Can boundaries protect you from a manipulator?
Only if you defend them. If you don’t, they’re useless.
Psychopaths and other manipulative people will test your boundaries. Oh yes, they will. They’ll poke and they’ll prod and they’ll huff and they’ll puff, hoping your house will cave in. Hoping you will cave in. Don’t fall for it.
What are boundaries, really? Boundaries are the core values you hold, which you are willing to uphold and defend. Boundaries are the way you define those values to others.
There are three types of boundaries:
~ Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances.
~ Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions.
~ Emotional boundaries help us deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others.
Having values empowers us and motivates others.
I listen to the points of view of others and take them seriously
I treat everybody with respect
I am always supportive of family and friends
I am totally honest in all my dealings with others
… and I expect that same.
Dr. George Simon, an expert on covert aggressive people (psychopaths and related), has published an excellent series of articles on personal empowerment. He considers boundaries to be an important part of that. Dr. a contributor to his website, says “Boundaries are defined by individuals, by themselves, for themselves. People skilled at manipulation often challenge our right or our ability to set boundaries, in service of their own wants. When dealing with such people, doing your own thinking, on your own, well in advance becomes even more essential. Your boundaries have to satisfy your moral code and support you in meeting your needs, not necessarily theirs. That distinction is exactly what a master manipulator wants you to forget… The key move here is to resist the temptation to rewrite boundaries on the fly… ”
I found an excellent article titled “Guarding Against Manipulation by Criminal Offenders,” written for people working in corrections. It’s one of the best I’ve seen and is applicable to us, too. It includes a great “risk of manipulation” questionnaire. The author says, “When the manipulator pushes, insists, demands or complains, they want to see if you will back down or take a weak conciliatory position…If you lack assertiveness or have trouble saying ‘no’, the manipulator knows they are on a winner…”
But even if you set and defend your boundaries, never become over-confident and think you are not likely to be deceived. “The truth is that many manipulators are so skilled that, at least initially, no one can detect them. Complacency is probably the greatest single danger when dealing with manipulators. No one is ever safe, simple as that.”
Dr. Shippey goes on to say, “Just because you define a boundary, and even declare it, doesn’t mean that others will respect it. Just like political boundaries require border guards, fences and walls, personal boundaries require planning out exactly what to do should someone try to violate a boundary…Scripting these moves in advance ensures you can make the boundary stick…Ultimately, boundaries are only as good as our skills and resolve to define, declare, and defend them.”
If you’ve set a boundary and are tempted to bend it for someone, think carefully before you do. It’s a serious thing to give up something important to you because someone else wants you to, or something about them makes you feel like doing it. Take your time. Remember that manipulators (like effective sales people) will make you feel you have to act fast, act now, or lose out on the deal. You don’t. And no one who respects you will expect you to.
I think an important point to make is that even if you think YOU are the one deciding to loosen a boundary, it’s an important warning sign that deserves a very close look. What better way to get past a boundary than make someone believe they’re the one who came up with the idea? We’re talking about covert manipulation here, after all. The only way to pick up on this is if you’re very clear about what your boundaries are.
Boundaries are important, but they’re just one part of what you need to do to protect yourself from predators (and establish safe relationships with real people instead). What are the other things to focus on? Know yourself. Learn how your weak points — and your strong points — make you vulnerable. Value yourself. Know your worth. Know what you want from life and from relationships. Learn how and who to trust. Learn the facts about psychopaths and about psychological manipulation. Learn how the human mind works, and how that makes us vulnerable to predators (more on that coming soon).
♥ Thank you for reading.
“I am being honest when I tell you I’ve read many books and articles, talked to my friends and counselors, and nothing has helped me like this book has.. This book has done what two years of counseling could not.. I am so grateful to have come across this book and will forever be thankful that I did.”
“I felt empowered to create, communicate, and enforce my personal boundaries after reading this book. I found the categories of boundaries helpful, as well as the list of specific examples. I will definitely be putting the book’s advice into practice in my personal and professional relationships.”
“Very empowering. Just what I needed at the time I needed it!”
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20 thoughts on “Got Boundaries? Part Four: Can Boundaries Protect You?”
Hello! I have a question about boundaries in communication.
