When Narcissists subtly cross your boundaries

limits mentalhealth narcissists protection selfesteem Jan 05, 2023
When Narcissists subtly cross your boundaries

Understanding and Recognising a Narcissist

Do you ever get the feeling that someone is crossing your boundaries, even though you're not sure how to articulate what's wrong? Ignorance of, and pushing boundaries is one of the key traits of narcissistic behaviour. 

Most, if not all of us, will display some kind of narcissistic tendencies over time. Some of those tendencies are part of our normal development from childhood, but it’s when those tendencies reach clinical levels as displayed in narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) it can become a problem for those around the affected person. It’s beyond someone being self-centred or egotistical. NPD is rare; depending on the experts you listen to, the prevalence is around 1-6% of the community.

At the pointy end, pathological narcissists will demonstrate high-self esteem but have little regard for those around them. They view themselves as exceptional or superior, and are attention seeking, and outwardly show no empathy for the feelings or situations of others – they look down on people. 

As they have no respect for others (to varying degrees), they also have no respect for boundaries, and in some cases are master manipulators of their victims. They will push, poke and prod their victims’ boundaries as part of the test of exactly how much they can get away with. It’s all about them, their needs and sometimes even their own entertainment. 

You've already crossed paths with one (or at least seen or heard of one) through the course of your normal everyday life, as narcissists tend to gravitate towards jobs and careers where they have control, and can evoke the adulation that they need. Think teaching and academia, priesthood, corporate management, medicine, politics, sport and show business. 

A quick search of the internet reveals that there are some famous faces that display varying levels of narcissistic tendencies. Donald Trump, Tiger Woods, Madonna, Kim Kardashian, Ted Bundy, Franklin D Roosevelt, Nero, Hitler, Nixon, Stalin – and the list goes on. 

The Importance of Setting Boundaries 

Recognising, setting and sticking to your own boundaries (emphatically) is a critical way to ward off their destructive behaviour. 

Boundaries are the personal limits that we set in order to protect ourselves from harm, and they can be physical, emotional or mental, and most likely in combination. You might have a physical boundary that keeps people from sharing too much of your personal space, an emotional boundary that dictates how close someone can get to you, or a mental boundary that stops others from judging or manipulating your thoughts and feelings.

Boundaries are important because they help us to maintain our sense of self and autonomy, to help us protect ourselves from emotional and psychological danger. When we don't have boundaries, we can become vulnerable to being manipulated and controlled by others, and this is especially true for people who are prone to codependency or who have low self-esteem – the kind of people that narcissists target. 

If you have been nodding along, have found yourself in situations where you have given away your power, or are constantly pleasing people, it's a likely indication that you haven't had strong boundaries in place to protect yourself.

However, although it's never too late to put strong boundaries in place, you need to recognise that the narcissists who have been depriving you of your energy, and sense of self, will retaliate with even further manipulation, as your new ways are challenging their own power. 

This is the time to stand strong, dig your heels in and stick to your guns – so to speak.

While we all realise the overt signs of narcissism, it’s the more subtle signs of boundary crossing that narcissists commit, even without intent, which can be devastating for their victims. 

Protecting Yourself from a Narcissist


  • Know your boundaries and stick to them. If you don’t like it when someone interrupts you, speak up next time it happens. Don’t hesitate to announce that’s one of your boundaries. 
  • Be assertive and use “I” statements. Make it clear and direct when someone crosses your boundaries – be specific about the behaviour that is causing discomfort, and let them know their behaviour isn’t acceptable. Say something like “I feel like my personal space is being invaded when you stand too close to me,” or “I feel like you dismiss my opinion and shut me down when I share my viewpoint. We all have a different opinion and I deserve to be able to also share mine.” 
  • Set limits and enforce them. If someone continues to ignore your boundaries after you’ve clearly set them, take further action to enforce those boundaries, such as distancing yourself from the perpetrator – or in the extreme, removing them from your life completely. When you don’t set firm boundaries, your self worth often suffers and can quite often result in a deterioration of your mental health.
  • Seek support and guidance. It can be helpful to talk to someone who understands what you're going through, and who can offer guidance and support. Seeking out a therapist/practitioner or support group might be a good option for you.
  • Get empowered. Remember that you have the right to set your own boundaries and protect yourself from harm. You are not responsible for the actions of others, and you don’t have to put up with behaviour that makes you uncomfortable or unhappy. Do not allow anyone to make you feel guilty for setting boundaries, it’s your life and you have the right to live it in a way that feels good for you.
  • Trust your gut. Your gut feeling will signal when something or someone doesn’t feel right for you. When this occurs, it is important that you acknowledge how you feel, as ignoring and suppressing how you feel is signalling to the other person that you are okay with how you are being treated and the behaviour is likely to continue.


Finally, on a Personal Note

If someone is not respecting your boundaries, then they are not respecting you, and quite often, this behaviour is a reflection of their own unresolved issues, or worse. 

Escaping a narcissist can be difficult if you find yourself in a relationship with one – this is when you need to be able to recognise both the overt and subtle signs that could indicate narcissistic tendencies.

Even the quietest of people can display narcissistic traits, and these are the ones who you need to watch out for most, as their subtle behaviours can fly under the radar, and before you know it, you’ve got yourself involved with a narcissistic partner. 

Yes, I am speaking from experience.

One of the biggest challenges in the situation is that with the quieter ones, most of the behaviour “plays out” behind closed doors, while  in public, among company, they can be so likeable, as yes, they can be very charismatic. Behind those closed doors, they make you out to be crazy, make you question yourself, your own perception, and even your sanity. 

This is where it’s important to trust your own intuition, and recognise that your initial gut instinct can do you no wrong, and is, in fact, protecting you. 

The only person in control of your life, your boundaries, your expectations and your thoughts, is you.