Why do narcissists view boundaries as a “punishment”?

Narcissists are known for being self-absorbed and difficult to deal with, something you’re probably well aware of if you’re currently trying to set a boundary with one. You’ve been walking on eggshells for too long, you finally mustered up the courage to set the boundary in the most polite, easy to understand, thoughtful way. You’ve overthought about it weeks in advance, making multiple pros and cons lists, questioning yourself if you’re being reasonable, and finally deciding to go ahead and set that boundary. You expect them to be understanding, after all you’ve included very good reasons for your boundary, you may have even provided documented proof and evidence not even a lawyer could argue with that validates the reason for your boundary…

And then…

…is this person f*cking serious?

…did they seriously just ask me why I’M punishing THEM!? Were we both present for the same conversation? Wtf is happening? Oh shit maybe this boundary is too harsh…

Sound familiar? This is a classic manipulation tactic the narcissist uses to trigger your repressed guilt. This puts you in a bamboozled, easier to control state, and the narcissist continues to get their way. In today’s blog post, I’m going to unpack how this manipulation tactic works, so you can stay grounded in reality and not fall for the trap.

Understanding narcissists

Before we dive in, it’s important to understand how a narcissist’s mind works. Their main motivation behind their abusive behaviour is to gain narcissistic supply from their target. Supply is your emotional reaction, attention, engagement in word-salad conversations, time, energy, resources – whatever they can get out of you at the end of the day. When you set a boundary with a narcissist, guess what that means for them? They get less access to you and the supply you’ve been unwittingly providing them with! The more you understand that supply is literally all it’s about with narcissists, the more you can expect the exact same patterns of abusive behaviour to play out as they become very predictable. This might be a whole other topic for a future blog post!

Narcissists and boundaries: How do narcissists view boundaries? Why do they see them as a punishment?

Narcissists treat boundaries as if they are a challenge to overcome – they don’t like to be told NO. Even if your request is completely reasonable, like you don’t wan them to wake you up at 3 am to discuss the problems you tried to talk to them already during the day, or you’d prefer it if they don’t scream at you anymore, it doesn’t matter. You just disagreed with them, and that pisses them off! They see your NO as a punishment. They can’t get supply from you at 3 am anymore if they’re not allowed to wake you up to start a fight. (When you see it written out like this, you see how ridiculously unreasonable they are, yes?) 

For another example, let’s say you have a narcissistic mother who shares details about your personal life to whoever will listen. You then set a very reasonable boundary and ask her to not do that anymore, it’s none of her friends/your random relatives/her coworkers/whoever she is telling about your life’s business, and if she continues to do this you will stop sharing things with her. She then goes on and on about how she only cares about your well-being, she has no one else to talk to, and how could you punish her like this? She might even deny everything and accuse you of making things up just to punish her. Regardless of what exact words are said: she has made herself a victim, and she has made you the aggressor.

What’s important to understand in these two examples, is that no one in their right mind would think it’s reasonable to fight against such basic, human-decency things that are being requested here.

No one is entitled to wake you up for the sake of arguing because they need to be entertained by the drama right then and there. No one is entitled to information about your personal life, even if that person is your mother. It’s not unreasonable to expect an adult to behave like an adult! But narcissists, while they may be stuck in an adult body, have the emotional maturity of a toddler – and I don’t like saying that because it feels like it’s insulting to toddlers lol. 

Narcissists feel entitled to getting supply from you

By setting boundaries, you are taking away their entitled “privileges”. The narcissist’s sense of entitlement isn’t going to go away, and sometimes they will act like you are punishing them when you set a boundary to guilt you into not taking away what they feel entitled to. They might convey this in the form of a guilt trip; they will justify their behaviour by inducing the feeling of guilt within you by manipulating your empathy. For example:

  • I was only trying to work things out, why does it matter that it was 3 am? Don’t you care about the relationship?”
  • How could you do this to me?
  • I can’t believe you’re being so harsh, you’re not the same understanding person I thought I knew

I could go on, but I think you get the idea by this point!

The effects of boundary-guilt-tripping: What happens when you’re put on a guilt trip?

Guilt is an emotion narcissists love to use against their targets – and they installed the button in your subconscious through years of manipulation so they know exactly how to make you feel guilty just by saying a few magic words they KNOW will trigger you. When you feel guilty, you may believe:

  • That you are genuinely a bad person
  • That you over-reacted, the original issue wasn’t such a big deal after all and it’ll be better if you just cave in to their demands and “play nice”
  • That this type of behaviour is normal
  • That something is wrong with you and you’re the one who has to do all the work to make things better, otherwise you’re a heartless monster who doesn’t care and you might as well just admit yourself to a jail, request a life sentence because you’re just such a horrible person.

Just to name a few!

