One of the most common questions that people who are experiencing narcissistic abuse have is, “How will the narcissist respond if I try to set boundaries with them?”

Generally speaking, narcissists will respond to the boundaries that you set with them by getting defensive or angry, trying to guilt-trip you, ignoring your boundaries altogether, undermining your credibility, giving you the silent treatment, or by trying to hoover their way past your boundaries.

This article is going to guide you through each of these responses so that you can be better prepared when setting boundaries with the narcissist in your life. 

1. They May Become Defensive

The first thing that could happen when you set a boundary with a narcissist is that they could become defensive. 

This means that the narcissist will view the boundary that you’ve set as a threat and will respond with a guarded or confrontational attitude.

Being defensive can manifest in various ways, such as:

  • Becoming argumentative.
  • Making excuses.
  • Denying responsibility.
  • Deflecting blame onto others.
  • Avoiding certain topics. 

Here’s a simple example of a narcissist becoming defensive because someone has set a boundary with them (see below):

Jane is a narcissist who struggles with respecting other people’s boundaries. 

One of her friends, Sarah, confronts Jane about always interrupting her during conversations and not giving her a chance to speak.

A woman trying to set a boundary with a narcissist.

The boundary that Sarah is trying to set makes Jane feel threatened and she becomes defensive.

As a result, Jane denies that she ever interrupts Sarah and deflects the blame onto her by suggesting that Sarah needs to be more assertive and talk more loudly.

In this example, Jane’s defensive response is a way for her to protect her self-image and avoid feelings of shame or inadequacy. 

2. They May Get Angry

The second thing that could happen when you set a boundary with a narcissist is they could get angry with you.

To get angry means to experience a strong feeling of displeasure, frustration, or irritation in response to a perceived threat, injustice, or annoyance.

Here’s a simple example of a narcissist getting angry because someone set a boundary with them: 

Samantha is a narcissist who frequently disregards the boundaries that other people set.

One day, her friend Tom sets a clear boundary with her by telling her that he will no longer tolerate her insulting and belittling him.

A man trying to set a boundary with a narcissist.

The boundary that Tom has set with Samantha makes her very angry because she sees it as a personal attack on her.

She responds by screaming at Tom, accusing him of being too sensitive, and calling him manipulative. 

Recommended Article:

If you didn’t know already, the anger that narcissists display is often referred to as narcissistic rage. Our article What Is Narcissistic Rage? will help you understand how dangerous narcissists can be when they rage.

3. They May Try to Guilt-Trip You

The third thing that could happen when you set a boundary with a narcissist is that they could try to guilt-trip you. 

What does this mean?

To guilt-trip someone means to use emotional manipulation or coercion to make them feel guilty or ashamed for something they did or didn’t do. 

Here’s a simple example of a narcissist guilt-tripping someone because of a boundary that they’ve set (see below):

Jackie is an adult child of a narcissistic mother named Claire. 

Jackie has recently set a boundary with Claire by using the Gray Rock Method on her. 

This means that she has restrained herself from engaging in meaningful interactions with her. 

This boundary makes Claire angry because she sees it as a challenge to her authority and control over the relationship.

She responds by trying to guilt-trip Jackie by saying things like, “After everything I’ve done for you, this is how you treat me? You should be grateful for all the sacrifices I’ve made for you.”

A narcissist trying to guilt-trip someone.

Claire’s guilt-tripping is a way for her to make Jackie feel responsible for her feelings and behavior. 

She is trying to manipulate Jackie into feeling guilty and ashamed for setting a boundary.

4. They May Ignore the Boundary

The fourth thing that could happen when you set a boundary with a narcissist is that they could ignore the boundary that you’ve set. 

To ignore a boundary means to disregard or violate a boundary that has been set by another person. 

Ignoring a boundary can happen in different ways, such as:

  1. Overstepping a boundary: This can happen when the narcissist crosses a boundary that has been explicitly communicated.
    • A simple example of this could be continuing to ask personal questions even after being told that the topic is off-limits.
  2. Disregarding a boundary: This can happen when a narcissist acts in a way that goes against the spirit of a boundary, even if it hasn’t been explicitly stated.
    • For example, repeatedly showing up uninvited to someone’s home after being politely turned away.
  3. Pretending a boundary doesn’t exist: This can happen when a narcissist chooses to ignore or dismiss a boundary that has been set.
    • A simple example of this could be a narcissist saying “It’s not a big deal, you’re just being dramatic” or “I don’t see why you need so much alone time, we’re supposed to be a couple” after their partner asks them for more space.

