Enforcing Emotional Boundaries with Difficult People

By Michele Nieves | Narcissist Traits

Jun 14

Like physical boundaries, emotional boundaries define separateness. Your emotional boundaries are the property lines that separate your thoughts and feelings from those of other people.

Everyone deserves to have emotional boundaries, and to have those emotional boundaries respected.

However, toxic individuals, such as malignant narcissists, refuse to respect the boundaries of others. Not only do they constantly trespass over them, but they often train and condition their families to NOT have boundaries.

How do they do this?

Malignant narcissists use anger to control others. If you put down a boundary – they will angrily criticize, argue, demean, or humiliate you into feeling as if you did something wrong by exercising a healthy boundary. They may use the silent treatment as a means to punish you into feeling so awful that you yourself erase the healthy boundary you were trying to establish.

Malignant narcissists don’t take no for an answer. They will incite you to guilt as if trying to establish healthy boundaries was ‘bad’.

In my face to face coaching, I often get people that say: ‘Michele, learning about boundaries was new to me, putting down boundaries was hard – since it was so foreign, enforcing them though, with malignant narcissists feels impossible since they don’t respect them.’

There’s a lot of truth to that. Even when YOU change and begin exercising healthy behaviors, that does not mean the toxic person will change – HOWEVER, you are not powerless or defenseless when it comes to handling these emotional predators.

Here are some tips that can help you to enforce your healthy boundaries, even with people that refuse to respect them:

  1. If setting healthy boundaries is new – EXPECT PEOPLE TO NOT READILY COMPLY. Even healthy individuals will be surprised at these new boundaries, they may test them because after all, they are new. Recognize that by now putting down healthy boundaries, you are changing the dynamics of the friendships, relationships in your life and many may find it uncomfortable at first. Be consistent and those individuals that are healthy and that love you will begin to respect your boundaries.
  2. Recognize this truth: BOUNDARIES ARE NOT ABOUT MAKING OTHERS HAPPY, THEY ARE DESIGNED TO PROTECT YOUR HAPPINESS. Some people, healthy or not, may get disappointed with your boundaries. Maybe they are used to you always saying yes to others even at the expense of self – but now that has changed. They may get upset, angry, disappointed, sad ….. and that’s ok!!! People are allowed to respond however they choose to your boundaries and you are still allowed to enforce them. How others choose to respond to your boundaries has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
  3. KNOW YOUR WEAKNESSES: If boundaries have been a struggle for you, try to get to the root of the problem. Is it fear of rejection, fear of not being liked, fear of conflict, guilt, etc. Once you can identify the root cause you can then heal your inner wounds. By resolving WHY you feel those emotions, where they come from, you can then validate them, process and release them. When your triggers are healed, the present is so much easier to manage without the past creeping in and adding to it.
  4. VISUALIZE. If the thought of enforcing boundaries with difficult people feels too overwhelming – then this is an excellent technique. According to research using brain imagery, visualization works because neurons in our brains interpret what we are imagining in the exact same way that they interpret real-life action. When we visualize an act, the brain generates an impulse that tells our neurons to ‘perform’ the movement. This creates a new neural pathway that primes us to at in a way consistent to what we imagined. All of this occurs without actually performing the activity, yet it achieves a similar result!!!
  5. PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT! In order to regularly and consistently have healthy boundaries as a part of your life – practice daily! Our subconscious mind is a habit mind – in order to change the behavior of letting down your boundaries to please others to keeping up your boundaries to please and respect yourself – your mind has to see that you do this regularly!! Have a few statements ready for those moments when someone pushes the lines of your boundaries:
  • I appreciate your concern but, that’s my decision
  • I know it may not make sense to you, but I feel good about my decision.
  • Thank you for sharing your viewpoint.

Notice how none of those statements cause you to over-explain!!! They are designed to draw the line between the other persons perspective and your own without either party feeling forced to have to see it the way the other person see’s it. Those statements validate and respect the other persons point of view, while validating and respecting your own at the same time!

Now, let’s get real when it comes to people that refuse to respect boundaries. You can do all of the above mentioned tips and there will STILL be people that try to force you to do it their way and only their way.

That’s when you either change the subject by letting them know you don’t want to discuss this further. If THAT doesn’t work – well there’s only one thing left to decide – since no contact is usually a last resort, you may have to ask yourself if that’s the step needed in order to stop a reoccurring trespasser of your healthy boundaries – but you, and only you, are the one to make that decision.

If you are on your healing journey and find that you continually get stuck due to the side effects of narcissistic abuse, and/or complex ptsd, be sure to check out my 12 week Breakthrough Complex PTSD Workshop where you can join a group of about 10 other survivors that are working towards emotional freedom by healing their inner critic, emotional flashbacks, toxic shame, social anxiety as they strengthen their core identity, their confidence and self-love!!

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About the Author

Nobody understands what you're going through more than someone who has been there. I grew up with narcissistic family member and had intimate relationships with malignant narcissists. For the majority of my healing journey, I felt as if I was all alone. I now dedicate my life to being the person for others, that I needed on my own healing journey, so that YOU never feel alone.