It can be extremely challenging to set boundaries with narcissists because they are really good at manipulating their victims into invalidating their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. Victims of narcissistic abuse are often manipulated into believing that they’ll be safer if they don’t set a boundary with the narcissist in their life. This couldn’t be further from the truth, so it is important to know what happens if you don’t set a boundary with a narcissist. 

If you don’t set boundaries with a narcissist it gives them power and control over you. This allows them to manipulate you into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing their abusive behavior towards you. Without boundaries, you’ll lose your sense of self and ability to conceptualize your own perception of reality. 

This article is going to guide you through the consequences of not setting boundaries with a narcissist so that you can better understand why boundaries are so important if you want to live a happier and healthier life. We’ve also created a short video (see below) about the most common reasons that narcissistic relationships lack boundaries that are important to be aware of.

A Short Video About a Lack of Boundaries In Narcissistic Relationship

When You Don’t Set a Boundary With a Narcissist, You Give Them Power, Control, and Narcissistic Supply

When you don’t set a boundary with a narcissist you give them a lot of power and control over you and the relationship. The two biggest things that narcissists want out of their relationships are a consistent flow of narcissistic supply and their victim to be a repository for their negative emotions. When you don’t set boundaries with a narcissist, you give them both of these things in abundance. 

How Does a Lack of Boundaries Give Narcissists Narcissistic Supply?

Narcissistic supply can be obtained using positive and negative aspects of interpersonal interactions. Positive aspects of narcissistic supply is when the targeted victim is used for validation, admiration, and reassurance by the narcissist . It is the victim doing and saying things to make the narcissist happy, dedicating a lot of time to making sure that the narcissist’s needs are met, and so on. 

It is very common for narcissists to easily obtain this type of narcissistic supply when their victims don’t set boundaries in the beginning stages of the relationship. The reason being that in the beginning stages, narcissists are using manipulative techniques like mirroring and future faking to transform themselves into the “perfect” person for the victim. 

Mirroring is when a narcissist absorbs a ton of information about their victim’s identity and uses that information to create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in the victim’s life.

In romantic relationships, this void is usually centered around the victim’s definition of the ideal love. In a work setting, mirroring is going to be centered around bettering the victim’s career. In family settings it is centered around emotional availability, responsiveness, and consistency.

A narcissistic father manipulating his son

What mirroring does is it manipulates the victim into thinking that they have a relationship with someone who wants them to grow, be supported, and be happy. It manipulates the victim into envisioning a happier and healthier life because of the narcissist. 

Future faking occurs when the narcissist makes a false promise in the future to get exactly what they want in the present. It is a perfect representation of a narcissist’s sense of entitlement and grandiose sense of self-importance, specialness, and uniqueness. 

A future fake can be both verbal and nonverbal. For example, a verbal future fake would be if a narcissistic boss told an employee that they would get a pay raise at the end of the year if they continued to work overtime without any compensation. 

The end of the year comes, and the narcissistic boss decides to fire the employee instead of giving them the raise. These same rules apply to future faking in romantic and family relationships. It is simply a false promise in the future to get what they want in the present. 

What future faking does is it turns the thought that victims developed because of the mirroring that the narcissist is someone who wants them to grow, be supported, and be happy into a belief that this is indeed true. It makes their vision of a happier and healthier life with the narcissist much more tangible and promising.

The two boundaries that are often neglected here are having realistic expectations for the relationship and making decisions based on the actual current behavior of the narcissist, not the words of the narcissist. Realistic expectations for a relationship come with a healthy definition of love and healthy relationships.

Someone who has realistic expectations for their relationships usually have really healthy definitions of love and what healthy relationships are. It makes it much harder for the narcissist to manipulate them. When someone makes decisions and formulates ideas based on someone’s behavior and not their words, it is more difficult for the narcissist to use future faking on them. 

It’s impossible to predict the future which makes it impossible to spot a future fake, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t make an educated guess.

If you are in a relationship with someone who consistently can’t follow through on the basics and is not able to keep their word, you shouldn’t expect them to follow through on the bigger things that they have used in future faking in order to manipulate you.

A victims of narcissistic abuse setting boundaries with her abuser

When narcissists obtain their narcissistic supply through negative aspects of interpersonal interactions, it is different. This narcissistic supply is when a narcissist is able to manipulate their victim into neglecting their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs through invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, and degradation. By making their victim feel as badly as they do, narcissists are able to provide themselves with validation, admiration, and reassurance as they gain added power and control over their victim.

This type of narcissistic supply is most commonly seen in the devaluation phase and the boundary adjustments that often don’t get set are letting go of the wish for things to be different. It can be really hard for victims of narcissistic abuse to let go of the image that they had of the narcissist because of the mirroring and future faking. They live in hope with no basis in reality.

When executed successfully, narcissists are able to manipulate the victim into believing that they’re incapable of having a happy, healthy, and secure life without the narcissist. The victims can lose all self-confidence, self-belief and self-worth.

They may not recognize who they have become when compared to before they met the narcissist. They may lose all sense of their own self. It is important to note here that the abuse that victims of narcissistic abuse experience, is not their fault, it is the narcissist’s fault. 

