How to Set Boundaries With a Narcissistic Parent

Learning to set boundaries with a narcissist is a challenge because the narcissist has no regard for personal boundaries or limits.

How to Set Boundaries With a Narcissistic Parent
Setting boundaries with a Narcissistic parent

There are so many challenges caregivers face.

There are physical and medical issues of providing care. There is significant emotional and psychological issues that impact the caregivers themselves.

Caregivers often experience a variety of complex emotions during their caregiving journey. The family caregiver is expected to adjust to changes that are expected of them, as they provide that care.

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How To Set Boundaries with a Narcissistic Parent
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Guilt is a Constant Companion of Caregivers

Guilt is a constant companion of caregivers

The most common emotion that caregivers report is guilt. Most report feelings of frustration, anxiety and constantly asking themselves, Now what do I need to do? And how can I keep doing what I am doing? The answer to these questions often elude the caregiver as they continue on their caregiving journey.

Being able to set boundaries is essential for every family caregivers mental and emotional health.

Learning how to set boundaries with a narcissist parent is even more important. And more of a challenge because, the narcissist has no regard for personal boundaries or limits.

What is a Boundary and Limits?

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, Boundary is defined as something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent. The definition for limits is something that bounds, restrains, or confines or the utmost extent.

If you are an adult child of a narcissist, you may not have learned there was such a thing as a boundary. A narcissistic parent has always invaded your personal space and used emotional blackmail to manipulate you to get what they want.

If you have never been able to get away from that toxic environment, you may still be in the throes of that toxic environment.

Setting limits or boundaries is challenging for most family caregivers. When I work with a family caregiver, I recommend they rely on their gut feelings , or what feels right to them. When they are constantly tired, feeling irritable and having difficulty making decisions, it is time to think about taking care of them.

That advice is not what I would recommend to the adult child of a narcissist. You see, the narcissistic parent has groomed their children through emotional blackmail tactics that do not allow the child of a narcissist to trust their gut feelings. Most ignore those feelings, second guess themselves and give in to the many demands, to avoid conflict.

If you are presently providing care for a narcissistic parent , or find yourself living with them, it is important to set healthy boundaries and limits with them. This is to ensure your own sense of well being.

After decades of working with family caregivers, I have found that the majority feel uncomfortable setting boundaries. Most adult children of a narcissist are terrified to set boundaries. They want to ignore their own wishes to avoid the possible wrath of the narcissist

The Importance of Honoring Your Own Needs and Well Being

I often tell my clients that it is their responsibility to show others how to treat them. And you do that by acknowledging and honoring your own needs and well-being.

A narcissistic parent manipulates, you because they know they can. They know the buttons to push to get the reaction they want.

The only way to stop a narcissist, and any person, from walking all over you, is to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. You must learn to set limits.

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    Why You Should Set Boundaries and Limits

    I have watched many adult children of a narcissist struggle to take the first steps on setting boundaries. Many will do what ever it takes to keep the peace, ignoring what is in their own best interest.

    Because I have watched so many adult children of narcissists truly struggle I think I want to first address, why it is so important to set boundaries.

    Setting boundaries is making a clear statement on what you will and will not tolerate. It is the line you do not want anyone to cross.

    How to Determine Boundaries

    Determining boundaries and identifying what your limits is easy. It is implementing them for the average caregiver. For the adult child of a narcissist you’ve spent most of your life accepting your narcissistic parents mistreatment and manipulation. I like to provide my clients with a copy of caregivers rights.

    I want to share what those rights are.

    It is important that every family caregiver understand they have right that promote health and well being for a successful caregiving journey.

    Caregivers Have the Right to:

    Enjoy open communications between the senior family member, friends and other caregivers.

    To offer a point of view, opinions and suggestions regarding that care when appropriate

    To encourage and expect their family member to be independent for as long as possible

    To take care of your own personal needs with our feeling guilty or selfish. This is living life as if your family member is healthy. Taking care of yourself allows you to be a better caregiver.

