Published On: February 4, 2022
Reviewed On: February 4, 2022
Updated On: November 3, 2023
Knowing how to set boundaries with someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be overwhelming. You probably feel emotionally and mentally drained as you’re trying to navigate a very difficult relationship.
Use the tips we have for you here to be confident in your own ability to set firm boundaries with someone with narcissistic personality disorder.
The first step in setting boundaries with someone with narcissistic personality disorder is understanding more about narcissistic traits and the disorder itself.
Narcissistic personality disorder is defined as someone who doesn’t have empathy about how their behavior and actions affect the people in their life. A narcissistic person has an intense need for admiration and exhibit patterns of grandiosity. They often can’t accept responsibility and tend to dominate relationships in their life.
NPD is a relatively common mental health condition in the United States, and it’s more prevalent in men than women. People with this disorder feel entitled to use people freely and openly in their life. You can feel empowered by learning how to respond to their demanding, intrusive, and controlling behavior by setting firm, standing emotional boundaries.
Narcissistic personality disorder and emotional boundaries may seem impossible, but you can do it. Here are some boundaries you may want to put in place to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse from a “narcissistic mother,” “narcissistic father,” or partner.
It’s important to note, if you’re in a relationship (whether romantic or familial) with someone with narcissistic personality disorder and it’s become abusive or toxic, boundaries may not be enough. If you’re unsafe, you need to remove yourself from the relationship and the toxic person as soon as possible.
Someone with narcissistic personality disorder might try to use their words to hurt you. If you’re uncomfortable with how you’re being spoken to by a narcissistic family member, for example, you’re within your rights to say I need you to not talk to me this way .
Expert Insight“When dealing with a narcissist, you should be assertive with your boundaries and make it clear to them what those are. For example, if you are not okay with something they want you to do, tell them up front and hold your ground. Don’t let them pressure you into doing it anyway.”
Yes, words can be hurtful, but so can how someone treats you. Make sure you’re OK with how you’re being treated in a relationship, especially if it’s with somebody who has narcissistic personality disorder. If you feel disrespected, hurt, or have been experiencing narcissistic gaslighting, let them know that you’re not OK with that.
Your personal information is yours. Somebody with NPD, such as a narcissistic parent, may try to use your personal experience and information against you. Be very clear about what you are and are not OK with them sharing.
Everybody deserves to have their opinions and thoughts heard. If you don’t feel respected, setting boundaries with someone with narcissistic personality disorder can help you feel heard so you can feel more valued in the relationship.
Setting boundaries will mean nothing if you don’t insist that they’re respected. If you firmly say no to something, be sure you’re heard. If you’re not being listened to, you should feel comfortable putting distance in the relationship. Your feelings are valid, important, and should be respected, especially when you’re openly and blatantly expressing what you’re against or don’t want.
We all need space in life. It’s an important part of self-care. If you’re feeling suffocated or crowded, it’s OK for you to ask for some personal space. Take the time to do something for yourself that makes you feel good for the sake of your mental health.
You should feel safe in every relationship in your life. This is true even (or perhaps especially) in relationships with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder. Feeling safe can be in terms of the physical relationship you have with someone, or it can be the sexual parts of your relationship. Either way, you deserve to be comfortable in every way and aspect. You should feel confident in expressing your needs and boundaries in these areas.
Financial abuse is a difficult and not-often talked about component of many relationships. If you find yourself in a situation where somebody with NPD has financial control over you, whether they are a narcissistic family member or narcissistic spouse, they may be using it as a power play. All financial relationships in your life should be based on equality and something that you’re comfortable with.
You can and should feel confident setting boundaries in your relationships. That goes for any relationship of course, but it’s even more important when you’re in a relationship with someone with NPD or is showing narcissistic behavior. There are a few things to be aware of though.
