What does the word "boundary" mean to you? We know it is important to have personal boundaries. We also know people who have no regards for personal boundaries. In our front yard, we set boundaries using fences. Our homes have a front door and lock to keep unwanted guests out. Because personal boundaries are not physical objects, they are more easily crossed. Anyone who has endured or ended a relationship with an individual suffering from narcissistic personality disorder understands that boundaries are imperative to moving forward and to maintaining one's sanity.
One of the hallmark characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder is a complete lack of respect for interpersonal boundaries. In a twisted way, people with this disorder believe that others exist simply to serve them so they put their needs and desires above the needs of those around them. Narcissists focus on how their partners can "feed" their narcissism. Due to their insatiable appetite for attention, they will suck their victims dry over a period of time.
People with narcissism demonstrate a lack of appropriate boundaries, which often affects their work relationships and how they are perceived in social settings. Narcissists tend to dominate conversations or discuss things that may be viewed as inappropriate or awkward. These social interactions can be taxing for their non-narcissistic partner or colleagues who are often left apologizing or picking up the pieces. Dealing with this type of person in a relationship is difficult at best, but what happens when the relationship goes south?
Having any type of conflict with someone who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder is difficult enough. Ending a relationship with this type of individual can be equated to World War III. Becoming the target of a narcissist's rage is something that few people are equipped for. The narcissist's appetite (their "narcissist feed") did not go away when the relationship ended. In fact, their need to be "fed" often increases tenfold after a break-up (especially if the break-up involved injury to their ego). The supply they are seeking after a break up is much different than the supply that they received while in the relationship. Where they once derived pleasure from feeling superior and needed, they now derive pleasure from seeing their former partner hurting.
After parting ways with a narcissist, it is absolutely critical to put firm boundaries into place. If you are experiencing a break-up that doesn't involve children, no contact is the only way to go. The narcissist is a master manipulator so beware of the lengths he or she will go to in an effort to get you to engage with them. No contact means no texting, phone calls, emails, letters, in-person communication or yelling from the rooftops. The narcissist receives a great deal of pleasure knowing that their victim is hurting or sad, so save your tears for family members or trusted friends.
If you are leaving a narcissist and children are involved, boundaries may seem harder to set. However, with time you will begin to feel empowered as you construct your walls of protection. The first step is to limit all non-emergency communication to email or a parenting program such as Our Family Wizard. If you choose to use an email account, it should be an account designated to the narcissist. The last thing you want to interrupt your latest Oprah eNewsletter is a nasty email from the narcissist! Take control over communication which is also your portal to document the rude emails, demeaning remarks and threats that the narcissist is known for.
The next step to empowerment is to learn how to communicate with the narcissist. This is the ultimate test in boundaries because it is very difficult to ignore blatant lies and manipulations. A mismatched sock on your 4-year-old opens the floodgates to attacks about your parenting style. My favorite response is short and sweet, "Your attempt to portray me in a negative light is noted." Scan the email and only respond to relevant information such as medical updates, scheduling communication and items relating to the children. The goal is to respond in a business-like manner sans all emotion and over time, you will begin to take your power back.
When dealing with a narcissist, remember that boundaries are a mandatory step to healing and moving forward. While we have only covered communication boundaries, there are many areas where you will need to construct your boundaries. Once the boundary is in place, it is vital that you honor that boundary because if they are able to cross the line once, they will try to do it a million times. The crazy-making antics of a narcissist can wear on a person emotionally. You put up with their boundary-crossing ways during your relationship, do not give them the green light to continue to abuse you as you re-build your life!