Being able to set boundaries is essential for your mental and emotional health. Learning how to set boundaries with a narcissistic parent might be even more important, especially when they seem to have no regard for them.
Having grown up with a narcissistic mother, I didn’t know boundaries were a thing.
My mother often invaded my personal space and made inappropriate comments about my body.
I thought it was all “normal”. But when I finally left that toxic environment, I realized just how not normal it really was.
If you are living with your narcissistic parent or still in contact with them, it’s important to learn how to set boundaries to ensure your and your loved ones’ well-being.
If you’re not used to setting boundaries, it will be uncomfortable at first. You might ignore your own wishes to avoid conflict.
But remind yourself that the narcissist will have a way to create conflict no matter what.
Don’t let keeping the peace be the reason you put off doing what’s in your best interests.
This post will provide various tips on how to set boundaries with your narcissistic parent along with a couple of things to remember when setting those boundaries.
These tips may also apply to other abusive or manipulative people in your life.
Why You Should Set Boundaries with Your Narcissistic Parent
Setting boundaries means clearly stating what you will and will not tolerate. It’s to let others know where you draw the line.
The concept of setting boundaries is easy, though implementing it may be difficult considering you’ve spent most of your life tolerating your narcissistic parent’s mistreatment.
- You have the right to be treated with respect.
- You have the right to your privacy and personal space.
- Whether you live under their roof, whether they’re your parents, or whether you’re a minor is irrelevant.
- You have the right to voice what you are not okay with.
When you’re raised by a narcissist, you learn that your needs are not important. You might think you don’t deserve to have boundaries.
But regardless of what you believe (or what you were made to believe), you are allowed to set boundaries for yourself.
It might seem scary and there will likely be backlash. But setting boundaries with your narcissistic parent is the healthiest way to deal with them.
It allows you to protect yourself (and your significant other and/or kids if you have any) and is a way for you to manage their abusive and manipulative ways.
How to Set Boundaries with a Narcissistic Parent
Determine your boundaries
Before you can set boundaries, you need to determine what you want those boundaries to be.
Think about what you want and how you can verbalize them.
Maybe you want your parent to stop criticizing you. Maybe you want them to stop telling you how to parent your children.
There might be a lot that you want. But try to start off with one that’s most important to you.
If you approach them with too many boundaries, they’ll only feel attacked. As a result, they won’t just ignore your wishes but may double down and further violate them.
Be clear about your boundaries
Once you’ve decided on the boundary, try to keep it direct, brief, and consistent.
If you seem uncertain or indecisive about your boundaries, the other person wouldn’t respect them.
When dealing with your narcissistic parent, maybe you are fine with a little debate and difference in opinions but draw the line with name-calling and insults.
In that case, when your parent does cross the line, you can say “If you continue to insult me, I will hang up/leave.” And if they continue, that’s what you need to do.
Stand your ground and refuse to give in. This sends them the message that you will not tolerate them disrespecting or attacking you.
Make it clear that your boundaries are non-negotiable.
Set and carry out consequences
One key part of boundary setting is knowing what to do when they ignore or violate your boundaries.
Therefore, try to set consequences ahead of time so that when your boundary is broken, you know exactly what to say and do.
Manipulative, narcissistic, and abusive people don’t respond to empathy or compassion; they respond to consequences.
They don’t care about how it will affect you. They only care about how it will affect them.
Whenever they violate your boundary, act on your chosen consequence immediately every single time.
Otherwise, you may lose credibility and the narcissist might think they can overstep or continue pushing to see how much you’re willing to take.
Boundaries won’t work if you only enforce them some of the time.
Don’t let violations slide
Maybe you told yourself you wouldn’t let your parent insult you. But when they do, you bite your tongue and tolerate it.
If that’s not how you want to be treated, you need to voice it out loud and enforce the consequences.
I know how hard it is to stick to your boundaries, especially when you spent all your life without any or had them repeatedly violated.
Your narcissistic parent conditioned you to tolerate and accept their abuse. They taught you that your needs and wants don’t matter.
You may also be tempted to let things slide if your parent apologizes or appear sincere. But stick to the consequences you decided on.
If you keep letting violations slide, it only makes sense that the other person keeps on doing it.
As hard as it is, try your best to stand your ground. It will be tough but it will get easier the more you practice.
It might be helpful to voice your boundaries to someone you trust who can remind you to stay true to them when the time comes.
Don’t respond negatively
Try your best not to respond negatively when your boundary is broken.