How a normal person would react to a boundary

Let’s use the same example of the mother who overshares details about their adult child’s life to whoever will listen. A normal parent who didn’t intend to harm their adult child or get supply from them and the people engaged in the gossip would apologize and ensure this never happens again – and guess what else? They’d actually follow through with it never happening again, the relationship between parent and adult child is now stronger because effective communication and understanding happens, and quite frankly this whole scenario described in this example would’ve never happened to begin this because this is literally just something normal people who care about people simply DON’T DO. 

A narcissistic parent, on the other hand, would potentially pretend to apologize and say it’ll never happen again. It always does happen again, but they said it wouldn’t just for the purpose of the adult child continuing to supply them with information, and the behaviour of gossiping with whoever will listen (and getting supply from those people in the process!!!) would continue. Another tactic a narcissistic parent might go with is asking you why you didn’t say something sooner? And when you’re caught off-guard by this ridiculous question, they go in for the attack and let you know why you’re understanding incorrectly, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re being dramatic, etc. This is done to distract you from the original issue, so you start to wonder what’s wrong with you, while the narc parent evades accountability thanks to manipulating you!

So, what can you do about it if the narcissist in your life says you’re punishing them when you set a boundary?

Less is more. The less you interact with the narcissist, the better. Any amount of energy you expend into explaining yourself, justifying your boundary, proving that you’re not a bad person, is only going to serve as supply! Logic, facts, and reality don’t matter to a narcissist. What matters is they’re being supplied by you at the expense of your mental and emotional health. It’s simply not worth wasting any more time and energy trying to prove yourself. You don’t have to say anything at all to the narcissist when they say you’re punishing them for setting a very reasonable boundary. 

Want to learn more?

If you’d like additional guidance on setting boundaries with the narcissistic abuser in your life, check out my free boundaries masterclass by clicking here.

I recently made a YouTube video on this topic as well, you can watch it below! (Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel!

Everything’s going great with the narcissist right now–but what does that REALLY mean?

Narcissists are everywhere. Whether the narcissist in your life is the colleague who takes credit for work you did, the friend who always needs to be the centre of attention, the significant other you have REALLY good and REALLY bad times with, the family member who’s never wrong, or the parent who expects you to be an unlimited source of supply for them, the same cycle of abuse and manipulation tactics are happening behind different situations. If you’re dealing with a narcissist, you may feel confused and wonder what’s REALLY going on when things are going well. Is this person actually a narcissist if they can be normal sometimes? After all, narcissists are known for being unstable, self-centered, and manipulative. This blog post will break down what’s really happening when things seem to be going well with the narcissistic abuser in your life.

The cycle of abuse: how it works

Before we get into this, we need to first talk about the cycle of abuse that narcissists perpetuate onto their targets; love bomb, devalue, discard. You may have learned other variations of this cycle, different vocabulary for each stage, or even with additional sub-stages between each stage. Here’s the thing about me: I’m here to provide clarity as efficiently as possible, and not further confuse you! So we are going to stick to the basics: love bomb, devalue, discard. If you want to invest your time into a more unnecessarily complicated breakdown of the cycle of abuse, this might not be the right blog for you!

Love Bomb

In the love bomb phase, the narcissistic abuser can do any of the following; showers the victim with attention and affection, compliments them, agrees with them, apologizes, starts to finally make sense when they talk. Basically, it’s whatever their target wants to hear. Narcissists will love bomb to appear likeable, and then gain their target’s trust. Think about it-you’re not gonna trust someone you don’t like! This love bombing phase can last for weeks, months, days, minutes, years – it really depends on the relationship dynamic, and whether you’re their main target or a target they keep around to gain supply every now and then. Be mindful that narcissists don’t treat every single person in their life in exactly the same way – and this is on purpose! They want most people to think they’re this amazing person so when their target starts to open up to anyone about the abuse, they’ll be seen as crazy because no one could ever imagine this person behaving this way. This is how victims of this type of abuse stay stuck in the cycle for so long – they genuinely believe they are the issue. This in turn provides the narcissist with some high-quality supply feeling all mighty and powerful that they’ve destroyed their target’s self esteem. Totally messed up life goal to have but to each their own, I guess.

Guess what? When things are going well in the relationship with the narcissist in your life, you’re in the love bomb phase of the cycle of abuse. How can you tell? Well, the devalue phase is going to happen again soon enough. Usually as soon as they’re satisfied they’ve re-gained your trust in the love bomb stage you’ll start to experience devaluation.

Devalue

In the devalue phase, the narcissistic abuser starts to criticize and put down their target. It can be in an underhanded way so it’s not totally obvious at first but it gets worse and worse. This is where it actually starts to look like abuse. Keep in mind, love-bombing, while it feels good, it’s still abusive because it’s done for the purpose to continue abusing you. They may call their target names, accuse them of things they didn’t do, gaslighting and crazy-making behaviour where they make you question your reality, and essentially try to control your every move so you’re in a constant state of distress just feeding them with supply. This is all done at the cost of your self-esteem and your mental and emotional health – but as long as the narcissist is supplied by your bamboozlement, that’s what matters to them! They do not care about the level of distress this causes you as their target – they’re enjoying the supply show way too much.