Recommended Article:

Our article Is It Abusive for Narcissists to Ignore Boundaries? has important information that you may find helpful about narcissists ignoring boundaries.

5. They May Try to Undermine Your Credibility

The fifth thing that could happen when you set a boundary with a narcissist is that they could try to undermine your credibility. 

To undermine someone’s credibility means to weaken or diminish their reputation or perceived trustworthiness. 

As a general rule, narcissists try to undermine your credibility when you do something that threatens their falsified identity. 

For example, imagine that the narcissist was making fun of you in-front of a group of people and you responded by saying, “I am not going to allow you to coddle your fragile ego by insulting me anymore.”

A woman exposing a narcissist to others.

It wouldn’t be uncommon for the narcissist to take this boundary that you’ve set as a threat to their falsified identity. 

Some of the ways that they could go about undermining your credibility could be:

  1. Spreading rumors or gossip about you.
    • This can involve sharing false or exaggerated information about you, either publicly or behind your back, in order to damage your reputation.
  2. Discrediting your achievements or qualifications.
    • This can involve downplaying or dismissing your accomplishments or expertise, either directly or through insinuations or subtle remarks.
  3. Questioning your motives or intentions.
    • This can involve suggesting that you have ulterior motives or hidden agendas, in order to create suspicion or distrust.
  4. Belittling or ridiculing your ideas or opinions.
    • This can involve mocking or dismissing your thoughts or beliefs, either explicitly or through subtle remarks or body language.

6. They May Give You the Silent Treatment

The sixth thing that could happen when you set a boundary with a narcissist is that they could give you the silent treatment. 

The silent treatment occurs when the narcissist refuses to communicate verbally and electronically with you.

With that being said, the silent treatment can take many forms, but some common examples include:

  1. Refusing to talk to you: 
    • This can involve giving you the silent treatment for a specific period of time, or indefinitely.
  2. Withholding affection or attention: 
    • This can involve ignoring your attempts to communicate, show affection, or engage in activities together.
  3. Avoiding or withdrawing from you: 
    • This can involve physically avoiding you or leaving the room when you enter, or avoiding activities or places where you’re likely to be.
  4. Using passive-aggressive behaviors: 
    • This can involve making sarcastic or cutting remarks, slamming doors, or making other gestures that are meant to convey anger or frustration.

Unfortunately, it is very common for a narcissist to use the silent treatment as a tactic to punish you for setting a boundary. 

Recommended Article:

Is the narcissist in your life giving you the silent treatment? Our article How to Respond to a Narcissist’s Silent Treatment (3 Methods) has information that you may find helpful.

7. They May Try to Hoover You

The seventh thing that could happen when you set a boundary with a narcissist is that they could try to hoover you.

In the narcissistic realm, the term “hoovering” refers to a manipulation tactic that occurs when a narcissist says or does exactly what you need to hear and/or see to give them another chance. 

It is very common for a narcissist to use hoovering when the relationship that they have with you is about to end or has already ended.

For example, imagine that you have had it with the narcissist in your life and have decided to end the relationship.

This would be a very strong boundary to set and the narcissist could respond by hoovering you with comment like (image below), 

A narcissist trying to hoover his ex girlfriend.

This would be considered hoovering. 

The narcissist doesn’t actually believe the things that they are saying, they just want to regain power and control over you.


About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.


About This Article

We used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create parts of this article to enhance its accuracy and readability. It underwent a strict human editorial process before being published. See additional information.

References

Zeoli, April M., et al. “Post-separation abuse of women and their children: Boundary-setting and family court utilization among victimized mothers.” Journal of family violence 28 (2013): 547-560.

Czerny, Astra B., Pamela S. Lassiter, and Jae Hoon Lim. “Post-abuse boundary renegotiation: Healing and reclaiming self after intimate partner violence.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling 40.3 (2018): 211-225.

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