In fact, your narcissistic parent likely violated your boundary to get a reaction out of you. So reacting negatively in any way gives them power.
When your parent violates your boundary, simply state your boundary and inflict the consequences.
If they repeatedly violate your boundary, you might be tempted to argue or react in a hostile way. But again, simply state your boundary over and enforce the consequences.
Then, remove yourself from the situation.
It might be hard, but try your best not to argue, because arguing gives them an excuse to attack you.
Remain indifferent and ignore them if you have to
Your narcissistic parent may intentionally violate your boundary to hurt you, to get a reaction out of you, or to gain control. This is also a form of narcissistic baiting.
They likely want to see you hurt, sad, disappointed, scared, and upset. When that happens, sometimes all you can do is ignore them and remain indifferent. This is known as the gray rock method.
Be as uninteresting and boring as you can. Answer using one word or even sounds like “uh-huh”, “eh”, “meh”, or “mhm”. Avoid eye contact.
Show no interest in what they’re saying even if it’s bothering you on the inside. Try your best not to react hurt because then, they end up getting what they want.
It may be difficult but try to remember that they’re intentionally trying to get a reaction out of you. If you give them what they want, they’ll just keep doing it.
When they’re intentionally violating your boundary for a reaction, it might be ideal to leave the situation.
Do your best to ignore them and remain indifferent until you are away from them.
At this point, it’s pointless to voice your boundary because even that is a reaction that might feed them. If they can’t get a reaction out of you, they will hopefully give up trying.
Don’t justify, explain, or defend yourself
The narcissist likely has you trained so that you’re always second-guessing yourself.
Thus, when you establish a boundary, you may feel the need to explain, justify, or defend yourself. But you don’t need to.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to do what’s right for you. You don’t need their consent to voice what is or isn’t okay.
Justifying, explaining, or defending yourself will give your narcissistic parent the feeling of power and control.
It shows them that you’re doubting yourself and feel the need to prove to them why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s like you’re asking for their permission.
This tells them that you’re not confident in your needs or that they can break your boundary and you’ll probably just take it.
The narcissist might question or criticize your boundaries. They might also do it in an obnoxious way that might entice you to give in to their constant pestering.
But whenever they do, simply say in a matter-of-fact tone, “This is my decision” or “We’ll have to agree to disagree”.
You may have to treat them like a toddler throwing a tantrum
Your narcissistic parent is likely to violate your boundaries or fight the consequences you decided on.
You may be tempted to let them get their way when that happens. But once again, stick to your boundary.
One way to go about this is to think of them as a toddler.
You can’t reason with narcissists for the most part, just like you can’t reason with a two-year-old.
Whenever a toddler doesn’t get what they want, they might cry, stomp their feet, scream, or lie on the floor.
When the narcissist doesn’t get what they want – in this case, not being allowed to violate your boundaries – they will throw tantrums, resort to name-calling, play the victim, or guilt-trip you.
If you give them any attention, positive or negative, it means their tactics worked. Like with kids, it likely means they’ll do it again because it’s effective.
Therefore, whenever the narcissist gets upset or reacts negatively to you voicing your boundaries or inflicting consequences on them for violating said boundaries, you have to ignore their behavior.
Stick to your boundaries and consequences. Do not budge!
Picturing them as a toddler, crying on the floor because they didn’t get the toy they wanted, makes this difficult task a little easier.
Please remember that this has to be repeated a few times before it sticks. So don’t give in.
Giving in at any moment sends them the message that their tantrums and bad behaviors work.
Leave the situation when it starts getting toxic
When interacting with an abusive or narcissistic parent, more often than not, the interaction would get out of hand.
Anything your parent perceives as an attack might end up in outbursts and insults towards you. When that happens, you have every right to walk away.
You don’t need permission to leave a toxic interaction. Make up any excuse you want or simply say “I have to go” or “I’m late”. Then, leave.
You don’t have to explain yourself. Simply walk away if possible.
You can also set your phone to ring at a certain time and then excuse yourself to take the call.
Even if you live with your narcissistic parent, you can go somewhere else for a breather.
And again, try to remain calm and not react negatively.
The problem with living with them is that even if you leave now, you’ll have to return home eventually.
Remaining calm and respectful might avoid possible repercussions when you have to see them again.
