5 Types of Boundaries You Need to Set with the Narcissist

i'm in the relationship narcissistic abuse narcissistic relationships Jul 08, 2024

Life without boundaries is chaos, confusion, and constant emotional turmoil. If you don’t have clear boundaries, you’ll find yourself bending over backward to satisfy other people’s demands or discovering that you aren’t comfortable sticking up for your own values and needs. Without boundaries, you put your emotional health and your relationships at risk.

So what kind of boundaries do you need? In this blog, I’m going to share with you 5 types of boundaries that you need to set if you find yourself in a relationship with a toxic, manipulative, or narcissistic person.

If you haven’t already seen my previous blog, Why You Feel Guilty For Setting Boundaries: 6 Lies the Narcissist Uses to Blame You for Your Needs, I encourage you to pause and read that blog first. It sets the foundation for the practical steps in this blog.

Ideally, these five types of boundaries that I’m about to share with you are things that you can start implementing today. However, I want to first give a word of caution: If you are in an unsafe relationship, if you fear for your own safety, or if those around you fear for your safety, it is not the time to worry about setting boundaries. Your safety comes first. It always comes first. Without safety, none of your other boundaries mean anything. If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot safely vocalize your boundaries, that is a classic sign of an unsafe, or abusive relationship. Please get in touch with the national domestic violence hotline and reach out to local authorities, close friends, or family, to make a plan to get to safety. If that doesn’t apply to you, if you are dealing with someone who is pushing on your boundaries, but is not violent, and has not threatened to be violent, then this blog is for you.

Ok, great! so let’s get into it!

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries serve several different purposes:

  • They protect what is important to us.
  • They protect us from dangerous situations and toxic people.
  • Boundaries help us create a space to pursue a life and relationships that align with our values.

The price of not having boundaries is high. Not having boundaries leaves you vulnerable to people who want to take advantage of you. It can lead to codependent relationships, and make it nearly impossible to have a balanced life. Without boundaries, you will be constantly tossed around by other people’s expectations and preferences which can lead to stress, burnout, and broken relationships. 

At the end of this blog, you’ll have an understanding of the 5 types of boundaries that you need, how a manipulator might try to violate those boundaries, and how you can stand strong.

Now I want to mention a reality that we sometimes miss. You cannot control the decisions and behaviors of another person. Also, setting boundaries does not mean that a habitually manipulative or narcissistic person will suddenly start taking responsibility for their actions. That rarely happens.

Instead, boundaries are about YOU and protecting what is important to you, your values, and your priorities. Use I-statements when you express your boundaries. For example, "If you continue in this behavior I will no longer invite you to my home". I-statements mean that the onus is on you to enforce the boundary.  Having boundaries may cost you. Other people may decide that their relationship with you is not worth the effort it takes to respect your boundaries. This is hard to face, and you will need to grieve the loss of those relationships.

Emotional Boundaries

Narcissists often exploit emotional boundaries by invalidating your feelings, gaslighting you, or using your emotions against you to maintain control. They may dismiss your feelings as overreactions, twist your words to make you doubt your reality, or emotionally blackmail you to keep you dependent on their approval.

Narcissistic relationships are a soup of manipulative tactics and often the simplest solution is to go no contact. However, that isn’t always a feasible option. It also won’t be possible to break down and confront every single case of emotional manipulation. Trying to do that will be exhausting and overwhelming. You’d probably have to write a book after every conversation to untangle what was going on. But if you understand the basic strategies of emotional manipulation, a few boundaries can make you impervious to manipulation.

Here are some boundaries that you might consider maintaining in your life to deflect attempts at manipulation:

  • Do not accept responsibility for the reactions or emotions of other people. For example: "I understand that you are upset, but I can't control how you decide to handle your emotions."
  • Make sure you are clear with yourself about the topics that you don’t want to talk with them about. Out-of-bounds topics might include your romantic relationships, past traumas, future plans, personal struggles, etc.
  • Never commit to secrecy:  Narcissists thrive in secrecy, using it to isolate you and prevent you from seeking support. By refusing to keep secrets, you ensure you have a support network and reduce their power over you.
  • Another helpful emotional boundary might be setting limits on the types of conversations you will engage in, such as, "I need to take a break from this conversation if it becomes too heated."