I am married but separated from my husband who I believe is on the dysfunctional side of narcissim. I am a codependent. we have been together going on 30 years. During that time I have never really understood the “mastery” of his manipulation. I do now. The biggest key for me is that his words do not match his behaviors, so I have learned not to trust his words. Lately, it seems that when he speaks of our dysfunctional relationship, he will describe me as him, in very covert ways. Saying essentially, that he feels I am controlling and punishing toward him. I have said in response that I do believe he feels that way, because I am no longer compliant to his demands, so I get how that feels punishing. He gets very angry and says that I will not accept or “own” what I have done in the relationship. I know myself now to be verbally reactive to his manipulative communications. I have yelled and gotted frustrated and angry. I do not resort to physical or name calling. I have said that I believe he has NPD or similar and I feel he needs to be tested. I guess what I am questioning is, I feel that when he says “I feel” the next words out of him are blame shifting, projecting and sometimes downright distortions. How to I non-judgementally and empathically shut this down without capitulating to accepting his description of me. I am more than willing to own my side of the dance, which is more about being dysfunctionally helpful, saying no when it gets to be too much, then getting bullied, provoked, accused, etc to the point of exhaustion in trying to keep what I believe is my boundary to not be described to me, about me, using distortions and manipulations, so he does not have to own his part in the dance. Hopefully this makes sense……last question. Can someone who is on the codependent side of the continuum also be a narcissist? I am thinking not, because they are opposites (albeit with the same core shame).
“He gets very angry and says that I will not accept or “own” what I have done in the relationship.” People get very angry when you establish a boundary where there was none before. But remember that you have the right to have your boundaries. When we set a boundary, there is always the risk the other person will not accept them. He’s turning up the manipulation heat and hoping you’ll give in.
“How to I non-judgementally and empathically shut this down without capitulating to accepting his description of me?” I’m not sure. With a narcissist it’s usually his way or the highway, but if this is a relationship you want to save, I suggest you go to a therapist (one familiar with NPD) even if he doesn’t want to, and ask this question. In addition, I’d suggest you read the list of your human rights here: https://psychopathsandlove.com/got-boundaries-part-one-what-they-are-and-why-to-have-them/
“Can someone who is on the codependent side of the continuum also be a narcissist?” Usually with these types — narcissists, psychopaths — opposites attract. They can’t work their magic without us, so I doubt it. But since he accuses you of his own problems, it’s no wonder you’re asking this question.
You’ve yelled and gotten frustrated and angry? Is there something abnormal or wrong about that? One thing about these people is that they convince us that when we express our feelings and emotions we’re wrong, we’re out of line, WE have a problem. When we express ourselves, they come down hard and fast to shut us up.
I’m glad you are now understanding his mastery of manipulation. Words mean nothing; actions means everything. The truth is only found in action.
I have been having trouble with boundaries. I have borderline personality disorder. I got involved with someone from work. We were friends for along time. I was always enamored with him. He didn’t seem to feel the same way. We had a falling out and didn’t talk for a long time. He had a gf that he married four years later, no wedding. He only told 3 people at work he got married, including me. We became friends again and he started doing out of character, or nothing that I was used to. We ended up having an affair for a year. He swept me off my feet. He went through all the stages of a sociopath. His wife ended up leaving him and that is when the devalue phase started. (I don’t think she knew about us, but suspected). Then not too long, a matter of weeks he discarded me because I found out he was seeing someone else and it traumatized me terribly. I said some painful things to him. However, he discarded me like human waste. He wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t accept it. I couldn’t believe he could turn on a dime in a matter of weeks. He told me he loved me and never leave. When he was done with me, I turned insane and wouldn’t stop contacting him. I begged him for forgiveness. He had no mercy and was cruel. I kept overstepping boundaries-splitting. One email would be filled with rage, the next one would be sweetness and light begging him for forgiveness. I haven’t stopped. Eventually he stopped responding because he made it clear he wanted nothing to do with me. I’ve decided to stop. It’s wrong. I now suffer from PTSD, I feel stripped of the person I was. It’s hard to get out of bed on weekends. My son’s father became the primary parent because I was so depressed and distraught. I’ve never behaved so terribly. I’ve been traumatized having panic attacks, suicidal tendencies, feelings of worthlessness. I thought I could bring back the person in which I felt loved and so important to. He was an integral part of my life. Then he just threw me away like a candy wrapper with no remorse. He wasn’t the one with boundary issues, I was. He used me and threw me away. I couldn’t accept it. I am trying to heal and maintain self control. I don’t know what caused me to completely go insane and lose control as I did. It’s been the most painful experience of my life.
