There are a lot of different techniques victims of narcissistic abuse can use to help themselves escape the narcissistic abuse cycle but they require the victim to have a significant amount of self-awareness and bravery to work. After months, years, or even decades of narcissistic abuse, attempting to escape the narcissistic abuse cycle can be both physically and emotionally draining which is why setting boundaries with the narcissist is the best place to start.

Setting boundaries with a narcissist is so important because it teaches victims of narcissistic abuse to be comfortable with expressing their own thoughts, emotions, feelings, and needs while simultaneously allowing them to become indifferent to the limitations that narcissistic abuse confines them to.

For victims of narcissistic abuse, setting boundaries will create a very solid foundation from which they can dismantle the manipulative structure that keeps them tethered to the narcissist in their lives. It’s the first step they can take towards a healthy, happy, secure, and emotionally stable future. 

A Deeper Understanding of Why Setting Boundaries With a Narcissist Is So Important

The narcissistic abuse cycle strips victims of narcissistic abuse of their core values and ability to conceptualize their own version of reality. When this is combined with the daunting self-centeredness of a narcissist, victims of narcissistic abuse are subtly manipulated into putting the narcissist’s thoughts, emotions, feelings and needs before their own.

A victim of narcissistic abuse in a state of cognitive dissonance

Victims of narcissistic abuse must feel comfortable putting their own thoughts, emotions, feelings, and needs ahead of the narcissists to become indifferent to the limitations that narcissistic abuse confines them to. Only then will they be able to escape the narcissistic abuse cycle through a successful healing journey. 

To grasp a comprehensive understanding of the importance of setting boundaries in a narcissistic environment victims of narcissistic abuse must understand the core values that the narcissist corrupted. With this newfound awareness victims of narcissistic abuse will be able to begin to redefine themselves and effortlessly set boundaries with the narcissist in their lives.

3 Core Values That Narcissistic Abuse Corrupts That Must Be Rebuilt to Set and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

When it comes to setting boundaries with a narcissist, victims of narcissistic abuse must understand the importance of searching for accountability and answers within themselves, not from the narcissist. 

The reason being that the narcissistic behavior patterns that narcissists subject their victims to originate from some deeply rooted fears, inadequacies, vulnerabilities, and insecurities which they’re incapable of addressing. 

In other words, you shouldn’t expect boundaries you’ve voiced to the narcissist to work. The best boundaries come when victims of narcissistic abuse search for accountability and answers from within.

Your Self-Esteem Gets Destroyed During Narcissistic Abuse

When you learn about a narcissist’s crippling fear of intimacy, abandonment, and rejection, it can be hard to understand why narcissists seek out relationships, not just romantic ones, in the first place. 

The reason is that their need to regulate their suppressed negative emotions far exceeds their fear of intimacy, abandonment, and rejection. Readers can use our article How Do Narcissists Choose Their Scapegoat and Why Do Narcissists Need a Scapegoat for guidance but as a general rule, victims of narcissistic abuse are the narcissist’s scapegoat, particularly in romantic relationships.

A scapegoat is essentially a repository for the narcissists suppressed negative emotions. They get the worst version of the narcissist because the narcissist projects all of their negativity onto them. 

A narcissist using her child as a scapegoat

When this is combined with all of the other narcissistic behavior patterns that victims of narcissistic abuse experience, there’s a high probability that the victims self-esteem gets annihilated because they’ve begun to internalize the negative emotions the narcissist projected onto them. 

You Lose Sight of Your Aspirations In Life

As we mentioned before, the narcissistic abuse cycle often manipulates victims of narcissistic abuse into putting the narcissist’s thoughts, emotions, needs, and feelings ahead of their own. 

In fact, through narcissistic behavior patterns like gaslighting, projection, and narcissistic rage, narcissists can manipulate their victims into believing that the mere thought of having a life outside of the narcissistic relationship is selfish, foolish, and unachievable.

As time goes on and victims of narcissistic abuse are forced to exist in this environment, their life will begin to viciously revolve around the narcissist’s agenda until their identity is torn into pieces leaving the narcissist and their delusional reality to pick up the pieces and glue it back together.

