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Today I would like to discuss the concept of boundaries. I have to admit that during the years that I dealt with narcissistic individuals, I failed terribly at setting and enforcing boundaries, so I would like to share my experiences to help anyone else out there who might be dealing with this same issue.
As I have learned in counseling and through reading great books on the subject, boundaries are vitally important in maintaining one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Basically, it is learning to say “no” when we need to say “no”. Think of it like your house – you know where your property lines begin and end. You are responsible for what is inside those boundaries. You are not responsible for your neighbor’s property, right? Well, it is just as important, if not more so, to set boundaries in our mental, emotional, and spiritual lives. By setting boundaries, we keep things that will benefit us near while keeping things that will hurt us out. A great book on this topic is “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I highly advise reading it to learn more about this concept.
Now, when I first heard this, I thought about all the things that I felt responsible for at the time. If I said “no” to anything at that time, I felt selfish. This was hard to comprehend since I was raised to always help others and to not think of myself. However, as I learned about boundaries, I realized that setting boundaries is not equivalent to “being selfish”. The Bible says to “guard your heart”. I realized that this means it is alright to set boundaries for our own protection. Also, I learned in counseling that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we aren’t going to be able to care for others. Self care is of utmost importance if we want to give our best, not only in our work, but also in our relationships.
The following example based on a true event. Names have been changed – I will use the same names in one of my previous narcissism blogs.
John and Kay were planning a trip to see John’s family, and Kay was quite stressed because of some recent upsetting events that occurred in the family. Kay’s friend, Sheena, gave her some advice.
Sheena: “If things start to get bad, just take a break.”
Kay: “What do you mean?”
Sheena: “Just leave the room. Go take a walk, or go to another room and watch T.V. You don’t have to stay there – no one can make you stay there.”
Kay: “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’ll try that. I hope it works.”
Sheena: “What do you mean?”
Kay: “Not sure they’re gonna like it if I leave.”
So, John and Kay went on the trip. Sure enough, one evening during a family get-together, things just became too stressful for Kay, and she remembered Sheena’s advice. She decided to leave the room and rest in another room by herself. That lasted just a few minutes when Rhonda walked in and berated Kay for leaving the room.
Kay: “I just needed a little time to myself, that’s all.”
Rhonda: “I don’t care what you need. You get back out there and mingle with everyone.”
Rhonda: “I don’t want to hear it. Get back in there!”
Kay went back into the room, but she was fuming mad. She was super upset that Rhonda had demanded that she act a certain way. But she was also conflicted. Rhonda made her feel like she was so awful for leaving the room. Was she to blame? Did she just cause a scene just by leaving a room for a few minutes?
Okay, this is a perfect example of Kay setting a boundary but not enforcing it. She set a boundary by exiting the room. By leaving, she is basically saying that she no longer wants to be a part of the conversation and wants out of the situation. There is nothing wrong with that. We are all in control of what situations or conversations we will or will not partake. Rhonda is disrespecting Kay by violating her boundary while attempting to control Kay. That is not OK. Kay made the mistake when she allows Rhonda to manipulate her into returning to the room to be a part of the conversation. Kay does not enforce her boundary.
Should Kay take the blame? No. Did Kay cause a scene by leaving the room? No. This is Kay’s choice and right, and it should have been respected. However, Kay is dealing with a narcissistic individual. Narcissists notoriously disrespect boundaries, and Kay allows her to do just that. Instead of just complying with Rhonda’s wishes, Kay should enforce her boundaries, even if that means repeating herself many times. There is really no way that Rhonda could force Kay to return to the conversation in the other room unless she physically picks her up and carries her! Rhonda may not be happy with Kay enforcing her boundary and she may even become more angry. However, Kay would be more at peace with herself. Also, in the future, Rhonda may not be as inclined to violate Kay’s boundaries.
I have found that the reason I allowed people to violate my boundaries was because I hated confrontation, and I was a “people-pleaser”. I took on way too much responsibility for things that shouldn’t have been my problem, and I always looked for approval. I have found that enforcing boundaries means that there will be times when people will not be happy with me, and that’s OK. I now know what I will accept and what I won’t, and I’m at peace with that even if others don’t like it. By setting boundaries and enforcing them, I have discovered who I actually am…a process called self-awareness. I will discuss this in my next blog.
Have a great day!
Today I would like to talk about how someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) blames others for the problems in his/her life. I have to say that when I first heard about NPD and how those with this disorder are known to blame others, I was quite intrigued and amazed. I witnessed this kind of behavior in a narcissistic family for many, many years. This knowledge opened my eyes, and it began my long journey of learning all about NPD.
