If you follow my blog regularly, you have probably noticed that I love to write about things that I struggle with.
And not getting triggered by a narcissist, or even by the knowledge of the narcissist’s games, is still quite difficult for me.
Just today, I received a message from my narc sister. She hates my guts. I am not sure why but for some reason she does. In her deranged mind, I am a super villain. I haven’t heard from her in months. The only reason for her to be in touch with me is to ask for money for my narc mother’s birthday present.
She doesn’t even bother to ask how am I doing (obviously, because she doesn’t care how I am doing). She just gives me orders with that seething undertone you can sense from in between the lines. I wonder why did God or Universe, or whoever, put this mortal enemy among my so-called nearest and dearest.
I have learned not to react to her needling of me. She is a master at provoking me and then turning everything against me in front of the wider family. She learned that skill as a very small child. I remember when I was very little, I felt my sister was evil. Then I accepted that I was the problem and everything was good. Until I stopped accepting that preferred version of reality and started setting boundaries. I can see from my sister’s reactions that she really struggles to comprehend my changed behaviour. But I know she has other weapons – smearing me in front of other family members and triangulating other family members against me.
I essentially had to totally distance myself from the entire family because everyone is brainwashed by my sister’s (and my mother’s version) of reality. And because there are two of them, they must be right… It has been very frustrating for me because obviously, while to me they are cold and unempathetic creatures, who have many times totally distance themselves from me when I was going through difficulties, to others, they are sweetness embodied.
I no longer expect any compassion and support from them. (When, several years ago, I shared with my mother that I had endometrial cysts and have been recommended surgery, my mother didn’t even bother to reply to that email, because my medically educated sister, whom she informed about my plight, said that it’s nothing and that I am just hypochondriac).
But I still do struggle with the fact that the whole extended family understands that I am a problem and I am difficult and it’s all my fault and choice that we don’t have any reasonable relationships. It’s seriously frustrating and the whole situation, which I know they are feeding, is causing me a lot of negative feelings. I am totally helpless against it. Even my rather reasonable cousin, the last time I saw her, told me that ‘I should forgive them’. It clearly didn’t cross her mind for a picosecond that actually, they should change their behaviour.
I know that everyone who has ever been in this situation would be able to relate. It’s the fucking utter helplessness because no one believes you because the narc is just so sweet and awesome to them.
So how do you successfully set the boundaries and stop getting hurt?
I honestly believe you can only successfully set the boundaries when you give up. When you absolutely completely and totally give up the hope that there can be any satisfying relationship. When you absolutely and totally accept that these people won’t and can’t change. When you absolutely and totally accept the fact that you can’t change what they say about you, that you can’t change what those people will think about the situation. There is nothing you can do about it.
You have to absolutely totally and completely accept the fact that narcissists are not able to see you, hear you, understand you, empathise with your feelings and struggles. All they see is a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out, on which they project their own shit and assign it to you as your personal characteristics.
I want you to think about this deeply. Only when you accept this, you will stop trying to explain yourself, your feelings, which would only be thrown back into your face. Only when you accept this completely, you will stop trying to fix the unfixable. Yes. I can’t have a relationship with my mother. I can’t have a relationship with my sister. And it is sad. But it is not my fault. I could only have a relationship with them if I accepted their version of reality and tolerated their transgressions against my dignity and feelings.
Once I asked my mother, whether she could stop informing me about my skin blemishes in public places. Once she did it in an elevator full of people, another time in a train. When I finally asked her whether she could stop doing that, she threw a tantrum and started persuading me that I am unreasonable by demanding her to stop talking about the hair on my chin in a public place. I was clearly over-reacting in her eyes. The same happened when I asked her whether she could stop answering questions directed at me at family gatherings since I can quite well answer for myself (besides she doesn’t have any information about my life because she really doesn’t care about my life).
My request to have my human dignity respected is always flatly denied and an attempt is always made to make the whole situation look like I am the one acting weirdly.
In the past, I would have been intimidated by my mother’s tantrum and just think that I have to tolerate her and accept her and be nice to her. I would feel guilty. I would accept it as my responsibility that my mother threw a tantrum. Of course. I am not supposed to upset her. Bad me. That’s how I had been trained as a child. No. That’s not the way forward with a narc. The boundary is – if you can’t treat me with respect, I am not going to be here. And the fact that you are my mother is not going to change anything about it.
