Narcissists and abusive spouses don’t like boundaries. If you set a boundary, they will usually cross the boundary on purpose, to prove that you cannot control them. It’s like a challenge to them. Then, they will tell you how selfish or unreasonable YOU are. It’s crazy making, I know.
To help me set boundaries, I got specific language and ideas from books or my counselor. I gained confidence by “sanity checking” it with another person and confirming that my boundary was wise and healthy. When my boundary was crossed and tested, which it always was, I was prepared to stick to my consequence. Sometimes that meant walking away, or hanging up the phone, or not responding, or saying “never mind”.
One of the first boundaries I set was a physical one. I needed to feel safe in my own home. When my XNarc came to my door, I practiced that I could either answer or NOT ANSWER my door. I could choose to engage or not engage. If I answered the door, I decided I was not going to invite him inside. If we talked on the doorstep and the conversation didn’t go well, then I would ask him to leave. If he didn’t leave, I was prepared to tell him I was calling the police, and close the door. Then I was prepared to go and call the police. All of those steps may seem simple to some, but because my boundaries had been stepped on SO MANY TIMES prior, and I had been told how selfish and self-centered I was, it took me some time to work through those boundaries and have the confidence that they were healthy and normal and necessary.
Later, when the conflict became so high that it was unproductive to have phone or face-to-face conversations with my XNarc, then another boundary was to limit all communication to text or email. I did that by letting him know that I would not answer his calls or meet with him. I requested all communication come via email or text and be limited to the children’s logistics. (Of course he did not limit it, so I chose not to respond to anything but the children’s logistics.)
Eventually, the emails and texts, too, became so berating that I got an order for all non-urgent communication to go through an online tool called Our Family Wizard. You may need to get a Judge to order it, or a Parenting Coordinator (PC) to mandate it. I have found it to be useful, and it tends to limit the number of abusive emails and texts that one receives since others, like the attorneys or PCs, can be set up to monitor the emails.
I also learned to use my Parenting Agreement or Divorce Decree as a boundary. When my XNarc tries to misinterpret the Decree, I say “No. I’m choosing to abide by the Decree, and the Decree says on p.16…”X”. Then I quote the Decree.
Reading examples of boundaries from an expert is helpful. Here is an excerpt on boundaries from the book Will I Ever Be Free of You by Karyl McBride, with some good practice dialogues for you to modify and make your own.
What Are Boundaries and How Do I Set Them?
“A boundary is simply drawing a line in the sand that represents what you will do and what you will not do. Note that narcissists typically do not have good boundaries around themselves, nor do they like boundaries set on them. We all have our limits, and it is important for your mental health to know what yours are and when the narcissist is crossing or ignoring them.
Narcissists feel they are above the laws, so personal boundaries are easy for them to violate. Maintaining a solid line in the sand many times means hanging up the phone, turning off the phone, walking away from situations, closing doors, driving away, and other such tactics to enforce your limits.
Setting boundaries does not have to be done in a hostile manner. With practice, patience, and restraint, it can be done with courtesy and kindness.
Let’s look at some practice dialogues:
Your ex says: “I left some things in the garage and I am stopping by after work to get them.”
You say: “I am at work today and it is not all right with me that you just stop by my house anytime or enter my garage. You will have to schedule a time to do this when it works with my schedule. You must respect my schedule or I will contact law enforcement about your trespassing.”
Your ex says: “I know I was supposed to be there at six p.m. to get the kids, but I am coming by after school instead.”
You say: “We are going to follow the court orders exactly, and you cannot change the times at your whim. The children will not be at the house after school because we have other plans. We will see you at six p.m. as planned.”
Your ex says: “You sure don’t know how to take care of a yard. It looks horrible. I can see how you must miss me doing that.”
You say: “This is my yard and I will take care of it.” (Do not engage in these kinds of battles at all.)
Your ex says: “I don’t really have the money for child support this month, so I will make it up next month.”
You say: “We have court orders that you must follow so that the children are taken care of. I will expect the payment or I will be contacting my attorney so we can set up taking it from your wages at work. I am not willing to play this game even one month.”
Your ex: Swears at you on the phone and is verbally abusive.
You say: “I will not allow you to speak to me that way any longer. Just so you know, each time you do this, I will simply hang up the phone.” (Hang up. Do not engage or fight back.)
Your ex: Disparages you in front of the children and you hear it.
You say: “This is not good for the children. I will remove them from this situation and I will speak with them about why it is not okay for you to do this. They will be told this each time you are determined to put me down in front of them. I won’t disparage you, but I will let them know that this behavior is not acceptable.”
Think about the boundaries your Ex tries to cross. Write out some of the situations in your journal. Now think about possible responses, such as those I’ve given you…that set and enforce your boundaries. Practice setting boundaries in your mind until you need to use them.” from Will I Ever Be Free of You by Karyl McBride
Do you panic when it comes time to stand up for yourself and say “no” to unacceptable behavior? Do you get shaky and have a hard time thinking? If so, I encourage you to work with a friend or counselor and get help. Write out the situation and practice what you are going to do and say. Or read a book on boundaries; my favorite is Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Cloud and Townsend. Feel confident that you are worthy of your boundaries, and we all deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.
Love and Blessings,