Setting firm boundaries with somebody who has narcissistic personality disorder may trigger them into cycling through their behavior. Be prepared for them to:
The bottom line, and what you must keep in mind, is that your boundaries need to be put in place. You’re taking care of yourself, and you deserve to have boundaries in place that protect you and make you feel safe and comfortable in your relationship.
Expert Insight“A narcissist is used to getting their way and will probably put pressure on you to do whatever they want you to. When you first start setting boundaries, there will be more push back from them. Over time, they’ll start to realize that you will not be so easily intimidated to go along with what they want.”
Some of the following tips might help you navigate the conversation and process of setting boundaries with someone with narcissistic personality disorder.
Therapists are well-trained in guiding you in how to handle narcissistic personality disorder and boundaries. Through your sessions, you’ll work on feeling strong and confident, identify why you are attracted to a narcissistic person, and learn strategies on how to manage the relationship and tips for healing from narcissistic abuse.
The first step in setting boundaries with anybody is deciding what your limits are. It’s important for you to have a clear idea in your own mind about what is and isn’t acceptable. This will allow you to communicate things clearly to your narcissistic spouse or partner.
Trusting your gut is important when you’re learning how to set boundaries with someone with narcissistic personality disorder. The more you can learn to identify and trust when situations or conversations don’t feel right, the better you’ll be able to handle this difficult relationship
Your boundaries are yours alone. You don’t need to defend or explain why you’re setting them to your narcissistic partner. It’s your life, and these are your decisions. If something doesn’t feel good, you’re not responsible for explaining anything more beyond that.
As they say, practice makes progress. Try role-playing with your therapist or someone you trust in your life. You can practice how to course correct or entirely avoid questions and comments that make you uncomfortable. Eventually, you’ll be able to identify when narcissism might be heading toward a confrontational place. This skill can help you navigate your relationship with a person with narcissistic traits in real time. Remember: Narcissistic people love to talk about themselves — if you want to change the topic, try finding something they love to talk about.
One of the reasons why understanding narcissistic personality disorder and boundaries can be so challenging is that people with narcissistic behavior tend to hold power over others. Keep in mind just how powerful that grip can be. Especially if you’ve been in the relationship for a long time, their need to control you might have been normalized at some point.
When learning how to set boundaries with a narcissist, be firm, blunt, and very clear about what you need and expect. This is the strongest way that your boundaries will be taken seriously.
It’s important for you to communicate what the consequences will be if someone doesn’t respect your boundaries. This should be something you’ve clearly identified in your own mind, before you go into the conversation where you tell them things need to be different. Having a clear consequence sets the expectation from the beginning, and when you follow through, it gives you credibility.
It can be difficult, but setting your boundaries is just step one. Once you do that, you must be steadfast in your conviction. Resist the urge to continue giving to the relationship, especially if your boundaries are not being respected. When you’re constantly giving and getting nothing in return, it’s the perfect storm that can end in you being both vulnerable and wildly unhappy. You deserve as much as you give to the relationship. If you’re not getting what you need to return, stop giving.
Expert Insight“You should not let a narcissist know your vulnerabilities. They will only take advantage of that. If you tell them things about yourself that you don’t want others to know, they will most likely use it to their advantage and try to hurt or manipulate you because of it.”
Being in a relationship and knowing how to set boundaries with someone with narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging. You can do it though, and once you see the difference in the relationship and how you feel, it’ll be more than worth the effort you put in to make the changes.
Stinson F, Dawson D, Goldstein R et al. J Clin Psychiatry. 2008;69(7):1033-1045. doi:10.4088/jcp.v69n0701. Accessed December 20, 2021.
Mitra P, Fluyau D. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Published 2021. Accessed December 20, 2021.
Bisma Anwar is the Team Lead for the Talkspace Council of Mental Health Experts. A major focus in her work has been anxiety management and helping her clients develop healthy coping skills, reduce stress and prevent burnout. She serves on the board of a non-profit organization based in NYC called The Heal Collective which promotes advocacy and awareness of mental health issues in BIPOC communities.