Healthy boundaries are a formidable adversary to a narcissist and are treated as such because they hinder their insecure pursuit of necessities for their well-being like power, control, and narcissistic supply. When they’re deprived of those necessities they will have a very aggressive response so it is important the victims of narcissistic abuse know what to expect when they set a boundary with the narcissist in their lives.
When a victim of narcissistic abuse sets a healthy boundary with the narcissist, the narcissist is going to completely disregard the boundary. If the victim is adamant about maintaining the healthy boundary, the narcissist is going to invalidate, devalue, and dehumanize the victim until they abandon the boundary.
It is so important that victims of narcissistic abuse fight to maintain their healthy boundaries because it teaches them how to be comfortable with expressing their own thoughts, emotions, feelings, and needs which also gives them the opportunity to acknowledge that what they’re experiencing is abuse, let go of the wish for things to be different, and either physically or emotionally escape the narcissistic abuse cycle.
Suggested Reading: Why Is It Important to Set Boundaries With a Narcissist?
6 Forms of Abuse You Should Expect When You Set a Boundary With a Narcissist
Narcissists will never, ever, respect healthy boundaries that hinder their pursuit of power, control, and narcissistic supply. We covered this much more thoroughly in our article Why Do Narcissists Disrespect Boundaries but the concept of healthy boundaries is both offensive and a foreign concept to them. Meaning that it is not a matter of if a narcissist will break a boundary it is a matter of when and how a narcissist will break a boundary.
This section of the article is going to guide you through six of the most common forms of manipulation and abuse that narcissists will use to break the healthy boundaries their victim sets.
One of the most terrifying aspects of narcissistic abuse is how well narcissists know their victims. Through a manipulative technique that they use in the beginning stages of the relationship called mirroring, narcissists are able to absorb an extraordinary amount of information about their victim’s identity to create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in the victim’s life.
We outlined the foundation of manipulation that mirroring creates in our article How Do Narcissists Use Mirroring but manipulative behavior that originates from a narcissist’s knowledge of their victim is called hoovering.
When a narcissist says or does exactly what their victim needs to hear or see to give the narcissist a second chance, it is called hoovering.
Hoovering is the narcissistic version of a hail mary attempt in the fourth quarter with no time left on the clock. It comes when the victim of abuse sets a very strong boundary like leaving the relationship.
It’s important for victims of narcissistic abuse to be aware that narcissists can also hoover through other people.
In our article Do Narcissists Use Flying Monkeys to Hoover we explain this more thoroughly but it is very common for narcissists to either display a tremendous sense of loss or spread lies and gossip to others to try to manipulate them into helping the narcissist reconcile with the victim.
Gaslighting is such a powerful form of manipulation. In a narcissistic relationship it is when a narcissist doubts or denies reality so frequently that their victim begins to question their own sanity and becomes incapable of conceptualizing their own version of reality.
It’s by far the most devastating form of narcissistic abuse because it manipulates the victim into becoming dependent on their abuser to develop a sense of self.
It’s very common for a narcissist to use gaslighting when someone sets a healthy boundary with them to try to create enough self-doubt and self blame to get the victim to abandon the boundary they set.
Baiting and Narcissistic Rage
Narcissists are created by an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers.
We strongly recommend that readers read our article How Are Narcissists Made for the complete guide to this important topic but the unhealthy/abusive upbringing that narcissists have leaves them with a list of emotional inadequacies longer than train smoke but the one we’re going to focus on is their inability to conceptualize a realistic sense of self and their inability to regulate their own emotions.
You see, the level of neglect that a narcissist grew up with has taught them that their true identity isn’t good enough to be acknowledged, loved, and accepted by others. To get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that their primary caregivers couldn’t give them, they create a falsified identity off of their perception of what society values most.
Unfortunately, the emotional immaturity they’ve developed from their unhealthy/abusive upbringing renders them incapable of looking past society’s superficial exterior so when building their falsified identity they tend to gravitate towards materialistic, trivial, and superficial aspects of life.
All this does is it creates an individual with an extraordinary amount of emotional inadequacy, internalized anger and aggression, and a very fragile sense of self. It’s for this reason that narcissists are so dependent on narcissistic supply, the validation, admiration, and reassurance of others.
They desperately need others to validate, admire, and reassure their falsified identity because they’re so emotionally inadequate that they can’t manage the tremendous amount of suppressed negative emotions they’ve compartmentalized within their psyche.
When narcissists don’t get a sufficient amount of narcissistic supply, baiting and narcissistic rage are two of the most aggressive forms of manipulation that they’ll use to fulfill their insecure needs.
Baiting is when a narcissist will weaponize the victim’s vulnerabilities and insecurities and use it against them to “bait” them into a confrontation or argument. Narcissistic rage is a manifestation of a narcissist’s inability to regulate their own emotions.
When they experience something that contradicts their falsified identity and reminds them of their suppressed negative emotions, their inability to regulate their own emotions causes them to have an extreme reaction. So they either clam up and go into a silent treatment or explode into a terrifying rage.
Unfortunately, setting healthy boundaries with a narcissist has a very high probability of triggering both of these narcissistic behavior patterns. It’s important to remember that regardless of the boundary, it is going to contradict a narcissist’s sense of specialness and subsequently their falsified identity.
This should serve as a reminder to readers to not tiptoe around setting boundaries with a narcissist out of the fear of their reaction. You are entitled to a healthy, happy, and secure life without the dark cloud of negative emotions that narcissists cast over their victims.
Narcissistic abuse is never the victim’s fault but it is certainly their responsibility to seek out qualified guidance, learn how to set and maintain healthy boundaries, and begin to physically or emotionally escape the narcissistic environment they’re trapped in.
Because of the influence that money has in our society today, financial abuse has emerged as one of the most common ways that a narcissist will fulfill their insecure need for power and control over others and it is very common for narcissists to become financially abusive when their victim sets a healthy boundary
Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals and it is fueled by the information that a narcissist gathers about the victim’s identity through mirroring in the beginning stages of the relationship.
When used against individuals who are as emotionally starved as victims of narcissistic abuse, it can be an incredibly dangerous form of abuse. You see, intermittent reinforcement in narcissistic relationships triggers the reward center in the victim’s brain which floods it with dopamine.
Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter that is released when humans abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine and is very addictive.
The “reward” that victims of abuse get during intermittent reinforcement is often something that reminds the victim of the healthy, happy, and secure bond they felt for their abuser in the beginning stages of the relationship because after months, years, or even decades of abuse and manipulation, the abuser has become the victim’s only known source of happiness.
It’s very common for narcissists to use intermittent reinforcement to distract their victims from setting firm and healthy boundaries with them.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
After months, years, and even decades of abuse, setting a boundary with a narcissist can be a terrifying experience. However, healing from narcissistic abuse requires vicitms to wake up every single day, rain or shine, and walk into the unknown. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable is a part of the healing journey.
As always we recommend that you set boundaries with the guidance of a qualified professional but in our article What Are Some Boundaries You Can Set With a Narcissist we unpack boundaries that can protect victims of abuse from twelve different narcissistic behavior patterns!
This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
THIS INFORMATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR CLINICAL CARE.
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