However, it can only be 100% the victim’s responsibility to remove themselves from the abusive environment. This is a good thing because the victim can take 100% of their own power back. 

It is not an easy healing journey and victims will likely need a lot of support and guidance along the way. They are going to have to do most of the heavy lifting of escaping a narcissistic relationship on their own. 

Only they can walk their own path. Others who love and care for them cannot, literally and metaphysically walk this walk for them, even if they want to. The victims have to walk the journey and put in the work, painful and scary as it may be. 

Have you noticed that the boundaries we are outlining have more to do with the victim than the narcissist? The reason for this is that the narcissist isn’t going to change just because their victim told them that they don’t want to be invalidated anymore. We can’t change what others are going to think, say and do but can choose to change the way we think, say and do things. 

Narcissists feel entitled to having power and control over the victim’s life as long as they see fit. Things like closure, answers, justice, and boundaries come from within, not from the narcissist. It doesn’t serve the narcissist to provide closure, answers, justice or respect of boundaries because these things deprive them of their narcissistic supply. 

We’ll explain this more in the next section but when this boundary of letting go of the wish for things to be different isn’t set, the victim is likely to justify, rationalize, and normalize the abuse that they’re experiencing as they keep hoping the mirage that was sold to them through the mirroring and future faking will one day materialize. This leads to them becoming a repository for the narcissist’s negative emotions by losing their sense of self and ability to conceptualize their own perception of reality. 

When You Don’t Set a Boundary With a Narcissist You’ll Become a Repository for All of Their Negative Emotions

Setting boundaries like letting go of the wish for things to be different or acknowledging that what they’re experiencing is abuse can be really difficult for victims of narcissistic abuse because after months, years, and even decades of invalidation, devaluation, humiliation, and degradation, it is common for victims to believe that they aren’t worth anything more than the abuse that they are experiencing from the narcissist. 

This belief could come from abusive relationships that the victim has had in the past. It can also come from months, years, and even decades of not setting boundaries with the narcissist in their life, where the victim’s huge reserves of empathy is used against them, such that they become a repository for all of the narcissist’s suppressed negative emotions. 

The reason that this happens is because narcissists have developed an extraordinary amount of negative emotions about themselves as they continue to be divorced from their true self and keep identifying with their false self. They lack the emotional intelligence, insight and awareness, one would need to use healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage these emotions and modulate their behavior.

Instead, narcissists use narcissistic supply and projection as their primary forms of emotional regulation. As we mentioned before, narcissistic supply is obtained through validation, admiration, and reassurance by others. When a narcissist has enough of it, they are able to suppress their negative emotions deep within themselves until they “forget” about them.  

The problem with this approach to emotional regulation is that it makes the narcissist’s sense of self extremely fragile. This is not surprising because while a non-narcissistic person might construct their sense of self out of the deep meaningful relationships they have with the people they love, narcissists will build their sense of self out of something very superficial like the amount of social media followers they have, their appearance, their wealth or how much narcissistic supply they have at that moment. 

When they experience something that contradicts their sense of self, which by the way happens often because of how fragile their sense of self is, it triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions and compromises their emotional stability, forcing them to use projection as an emotional safety net. 

Projection is a defense mechanism where narcissists take aspects of their identity that they find unacceptable and place them onto others. A simple example of this in a narcissistic relationship would be a narcissist cheating on their partner but instead of owning up for their unfaithfulness, they accuse their partner of cheating.

Another could be accusing their partner of being abusive and a narcissist when in fact they are the perpetrator and exactly what they accuse their partner of being.

a narcissist accusing her partner of cheating

This is a very common form of projection that narcissists use. It therefore follows that, when a narcissist uses their victim as a repository for all of their negative emotions, they are using projection. By invalidating, devaluing, humiliating, and degrading their victim, they are projecting their emotional instability onto their victim. 

The intensity of the manipulation that victims of narcissistic abuse experience destroys their ability to conceptualize their own perception of reality and manipulates them into becoming dependent on the narcissist to construct a sense of self.

Without any boundaries in place, the narcissist is going to project all of their negative emotions onto the victim while they are trying to construct their false sense of self.

Over time, this is going to manipulate the victim into adopting the narcissist’s negative emotions as their own and manipulate the victim into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the abuse that they are experiencing because they’ve built their sense of self out of the narcissist’s negative emotions so they don’t believe that they are worth anything more than the abuse that they are experiencing. 

When you don’t set boundaries with a narcissist, you’re likely to become a repository for all of their suppressed negative emotions. The trauma that comes from being the repository for a narcissist’s negative emotions can stick with you for a lifetime unless you take action and responsibility to heal yourself from the trauma. This is why setting boundaries with a narcissist is so important for victims of narcissistic abuse to do. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

It is dangerous to not set boundaries with a narcissist. Without boundaries, narcissists are able to manipulate you into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing their abusive behavior. This is going to cause you to lose your sense of self and ability to conceptualize your own perception of reality. 

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Whitfield, Charles L. Boundaries and relationships: Knowing, protecting and enjoying the self. Health Communications, Inc., 1993.

Alderete, Hannah. Break Free from Narcissistic Mothers: A Step-By-Step Workbook for Ending Toxic Behavior, Setting Boundaries, and Reclaiming Your Life. Simon and Schuster, 2022.