True or False: If your narcissist takes a wrong turn while driving, you let it slide . . . but if you are the one who takes a wrong turn while driving, you get an earful.
True or False: If your narcissist asks you not to drive his car without asking, you remember and comply . . . but if you ask your narcissist not to drive your car without asking, oops! S/he keeps forgetting.
How long are you going to excuse the narcissist who oversteps your boundaries?
One of the classic signs of narcissism is someone who ignores, oversteps, or disregards other people’s boundaries. Narcissists, charming when needed, often excuse themselves, saying they didn’t know about the boundary or forgot about it. Malignant narcissists, on the other hand, will make it your fault when they overstep your boundary. (“You are overreacting again. This shouldn’t annoy you,” or “If you had just ______, I would have known how important it was to you, but you didn’t, so it’s not my fault.”)
Little children, who haven’t learned better, can be endearing when they overstep your boundaries. Who can get too upset when a beautiful child invades their space at a restaurant or on a park bench? Little children are delightful and innocent in their curiosity, touch, and questions.
Narcissists have never learned that this immature behavior, while age-appropriate for a child, is toxic in adult relationships. Consistently overstepping another person’s boundaries, even if it’s executed with panache, is not okay in an intimate adult relationship. Narcissists tickle too hard and too long, eat off of other people’s plates, and volunteer other people’s time and services.
Examples of narcissistic behavior which shows a disregard for your boundaries:
- Reading your diary
- Opening mail that is not addressed to them
- Feeling betrayed or angry if you aren’t willing to drop your plans in favor of their plans
- Insisting that you or others pose for their photos
- Borrowing your things without asking
- Throwing away your stuff without asking
- Giving away food that you have prepared
- Entering closed doors without knocking
- Believing that some rules or laws don’t apply to them
- Answering questions that are addressed to you, or speaking for you
- Walking ahead of you, or edging in front of you in a group
- “Disappearing” – leaving you or leaving the group without explaining where or how long they are going
- Arriving late
- Forgetting appointments
- Becoming angry and defensive if you express an alternate opinion
- Dominating conversation
- Breaking confidences
- Touching other people, including babies and young children, in ways that make them feel uncomfortable
- Touching you in ways that you don’t like, but which (the narcissist insists) any normal person would like
- Recording sexual encounters without permission
- Lashing out with physical violence
Like children who haven’t learned to respect healthy boundaries, narcissists seem charming and charismatic during initial interactions. In fact, a narcissist’s boldness can be attractive and appealing. Research shows that most people don’t notice any problematic behavior coming from a person with pathological NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) for the first seven encounters with that person.
If there are not clear, severe consequences for overstepping your boundaries, then a narcissist will keep violating those boundaries. It’s up to you to assert boundaries and impose consequences when you are dealing with a narcissist.
When a narcissist violates a boundary, your first job is to get clear inside your own head about the fact that a boundary has been violated. Whether the narcissist did it on purpose – or not – is beside the point. You need to ‘hold on to yourself’ enough to know that a boundary has indeed been violated.
To be clear about when your boundary has been violated may be harder than it sounds. If you are in a long-term relationship that you have helped create, it may be extremely difficult for you to get clear about where your boundaries should be and what you can reasonably expect from your partner. Many people find professional counseling very helpful in constructing (or reconstructing) firm opinions about what their boundaries are. Books and articles on the subject of boundaries can help develop awareness and understanding.
Once you have clarity about when your boundaries are being violated, your next step may be to confront the narcissist. Expect them to push back — they didn’t really mean it, or you should give them another chance, or they forgot (again), or you deserved it, or you imagined it, or you’re too thin-skinned.
Tip: If a narcissist wants to twist the conversation to be about you when you bring up a broken boundary, say: “I’d be happy to talk about my part of the problem, but first let’s finish the conversation at hand.”
When your narcissist pushes back, your former self might have thought, “Well, maybe they have a point.”
The narcissist, sensing your flexibility, runs an inner victory lap and heaves an inner sigh of relief.
And, thus, the cycle of narcissism continues. The inner child inside your narcissist knows they can get away with breaking that boundary, and they will do it again. And again.
You’ll wait a lifetime if you leave it up to the narcissist to end this cycle. Take action and make the changes you deserve.
Note that if you are divorcing a narcissist, you’ll want to align yourself with a good support team. Make sure that you find a lawyer who understands this particular personality disorder and the associated mental health issues at play.