Even those of us who don’t suffer from BPD are sometimes mistaken for having it in the aftermath (due to the manipulation and intense stress) so I imagine your reaction was even more profound, and that’s what made you lose control. “Then he just threw me away like a candy wrapper with no remorse.” That’s what they do (I said it was as if I was a hamburger wrapper he threw out the car window, followed by a long burp). It’s hard to take, for any of us. I went to therapy, journaled, started this blog, and was determined not to let such a callous predator destroy all the good in me. Find what works for you. Search for it. Are you familiar with Dr. Marsha Linehan? Her work is worth consideration. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/health/23lives.html?_r=0
All the best to you, Joanna.
And I say he treated me like a used comdom or disposed of me/ the relationship like he flushed the toilet.
I have boundaries and had boundaries and like the disordered, they are also on a continuum. some of my boundaries are rock solid some are negotiable and I am the type of person who a) is forgiving, b) tries to reach a middle ground in decisions that involve more than me c) am open to change and growth……SO, when something pushes my lesser boundaries I might tweak them or bend them to include someone else’s needs and desires because until this pig entered my reality base, I assumed that it was safe to do so.
Even with this pig there were things he KNEW I wouldn’t cave in on so what he did was feign support and respect for those while undermining through the others. VERY hard to explain.
I have an incredibly hard time knowing which boundaries are which in the moment of decision making. AND, when someones needs are unmet or they are exceptionally vulnerable for a host of reasons (example, illness or injury) many times people are “forced” into loosening certain protective boundaries which can be catastrophic if you don’t know these people exist and the danger you are potentially in.
“many times people are “forced” into loosening certain protective boundaries which can be catastrophic if you don’t know these people exist and the danger you are potentially in.” I think what you’re saying is that without the knowledge we have now about manipulators — of putting boundaries in place and using them, in part, to protect ourselves from manipulators — it would be pretty easy for someone to get around them. I agree.
“I am the type of person who a) is forgiving, b) tries to reach a middle ground in decisions that involve more than me c) am open to change and growth…” And that’s a wonderful way to be…with someone you know you can trust. When we get into a relationship we might find that some of our boundaries are too rigid or aren’t working for us for some reason, and when we’re WITH SOMEONE TRUSTWORTHY we can be flexible (all the “boundary experts” talk about healthy boundaries being flexible as opposed to rigid or dogmatic). So what’s a girl (or anyone) to do? We need to clearly define our boundaries, and we need to clearly define which of those is non-negotiable and that will act to protect us from manipulators. We need to define which boundaries will serve as red flags for us; in other words, if we KNOW beforehand that if we loosen or give up certain boundaries, it is a RED FLAG and we need to STOP, step back and figure out what’s going on.
I think that’s the crux of the matter — *actually taking time and clearly defining our boundaries, to the point of writing them out for ourselves, and then keeping it handy so we can check in and see where we stand.*
How does that sound, L?
Honestly, it sounds very confusing to me and way more “ridged” that my life would allow. I think YES when it comes to my very stringent boundaries… but confusing to my less stringent boundaries. I don’t think your idea is a bad one at all, maybe just impractical for me in particular?
I think you may be missing the point. YOU set your own boundaries. A boundary protects something you value — why would you give it up because someone wants you to? You say it’s impractical, but is it practical to decide something’s important to you and then push it aside because it’s not important to someone else?
From Dr. Simon’s blog:
“People skilled at manipulation often challenge our right or our ability to set boundaries, in service of their own wants. When dealing with such people, doing your own thinking, on your own, well in advance becomes even more essential. Your boundaries have to satisfy your moral code and support you in meeting your needs, not necessarily theirs. That distinction is exactly what a master manipulator wants you to forget in the heat of an argument. The key move here is to resist the temptation to rewrite boundaries on the fly. Boundaries do need to change as circumstances change, but usually not quickly or without substantial reflection.” http://counsellingresource.com/features/2012/03/26/redefining-boundaries/
“people often get themselves into trouble and lose power in their relationships — especially with individuals of deficient or disturbed character — when they don’t set firm limits both on the behavior that they will tolerate as well as the things they are willing to do to maintain the relationship.” Dr. Simon
“When something happens in your relationship that crosses the boundary lines or nudges it, this acts as a warning signal. At this point, what you do with this warning signal is pivotal because it teaches the other party about how you will handle the situation and them in this instance, and it is likely to give an indicator of other things that you’re likely to accept.” http://www.baggagereclaim.co.uk/10-fundamental-lessons-onboundaries-in-relationships-part-1/
“I don’t think your idea is a bad one at all” I’d love to take credit for it, but it’s not my idea, not at all.
