Why You Feel Guilty For Setting Boundaries: 6 Lies the Narcissist Uses to Blame You for Your Needs

i'm in the relationship narcissistic abuse narcissistic relationships Jul 01, 2024

Have you ever felt guilty for having boundaries? Do you hear yourself apologizing for your needs? Do you feel like a failure for having limits?

Well, stick around. In this blog, I’m going to explain the 6 lies that a narcissist uses to make you feel guilty for having boundaries. By the end of this blog, you’ll be able to spot, and reject those lies so that you can confidently defend healthy boundaries in your life. 

Signs You Need Boundaries 

We’ve all had moments when we were drained by an emotionally needy friend. We have all experienced the frustration of not having our needs met, or appreciated. But when this becomes the norm, instead of the exception things start to unravel.

A life without boundaries is exhausting. If you don’t know where your boundaries are, or you haven’t set healthy ones, you may feel drained. You might find yourself feeling manipulated, taken advantage of, or disrespected. If you live for very long without boundaries, eventually you will wake up wondering why on earth you tolerate so much, and how you ended up here.

However, many of us have learned that boundaries aren’t an option. When we encounter someone who doesn’t know how to respect our boundaries or actively tries to dismantle them through manipulation, we often assume the problem lies with us or our boundaries. 

If you’ve been in a relationship with someone who is determined to break down your boundaries and constantly blames you for your needs and requests, this blog is for you. 

People who use manipulation to challenge your boundaries typically have one, if not several of the following characteristics: 

They may be selfish, needy, or immature. They may lack empathy or be highly entitled. If they have all of these attributes, they might be more than manipulative, they may be narcissistic. Narcissists take manipulation to a whole new level. Because they aren’t able to emotionally regulate themselves they feel the need to control you. In other words, narcissists don’t just lack the maturity to accept your boundaries, their paradigm for relationships doesn’t have room for you to have boundaries. So, they use all kinds of manipulative strategies to make you cave. These strategies can include punishment, withdrawal, and even violence, however, they typically start with subtle lies. 

Whether these lies come from a narcissist, or from someone who is just immature and selfish, these lies can plant the seeds for codependency and make you vulnerable to oppressive relationships if they become part of your mindset. You don’t want that.

A Word of Caution: Safety First

I’m about to explain just how a narcissist, or a manipulative person, tries to get in your mind and make you feel guilty for having boundaries. But before I do that, I think there’s an important dynamic to acknowledge. For some of you reading, the narcissist in your life is not someone you can keep at arm’s length. They may be a spouse, a parent, or a boss that you can’t leave. In situations where you cannot leave, and where the narcissist is highly abusive, sadistic, or demonstrates a trend towards increasing cruelty, setting boundaries may put you in danger. If that is you, please check out my blog post on dealing with narcissistic rage. In situations like this, your first priority should be your safety.

If your safety is not threatened, and let’s say you want to set boundaries with a manipulative friend or a pushy in-law, or you’re relearning what it means to have boundaries after a toxic relationship, this blog is for you.

If you are in a place where you need to keep the peace for your own safety, then boundaries may not be the way forward for you. Instead, I encourage you to reach out to a professional, trusted friend, and the police as you plan a safe exit.

Without further ado, let’s get into it. Here are six lies about boundaries that manipulators use to make you feel guilty.

#1 You Have Character Issues

The first way that a toxic person may try to manipulate you is by twisting your boundary into a character issue. There are so many ways that a manipulator might do this, but here are just a few common themes you might be experiencing.

One of the most common lies is suggesting that you are overly sensitive. When you assert your boundaries, a narcissist often replies by gaslighting you. Their goal is to make you believe that your needs and sensitivities are invalid or unreasonable. This is a form of blameshifting, which is ironic because boundaries aren’t about blame. But a manipulative person invents blame, shifting it onto you instead of trying to understand where you are coming from.

Let me illustrate with a story. I worked with a young woman who grew up with an emotionally abusive narcissistic parent. She frequently heard her parent deny being angry in the middle of a screaming fit. If she brought up that she did not want to be screamed at she was told “This is just how everyone in my family talks. We are loud people. If you can’t handle it, it’s not my problem. You need to grow up.”