Discard

In the discard phase, the narcissistic abuser pretty much drops their target altogether. Not every dynamic has a discard phase, and sometimes it can be a subtle discard phase! For example, they may not respond to any messages and essentially disappear off the face of the earth for a period of time, and then out of nowhere when they need something they reach out as if nothing happened. That reach out is right back into the love bomb phase.

Another thing I’ll mention is that after the devalue stage, sometimes they go to discard sometimes they go back to love bomb and skip discard. Any variation of this doesn’t make the person not a narcissist. Don’t distract yourself with the small details that don’t matter – the main thing that matters here is you coming to terms with the truth and starting your healing journey. This is ultimately what will make you narcissist-proof. Regardless, it doesn’t matter what the situation is, all you need to realize is that this cycle of nonsense is going to continue over and over and over again. It’s been the pattern the whole time. It’s not a pattern that’s going to change anytime soon. If someone’s going to change, they need to decide to do that on their own and they need to want to do that. Narcissists don’t want to change, they don’t think anything is wrong with them! Plus they usually have a whole crew of enablers, so why would they change if their goal of getting supply is working out for them?

When things are going well with the narcissist, you are in the love bomb stage.

Now we’re going to dig into love bombing some more, since now we’ve covered the cycle of abuse. When things are going well with the narcissistic abuser in your life, you may think to yourself, “okay, this is great, and maybe they changed and that was just a little blip in their behaviour… This is this is what I’ve been waiting for, and this person is finally treating me with basic human decency! So this must mean they changed for real this time!” The thing is, the narcissist knows you’ve been really hoping for that love bomb stage the entire time that you’ve been through the devalue and or discard stages. Now they’re saying the things you want to hear, so you start to believe they changed and they’ll keep treating you with this little breadcrumb of respect consistently moving forward. This is the trap they wanted you to be in. When we’re bamboozled neck-deep in that trauma bond, we don’t even realize what’s actually happening yet… until we end up in some kind of rabbit hole learning about narcissistic abuse and their manipulation tactics!

Don’t be fooled by the enablers out there – the narcissist does this on purpose!

All these manipulation tactics are calculated and intentional. The purpose of love bombing is to gain your trust again after they devalued and/or discarded you.

Love bombing isn’t just reserved for romantic relationships with a narcissist

Of course a narcissist pursuing a romantic partner will need to initially love bomb their target. This is done initially in order to hook you in, because let’s be realistic: if they introduce themselves to you as the piece of shit that they are, you would not give them the time of day! So this is why they seem to be so charismatic and all-around such a great person. They need to be likeable, especially at first, because you are not going to trust somebody you don’t like.

Obviously, if you’re an adult child of a narcissistic parent or caregiver, they didn’t really need to go through that initial love bombing stage because… you’re pretty much kinda there already. It’s not like you had a choice in who your parents were, you know? You just end up there and they won’t really have to do that initial “grand gesture” that a narcissistic romantic partner would have to do. Narcissistic parents have conditioned you since before you’re even born to be a good little source of supply for their entitled behinds. And so, if you’re in a dynamic with a narcissistic parent and you’re an adult child love bombing will look a lot different than in a relationship. The love bombing could be your narcissistic mother being reasonable for once, making promises to take care of the grandkids, or to go on that family vacation and be one big happy family and put all the past in the past and be happy again and everything is gonna be great. They might say they’re going to buy you a house. Blah blah blah you know the whole song and dance – it’s basically whatever you want to hear, they will say! Saying things doesn’t take much effort.

Keep a realistic mindset

It can be shocking to realize all of this, and so tempting to pretend it’s not real. I get it – I’ve been there! At some point though, you have to be realistic about this person who’s on a mission to destroy you. They’re definitely not going to explain to you what their manipulation tactics are as they’re doing them! You’re dealing with a manipulative person, honesty would get in the way of their end goal! This “nice” act that they put on when they need to is usually short lived. It really only lasts until they are satisfied that you have trusted them again. They can tell when you have re-invested your trust in them and you’re hooked back in, and then right back into devaluation you will go.

And it goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on again!

And they’re not going to change this very predictable pattern. This cycle that has continued to play out over and over again is what you can expect to continue happening over and over and over again. There is no parallel universe where they’re going to permanently change. That mask is going to come off at some point. This doesn’t mean they won’t try very hard to keep messing with your mind. They might stay in that love bombing stage for a very long time and they’ll frame it as “I gave you so much time and space to start trusting me again so you should give me another chance” and then obviously the same cycle will repeat either way. They might make some really great points and they might incorporate nuggets of truth in whatever they’re saying, in order to continue confusing you. But what you have to be hyper aware of is that this person is just saying things. Trust the patterns, not the words.