Setting Boundaries with My Narcissistic Mother
Back when I was still in contact with my mother due to an ongoing court case, we often texted and occasionally spoke on the phone. She didn't know where we lived and isn't able to contact my siblings without going through me or the foster agency. At the time, she agreed for me to have guardianship of them, so I wanted to be on good terms with her. And honestly, I felt bad for her. She listed me as her emergency contact, me - the awful daughter who called CPS on her. It really showed how she had no one in her life (which is ultimately her fault). Whenever she talked about something that made me uncomfortable or upset, I'd say something like, "I don't want to talk about this", or "Can we change the subject?". And she'd comply for the most part. For times when she ignored my wishes and even got aggressive, I remained calm and stated that if she continued, I will hang up or even block her. And when she continued, that's what I did. I'd give it a few days or weeks before I responded to her calls or texts again. And usually, by then, her tone has shifted from hostile to polite. Setting boundaries worked for the most part. But there were moments when they were completely out the window. Sometimes, she threw tantrums, hurled criticisms at me, started smear campaigns, guilt-tripped me, or played the victim. After a while, setting boundaries for me just wasn't worth it anymore. It was better for my and my family's well-being to stop engaging altogether. So I went no contact.
I have the choice to ignore her and block her because we don’t live together. But I’m aware not everyone has that option.
So in the remainder of this post, I’ll discuss the possible and likely setbacks of setting boundaries with your narcissistic parent.
3 Things to Remember When Setting Boundaries with a Narcissistic Parent
Setting boundaries with narcissists is going to be different and more difficult than setting boundaries with other people.
Because that’s so, it’s important to accept and realize a few things as you go about this.
They might not respect your boundaries no matter what
Unfortunately, when trying to set boundaries with your narcissistic parent, it’s very likely that they won’t respect your boundaries no matter what.
They might even intentionally violate them just to hurt you.
When all else fails, it’s time to consider the amount of contact you have with them.
You can’t change their behavior and you can’t force them to respect your wishes. But you can choose to accept and tolerate it or walk away.
Limiting or cutting contact with your parent might be your only option.
I know how hard it can be. But if cutting contact is an option, please consider it. It’s impossible to truly heal when the source of toxicity is still in your life.
If cutting contact isn’t an option, all you can do is try your best to tolerate and deal with it.
Limit the amount of contact you have with them if possible.
If you live with them, try spending most of your time in your room or outside the home. Meanwhile, do your best to plan for your escape.
And if you don’t live with them and cutting contact isn’t an option you want to consider yet, try to keep contact on a schedule or limited to one platform (e.g. texts only).
Beware of their abusive and manipulative tactics
When you set boundaries with a narcissist, they’ll likely react negatively. They may argue, blame, and criticize you.
They might say you’re overreacting or that you’re too uptight or too sensitive. The narcissist might also act like a victim or become rageful.
While these tactics are unpleasant to endure, you have to stand your ground.
Just like you can’t give in to a child’s tantrum, you have to do the same with a narcissist.
They need to learn that their actions have consequences and that no matter how much they try to go against them, it won’t work.
Giving in to the narcissist only tells them that they can step all over you. It tells them that you’re not that serious about your boundaries.
Setting boundaries will not be easy
You were likely conditioned to accept unhealthy behavior. So you may find it hard to set boundaries in general, let alone with your narcissistic parent.
When you’re not able to set a boundary in a given situation, don’t beat yourself up over it. Think about what you can do differently next time and move on. You’ll get another chance.
Being able to set boundaries takes restraint, patience, and practice, especially when it comes to your parent, an authority figure in your life that trained you to tolerate whatever crap they throw at you.
But again, remember, you have the right to do what’s best for you. Voicing your boundaries is not selfish. It shows that you are protecting yourself.
This is about YOU and YOUR well-being.
If you are struggling with a lot of issues due to narcissistic abuse, consider seeking help.
To learn more about narcissistic parents, how their abuse affects you, and how you can begin healing, I also recommend checking out some of these books. Many of them helped me recognize and process my mother’s abuse and how it affected me.
Sign up for a free trial of Kindle Unlimited to read some of these titles for free or at a discount. Or sign up for a free trial with Audible and claim an audiobook for free, which is yours to keep even when you cancel.
- Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride
- Narcissistic Parents: The Complete Guide for Adult Children by Caroline Foster
- Mothers Who Can’t Love: A Healing Guide for Daughters by Susan Forward
- Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward
- The Emotionally Absent Mother by Jasmin Lee Cori
- You’re Not Crazy – It’s Your Mother! by Danu Morrigan
- Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents by Nina Brown
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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with a physically and emotionally abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.
I am always trying to better learn, understand, and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this healing journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda, a place where others who faced childhood abuse can hopefully find support, resources, and motivation to begin healing.
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