My parents always made my sister, my brother, and me take responsibility for our actions. Stories are still shared today among our family. One in particular was a time when I was about 6 or 7 years old, and I saw a bracelet on a doll that I liked during a shopping trip with my mom. I decided to break open the packaging and take the bracelet when my mom wasn’t looking. Later, at home, my mom found out that I took the bracelet. The next day, she drove me back to the store where I had to go in and give the clerk the bracelet. I had to tell him that I took it and that I was sorry.
My parents did not hold back when we needed to be punished. One morning, when I was about 14 years old, I was in a really bad mood. My mom kept yelling for me to get in the car because we were going to be late for school. My sister and brother were in the car waiting, but I was still messing with my hair as I tried to get it to look right (big problem, I know…haha!). Anyway, after several minutes of my mom telling me to get in the car, she gave up and left without me, so I had to walk to school. When I arrived, the principal smiled at me and walked up to me. He said, “Your mom called me and told me to give you a detention. She said that you are late and have no excuse”. He thought it was kind of funny, but I wasn’t amused. I was mad at my mom for doing this.
Years later, however, I began to appreciate what my parents did for us. They taught us that there are consequences to our actions. That is one invaluable lesson…a lesson that not everyone in this world learned as they grew up.
Now, in this narcissistic family that I knew for over twenty years, I never saw any kind of repercussion for bad behavior like I used to see in my family. Instead, I witnessed never-ending enabling behavior. When one of the kids did something wrong, even if it was clearly his/her fault, he/she was never subject to consequences. Occasionally, the parents would tell the child that he/she shouldn’t have done what he/she did, but there were no consequences. Also, if something bad happened, they would blame it on the person involved in the situation who was outside the family – a teacher, a manager, an ex-girlfriend, an ex-boyfriend, an ex-spouse, etc.
What is amazing to me is that each time one of the people that they blamed exited the picture, the problems continued. The teacher exited, but the problems continued. The manager exited, but the problems continued. The ex-girlfriend/boyfriend exited, but the problems continued. The spouse exited, but the problems continued. You would think that eventually they would realize that the problem was within the family. But they never came to this realization, or at least they never openly admitted it.
During those years, the family members would share the drama with me all the time. When I offered my advice, I was met with defensiveness if it didn’t agree with what they wanted to hear. I occasionally gave them a healthy dose of reality, telling them that there was too much enabling and not enough tough love, and this angered the members of the family. This reaction completely frustrated me. I tried to help them, but somehow, when I gave advice (which they asked for), I became the target of their anger. Somehow, I became the “bad guy”. I eventually began to blame myself for causing more problems within the family because I thought I was giving them bad advice. But, deep down, I knew it was good advice, and I became so confused and conflicted. My self-worth started to tumble, and I became depressed and even more frustrated.
OK, so now I want to get into what happened after learning about NPD through counseling. First of all, I now realize how deeply blessed I was to have wonderful parents. Understanding the concept of consequences for bad behavior is invaluable. It teaches us respect for others along with the concept of boundaries. Even though I was mad at my parents when I was a child, I now know why they had to use tough love on occasion. Looking back now, I certainly deserved that detention and even appreciate it!
Constantly blaming others for problems in life is one of the hallmark signs of narcissism. The family that I talk about above clearly has this trait. As I learned more about NPD, I now know why I felt so depressed and frustrated. It wasn’t because I gave them bad advice or that I was a bad person. Narcissists don’t want to hear the truth. They want constant praise and admiration. Giving them a healthy dose of reality will hurt their image…their false self. Instead, they want you to back them up and tell them how wonderful they are at dealing with a bad situation, even if they are dealing with it poorly. They don’t want you to help them solve the problem. The purpose of those family members talking to me about their issues was to dump it on me, not to help solve the problems. So, although I truly tried to help them, they viewed it as an insult. I learned that if they couldn’t accept responsibility for their actions, the problem was on them, not me. This was the beginning of my journey of reclaiming my self-worth.
It is important to know (and this literally took me years to accept) that you can only change YOUR behavior. You CANNOT change the behavior of someone else, no matter how bad you want to help them. The likelihood of changing a narcissist is nil. They don’t believe they have any issues, and pointing out any problems with them will lead to anger and extreme defensiveness. They will also throw all the blame onto you, so don’t be surprised if that happens. If you can leave the situation, it is probably the best thing to do. If not, learn as much as you can about NPD and how to effectively deal with it. One way to do this is to set boundaries, and I will discuss that topic in my next blog.
Have a great day!