We talk a lot about setting boundaries to make our narcissists respect us, to create limits to their behaviour, to manage them. But have you ever thought about setting boundaries for yourself?
One of the great difficulties we have with our narcissists is finding ways to limit their incursions into our lives and minds. We look for ways to encourage—or coerce—them to control or redirect their urges, to treat us with at least a semblance of respect even if they don’t feel it. But they aren’t the only ones who need boundaries…we need them too.
I am not talking about the kinds of boundaries that we set with others, like our narcissists or our children or even our neighbours and co-workers. I am talking about boundaries with ourselves, for ourselves. We, who are raised by people who overstep our natural boundaries at every opportunity and have none of their own, often find it very difficult to exert what others call “self discipline” when it comes to ourselves. Oh, we are often very respectful—even too respectful—of the boundaries of others, so much so that we don’t assert ourselves or, if we do, we do not do it appropriately.
You may not have thought about it this way, but when you learn to say “no” to your abusers and exploiters, you have set a boundary with them…but have you learned to say “no” to yourself? What boundaries do you set for yourself and how good are you at exercising and maintaining them?
When we set boundaries for others, sometimes it is difficult for us to make those boundaries stick. If you have a child who has learned that if he is persistent enough, you will break down and give in, then you have not made the boundary stick. If, after you say “no,” he continues to wheedle and beg, threaten or rage, your child is not respecting your boundary. And if you eventually give in, just to shut him up, you aren’t respecting it either. All you have taught your child is that you don’t mean what you say because persistence pays…he can get what he wants if he just nags you long enough.
Do you do that to yourself?
Going “No Contact” is a boundary that you set with your narcissists…you might tell them not to contact you anymore or, you might just fade away from their lives, but either way, you have drawn a line in the sand you do not wish them to cross. But that boundary is yours as well! It is almost inevitable that you will have to enforce the boundaries because your Ns will not respect either your wishes or your silence. But do you respect your own boundary with respect to NC? Or do you read their boundary-breaking emails, open the letters and cards they send, give yourself angst over the gifts and invitations they send? Do you violate your NC by listening to other family members tell you how hurt your Ns are, how much they miss you, or how selfish, cruel and ungodly you are being, cutting off contact with people who love you so much?
Boundaries work both ways. And often, when we set boundaries, we fail to realize that. Boundaries have goals…there is a reason you set the boundary…so if you set a boundary and then violate it yourself, how are you attaining your goal? Aren’t you actually sabotaging yourself?
We lack boundaries in many other ways. How good are you at stopping those voices in your head? Have you ever set yourself a boundary for them, a boundary like “When I start to tell myself that I am a failure, I will stop and say ‘shut up, Mom, and get out of my head,’ or ‘That’s a lie, Dad, and you know it. The problem is you and the fact that nothing, no matter how good it is, is good enough for you.’” Have you ever even thought about setting boundaries on yourself, for what you do or say or believe about yourself?
Do you have a bad habit, like smoking or nail biting or over eating? Have you set yourself a boundary to stop those behaviours? Think about it…when you set boundaries for others, you expect them to change their behaviour towards you…can’t you do the same for yourself?
When you set a boundary for a narcissist, what you are asking that narcissist to do it to control, restrain, or redirect her urges. This is not an unreasonable expectation but narcissists are childish and, like small children, often impulse-driven. But we expect adults in our society to control their impulses…it is part of the social order and those who refuse to control certain of their urges run afoul of the law. The courts really don’t care why a man fails to control his sexual urges and commits rape or paedophilia, they don’t care that it is easier to steal a phone or a car or a diamond ring than to earn the money to buy it. The law, which is really nothing more than a codified set of boundaries, cares only that we respect those boundaries in order for our society to operate smoothly, or we suffer the consequences for violating them.
So the law expects that we control our urges to rape, to steal, to assault, to kill. It pretty much doesn’t care about our reasons for not controlling them, and fully expects us all, regardless of colour, faith, gender or economic advantage, to exert the necessary self-control to refrain from those activities. Why do we think, then, that we don’t need to control our personal urges inside the confines of our own personal lives? It is, after all, just that mind set that allows narcissists to prey on us—they see no reason to control their urges as they have no respect for the feelings or rights of other people and, unless we set boundaries and provide consequences for violating them, we give them free reign. But aren’t we doing the same thing to ourselves?
Think about things you allow yourself to do that work against you: succumbing to irrational fears without taking the time to think them through, breaking into “fight or flight” panic mode without stopping to apply rational thought. Worrying over things you cannot control. Tempting yourself to break NC by keeping emails from your Ns on the computer where there are there, beckoning you. I’ll bet you can think of a thousand other instances in which your own lack of boundaries for yourself get you into painful situations.
You might want to think about setting some boundaries for yourself and see how that works for you.