Boundaries are essential for living a satisfying and healthy life, but they are especially crucial when healing from narcissistic abuse. Establishing physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries is imperative for safety and well-being. Often in toxic relationships, boundaries have either not been set, are unclear, or have not been respected.
Boundaries protect what is important to us.
It goes without saying that boundaries are needed between a victim and her abuser. But also setting boundaries with other toxic people in your life is almost as important. Trust is earned; not everyone deserves access to your life.
As you learn to recognize toxic traits, you will begin to identify other unhealthy relationships in your life. This could be any relationship, including:
Unfortunately, not everyone has your best interest at heart. The fact that people seem kind does not mean their real motives actually are kind.
If a person says one thing, but that person’s actions say another, you should pay attention. This is probably a warning indicating a need to establish a greater boundary in that relationship. How this person chooses to respond to your boundary will often determine the health of that relationship. If this person continues to disregard and disrespect your boundaries, you may need to reconsider the place he or she has in your life.
“A good test of a relationship is how a person responds to the word ‘no.’ Love respects ‘no,’ control does not.” – Dr. Henry Cloud
One of the most important things you can do when healing from narcissistic abuse is to educate yourself on it. Without understanding what narcissistic abuse is, the dynamics of it, and how it operates, you can be at risk of falling prey to toxic people over and over again.
That said, there may come a time when continually educating yourself on narcissistic abuse can actually cause further damage. After so many years of confusion, victims can often feel a sense of relief in finally having an explanation for what they have been going through. While this is encouraging, it can turn problematic if clarity turns into voracious reading up on and learning about narcissistic abuse.
Pacing yourself when learning about narcissistic abuse is so important. It is a lot to digest, and it is often accompanied by some very deep and painful realizations. Reading over and over again about narcissistic abuse can trigger a victim—stoking anxiety, setting off flashbacks, and causing a sense of hypervigilance to set in. It’s as though your foot becomes stuck while pressed down on the gas pedal of a car. At first, this acceleration helps you gain traction and speed, but if you get stuck in that position, you will not be able to stop the car, and you put yourself in danger.
If, instead of feeling clarity, you start to feel overwhelmed or anxious when learning about narcissistic abuse, it’s important for your well-being that you step away for a time. You may need to set a boundary for yourself and stop reading certain books and blogs, as well as unfollow certain social media accounts that discuss this topic, including Esther Company! I care more about your heart than about how many people follow this ministry or read our blogs. You can always pick things back up again when you feel the time is right.
It’s common for victims of narcissistic abuse to stifle their pain. This makes sense as they have often:
Being unable to express or not being safe to express feelings can cause victims of abuse to eventually disconnect from their feelings altogether. Even when victims of narcissistic abuse can still connect with their feelings, they may fear fully looking at and taking stock of all the damage that has been done. The fear of being overwhelmed by pain and grief is common. Frequently, I have heard people say:
Fear is one of the biggest liars. It makes sense that facing your emotions head-on feels scary, but listening to the voice of fear and not facing them will often only prolong your suffering.
Setting boundaries in your healing journey can help you determine a healthy process for expressing and accessing your feelings, as well as eliminate fears of being overwhelmed by pain.
Victims of narcissistic abuse have often developed ways to stay safe—consciously or unconsciously. This may look like ignoring one’s own needs and feelings while catering to an abusive spouse’s needs and demands in order to avoid his anger. When victims eventually realize the coping strategies they have used, they may become critical toward themselves. It’s common for victims of abuse to direct harsh judgments toward themselves, like:
To victims of abuse, compassion from others feels like an elusive or foreign concept; self-compassion is even more so. A condemning inner voice can keep victims stuck in unforgiveness toward themselves! Self-forgiveness is often one of the biggest hurdles to healing from narcissistic abuse, but it is extremely important.
Just as establishing boundaries with toxic people is vital for survivors of abuse, so is establishing boundaries with toxic thoughts directed at themselves.
Self-compassion is a gift you can give to yourself. Forgiving yourself, as well as paying attention to and attending to your needs and desires, is a vital part of healing from narcissistic abuse.
You did the best you could with what you knew at the time.
Unfortunately, abuse can continue even after you have set boundaries or left a toxic relationship. Sometimes the abuse is aimed toward your children or you, directly or indirectly, through “flying monkeys.” (In other words, the abuse is inflicted upon you by the abuser through another person or group of people.) This is an exhausting and damaging reality for many women.
While we can’t control another person’s actions, we can choose our reactions. It is often helpful to prepare ourselves for the likely abuse that follows boundary-setting.
Boundaries are not only essential for healthy living, but they are also paramount when healing from abuse. Abuse doesn’t have to define you, but defining your boundaries can, as they will help you create the life you desire and give you space for healing.
I pray God will continue to lead you, guide you, and give you great wisdom and discernment as you explore what boundaries may be needed in your life. I pray you will have not only the courage to create boundaries in your life, but also the tenacity to uphold them when it feels hard or they are challenged.
If you want to learn more about boundaries, check out the workshop on our Esther Company resource section called “Boundaries: The Key to Healthy Relationship.”