    Yes, you do have rights. You are only human and have limitations. Only you know what those limitations are.

    For the adult child of a narcissist, I am going to add 2 more rights. You have the right to be treated with respect and you have the right to our own privacy and personal space.

    Many adult children of narcissistic parents feel unimportant. Many feel they don’t deserve to have boundaries. You have the right to voice what is ok and not ok with you.

    Narcissists Ignore Boundaries

    I know that narcissists ignore boundaries because they think they’re superior. They think they’re above rules and limitations, They lack the insight to even notice they’re violating a boundary in the first place.

    This is the narcissist’s way of maintaining control over you. They control you to make your personal boundaries completely nonexistent. They use guilt-tripping, stonewalling, gaslighting, threats, or straight-up demands to get their way.

    So, I understand the biggest fear is the backlash, the consequences they will face as they change the relationship dynamic.

    Setting boundaries in any relationship is healthy. Setting boundaries with a narcissistic parent is not only healthy, it is necessary for your survival. You need to protect yourself and manage their abusive, manipulative and emotionally abusive tactics.

    The tips and strategies I am going to share with you today, will also apply to other abusive and manipulative people in our life.

    How to Change the Relationship Dynamics

    Let's get into the nitty gritty strategies to change your relationship dynamic.

    Determine your boundaries

    The adult child of a narcissist often have a hard time determining what they want.

    What boundaries do you want to set?

    In order to be able to set boundaries, you need to think about what you want. Then decide how you can verbalize those thoughts.

    What are your buttons they push? Do they belittle you in front of others?

    Do they constantly tell you how to do things, or how you could have done it better?

    I am sure there are many things they do that make you uncomfortable or upset.

    Accept they will likely not respect your requests, but you still have the right to voice your needs. So take some time and think about how you would like to be treated.

    There may be an endless list of things you want to address. Try to start off with one. The most important one to you. If you give them a litany of boundaries, they will only feel attacked. And will most likely ignore you and your wishes.

    So, express just one, see how that goes. Then you can set more.

    What is the First Boundary You Would Like to Set?

    Always approach your narcissistic parent with care and caution. Saying anything they perceive, as a possible slight against them will result attacks and more emotional blackmail tactics.

    Ok, you’ve identified your first boundary. Now you have to be clear and vocal. It is important to be direct, brief and consistent.

    Be clear and concise on what you will and will not tolerate. And what the consequences for violating the limits will be.

    It might feel uncomfortable at first, so you can do it over the phone, or by email, or whatever feels the least stressful for you.

    Understand that if you seem uncertain or unsure about your boundaries, the narcissist will not respect them or honor them.

    Be prepared to identify and set consequences for when those boundaries get violated. Without any consequences, boundaries are meaningless.

    When setting boundaries you can tell them what happens if they don’t respect your boundaries.

    Now we know that narcissists don’t care how you feel. They don’t react to statements. They ignore what is right or wrong. They are unable to listen to reason. Here is the key to setting boundaries; they do care about how it will affect them.

    Identify Consequences For Violating Your Boundaries

    If the narcissist understands that violating your boundaries will result in consequences they dislike or things that will inconvenience them, that might stop them doing it because it negatively impacts them.

    When identifying the consequences, make sure it’s actually something you will be able to follow through with.

    Because if they don’t suffer any consequences for ignoring your boundaries, they’ll just do it over and over again.

    Adult children of narcissists may or may not be fine with having a difference of opinion. Some, over the years still feel that they need to stand up and debate their point of view.

    This is a time when the narcissistic parent will start with the emotional blackmail tactics. They may start to demean you. Start with the name-calling and insults.

    If this is something you have endured in the past, it is time to put a stop to allowing them to treat you that way.

    It is time to tell them that this is a line you will not allow to be crossed anymore. Let them know, “If you continue to insult me or call me names, I will leave the room/or hang up the phone. If they ignore your boundaries, you need to do what you said you were going to do. Leave the room. Hang up the phone.

    It’s so important to stand your ground. Do not refuse to give in. This may be the very first time you give them the message, that you will not longer tolerate them attacking you.

