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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!
Many of you who know me personally know that I try to take my negative life experiences and turn them into something positive. My work with adenomyosis sufferers is one big project that is close to my heart. I had this uterine disorder for seventeen years, went through pure hell, and finally received my diagnosis at hysterectomy. Although my struggle with adenomyosis was brutal, I decided to share my story and work to promote more research for those women who continue to suffer from it. I am in the final editing process of my second adenomyosis book, and I founded the group, “Adenomyosis Fighters”.
After thinking about this for months, I have decided to share some of my other life experiences…and yes, they are negative. However, I am determined to once again turn a negative into a positive. I have dealt with many narcissists in my lifetime, and after about five years of counseling, I (and some other close acquaintances) have come to the conclusion that several of these people I dealt with probably suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (also known as NPD).
I will be writing many future blogs on NPD. I will give actual examples (with names withheld) of statements that were made or situations that I observed. I have read many articles on NPD, and although they describe the traits of someone with NPD, I believe it would be even more helpful for the reader to have actual examples of statements and/or situations so they can more completely comprehend this personality disorder. My hope is to help others who are currently dealing with someone with NPD.
During my counseling, I not only learned about NPD, but I also learned about the characteristics of someone who becomes a victim of a narcissist. Victims of narcissists tend to have a submissive personality and try to please everyone around them. I am definitely a “people-pleaser”. In my past, I have tried to make people happy even if it is to the detriment of my own mental health. During the years that I dealt with narcissists, I started taking an antidepressant, thinking that the depression that I was feeling was just my inability to deal with stress. In fact, one of the narcissists actually put that idea into my mind, and I believed it. I became more depressed with time, and I actually had some panic attacks. During these years, I began to lose my sense of self, and to be honest, I was miserable. Counseling helped me to become much more self-aware, and I have learned the things I did wrong during those years. I will get more into this in later blogs.
To begin the discussion, I believe that it is of utmost importance to know that all of us are narcissistic to a certain degree. The term “narcissism” seems to have a very negative connotation these days. Narcissism in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the degree of narcissism is the determining factor if it is “healthy narcissism” or “pathological narcissism”. Pathological narcissism is the unhealthy form of narcissism that is linked to the personality disorder called NPD.
Many people today associate narcissism with someone who is loud, extremely arrogant, and who always wants to be the center of attention. Some with NPD definitely fit into this category, but some can actually be quiet and calm. One of the narcissists that I know falls into this second category. Either loud or quiet, all narcissists are quite charming and appear quite attractive. However, as you get to know them, you may notice behaviors that are quite disturbing such as control or manipulation. This initial charming appearance is what is referred to as the “false self”, and those with NPD will do anything to keep up this “false self” appearance.
The following is the DSM IV criteria that psychologists use to diagnose someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (eg., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people (or institutions)
Requires excessive admiration
Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
The sad part is that those with NPD rarely get treatment because they don’t see themselves as having a problem. One narcissist that I knew began counseling after a major event in his life, but only went twice. When I asked him why he stopped going, his response was “Counseling is a waste of time. It doesn’t work”. I suspect that counseling didn’t work because he would be forced to face issues that he didn’t want to face. I also suspect that the counselor told him things he didn’t want to hear.
In my next blog, I will discuss the topic of the “false self” in greater detail.
*DSM-IV criteria for NPD obtained from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, American Psychiatric Association