Here are a couple ways you can stand strong in your emotional boundaries:

  • This might sound cheesy, and it might be uncomfortable at first, but one of the best ways to prepare for interactions with a manipulative person is to rehearse conversations ahead of time. Prepare a list of conversation topics that you feel comfortable talking about. Include bullets of what you could talk about and questions you can ask them. Practice sentences to change the subject, or to deflect manipulative comments.
  • Remember that your boundaries won’t force the other person to change. In other words, your boundaries have to have an “if-then” statement. What are you going to do if your boundary is broken? For example, you might need to walk away from conversations when the narcissist refuses to respect your boundaries around sensitive topics.

Physical Boundaries

So that’s a few examples of emotional boundaries. Let’s move on to the second type of boundaries, physical boundaries. Physical boundaries are important because they maintain your autonomy. Physical boundaries protect your health, your personal space, and even your safety. When your physical boundaries are violated, it can leave a deep physiological and emotional impact.

Narcissists might violate physical boundaries by invading your personal space, touching you without consent, or disregarding your need for physical privacy. They may intrude on your personal space during arguments, use physical intimidation, or dismiss your requests for personal time and space. Other manipulative people may try to use intimacy as a way out of difficult conversations, or as a replacement for putting effort into the relationship.

Practical physical boundaries can include clearly stating your comfort levels with physical touch, such as, "I’m not comfortable with hugging; a handshake is fine.”

However, physical boundaries are not only about touch. They also protect your physical needs, like your need for rest, food, and space. Examples include being clear about when you are available for work and clearly stating when you need to eat, get water, or go home to bed.

Physical boundaries might also involve protecting your children, like requiring that guests and family members do not smoke near children, not pressure children into hugs, and that they wash their hands before being near an infant. Enforcing these boundaries might mean that family members are not welcome around your children until they respect those boundaries. Physical boundaries also include delineating your personal space needs.

Standing up to these boundaries can be difficult, especially in social contexts where other people may not be aware of your comfort zone. Try to think ahead of time about how you can communicate your boundaries, and prepare for dynamics that could make it hard to follow through your boundaries. For example, you may need to tell your supervisor multiple times that you are not available for a meeting after hours, and you may need to propose alternatives. Or, you may need to ask for a third party when you meet with someone who habitually disregards your physical boundaries and initiates unwanted contact. You also may need to say no to some invitations so that you can get enough rest and maintain a balanced, healthy life.

To stand strong with your physical boundaries, be consistent in enforcing them. If your boundaries are not respected, remove yourself from the situation to reinforce their importance. Consistency helps establish that your boundaries are non-negotiable and must be respected.

Spiritual Boundaries

Narcissists may belittle your beliefs, impose their own, or use guilt and shame to manipulate your spirituality. They may subtly, or explicitly make it difficult for you to practice your faith, by discouraging you from going to church, interrupting your time of prayer, or pressuring you to engage in behavior that your faith prohibits. In some cases, a manipulator may use your faith against you. This can look like twisting religious teachings to justify their behavior, or constantly demanding that you meet their expectations and needs in order to demonstrate that you are a pious enough believer.

These dynamics are present in the Bible. We see Jesus rebuke the Pharisees in Matthew 23 because they make it unnecessarily difficult for other people to walk in the faith, always requiring others to prove their piousness over and over again.

It’s important to take a moment here to emphasize that our faith is meant to be walked out in community. I cannot overstate how important it is to have people who walk alongside you in your faith who can keep you accountable. This is especially the case for spiritual leaders. When you set spiritual boundaries it is important to ask yourself the following questions: Am I setting this boundary because this person is pointing out issues that I do not want to work on, or because they are using spirituality to gain power in the relationship? Does this person claim to be the voice of God, or do they encourage me to develop my own relationship with God? When Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, he points out that they are using faith as a way to keep their position of power and gain from others. This is a key difference between healthy accountability and spiritual abuse. If you aren’t sure if you are experiencing spiritual abuse, check out my free checklist on the signs of spiritual abuse here.