I didn’t say it was impractical, I said it was impractical for me and more importantly it was impractical for me in the situation with Spathtardx. I also realize that it’s not your idea in particular but a generally and widely accepted one. The only thing I can say is that it wasn’t really boundary violations that was my undoing with him, it was confusion, manipulation and deceit. It’s hard to enforce a boundary when you don’t even know it’s being violated. It’s hard to not tolerate lies and deceit when you don’t know you are being lied to and deceived. He knew what my limits were and feigned respect for the things I valued. He basically kissed my ass and followed me around like a puppy dog but I didn’t know what was going on underneath all of that as in who he really was. Instead of blasting me in the heart with a shotgun (if he were to have hit me for instance, which he KNEW would be a one strike your out) he chipped away with smaller, fleeting, nose thumbing. But, because this was all below the surface It went “undetected” in a way that I could make a solid decision. Much of my experience can only be seen and judged in retrospect and a lot of what is known to me now was unknown to me then.
I didn’t realize you were speaking particularly about your situation — I thought you were using your situation to generalize and say having boundaries won’t do anything for anyone. Nothing is foolproof. But when you say ” It’s hard to enforce a boundary when you don’t even know it’s being violated,” the answer might be becoming clear enough about our boundaries that they serve as a warning sign…**not only when we see a boundary is being violated, but more importantly when we think WE’RE the ones choosing to loosen a boundary, that’s when we need to take a closer look.**
In my own situation, if I had been *clear* with myself about what I wanted in a relationship (instead of just having had a vague idea) and I had well-defined boundaries, it may have stopped me from going along with his agenda. Maybe. I think this can work *because we experienced what we did.* I went along with his agenda because I didn’t have an agenda of my own. That left me vulnerable to some of his manipulation tactics. But even so, like I’ve said many times before, I think a first-time victim doesn’t have much of a chance at all…but I think we do now, if we take all we’ve learned and make it into something we can actually use.
Admin…..there are two seperate states of mind and reference when discussing ANYTHING that has to do with a psychopathic manipulator…..then and now. It’s very difficult to take off the spath glasses we have now and remember where our hearts and minds were then.
The relationshit I was in with the person I loved had very very very many things that I valued and supposedly this was true for him as well. I absolutely was hooked,,,,my heart was in the deepend. Had I KNOWN what I know about him now I wouldnt have even let my heart in the baby pool.
KNOWN what I wanted from a relationship? That is an ongoing process and being imperfect myself, well……I expect ANYone I would have a relationship with would be entering into a learning and growth process, as would I be. But to grow, you have to be alive not a half dead parasitic Zombie. you have to be connected to something real in life not a vodka bottle that represents your mommy’s tit and is dangling from her apron string.
So again, Of course boundaries are a good thing to have and they help you navigate life and honor yourself but I’m sorry to say that just like laws govern people who follow them, boundaries are made to be violated overty and covertly by people who don’t give a shot for anyone but themselves. Unfortunately you don’t always know until long after the party is over that someone slipped something into your drink.
“Unfortunately you don’t always know until long after the party is over that someone slipped something into your drink.”
Great analogy. It felt a lot like that…and then there’s the horror of coming to later, and realizing what happened at that party.
BUT boundaries might just provide the clues we need to tell us something weird is going on, like little warning signals we set up in advance that set off an alarm when our drink is turning a funny shade of blue…
I think it can work now, because of the experience we had. Only because of that, and in light of what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown, can our boundaries help us.
These people are not an indomitable force, and we are no longer powerless due to cluelessness. They may have drugged us, but then we woke up, and I think that’s worth much more than you imagine. I’m going to write some posts in the near future that will explain why this is.
