Narcissists are incredibly predictable. They come in vanilla (neglecting) and chocolate (engulfing), but the actions actions of both varieties can still be anticipated. That’s why children of narcissists have shockingly similar experiences growing up. Take lack of privacy, for example!
Yesterday, I wrote an article entitled Pain, Boundaries and the Narcissist. After all, boundaries is just another word for privacy, isn’t it. Two sides of the same coin. A Facebook friend asked me, “How do you set boundaries on a narc?” I drew a blank. But I pondered her question as I fried some chicken.
Frankly, I don’t think it’s possible. I tried it. It didn’t work.
You may try to set ’em. But the attitude of narcissists is, “Damn the boundaries, boys. Full speed ahead!”
I guess that’s why most of us decide to go “No Contact.”
Why They Hate ‘Em
Boundaries (aka privacy) are anathema to narcissists. Most of the time, they simply ignore ’em and bash ’em. When enforced, they hate, hate, hate ’em. I guess it’s because they own us. Maybe they get off on control.
Maybe they’re simply far above we lesser mortals who deserve to have boundaries set on us?
Maybe we’re their Golden Child narcotic and they mistakenly believe our actions reflect on them. Maybe they don’t have a life and do they’re living vicariously through us. Maybe all of the frickin’ above.
They may call it “love.” They may call it “caring.” They may say it’s for our “safety.” They may claim that they will answer to God for our actions and thus it’s their God-given right and duty to control us. (Oh, for a bat mitzvah!!!) They may call us their Little Boy and they’re just our Lovin’ Ma or Pa. Maybe they truly believe helicopter parenting is their duty and God-given right, even at the price of infantilization.
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They walk into our rooms, our hearts, our spirituality…even our sexuality…without so-much as a “C’mon in” or a “Howdy-doo.”
But damn it! Boundary bashing hurts and if that’s love, then someone goofed!
But They’ve Got ‘Em
Oh yeah! Narcs guard their boundaries…and how! Tall. Topped with concertina wire and shards of broken glass. Patrolled by ravenous pit bulls.
Dare to ask a personal question or make a suggestion about their lives and you better have a foxhole handy. Cause shit’s gonna start flyin’.
The Fine Art of Boundary Bashing
Growing up in a multi-generational narcissistic family, I was painfully privy to Boundary Bashing (BBing) as soon as I became aware that all was not well in the kingdom. Worse yet, BBing is passed down!
Who knows how far back it goes!? Great-Grandma was notorious for asking “personal questions.” The time she asked a family member what size underwear she wore is the stuff of legends. And so was the hilarious answer!
“Well, I wear sixes, but sevens feel so good, I wear eights.”
Then there’s the tale of how Great-Grandpa once built a fence to keep out a nosy neighbor who was constantly using my great-grandparents’ telephone. Sashaying out of her house, the neighbor flirtatiously asked, “Whatcha doin’?” His answer is also the stuff of legends.
“Well, I’ll tell ya’. I’m buildin’ a fence to keep some chickens in and some chickens out.”
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Unfortunately, Great-grandma passed the BBing down to the next generation, my grandparent. What were the grandchildren’s Social Security numbers? When did the granddaughters start menstruating? Did our parents ever have fights? My parents tried to set boundaries, but the pouting and emotional toll they bore were high.
As they weren’t forthcoming with the information, Plan B was enacted. Ask the grandkids! Exploit our trusting natures, honesty and naïvety. We’d answer a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g…and pay the price later when our parents found out that we’d blabbed.
Privacy Be Damned
It seems I’m not the only ACON (Adult Child of Narcissists) who never had any privacy. Which of us doesn’t want privacy when they’re changing their clothes, using the bathroom or sleeping? It’s normal, but as we all know, narcissists don’t believe in normalcy.
At some point, maybe in your twenties, you want to use your own stall in a public bathroom and not share with your Mommy.
At some point, you just don’t want your mail held up to the sunny window.
At some point, you don’t want your received emails read and your sent emails edited prior to sending.
At some point, you don’t want your internet browser history tracked and reviewed.
At some point, you don’t want your dresser drawers gone through. (What were they looking for anyways? Sex toys!?!)
At some point, you don’t want your finances questioned.
At some point, you don’t want your friends critiqued.
At some point, you don’t want to be told which romantic interests to dump.
At some point, you want to eat a meal without being asked, “Whatcha eating?”
At some point, you want to drive around without having to call or text home every single fucking time you arrive or leave a store…without worrying the cops will be notified, track you down and drag you home if you’re late on a mandatory check-in.
At some point, you want to be able to shut (maybe even lock!) your bedroom door, without the knocking, the questions and spoken (or implied) accusation, “Well, if you’re not doing anything wrong, why do you need your door shut?!”
Speaking from personal experience, my bedroom door barely fit in the frame. The ssssccrreeeaach it made when I forced it closed was loud enough to summon Mom for a thru-the-door interrogation. “Are you okay!?!” This was repeated every half hour ’til I opened my door.
Til I was given permission to move out at age thirty-one, I was expected to sleep with my bedroom door partially open. Apparently, you can die of Sudden Infant Death even in your thirties. Who knew!?
As I see it, there are three and only three strategies to set boundaries on a narcissist. If you know of any others, please share them in the Comments section below.
- Try, Get Accused and Fail: I tried. Any boundary I tried to set was met with extreme annoyance, accusations of “Whatcha trying to hide?” and a whole lot of pouting. The boundary only lasted one or two days. I guess boundaries, like rules, are meant to be broken.
- Lie, Play Dumb and Grayrock: I describe this technique in excruciating detail in my article Narcissistic Granny: Dancing the Granny Two-Step. It involves a complicated mix of lying, backtracking, playing dumb, clairvoyance and ignoring the constant boundary bashing. Plus throw in a healthy dash of catatonia. I’m not a fan. What’s the point!?As I see it, it just extends a relationship that shouldn’t exist. If I have to lie to be loved, why am I in this relationship? Yes, I’m even talking about the “sacred” mother/child relationship revered with a Madonna-like worship in our society. As I wrote in my viral Huffington Post article Toxic Mothers Don’t Deserve Your Time on Mother’s Day, “…motherhood doesn’t sanctify abuse.”
- No Contact: Now, we’re talkin’! It hurts like Hell at first. Expect to be flooded with false guilt and denial. But the peace that attends “No Contact” is so intoxicating, so halcyon, so blissful…try it! Depending on your narcissists’ lack of reaction when you go No Contact, you may find that you’ve been exaggerating your own importance and they really don’t give a damn about you. Welcome to no longer being their source of Narcissistic Supply. A bit disillusioning…but very freeing too!
I learned normal from my husband. He leaves me the Hell alone. And I love it!
To those of us raised to be the codependent partner in the sick dance called “being in a relationship with a narcissist,” that may sound cold. Unloving. Just plain wrong.
But it’s not.
You see, Michael trusts me to run my own life…and do a good job of it too. It’s called respect… something narcissists know nothin’ about.
If I shut the door for some alone time, there’s no knocking. There’s no yells of, “Are you okay!?!” No cries of “Whatcha’ doing?” laced with innuendo. Nope! He comes in now-and-then to give me a kiss …then goes on his merry way with the full confidence that I can figure out my own problems.
It’s called boundaries, baby. It’s called privacy, toots. And it rocks!
Our Founding Father, Patrick Henry, said it best: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
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