Dealing or living with a narcissist can be a very painful experience. The tragedy is further worsened if the relationship is one that you cannot walk away from. If you are dating a narcissist or in a live-in with a narcissist, then you can easily walk out. If you have a friend who is a narcissist and that friendship is not the most treasured bond you have, then too you can walk out. If you have a narcissist parent, child, spouse or sibling, then things are more complicated, especially since you cannot just end the relationship.
The first step to take in such circumstances is setting boundaries with a narcissist. Unless you do that, you will steadily become codependent on the narcissist and you would be caught in a web of narcissism that you won’t be able to get away from. Setting boundaries with a narcissist is not a cakewalk. It takes a lot of thought and planning, execution of the planning in strategic manner and sticking to all those plans no matter what the challenges are and how difficult things get in the process.
Types of Boundaries
Here is a brief guide on setting boundaries with a narcissist.
There are three kinds of boundaries that you have to put in place. The first is a physical boundary. Depending on the relationship you have with a narcissist, there will be a certain degree of physical proximity or intimacy, or the lack of it. There has to be a clear definition or a very lucid boundary that would be physical. You should think of the extent to which you will be intimate or to the degree which you would be distant. Complete distance and extreme intimacy, are both undesirable. There has to be a balance. More importantly, you need to do something different. You cannot build on whatever you have been doing. You need to do the exact opposite and the extent to which you would do that will depend on the type of relationship you have and the extent to which the other person’s narcissism has peaked. Going soft when you have been hard and being distant when you have been too intimate are ideal ways to create physical boundaries.
The second kind of boundary is emotional. You should start to distance yourself emotionally from the narcissist and not allow your emotions to take control of your actions and reactions. If you have been emotionally distant, then you need to vent some emotions. Narcissists react differently to emotions. They often express that they don’t need emotional support when they secretly wish for emotional expressions and support. If the narcissist person you are dealing with craves for emotional support then you should define the boundary or limit to which you would be emotionally involved. If that person doesn’t need emotional support, actually or secretly, then you should not have any emotional investment. Narcissists have a tendency to take emotions on for a ride and that is where your cutting off all emotional connects will be the boundary as it would send a strong message.
The third kind of boundary is psychological. The masterstroke of narcissists is the psychological impact they have on the other person, typically the one who is codependent on the narcissist. Those who are actually narcissistic will feed on the psychological dependence the other person has on them and will thus further fuel their own narcissism. Setting boundaries with a narcissist has to be physical, emotional and psychological. When the first two are well defined, achieving the third is not very difficult but if the first two are not established well then the third will be unachievable. However, if the third is not achieved, then having physical and emotional boundaries will achieve very little. In other words, it is necessary to have some harmony among all the three types of boundaries.
Impact of Boundaries
While setting boundaries with a narcissist can be done mentally, it is difficult to enforce them or to execute them. That is where clarity of the boundaries and a very well conceived plan will become important. One must be certain of what the objectives are and how they should be achieved. A narcissist would naturally have a penchant for such boundaries and will always try and overcome them. It is challenging to follow through with a plan but adherence is the key.
Setting boundaries with a narcissist should be a proactive approach and it should have generous doses of positivity. Harboring negativity will be counterproductive and a reactive approach will only imply that the narcissist person is a step ahead and the codependent person is lagging behind, at all times. Trying to create a win-win situation for both the people involved in a relationship is also a way to go about setting boundaries with a narcissist since narcissists treasure win-wins, but such a situation is difficult for everyone to create. One may need professional help to conceive such ideas.