to take this call.” Whether there’s a call or not.
Or set your phone alarm to buzz after however many minutes you have decided in advance to give to a narcissistic person, and then excuse yourself once the alarm goes off.
3) Set your agenda
If you watch skilled advocates being interviewed you may notice that they often do not answer the question they are asked, they answer the question they want to answer whether asked or not.
Similarly, when narcissists ask you a question or make a comment that leaves you uncomfortable, you don’t have to stay on topic.
If they ask how you are spending your money or how your relationship is going, and if they have a track record of criticizing your spending or relationships, why would you want to step in that again?
Instead, take the conversation in another direction. You can say, “Great” and change the subject.
Or shift the conversation to something you know the narcissist loves to talk about. For example, ask them what they found was the secret to a good relationship or how they learned to handle money.
While their answers may be full of self-serving platitudes, at least they are focusing on themselves — their favorite topic — not you. You may even pick up a nugget of wisdom. At the very least, it can feel validating to shift a conversation so adeptly.
4) Don’t justify, explain or overshare
You do not deserve interrogation. The less you share of a personal nature with a narcissist, the less information they have to use against you.
If they criticize something you are doing, you can simply say, “I feel confident about my actions” or “I hear your opinion, I will keep that in mind.”
5) Name what is happening
Narcissists push the limits of relationships, testing to see what they can get away with. Their goals are to get attention and feel one up.
One way to defuse this is to name what they are doing. For example, say “That sounded like a put down” or “I notice that each time I start to talk about myself, you interrupt to talk about yourself.”
It can be best to say such things in a matter-of-fact way. You don’t have to say anything else. Their response is irrelevant. You have set a placeholder in the conversation in which you spoke truth about what they did.
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