Your Identity

In the self-esteem section we mentioned that narcissists project their negative emotions onto their victims. Well, the only way that they’re able to successfully do that is if they erode their victim’s emotional stability and hijack their identity first. 

To do this a narcissist will put their victims through something we call Gaslight Valley. We have a really detailed infographic about Gaslight Valley that you can find here but it consists of triangulation, narcissistic mirroring, future faking, intermittent reinforcement, and finally the devaluation phase. 

First, a narcissist will use a form of triangulation called typecasting, a manipulative technique designed to exploit one’s desire to look good to other people that they deploy in the beginning stages of the relationship. 

A narcissist using typecasting to manipulate his victim

The purpose of typecasting is to subtly force the victim into normalizing being submissive, non-confrontational, and careful about what they say and do around the narcissist. In this way a narcissist is able to begin to hold a small amount of power and control over the victim. 

Second, a narcissist will use narcissistic mirroring to absorb an extraordinary amount of information about the victim’s identity. With this information the narcissist is able to present themselves as the perfect friend, partner, co-worker, or family member to the victim to manipulate the victim into envisioning a healthy, happy, and secure future with the narcissist.

A narcissistic boss using future faking to manipulate a new hire

Once the narcissist feels as if they’ve got the victim hooked and placed them high enough on the emotional pedestal, they’ll kick the pedestal out from under them leaving them tumbling down into the devaluation phase. 

Here, a very hard decision has to be made and it often happens on a subconscious level. Does the victim of narcissistic abuse let go of the healthy, happy, and secure future they envisioned by acknowledging that their abuser has been living a lie or do they find a way to justify, rationalize, and ultimately normalize the abuse. 

Sadly, the intensity, cleverness, and quickness of narcissistic abuse cause victims to justify, rationalize, and normalize the narcissistic abuse which is called cognitive dissonance. 

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that suggests when we experience an inconsistency among our beliefs, information we have, and behavior we’re experiencing, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension. To ease this tension we change one or more of the elements that are causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent. 

A supporter helping a vicim of narcissistic abuse see that she is trapped by cognitive dissonance

Third, to keep the victim trapped within the devaluation phase, a narcissist will use all of the information they absorbed about the victim’s identity through narcissistic mirroring to use intermittent reinforcement, the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. 

A narcissistic relationship is so emotionally starved that the slightest amount of empathy acts as the “reward” in intermittent reinforcement. 

What happens is that once a narcissist senses that they’re losing control of the victim in one way or another, they’ll create a small future fake, a false promise for the future designed to get what they want in the present, to trigger the victim’s hope that the healthy, happy, and secure relationship they envisioned will come back.

A narcissist using intermittent reinforcement to control his vicim.

This hope and/or desire to have a healthy, happy, and secure relationship with the narcissist, even if it is not a romantic one, is extremely powerful. In fact, because the relationship is so emotionally starved the “reward” of the intermittent reinforcement triggers the reward sector in the victim’s brain, flooding it with dopamine.  

You can read our article Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction for more context but the feeling that victims of narcissistic abuse get from the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement mimics the feeling those who abuse substances get. 

So, the victim of narcissistic abuse remains in the relationship because the high points of the dysfunctional cycle that they’re caught in become their only known source of happiness. They lose sight of their identity because their life begins to revolve around getting the next “high”, also known as the “reward” in intermittent reinforcement. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

The importance of setting boundaries with a narcissist is immeasurable. It gives victims of narcissistic abuse the chance to learn how to dismantle the manipulative structure that narcissistic abuse creates. With the guidance of a medical professional, setting boundaries can be the first step towards the healthy, happy, and secure future that you deserve!


This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

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References

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.

DISCLAIMER

THIS INFORMATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR CLINICAL CARE. 

IF YOU’RE IN THE UNITED STATES AND ARE SUFFERING DOMESTIC ABUSE, PLEASE CONTACT THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE AT 1.800.799.7233 OR YOU CAN VISIT THEIR WEBSITE FOR MORE HELPFUL CONTACT METHODS.

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