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A young person stuck in a narcissistic relationship talks about how to set boundaries with a person with narcissistic personality disorder.

How to Set Boundaries With a Narcissist

6 min.

Understanding your own needs and setting boundaries is key to maintaining relationships with those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

By: Alex Bachert, MPH

Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC

March 5, 2024


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Table of Contents

Many of us know someone who makes everything about themselves or believes they’re the best person in the room, but if these traits are routine behaviors, it may be a sign of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)—a personality disorder defined by grandiosity, attention-seeking, and lack of empathy. Narcissists often ignore others’ feelings and needs, always trying to benefit from a situation. 

So, if you have a friend or family member who is a narcissist, how are you supposed to have a healthy relationship with them? In one word: boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries with narcissists isn’t a quick or simple solution, but it is necessary in order to protect your mental health and reduce their ability to cause emotional harm. Below, we delve into tips for how to set boundaries with a narcissist and what to expect when doing so. 

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Six tips for how to set boundaries with a narcissist

From creating a conversation plan to setting clear consequences, below we delve into six practical tips for setting boundaries with a narcissist. 

1. Recognize narcissistic traits 

This may sound obvious, but the first step in setting boundaries with a narcissist is to identify and acknowledge their harmful, narcissistic behavior patterns. Narcissists often come across as charming and self-assured, so it can be tricky to separate healthy confidence from a clinical diagnosis at first. Here are some of the leading signs and symptoms of NPD.

  • Exaggerated self-importance 
  • Obsession with success, power, and beauty
  • The belief that they’re unique and one-of-a-kind
  • Constant need for attention and admiration
  • Sense of entitlement 
  • Lack of empathy or concern for other people’s needs and feelings 
  • Jealous of other people and thinks others are jealous of them
  • Trouble handling criticism or negative feedback
  • Lack of accountability 

2. Create a plan

Standing up to someone with a strong personality (or, in this instance, a personality disorder) isn’t always easy. In fact, it often requires thought, preparation, and detailed planning. If you’re ready to set boundaries with a narcissist in your life, create a plan that addresses your concerns, goals, potential challenges and obstacles, and the change you’d like to see in your relationship. Considering these parts of a conversation will help you evaluate your options and create a realistic plan that sets you up for success. 

3. Make decisions based on your comfort level

If you’ve decided to set boundaries with someone in your life, it’s probably because they violated your trust or did something to make you uncomfortable. Once you identify how another person’s behaviors negatively impact your life, you can begin to make decisions based on your own needs and comfort levels.

For example, let’s say you have a narcissistic mother with a habit of dismissing your emotions and experiences. She may say something like, “you’re too sensitive” or “you always overreact when the problems are really all in your head.” Over time, these types of comments can start to affect your self-confidence and perception of reality.

Start by asking yourself what you need to change to honor and respect yourself in the situation. From there, you can create boundaries that are based on your needs. So, in this case, you may be looking to set emotional boundaries, which would look like your mother respecting your feelings and experiences. To get this point across, you could say something like, “we may have different viewpoints, and that is okay, but I need you to respect my feelings and experiences instead of dismissing them.” 

4. Set clear consequences 

Narcissists often try to test other people’s limits, so be clear that your terms are nonnegotiable and there will be consequences for breaking boundaries. For example, let’s say you create a boundary around rudeness and name-calling. The second part of the boundary should involve a clear consequence, such as ending a conversation if rudeness or name-calling occurs. You could say something like, “if you continue to call me names or dismiss my feelings, I will end the conversation and leave the room until you can be respectful.”

5. Create realistic expectations for yourself

Due to the nature of NPD, it’s unlikely that you’ll motivate a narcissist to change their behaviors. In fact, they may even attempt to punish or manipulate you for trying to change their ways.

The important thing to remember is that boundaries are more about you and less about them. You can only control your own actions, so setting boundaries is an opportunity to protect yourself and prioritize your well-being.

6. Seek professional mental health support

If your relationship with a narcissist is becoming overwhelming or unmanageable, consider seeking mental health support. Therapists are available to listen to your experience and offer additional insights and coping strategies for managing your own mental health and well-being. They may even suggest family therapy to help you effectively communicate your boundaries in a safe setting.

What to expect when setting boundaries with a narcissist

Setting boundaries with a narcissist isn’t easy, so here are a few additional tips to help you manage the process and your emotions. 

Recognize emotional manipulation or control tactics

Depending on the person, they may respond to your boundaries by trying to take control of the narrative. For example, some common emotional manipulation tactics of those with NPD include playing the victim, blaming you for their behaviors, criticizing or demeaning you, or outright ignoring your requests. Although this can be difficult to handle, knowing how to recognize and respond to this narcissistic behavior can help you remain in control. 

Practice self-care

Being around a narcissist is often physically and emotionally draining and can even lead to burnout. One way to prioritize your own mental health and well-being is regular self-care. Engaging in self-care activities promotes emotional well-being, builds resilience, and can help you gain a clearer perspective on the situation. By taking the time to practice self-care and self-love, you empower yourself to set and maintain healthy boundaries.

Lean on your support system

If you decide to continue your relationship with a narcissist, consider seeking additional outlets for emotional support and personal fulfillment. In some cases, narcissists isolate people from others in their lives, so you may need to make an effort to nurture existing friendships or cultivate new ones. Many people also find joy and purpose in exploring new hobbies or volunteer opportunities, such as joining a book club or lending your support to a local charity. Remember: you deserve support, and while depending on those close to you is a great coping mechanism, it doesn’t replace therapy or support from a licensed mental health professional. 

A boy in a blue shirt talks with a narcissistic person who he is trying to learn how to set boundaries with.

How Charlie Health can help

Coping with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be difficult for everyone involved. If you have a narcissistic parent or loved one and are struggling with the resulting trauma, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offers more than once-weekly therapy for young people facing complex mental health conditions, including trauma. Our expert clinicians combine evidence-based treatment into group sessions, individual therapy, and family therapy. With this kind of holistic treatment, healing from emotional abuse and setting emotional boundaries is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today. 

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