However, the emotional abuse was hidden, and only took place at home. Throughout her childhood, and even into early adulthood, everyone told her that her family was an inspiration. So, she concluded that everyone’s parents treated them the way she was being treated at home and that everyone else just had thicker skin emotionally—that’s why it didn’t bother them. Without realizing it, she internalized the narrative that her parent constantly told her: She believed she was overly sensitive, and maybe even emotionally immature. 

In a professional context, this could look like you expressing that you are not available outside of your office hours. A toxic supervisor may react to that boundary by accusing you of laziness or questioning your work ethic.

#2 Your Boundaries Are Selfish

Another lie that we can very easily internalize is that boundaries are selfish.

You might feel like people need you—everyone needs you. Without you, things won’t get done, the group dynamic might not work, etc. you just have to be there for everyone, all the time. Saying no feels selfish. What if your boundaries inconvenience others? You might have been told by a partner that your need for space, or time alone, is selfish and doesn’t consider other people. Or, maybe you’ve had friends complain that you’re selfish for having needs.

Now, I’m all for living in a generous, flexible way. However, if your life is a constant reaction to the needs of other people around you, you will end up too drained to give out of generosity.

I really like the way Jesus lived out this balance. Jesus encourages us to lay down our lives for others, and not to live out of selfish intent. The scripture says that Jesus was God incarnate. He was perfect and He fulfilled all the commands of scripture. In other words, Jesus lived a selfless life. You might be surprised to hear then, that Jesus frequently walked away from crowds of people who wanted and needed things from him. In Luke 5:15-16, it says that “the news about [Jesus] spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” In Matthew 14, you can read about how after feeding 5 thousand people, Jesus sent all the people away and went to be alone by himself. 

It would have been so easy for Jesus to be overwhelmed by the needs of the multitudes. However, Jesus set a boundary to protect what was most important to him. His boundaries were designed to protect his most important relationship, his relationship with God. If you are Christian, this is also your most precious possession. Just like Jesus, the source of all you are and have is in Him. It is 100% biblical to set boundaries to protect that relationship.

If you aren’t religious, this story still has an important takeaway: For Jesus, the source of his ability to help others was his relationship with God. Whatever it is that allows you to help others, you need boundaries to protect that.

#3 Your Boundaries Hurt Them

A manipulative person may guilt you by reacting to your boundaries as a sign of rejection. They may sulk or withdraw to make it clear to you that they find your boundaries hurtful. This is an extension of a belief that you are obligated to meet their needs. Intimate relationships certainly involve recognizing and compromising to meet each other’s needs, however, that does not come at the expense of one person’s boundaries.

#4 Boundaries Damage Relationships

In a more indirect way, a manipulative person, or a narcissist may suggest that boundaries damage relationships.

For example, suppose you do not feel comfortable sharing certain details about your life. Perhaps you do not wish to discuss your personal relationships at work, or you don’t want to tell a nosy family member about the details of your career. In that case, they may question you saying that if you can’t be open about everything with them you must have trust issues. They might say “How will anyone ever get to know you if you don’t share XYZ.” “What do you have to hide that you don’t want to share with me?”

In a romantic relationship, a toxic partner may push your boundaries, asking you to escalate the relationship quickly before you feel comfortable. This could look like a hefty financial commitment (buying a home, or a car together), pressure to relocate or change jobs. When you express that you are not comfortable doing so without first being married, having a written agreement, or thinking things over first, they may accuse you of not trusting them or of having commitment issues.

Another common example of this would be pressuring a partner to express commitment or loyalty by engaging in unwanted intimacy. For example, they may use an unwanted hug, or other forms of touch to symbolize that everything is okay after a breach of trust, or by using statements like “I love you” to skirt around difficult conversations.

They may imply that being committed to a relationship means having no boundaries. Narcissists, in particular, are prone to all-or-nothing thinking and are unable to recognize that trust needs to be built through communication, compromise, and over time. Because narcissists are also highly entitled, they tend to believe that they should be your very first priority and that their needs should trump all other considerations. If you grew up in a home with a parent like this, or have been in a long-term relationship with a narcissist, this can become normal to you. However, healthy relationships are a two-way street. In a healthy relationship, both people have needs and they work together to meet those needs.

Boundaries are a hallmark of healthy relationships. They are not, as a manipulator might try to convince you, going to damage your relationships.

