Boundary Violation in Narcissistic Relationships
A common trait among narcissists, psychopaths and other toxic people is that they have little respect for others’ boundaries, and they eventually violate them. They mostly do that with a cynical and critical attitude. When you try to defend yourself; they accuse you of being too sensitive and touchy or tell you that you got them wrong and took it way too personal. The actual meaning behind these accusations is; It’s not me, it’s you.
Why do they disrespect others’ boundaries?
There are four main reasons why they reject these boundaries.
1. Believing themselves to be superior: Narcissistic people tend to believe that they’re above such rules and limitations. As if those things were set for everyone but them. So, the narcissist either doesn’t even notice that they’re invading someone’s privacy, or they simply don’t care about it.
2. Lack of empathy and treating others like an extension of themselves: One of the most common traits among narcissists is that they lack empathy. They can pretend to be empathetic in order to achieve their ends but that’s only an illusion. Because they’re unable to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, they cannot understand what other people want or need.
This inability also prevents them from viewing others as different individuals in their own rights. Instead, they view their friends, spouses, and especially their children as ‘extensions’ of themselves or ‘possessions’ they own. Just like how it’s unnecessary and illogical to let our inanimate objects have boundaries because these possessions are there simply to serve us; people with narcissistic personality disorder feel like the people they ‘own’ don’t have to have boundaries and that they have to serve them.
3. Lack of self-confidence: The terms ‘narcissism’ and ‘lack of self-confidence’ may look like they contradict each other. When they hear the word narcissistic, most people immediately think of high self-confidence. But is that really the case? In truth, narcissistic people have very fragile egos so they feel the need to wear a mask of confidence every day.
Whether it’s a pathological narcissist or a regular person whose confidence didn’t develop in a healthy way; my personal opinion is that people who lack self-confidence always try to control those around them. This control makes them feel superior and thus, feeds their ego while also creating a more comfortable environment for them. That’s why they like to control those around them and the easiest way to do that is to restrict their boundaries.
4. Boundary violation as a manipulation tactic: Especially at the beginning of the relationship, the narcissistic person tries to determine if you’re a suitable resource for them or not. They want to make sure you’re able to satisfy their needs. For that, they put you on a trial. They start pushing your boundaries each time in a subtle but insistent way. Most of the time, you don’t even realize how much they’ve violated your boundaries until you’re no longer with them.
Narcissistic people tend to choose those with weak boundaries or those who don’t even know their boundaries. If you know yourself well enough and have the courage to stand up for yourself, the narcissist gets angry: How dare you be so selfish and rebellious?
Why do some people have weaker boundaries, which cause them to be easy targets for narcissists?
Most of the time, the strength of our personal boundaries has a lot to do with our childhood and the way we were raised. I’ve examined the possible reasons to this below. All or some of these reasons may apply to you as well.
1. Having grown up with a toxic person: Although this article is mostly about romantic relationships with narcissists, the narcissist in our life doesn’t necessarily have to be a lover or spouse. If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, you probably didn’t even know what a personal boundary is. Your personal boundaries might have been violated at an early age. Perhaps your belongings were went through, your diaries were read. Your room was invaded without even bothering to knock on your door. Everything you’ve done or were planning on doing had to be explained in a detailed way and you had to ask for permission every time you wanted to leave the house. Everything from your future occupation to your friendship choices were dealt with by your parents. The subconscious message received by a child who grew up under such pressure is: Your needs have no priority and they’re not necessary. Your boundaries are actually my boundaries.
As a result, a child who tries to survive this toxic family starts ignoring their own desires and tries to fit in their environment. Years after leaving this life and their families behind, these people still feel worthless and continue ignoring their own wishes. Instead of trying to get away from problematic environments, they try to adapt to them.
2. Exploitation under the guise of sharing and putting others before themselves: Although it’s a nice and honorable thing to share what we have with others, this ‘sharing is caring’ attitude can be easily exploited. Our belongings can be handed over to others without our consent and if we say something about it people can accuse us of being materialistic or selfish. To give an example from my own life, I remember my toy being given to a charity organization without my knowledge and consent, which had upset me deeply. Besides, voicing my disapproval had led them to believe I was selfish, and that really embarrassed me. Even though my family’s intentions were good, the subconscious message I received from this incident was that my needs had no priority and that I had to share everything in order to avoid being seen as selfish.
3. Ignoring your own wishes and needs to avoid conflict: Majority of the people want a peaceful, happy life and they dislike conflict. That’s quite natural.
But if you grew up in a chaotic family where arguments and fights were a part of your daily life; the smallest possibility of conflict may trigger you and make you want to avoid argument by any means. Unfortunately, this can lead us to ignore our own needs and give up whatever it is other people want from us in order to end the conflict.
4. The fear of rejection and not being able to say no: If you grew up with the reward and punishment technique, which means you were rewarded with affection when you did something your parents approved of and were punished when you did something they didn’t want you to do; you probably can’t say no to certain things.
All kids desire their parents’ love and approval. In emotionally healthy families, these are given unconditionally. So the children are accepted and loved the way they are, and the parents make sure they feel that too. But unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have those emotionally healthy and mature families. If your parents offered you their love only under certain circumstances and immediately took it away whenever you made a mistake, you might have felt the need to try your hardest to keep it. Caused by this conditional love, you might have turned into someone who’s afraid of rejection and unable to say no. Extreme fear of rejection and the inability to say no prevent us from knowing ourselves and setting our boundaries.
5. The fear of hurting others and the need to make everyone happy: A lot people try to refrain from hurting others for no reason and they like to see their loved ones happy. That is quite natural as well. But some people live extremely ‘shame-based’ lives and rejecting someone causes them to experience severe panic, fear and guilt. They tend to believe that they’re bad people whenever they fail to give someone what they want. So they try to make everyone around them happy.
The major problem here (apart from the fact it’s impossible to make everyone happy) is the fact this personality trait makes them the perfect prey for manipulators. Just like what Irma Kurtz has said: ‘Givers have to set limits because takers rarely do’.
Balance is important. Caring about people and trying to make them happy are great things but we shouldn’t be doing that by compromising ourselves.
6. Lack of self-love and the need for approval: This one actually applies to narcissistic people as well. Both the pathological narcissists and the ones who draw them to themselves like a magnet tend to have a need for praise and approval. This problem arises from our lack of self-love because we seek the love and attention we don’t grant ourselves outside. Our need for approval can cause us to ignore ourselves and let others shape us.
Please remember! Emotionally healthy people value your privacy, your personal boundaries and differences. Having boundaries doesn’t make you selfish and you shouldn’t be ashamed of them. On the contrary; physical and emotional boundaries can keep us safe and warm just as the borders of countries and the walls of our houses do.
You can also find the articles on https://medium.com/@narsistsiz:
Brown, Nina. Coping with Infuriating, Mean, Critical People: The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern. London: Praeger Publishers, 1998.
Vivian Mcgrath. “Why healthy boundaries are kryptonite for narcissists”. Access 23 August, 2017. https://www.vivianmcgrath.com/setting-healthy-boundaries/ .