If you are in a relationship or environment where someone uses your faith to gain power over you, you may need to set special boundaries. For example, if you are in a relationship with a religious narcissist, you may need to make your spiritual walk out of bounds in your relationship. Religious narcissists have no qualms about twisting scripture and doctrine to use your faith against them. Spiritual boundaries might look like:

  • Moving to a small group that does not include the manipulator.
  • Letting a manipulative person know that they are not welcome to speak into your spiritual life.
  • Emphasizing that differing beliefs are not a reason to treat another person disrespectfully or condescendingly, and being clear that you will exit conversations that are not respectful.

When you set spiritual boundaries, make sure that you not only remove toxicity from your life, but also seek out healthy relationships that can help you build your faith, be encouraged in the Lord, and where you can support others in their walk. Proactively seek out friends who are strong in their faith and engage in spaces, or create spaces, that are faith-focused and can equip you.

We can see several biblical characters set boundaries like this:

For example, Daniel set spiritual boundaries when the culture he was captive in pushed him to eat food that his faith forbade him from eating. In Daniel 1:8, scripture describes how Daniel made a deal with the king’s staff to only eat what was kosher. This is an example of David standing up for his faith.

Another example is in the book of Joshua (24:15) when Joshua declares that his household will serve the Lord, regardless of the choices of others. This is a good example of how boundaries cannot force others to make good choices. We can only make our own choices and hope that others will accompany us.

To stand strong with your spiritual boundaries, remain confident in your beliefs and values, regardless of the narcissist’s attempts to undermine them. Limit discussions on spirituality if they lead to conflict, and focus on nurturing your faith through personal study and community support.

Social Boundaries

Social boundaries are essential for maintaining your sense of self and protecting your well-being. They help you manage your interactions with others and ensure that you are not overwhelmed by demands on your time and energy. When dealing with a narcissist, social boundaries are particularly crucial as narcissists tend to blur the lines between your needs and their expectations, often making it difficult to maintain a healthy social life.

Narcissists may violate social boundaries by monopolizing your time, insisting on constant contact, or attempting to isolate you from friends and family. They might guilt-trip you for spending time with others, demand excessive attention, or show up uninvited to events. These behaviors can lead to social exhaustion and isolation, making it harder to maintain other supportive relationships.

Practical examples of social boundaries include:

  • Limiting contact: Clearly define how often you are willing to interact with the narcissist. For instance, you might say, "I can only talk once a week," or "I’m not available after 8 PM."
  • Setting contexts for interaction: Specify the circumstances in which you are comfortable socializing, such as only meeting in public places or during group events. If the narcissist is a colleague, you may want to specify that you do not have contact outside of the office.
  • Protecting family time: Establish rules about not bringing the narcissist into family gatherings or personal events. If you have children, keep in mind that it is your priority to protect your children. If a person in your community does not respect the boundaries that you have set up to protect your children, then make it clear that they are no longer welcome around your kids. Perhaps you are still happy to spend time with them away from your children, however, it is important to specify that context.
  • Avoiding gossip: Refuse to engage in gossip or negative discussions, as these can be tools for manipulation. A simple, "I’m not comfortable talking about this," can help maintain your boundary. Remember that if they are not willing to change the topic, it will be your responsibility to remove yourself from the conversation.
  • Refusing isolation: When a narcissist tries to isolate you from your friends, make it clear that the narcissist is not welcome to comment on your friends, or to discourage you from meeting with them. 

