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Part 2 – Dealing With Narcissists: the Art of Boundary Setting

It’s my belief that you cannot be a good flirt without having good boundaries.

In my last blog post, I wrote about 10 traits of narcissism and how to heal them. Narcissism is much more prevalent than most people realize, and many of us (myself included) have some narcissistic traits.

Part 1 was all about identifying and healing your own potentially narcissistic behaviors.

Part 2 is all about how to deal with others’ narcissistic behaviors. Specifically, how do you confront a narcissist and ensure they respect your boundaries?
Just to recap, narcissism is much more than having a big ego. It is a way of being and behaving that stems from the belief (either conscious or unconscious) that, “I am the center of the universe, and everything else is an extension of me and my experience, here to serve my experience.”

The 10 traits of narcissism that we looked at in part 1 are as follows:

  1. Feeling Sorry for Yourself
  2. Getting Angry at Others for Being Thoughtless of You or Your Needs
  3. Believing someone Else is Stupid or Wrong When They Don’t Share Your Point of View
  4. “Me too” Syndrome
  5. Believing You Shouldn’t Have to Give 100% to Your Work/Serving Others if You’re Having a Rough Day
  6. Believing that others wish they knew how to serve you better
  7. Blaming Others in Conflict (it’s ALL his/her fault)
  8. Expecting Others to Uphold Your Wishes and Life Choices
  9. Believing you deserve special treatment
  10. Martyrdom

These are just a few examples of narcissistic behaviors.

So, what do you do when you cross paths with a person who is behaving narcissistically?

Give them CRABS! (Compassion, Rapport, Assess, Boundary Setting). Yeah, I know it’s a silly acronym, but it’s also easy to remember! :)

Compassion:

Compassion is all about understanding what’s happening underneath the surface; walking in the other person’s shoes.

Most of the time, narcissists are well-meaning. I know because I am a recovering narcissist.

Being a narcissist pretty much means you will experience bone-crushing loneliness (been there!). Why? Being at the center of the universe means there is no one else with you, ever. Even in friendship, even in romance, even in doing work that serves others, you feel lost and alone. In a weird way, you feel like you are there to serve the entire world, just as it’s there to serve you… but there is no concept of how to truly connect to another being.

To believe that you are the center of the universe makes you feel like Atlas needing to hold up the entire world. Needing to put your 2 cents into every conversation and your hand in every project. Needing to be the one who does it so that it can be done “right.” Needing to correct everyone’s “mistakes” when they step off of what you consider to be their path.

What I’m saying is, narcissism is a front for what is often some dark misery and loneliness underneath. So remember this, and have compassion for the narcissist while you are dealing with them (no matter how difficult they are being). (Besides, having compassion and respect for the narcissist will help feed their ego so they listen to you ;) )

Remember, if you find yourself in a situation where you have to confront a narcissist… ask them if they are in a space to hear your feedback. They might not be. And that’s okay, you can talk to them later. You will have to be more flexible with your communication than ever if you are going to prove your point to a narcissist.

Rapport:

Narcissists are happy whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em. As long as you are focusing on them. Because it’s about THEM, and they are adept at twisting the situation around to serve themselves.

Even if it’s just to get a jolt of energy. Narcissists FEED off of other peoples’ reactions. And the more emotionally charged your reaction is, the more you feed their “importance” machine.

(The only thing they don’t like is being ignored, or a calm, neutral response.)

In you find yourself having to confront a narcissist about something they won’t like, staying in rapport with them will diffuse that energy so that you won’t get drained of it. While staying in rapport, remember your intention. The narcissist will do everything they can (unconsciously and with good intentions!) to drain your energy so it goes into them. Don’t let it happen. Feel compassion, yes. Absolutely stay in rapport, AND remember that your goal is to enforce your boundary.

So how do you stay in rapport?

One of the easiest ways to keep rapport is to match and mirror their body language and tone of voice.

Also, work with what they are saying (verbal aikido) instead of disagreeing. This is otherwise known as “Yes, and…”

This does NOT mean you are actually agreeing with their point of view, or agreeing to do what they think you should do. This is simply a way to grease the wheels for when you set the proper boundaries.

Another thing to remember about *truly* getting into rapport… even if they’re a narcissist and you’re 99% right about something… they still have a point. They might not be right, but they have a point. They have a need they are trying to fulfill with their narcissism. This is why you need to step into their point of view first. Get into rapport and see where they’re coming fro – even if they’re full of s***. Ask yourself, “How is it possible they could think this way?”

Communication is a 2-way street. If you’re going to have any kind of relationship with a narcissist, this will mean going out of your way to understand where they are coming from.

You need to step into the way they see the world first… which is the first part of rapport (also known as pacing). Then, you need to lead them to where YOU are coming from (this is the 2nd element of rapport, known as leading).

Assess:

Before you set boundaries, it’s important to assess what kind of boundaries to set. Know your intention. Assess your reasons for setting your boundaries.

Narcissistic people tend to demand rather than request, and so it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction of “no-I-won’t-do-that-for-you!”

Here’s the problem with that: the narcissist will probably push and push. If you don’t have a good reason, it’s very likely that you will cave in.

However, if you take a minute to assess the situation and you realize, wait, it’s actually not a problem for me to do what this person is asking… then you can say “yes,” and that yes will be your choice and not theirs.

Of course, if the answer is no, then say no. :)

This is important, because it demonstrates that whether you say yes or whether you say no, you are the one in control, not them. The narcissistic will often believe and behave as if THEY are in control of your decisions. Not making congruent decisions reinforces this belief.

If you aren’t congruent yet, then say, “I don’t know. I need to think about this and get back to you.” You don’t owe them anything more than that.

The narcissist may push for an answer now–but don’t give a definite answer until you have one.