How can you protect yourself?

Stop giving the narcissist supply. Any time you engage with them, you are giving them supply. You can feel it, because you’ll be exhausted! If you respond to their love bombing, whether it’s a positive or negative response, you are actually giving them supply! When you’re favourably responding to it you’re eating up all of their compliments, you’re so happy that they’re finally behaving like a normal, rational human being (that you keep projecting on to them and hoping that they will be) and they’re being nice in this moment because they know that’s what you want. If you’re continuing to communicate with them, they think that there’s hope that you will drink the Kool Aid and that you will start trusting them again and they’ll go right back into devaluation. Even if you’re low contact, but giving them supply here and there, just to sort of “shut them up and keep the peace” this will still backfire on you. The goal and the best way to protect yourself is to give them zero supply! No emotion, as few words as possible, minimal engagement in any sort of conversation, about any topic. Give them nothing, but if you must communicate, give them as little as possible.

The more energy you give a narcissist, the more words you use, any ounce of emotion in your interactions can and will be weaponized against you.

Narcissists will continue their cycle of abuse whether you like it or not. They will always use your emotions against you. They love bomb you on purpose to induce the happy feelings within you which ultimately indicates to them that they’ve gained your trust. Then they’ll shatter everything they built up during the devalue and/or discard stage and it just keeps happening over and over and over again.

Radical acceptance that the narc will keep narc-ing

The sooner you accept that this dynamic is how it’s always going to be, the sooner you will stop supplying the narcissist with that emotional reaction, engagement, resources, energy, attention, supply they’re seeking. Once you reach that point of radical acceptance, you will realize that this exhausting, ridiculous game is never going to end. The sooner that you stop supplying the narcissist, the sooner you will actually have the energy to focus on your healing journey – which is what matters way more than the words the narcissist says.

I know it sucks that you have to go on this whole healing journey because you’re not the one who traumatized yourself! But we need to stay grounded in reality; you can’t wait around and expect the narcissist to fix all of that for you because they are committed to not doing anything like that to help you in any way shape or form. They’re committed to continuing to abuse and manipulate you so they can continue gaining supply. They don’t care how you feel, long as however you feel is resulting in them getting supply from you. That’s all that matters to them.

Once you start focusing on your healing journey, your inner work, your inner emotional world, the sooner you will actually start being able to live life on your own terms without caring what the narcissist thinks or what they have to say.

At the end of the day, we have a limited amount of time on this planet. Life is short and nothing is guaranteed. I’m not trying to be morbid, but you don’t know what the next day brings. With a narcissist, you do know what the next day brings; chaos, nonsense, abuse, more digs at your self esteem, more damage to your mental health, more damage to your emotional health. This is not what you are on this planet for, you don’t have to deal with all of this shit because another person gets their jollies from seeing you in a state of distress. There’s a lot more to life than dealing with someone who’s intentionally doing this.

Choosing yourself

You deserve to prioritize the most important relationship that you will ever have: the relationship you have with yourself. No other relationship is going to be more important than your relationship with yourself. That’s why it’s so important to do that inner work because the more you connect to yourself, and your own inner emotional world, the more you will understand if someone’s manipulating you. You’re gonna become the human bullshit detector! When you’re emotionally regulated, you’ll be more clear-minded and aware when someone’s trying to manipulate you.

If you are in touch with your emotions, and how your emotions work, what messages those emotions are giving you, you will be much more able to recognize manipulation tactics as they’re happening. You taking the time to focus on yourself is your best defence against a narcissist. It’s so easy to fall for their love bombing when it’s happening, because all that false hope that’s repressed is kind of being validated.

You can do the inner work however you see fit; whether that’s working with a therapist who’s educated on narcissism (hard to find them, but they’re out there apparently… good luck!), a life coach with lived experience, or even sticking to a regular journaling practice on your own to start the process of untangling your thoughts.

An option I offer is a community membership. There are courses, coaching exercises, several live events each month, and so much more. This is a very efficient and effective way to heal. When you are surrounded by other people who actually understand what you’ve gone through, when you have access to a growing resource library of tools, coaching exercises, and even more resources, when you have other people validating your experience rather than gaslighting it, and when you’re being mentored by someone who has lived experience and has helped hundreds of fellow survivors get to the other side of narcissistic abuse – healing is way more effective! The best part about this membership is it’s very affordable, there are affordable 1:1 offerings in Tier 2, and you’re not locked in to any commitment – you can cancel any time when you go month by month. If this is something you’d be interested in, click here to learn more and to sign up and get instant access to all the resources!