    Let them know that your boundaries are non-negotiable.

    Do not allow try to have a meaningful discuss about your boundaries. Don’t try to argue your point of view. Don’t to explain or elaborate.

    Simply state your boundaries. Keep it brief. Do not discuss it further. Make the interaction as short as possible.

    I know you may feel angry, fearful and frustrated. It is a time when you need to try your best to remain consistent. If you are inconsistent, or waiver, it might seem like you’re uncertain about your own decisions.

    Avoid Indecision and Wavering

    Indecision will give them a chance to push your buttons and poke at your vulnerabilities.

    So prepare your boundaries ahead of time and stick to them.

    When your narcissitic parent does cross the line, enforce your established consequences. There will be multiple attempts to ignore your boundaries.

    When you make the decision to set boundaries, be prepared for being challenged.

    This will be very difficult.

    You are standing up to your parents who have controlled basically all aspects of your life.

    Taking this step to set boundaries is necessary for your physical and emotional well-being.

    Be prepared for the worst possible response. Your narcissistic parent may react aggressively. Others may use emotional black mail tactics like guilt tripping or even feigning an illness. Trying to play the pity card.

    Either way, your narcissistic parent will find a way to make it a “you” problem. They will turn this around and make it your fault. You too sensitive, you’re selfish. They may even accuse you of not loving them enough.

    But stand your ground!

    They will do whatever it takes to continue to push the limits and ignore your boundaries.

    They’ll try to push those buttons. They will try to negotiate. And lord knows, they will pull you into an arguement. But stand your ground. Never back down from the consequences or let them change your mind.

    I have shared the story of Star and her narcissistic mother, Edith. in other audiocasts. Star waivered often, It took her 5 years to stick set limits and boundaries. She waivered and gave into her mothers emotional tactics. Sadly, Star paid the ultimate price. The stress and demands of caring for a narcissistic parent took a toll on Stars health.

    As difficult as it is, you are putting your foot down. Show them that this is non-negotiable. Do not respond to their tactics. No matter what they do. Show them that you are serious about this.

    Like Star, you will feel tempted to give in. It is a life long pattern that you are familiar with.

    Most likely you have given in to their demands many times before. But try your best.

    Narcissists Lack Self Confidence

    Most narcissists lack self-confidence. They try very hard to make others feel small to feel better about themselves.

    Here’s a tip. If you stand your ground and address your boundaries and identify consequences, it’ll catch them off guard.

    The narcissistic parent is used to beating you down. It is time to show them that they can no longer do that. Confidently saying so ,may help.

    Be prepared to call them out if they get close to crossing the line.

    Do not allow even the small things to slide. They will push inch by inch until they have crossed your boundary. They are just waiting for you to have a moment of weakness.

    They will try to draw you into their web and get you try to explain or defend your boundaries. They want to argue and manipulate you. So, it really is best to stay brief and direct with them. When they want to have a further discussion, shift the subject to something else or leave the room. .

    You can answer any genuine questions, if they have any. Just don’t fall for their pity parties, guilt trips, accusations, threats, gaslighting, or interrogations.

    Avoid Falling into The Narcissist's Emotional Traps

    Try your best not to respond negatively when your boundary is crossed. Your narcissistic parent will push the boundary to get a reaction out of you. If you react negatively in any way, it gives them power over you.

    Instead, when your parent crosses your boundary, simply restate what your boundary is. Then enforce the consequences you identified.

    They may make repeated attempts to cross your boundary. You will be tempted to argue or react in anger. Learn to take a deep breath, and calm yourself.

    Just simply restate your boundary, enforce the consequences. Then, remove yourself from the situation.

    It will be hard, but try your best not to argue. Arguing with them gives them an excuse to attack you.

    Focus on Remaining Indifferent. Ignore Them if You Have to

    They will intentionally cross your boundary. They want to hurt you, to get a reaction out of you, or to regain control over you. This is a form of narcissistic baiting.

    They want to see you hurt, upset, frustrated, sad, scared, and upset.