Boundary Setting

The art of boundary setting lies in two simple ideas:

1. Your ability to respond (responsibility)
2. Your ability to enforce consequences

With that in mind, here’s a quick note on how NOT to set a boundary…

If you want to make sure that your boundaries are not respected, that your space continues to be invaded, and that you will continue to triggered, then simply tell the narcissist (or whoever): “I have this boundary, and you need to respect that.”

If just telling someone that you don’t really like it when they do X is enough to get them to stop, then that’s not the person you need to set the boundary with the most.

Here’s another way to think about boundary setting: do you lock your doors when you leave the house? Do you lock your car when you park it in a public area? Would you ever consider leaving your car unlocked in a crowded parking lot? With a wad of cash sitting on the dashboard? With a note that says, “Please respect my boundaries and do not take this money”?

Yeah, I wouldn’t either. :)

You are the only one responsible for setting and enforcing your boundaries.

This seems obvious when it comes to physical boundaries, but most people forget this when it comes to emotional boundaries.

Actually, expecting others to uphold your wishes (that includes boundaries) is one of the 10 narcissistic traits listed above! You do not control other people. Other people do not owe you anything.

Abusers abuse. Haters hate. Poisonous snakes bite.

This means, in order to get them to change their behavior… you need to let go of any expectations you have to them changing their behavior. No matter how right you are, you can’t control another person. Period. Even if someone agreed to do something for you… you can’t make them. You can hold it to them, absolutely! But they’re their own person, and they’re going to do what they want to do. If you communicate well, then they will want to listen to you, they will want to connect with you, and therefore they will respect your boundaries.

Again, boundary setting is not about telling other people what they should do; it’s about responding to what they actually do. This is responsibility.

The way you respond is by setting and enforcing consequences. Without you taking an action in response (consequence) to the narcissist doing something you don’t like, boundaries are meaningless.

Determine what behavior you don’t like, then set a consequence that ensures that you don’t have to suffer from it anymore.

For example, “I don’t like that you constantly show up late to our dates. In the future if you are more than 20 minutes late and it’s not an emergency, I will leave and go do something else.”

If (unwanted behavior), then (consequence).

Here’s an important note about consequences: they are NOT meant to be punishments for the other person.

For example, it would be inappropriate to say, “I don’t like that you constantly show up late to our dates. In the future if you are more than 20 minutes late, then I will slap you across the face as soon as you do arrive.”

The consequences are for YOU to get what YOU need in YOUR life. (Slapping someone across the face doesn’t prevent you from waiting around longer than you’d like to–leaving after 20 minutes does).

Boundaries are fences, borders that keep you and your space safe. You lock your doors to keep your stuff safe, not to get revenge on would-be thieves. Protecting your emotional space, your well-being, and your time, should be treated the same way.

You get to decide on–and design–the structure of your boundaries. Just as you cannot control other what other people do, others cannot dictate what you should do.

And believe me, the narcissist will try! “Really, you would just leave if I’m not there in 20 minutes? That’s so rude, I would never do that to you, you don’t think I’m worth waiting for?…”

Your boundaries are non-negotiable. YOU can always decide for yourself that they can loosen up or even change entirely. But if someone else tries to negotiate with you about your boundaries, calmly tell them that this is not up for discussion. This is the way it is, and if they don’t like it, they know where the door is.

The more narcissistic a person is, the more they will not believe that wait, you’re serious?!?! when you set your boundaries.

Show them that you are. Enforce your consequences. Let them fuss and cry about it. Let them decide they don’t like you. (Few things will bring chaos and misery into your life more than sacrificing good boundaries to have everyone like you!)

Do not argue (remember, narcissists feed off of this energy). Do not give them a chance to diminish your boundaries (“Well, how would you feel if I kept you waiting so long…”). This is where you get to be a bit of a narcissist – it doesn’t matter how they would feel in that situation. These are your feelings and your boundaries.

Here’s an example of a strong response to a narcissist trying to negotiate. If a narcissist responds, “What, you wouldn’t wait for me? I’d wait for you!” then you can respond, “I’m really looking forward to our date, but I don’t like waiting around for a long time. So I am not going to. If you are more than 20 minutes late, I will leave.”

And then follow through with your actions. That’s it.

Here’s the thing about setting good boundaries: the people who you need to eliminate from your life will be eliminated. The people who are awesome will respect you and your boundaries. This is true even if they started out as a narcissist who threw a fit or two before learning to respect your boundaries.

I like to think of boundaries as “where you place people in relation to yourself so that you can unconditionally love them.” Some people you can let in very close to you (friends, lovers, (some) family) and still love them unconditionally. Other people are so toxic that the only way to keep an open heart towards them is to never, ever interact with them (ever). Most people will fall somewhere in between.

To wrap up, not only will setting boundaries help you with personal growth and development… it will make you a strong, sexy flirt. Many people struggle with flirting because they are either too loose or too uptight, especially with sexual energy (which is necessary for good flirting!). This is really a boundary issue. So practice setting good boundaries in your life, with everything in your life, and you will be happier, healthier, and a whole lot sexier!



11 Comments
  1. “I don’t like that you constantly show up late to our dates. In the future if you are more than 20 minutes late, then I will slap you across the face as soon as you do arrive.”

    so instead

    “i dont like that you constantly show up late to our dates, in the future if you are more than 20 minutes late, don’t bother coming at all”

    Liz, this isn’t a hypothetical for me. I had this EXACT same problem. but it makes you feel bad because you want to be nice and not lose the person (or risk losing)

    I was “the understanding guy” and she grandstanded about “oh Im going to change I know you were cool about it, but I’m going to change.” so she even knew her problem.

  2. Great insight, Liz. Thanks!

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  10. Great article. Thanks for sharing.

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