A psychotherapist will tell you that you need to communicate your boundaries calmly but I leave that up to everyone who has been in this situation to decide how easy that is.
I recovered from a relationship with a narcissistic man. Once I finally saw the truth, it wasn’t that difficult to accept it. It’s much more difficult with your family. These people somehow form a part of our identity. I accepted that I can’t have any contact with any common acquaintances I have had with the narc ex because they all buy the crap of his false self. I don’t care. It is much more difficult to accept all this with a family.
If a narc ever was a close member of your inner world and you end up seeing through his or her disordered reality, you have to accept that as long as the narc is alive, there will be another version of you living in the words and the fantasy world of the narc. A version, which has very little to do with who you really are and what you stand for as a human being. It has very little to do with what your friends and people who really know you think and say about you. You will never have control over whatever picture of you the narc is building in the minds of others. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. There is no point trying to change that picture. Again, if those people (those under the influence of the narc) don’t or can’t pay you the respect you deserve and want to really understand what’s going on, they can’t and should not be part of your life. That’s the ultimate boundary. I know that it is difficult, I know that people would struggle to accept this and many would rather let themselves be bullied to step back into the line and accept the narc’s narrative rather than to stick to their guns. But at the end, it’s everyone’s choice.
I know that I can’t let anyone violate my boundaries anymore. I am done allowing them to manipulate me, intimidate me, go around spreading fabrications about me. I don’t want this in my life anymore. Is it sad? Is it painful? Yes. But the truth is that a narcissist that completely lacks self-awareness and just projects has a very low chance of improvement.
My sister once very confidently told me that if we ever went to a family psychotherapy session, I would clearly get it from the therapist. I have to laugh. In her delusional world, things are the way they are. I can’t help her. I can’t cure her. I can’t change. But I have to keep my boundaries. I know that she’s seriously confused because I am no longer reactive. I don’t allow her to provoke me any more. She can’t figure that out.
What you will ultimately learn when setting up boundaries with a narcissist, is that the narcissist prefers to not have you in his or her life than change the behaviour that you have a problem with. That is the ultimate painful lesson and that’s why people are so scared of setting boundaries with close narcissists. I think that deep down we know that. Deep down we know that we either play according to their script, accept the role they assigned to us, or there is no place for us. It’s the moment when you accept that there has actually never been any real relationship. Not because of you but because of the nature of the narcissistic personality disorder. I really don’t want to vilify these people. I think we really want to understand it as the serious mental condition that it is – but at the same time, we have to put ourselves first. As long as we are getting triggered by them, it’s not safe for us to be interacting with them.
Everyone who has ever been truly enmeshed with any narc knows that it is extremely hard to follow some of the rules for interaction with narcissists. We are getting triggered and staying ‘grey rock’ is really tough.
Below are three rules for interacting with narcissists that psychotherapist and narcissistic personality disorder expert Elinor Greenberg shared on Quora.
Rule 1—Never confront a Narcissist (unless you want to escalate the conflict).
Rule 2—Never decide which intervention to make when you are angry.
Rule 3—Decide where your boundaries are and clearly and nicely communicate them to your client. Keep those boundaries.
These rules are in my opinion much more helpful than the recommendation of Craig Malkin (the author of the best-seller Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists, to be vulnerable and show the narcissists in your life how their behaviour is hurting you. I really had the worst results following Malkin’s advice.
When it comes to Elinor’s advice – I think everyone who is/has been truly enmeshed with a narc knows how difficult it is to stay calm and not get angry when they are virtually hammering your triggers, stomping over whichever boundary you try to erect and trying to mercilessly persuade you that it’s actually you who is the problem.
I would say all of us, that have been raised in a way that made us over-reactive to these behaviours need to work pretty hard before we reach the level where we are able to calmly follow any systematic method of dealing with a narcissist, which leads me to the conclusion: setting boundaries and stopping a narc from emotionally hurting you in one way or another frequently requires removing the narc from your life, no matter who he is. It frequently requires removing the whole social circle that is under the influence of the narc and fully accepting that you need to build yourself an entirely new social circle, where only you and your behaviour determines what people think and say about you.
Remember, it’s your right not to be somewhere where you don’t feel comfortable. It is your right to ask someone to stop treating you in a way that hurts or is not comfortable. Setting a boundary means walking away from that person when they refuse to accept your request.