    As hard as it is, when that happens, all you can do is ignore them. Remain indifferent.

    Try to remain unemotional. When you are communicating with them, use one word responses or even sounds like “uh-huh”, “eh”, “meh”, or “mhm”. Avoid eye contact. Show no interest in what they are saying to you. Even if it’s causing you to feeling hurt on the inside. Hide your feelings. Do not show them you are hurting or upset in any way.

    It may be hard. Remember they’re intentionally trying to get a reaction out of you. If you give them what they want, they’ll just keep doing it. Think of them as a toddler having a temper tantrum. Toddlers will cry, throw themselves on the floor, kick and scream.

    The narcissist will throw tantrums, resort to name-calling and insults. They will play the victim, or try to shame you or put you on a guilt-trip. Giving them any attention, positive or negative, means their tactics are working. Like a toddler, if it works , they will do it again.

    When they’re intentionally and blatantly crossing your boundary for a reaction, it’s perhaps best to leave the situation. Do your best to ignore them. Remain indifferent until you are away from them.

    Choose Your Battles Wisely

    It is times like this is makes no sense to restate your boundary. Talking back in any way gives them ammunition for them to use against you.

    Because just a response is a reaction that might feed into them. If they can’t get a reaction out of you, they will hopefully give up trying.

    There may come a time when the interaction may escalate and get out of hand. The narcissistic parent may perceive your new behaviors threatening their control over you. They may scream and make very hurtful insults towards you. After all, they have controlled you, interfered in your life with out any consequences. You have been living in a very toxic environment.

    When that happens, you have every right to walk away.

    You have every right to leave a toxic interaction without anyone’s permission. Say, I have to go, or Opps, I am late for an appointment. Or simply, just walk out the room without any explanation.

    I have a client, an adult child of a narcissist that actually sets her phone to go off during their visit with their parent. This way they can excuse themselves and explain they need to take the call.

    This is a great strategy to use, even if you live with the narcissist. It gives you an opportunity to go somewhere else for a break from the drama.

    It is important to remember; remaining calm, disinterested and not let them see your frustration, hurt or anxiety. This is really important especially ff you live with the narcissist.

    Remaining calm and disinterested might avoid possible repercussions when you have to see them again.

    Breaking a LifeLong Battle of Abuse

    You are trying to break a lifelong battle of abuse. The reality is, there are those malignant narcissists out there, that do not care what the consequences are. You have tired multiple times and failed to get them to accept your boundaries. They repeatedly cross those boundaries.

    It is times like this, when it seems like nothing is working no matter what you do, to, consider cutting contact.

    Considering cutting all contact with you parent can be difficult. In many ways, you may have a sense of attachment. Or, you may feel you are not ready a complete break. It is at these times you may consider limiting contact or taking a break from them. Even, if it is just for a few days to a few weeks.

    When you are ready, reestablish contact again. Then gauge how you are feeling. If things don’t seem to improve, or you find that interactions with your narcissistic parent is making your mental and physical health worse, please reconsider what is in your best interest. Learn to at least establish very low contact, so they cannot have a negative impact on your health.

    For the adult child of a narcissist that has successfully introduced setting boundaries and enforced the consequences, these will become new habits for both you and the narcissist.

    Accept this Relationship has Always Been Shallow

    This relationship will always feel shallow. It is the nature of any relationship with a narcissist. You have changed the rules to function at a much safer and healthier level.

    As you set boundaries with your narcissistic parents, you become the one in control. This is a new strategy that that will be one step closer to putting yourself first.

    Being raised by a narcissist, you have always put others before yourself.

    But it’s time to do things differently.

    Putting yourself first and voicing your boundaries is not selfish. in fact it is downright healthy. It shows that you are human and know how to protect yourself. It is time that you know you’re worthy of respect.

    So get out of your comfort zone. Take the steps to a healthier and happier you.

    Remember, you have the right to do what’s best for you. You have the right to keep yourself safe.

    Learn to practice self care everyday. Because you are worth it.


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