The narcissist will certainly push against these boundaries. When this happens, communicate clearly and assertively: Be direct about your boundaries and do not leave room for ambiguity. Practice saying no without feeling guilty. Make sure to stick to your limits. If the narcissist tries to push your boundaries, remind them of your limits and enforce them consistently. Be unashamed and do not budge. Surround yourself with friends and family who respect your boundaries and can offer support when the narcissist tries to overstep. Proactively avoid situations where the narcissist may be manipulative. For example, avoid talking with the narcissist about the friends that they are trying to isolate you from. Resist the temptation to try to convince the narcissist that your friends are good people: The more information you give the narcissist about your friends, the more the narcissist will twist your words (and their words) to try and destroy your relationships.

 Consider these biblical examples  social boundaries. When King Saul broke God’s commandment, again and again, the prophet Samuel cut off contact with him and never saw him again. In Genesis, Joseph physically removed himself from Potiphar’s wife when she attempted to seduce him, maintaining his integrity.

Financial Boundaries

Financial boundaries are crucial. These can help you avoid scams, and keep you from having your life upturned by a toxic relationship. Narcissists often manipulate financial boundaries to control or exploit others. This can look like borrowing money and then failing to repay it, making you feel obligated to support them financially, or misusing shared funds. They might guilt-trip you into funding their needs, exploit joint accounts, or undermine your financial decisions to assert control. It is critical to have clear and firm financial boundaries. 

Practical examples of financial boundaries include:

  • Clear agreements: When lending money, create written agreements outlining repayment terms. Be explicit about the amount, repayment schedule, and consequences for non-payment. It may feel awkward to have a written agreement, but if someone resists this kind of agreement, you have grounds to be concerned about getting involved with them.
  • Budget limits: Set strict limits on how much you are willing to spend on the narcissist or on shared expenses. For example, "I’m only able to contribute $50 to this event," or "I can’t lend money beyond this amount."
  • Transparency: If you share finances, insist on transparency and regular discussions about financial decisions and expenditures.

To stand strong with your financial boundaries:

  • Know your limits: Be clear about what you can and cannot afford, and do not let guilt or manipulation sway you.
  • Document agreements: Keep records of any and all financial transactions or agreements to avoid misunderstandings or manipulations later. Narcissists are master gaslighters. To the narcissist, their own promise means nothing to them. The spoken word to them is as valuable as toilet paper. Get agreements in writing. always.
  • Seek professional advice: If necessary consult a financial advisor or counselor to help manage and protect your finances effectively.

In Genesis (13:8-2), you can read about Abraham who was exploring new territory with his nephew, Lot. As they explored the land, they encountered conflict because they both have large households and flocks of their own. So, Abraham set financial boundaries with Lot, allowing him to choose a separate land to avoid conflict over resources.

Conclusion

So there you have it. You may need to take some time to pray and think practically about the kind of boundaries you need to protect what is important to you. When you do start setting boundaries, make sure to be clear with yourself, and the person with whom you are communicating. Resist the urge to apologize for, justify, or explain your boundaries to someone who does not respect them. When you do that, you make them your judge.  But God is your judge.  He knows your heart.  You are accountable to him for how well you steward all these aspects of your life and not the narcissist. 

Also, remember that you can always start with small boundaries. It may be worthwhile to practice saying “no” if you are a natural people-pleaser. I can promise you that when you start articulating boundaries and sticking to them, you will discover a level of freedom and peace that you didn’t know was possible.

I pray for much grace.  You’ve got this!

Related Resources

  • How to Stay Your Course in the Face of Manipulation [Watch]
  • Top 10 Mind Games that Narcissists Play to Throw You Off Balance and Control You [Watch] [Read]
  • Scapegoat Supply: Why Narcissists Obsessively Depend on Scapegoats to Maintain Their Image [Watch] [Read]
  • Fake Apologies and How to Spot Them: 5 Ways Manipulative People Apologize [Watch]
  • Deceptive Apologies. 5 Crafty Ways Narcissists Try to Make You Think They're Sorry [Watch]
  • Five Forms of Gaslighting and How to Resist Them [Watch]

Downloadable Resources 

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