You’re a good writer — love the metaphors you used.
I love your blog. I’m taking this boundary subject to heart, and I’ve started making a list of boundaries related to dating. I believe they will help me if I’m able to defend them. If I don’t defend them, I will know to ask myself WHY.
Since boundaries are about what I value (and not just “tests”) there is no reason I should loosen them. If I do it will be a red flag.
That sounds like a good plan. We have to do what we can, and you’re doing that. Best wishes.
This is in response to Joanne. In hindsight, it occurs to me my guy got smart about how he played his women. He would break up with us politely with respect and dignity and would say we should be friends. He would return to the other woman while dangling a carrot in front of me during our friendship period, then end it with her, and return to me. Throw in a little pity sob story, then you can understand why both of us put up with such behavior.
What I really wanted to share is this … The very moment I discovered what kind of person I was dealing with (pouring through books and websites), the pain I felt completely disappeared. POOF! It’s been 4 months and I still feel no pain, no depression, no anxiety, although my mind ping pings back and forth but that’s it. Eventually that will go away too.
I’ve been perplexed about why my pain disappeared or left so to speak. Was it because it was never ever about me? I guess being hurt or rejected by someone who “can” love should be 100 times worse, right? So when you’re rejected by a psychopath, remember it’s not about you. Think on that a little bit, and maybe your pain with say good bye too. Best wishes!
And I want everyone to know I’m dating someone who is NORMAL and we are going slow. Wish us luck! and Good luck to all of you, and know you are in my prayers. Remember you are amazing because you can love!
KeriLee, I agree…sort of. When I learned what he really was and how his mind/brain worked, it helped…in a way, but then it hurt in another way! It helped because I hadn’t lost some great guy, after all — I’d lost a psychopath.
But the new hurt that replaced it was dealing with the fact that the man I loved changed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde…it was as if he vanished and was replaced by some evil twin. For a long time my heart wondered where he went, and longed for him, while my brain was trying to wrap itself around the shocking and unexpected turn of events. It felt for a while like it does when someone dies suddenly, maybe in a car accident, and we’re in shock and we miss them terribly. It didn’t help that instead of dying, he turned out to be a psychopath — either way, he was gone all the same. I had to experience the grief of that loss.
Best of luck with the new normal guy! I hope he stays that way :-)
And I too experienced that bewilderment that shock to learn there is good and evil and that loss. A day doesn’t go by without a thought about my experience and trying to understand how I feel now. However strangely there is no physical pain one feels when grieving. None.
Don’t get me wrong, I felt the pain initially. I remember our first break up and second – each time it felt like a harpoon shot through my heart. I slept all the time and I lost approximately 20 pounds in less than 3 weeks.
I got smart after our 3rd break up (thanks to google) and now I’m healthy but bewildered still about my discovery that evil does exist in people who, on the most part, look normal.
Thank you again for your website and comment section. I visit when my mind ping pongs really bad.
It is a painful shock when we experience evil in our own lives…especially when it comes from someone we thought was close to us, who we thought was on our side! You had already gone through the heartbreak, twice, so it’s no surprise that you’re not feeling that now. We all deal with it in our own way. Knowing what actually happened makes a difference, because the one consolation prize is that we find out we were not at fault, contrary to what they made us believe while going through it. I hope your ping-ponging will resolve soon (and it’s such a relief when it does!), but until then I’m glad this site helps you.
After reading this series I see how open I was to my psychopath. I am a very people pleasing person and threw my boundaries to the wind to be with my psychopath. He was very much the conniver that found any weakness I had and exploited it to the point I could no longer think or feel on my own. I was very weak with him and thought all decisions had to be ran through him. Every fault he had was caused by me, everything that went wrong was my fault. The name calling the put downs, the control, it almost broke me and I am a very happy go lucky person. The name calling cut me to the core and made me feel worthless. I was on the emotional roller-coaster of the highs of love and the lows of put downs. Then one day after he left bruises I had enough. Do I still love him yes but I figured I love myself and my girls the most. The thing I hate most about this is the only father figure my girls have ever had was this guy, but from reading these articles I will go into my next relationship with my boundaries set and eyes wide open. Thanks for all of the information.
You’re welcome, Dee. Glad to hear you got away from him. I wish you and your girls all the best! Thank you for your comment.
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