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!

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