#5 You Are a Bad Christian Because of Your Boundaries

Religious narcissists may use your faith against you, trying to guilt you for having needs, limits, and boundaries in relationships. They make you question your judgment and sense of justice by saying “Shouldn’t love be unconditional?” “Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs” “The Bible says we are supposed to forgive.” “It’s in the past, let’s move on.” 

All these things come from scripture. But when they are pulled out of context and used as manipulation they suddenly become a get-out-of-jail-free card. They are using scripture to move the focus from how they have violated a boundary, to how you reacted to that violation. In the hands of someone who is cruel, narcissistic, or abusive, this is dangerous.

So, let’s take a moment to step back from individual verses and consider the entire biblical context. What does God’s love look like in the scripture?

God’s love is incredibly generous. John 3:16 says so beautifully that God loved the world, despite its sin so much that he gave his only begotten son. But wait that’s not all. The rest of the verse says “so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That’s an if-then statement. God’s eternal, steadfast love is available to us all. If you have put your faith in Jesus, you have the freedom to access all the generous gifts of God’s love. And, if you haven’t yet made that decision, you are free to do so! And when you do, all of that love for you to experience it.

We often talk about God’s unconditional love. His love is not transactional. We can’t earn his love. However, we can opt out of relationship with him, and when we do that, we lose the closeness to experience that love. Whenever we are ready, though, the Bible tells us we can return to God and be embraced back into his family. (I encourage you to read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. It is a beautiful illustration of God’s love.)

The Bible is clear that God hates certain behaviors. In Proverbs 6:16-19 it says “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.” Clearly, God’s love is not blind. Unconditional love does not mean unlimited tolerance for hurtful, sinful, abusive, or destructive behavior.

My point is that we experience God’s love through our relationship with him. While God’s heart is open to us, we do have the ability to opt out of relationship with him, either through sin, or by choosing not to accept his son. In the same way, we can express our love to other people through relationships with them. However, if someone refuses to engage in a relationship with you–if they make a habit of disrespecting, oppressing, abusing, using, or disregarding you, even after you have clearly expressed your boundaries–then they are opting out of the relationship. Perhaps they opt out of the relationship for a while, or perhaps forever. And if they do opt out of a relationship, then it’s on you to make sure that your heart is free from resentment, and that you continue to harbor loving thoughts, even if you no longer invite that person into your life.

Walking in love means being courageous enough to have those hard conversations about what you need in a relationship, to bring up hurts that need to be sorted out, and to be willing to forgive and, if the other person is willing to change, to reconcile as well. However, walking in love does not make you a silent doormat.

#6 They Should Be an Exception to Your Boundaries

Another way that manipulative people try to get around your boundaries is by claiming that they should be an exception. They might use the fact that they are your spouse, child, parent, other relative. or your superior at work, or that they are more experienced than you, or have more spiritual authority than you, in order to claim that they are an exception to your normal boundaries.

Close relationships definitely require a level of compromise and collaboration that other relationships do not. A married couple is going to have to give up a lot more of their preferences than two casual friends. However, that couple is also going to have to work through how to meet each other’s deeper needs. Conversations around boundaries in familial or romantic relationships should revolve around learning how to love each other better which means how to empower, respect, support, and care for each other. This should be a two-way street. The closeness of someone’s relationship with you does not give them the freedom to disregard your boundaries.

Conclusion

So to sum up, I want to leave you with a few thoughts:

  • Boundaries are not a character flaw. They are how you protect what’s important to you so that you can be your best self for the people you love.
  • Boundaries are not selfish, they are necessary for genuine and sustainable generosity.
  • Boundaries create a space for a safe relationship.
  • Loving relationships respect and discuss boundaries. Boundaries are biblical.
  • Nobody has a right to override your boundaries.

If you grew up with a narcissistic or codependent parent, have exited a toxic or abusive relationship, or have become accustomed to making sure everyone around you is okay, you may need to start practicing boundaries. Setting boundaries is a skill. It involves assessing your needs and the needs of other people. It means communicating clearly, and confidently. Keep in mind that your boundaries might change with time.

Subscribe below for more practical steps on what kind of boundaries you need with a manipulative person and how to communicate those boundaries.

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]

Downloadable Resources 

 

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