How To Set Boundaries For A Narcissist
Boundaries? “Um, what boundaries?!” That’s the dilemma Coach Rae found herself facing fifteen years ago, at the end of her first betrayal trauma marriage. Before there were books and groups designed to simplify boundaries for partners of porn and sex addicts, Rae learned a TON of tough lessons the hard way — lessons she now shares openly, humorously and passionately.
If you’re new to the concept of boundaries — register for Coach Sarah’s Setting & Holding Healthy Boundaries group. Coach Sarah addresses these common FAQs about boundaries.
- What’s IS a boundary, anyway?
- Why do boundaries matter?
- Can anyone set boundaries?
- Why are boundaries so scary for women in trauma?
- Will boundaries really get me what I want?
- Won’t boundaries actually push him away?
- What boundaries are “reasonable” for women like us?
- What consequences are appropriate for boundary violations?
- What if my husband won’t honor my boundaries?
- What if my husband responds to my boundaries with anger?
- Are boundaries forever? What if I change my mind?
- Does my own behavior need boundaries?
- Boundaries are confusing! So where do I even start?
Hi Everyone! I’m Coach Rae, and I’m one of the APSATS Certified Coaches here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. I’m also an ICF Certified Professional Life Coach, Couples Relationship Coach, Divorce Recovery Coach and the Coaching Coordinator for our entire team of coaches here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery.
This week, I’m excited to talk about one of my very favorite subjects — boundaries. Actually, if I’m going to get really specific about it, I’d call this topic, “the basics of boundaries,” or “boundaries for beginners,” or “boundaries from the ground up,” or even, as I’ve occasionally entitled such conversations, “Boundaries? What boundaries?!”
Because honestly? When I press the rewind button on my own recovery, reflecting back to where my own experience of boundaries (or lack thereof) began more than 15 years ago?
Boundaries really wasn’t much of a word in my relational vocabulary. Sure, I could probably recite the Webster’s dictionary definition by heart — because if you haven’t learned this about me yet, I’m a pretty classic “word nerd.” But when it came to applying that word to my closest personal, professional and even community relationships?
Yeah. No. Not a chance. I definitely did not know anything about that.
You see, I grew up with this absolutely lovely (albeit admittedly hyper-idealistic) concept about interpersonal relationships, and that concept went something like this:
The Fantasy Of Love Without Boundaries
Number one: I like you.
Number two: Not only do I like you, I actually even love you.
Number three: I love you so much, in fact, I’m prepared to lay down my life for you. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Loving you even more than I love myself?
Number four: Now that I’ve forsaken all others and laid my life down for your own, I’m happy to sit back, relax, and trust you to return the favor. I mean, my life with you is a fulfillment of our destiny is it not? What more could I ask for? What could possibly go wrong?
Number five: So, I’m now eagerly waiting, for you to love me with that same, dedicated, self-sacrificial love that I gave you. I’m ready anytime, honey! My arms are open wide, and my heart’s a blank canvas. Let’s get this party started, baby!
Number six: (and stick with me here, because this is where the fantasy gets really good) — because of this love we now so seamlessly share, while I’m busy liking and loving and living and laying myself down for you, you’re doing all of those same things for me, right? Because surely, mutual self-sacrifice is an exercise of equal proportions… isn’t it? I mean, if I lay down my life for you, and you lay down your life for me, then obviously, I’ll meet your needs, you’ll meet my needs, and both of us will ride off into the endless, needless, boundary-less sunset together.
Healthy Love Must Have Boundaries
Okay, I’ll admit it. I probably read one too many novels growing up. And chances are, my outlook on relational boundaries didn’t get me off to a terribly mature or realistic start. On your behalf, I hope that you got something a little bit more mature and realistic than I did.
But honestly? In this work I do with women healing from sexual betrayal? I can’t tell you how many fairytales turned horror-stories I’ve heard that begin this way, scripted by women with no greater (and no lesser) desire than to love and to be loved by the men we’ve so carefully chosen.
You see, when I began my journey of recovery from sexual betrayal trauma, near the beginning of the end of my first marriage, I was convinced that love could (and would) conquer all. Even as the reality of my shattered relationship came into focus, I FULLY believed that with God and faith and grace and forgiveness on my side, I could fix anything and everything that had fallen apart between us.
Except that… when push came to shove, I couldn’t.
Boundaries Keep Us Safe When Our Best Fails
Not for lack of love or effort or commitment, but rather because of an invisible-yet-irrefutable line, one that divided the space in which I functioned from the space wherein my husband did.
That line, truth be told, was there all along, precisely as it should have been, plain as the nose on my face, letting me know where I ended and where my husband began. I simply never noticed its presence before, mostly because I’d never learned to look for it, to recognize it, or to respect its importance.
Because that line wasn’t one to which I’d grown accustomed to seeing or sensing — at least not until the moment that life as I knew it left me no other choice — I truly didn’t know the limitations of my ability to rescue my marriage, any more than I knew the imperative of protecting myself from my husband’s hidden sexual life.
Boundaries Are Essential When Faced With Your Husband’s Sex Addiction & Abuse
By the time my relationship ground to a screeching halt, mangled with the wreckage of sexual betrayal trauma, I’d fallen into a state of complete and total panic, pouring into a surge of desperate self-preservation. From deep within that haze of hurt and fear and those horrible, horrible discoveries, I didn’t know what saving “us” might ask of me: I just know that, having invested and abdicated so much of myself into that man and into that relationship, there wasn’t any part of myself that I wouldn’t sacrificed, all in the interest of saving that marriage—never mind how utterly unhealthy it would have been for me to do what it took to satisfy my husband’s sexual appetite.
Thankfully — and this is where my story gets a little bit lighter and a little bit brighter — in the fifteen years since my first marriage went belly up, I’ve grown a whole lot smarter and a heck of a lot stronger when it comes to recognizing that invisible line of relationship demarcation—the one I now lovingly refer to as a healthy boundary!
With the help of my own professional support team, I’ve learned more than I ever knew I’d never known about boundaries, even within the fully functional and faithful relationships in my life—never mind the ABSOLUTE necessity of healthy boundaries within relationships traumatized by porn addiction, sex addition and other related forms of compulsive and abusive sexual behavior.
In circles and communities like this one, when we introduce the topic of boundaries, it’s often in the context of managing or minimizing the impact of our partner’s behavior. That’s an entirely legitimate approach, and kudos to all of you for the work you’ve already done in those areas! I hope that by sharing this kind of odd and alternative story about my own boundaries (excuse me, I mean my non-boundaries) I’ve piqued your interest in going “back to the beginning,” as it were—and maybe I’ve inspired you to reflect upon your own most basic, most foundational and most original perspectives about boundaries.
Now at this point in our conversation, I’m going to pause here for a moment, and ask you about your early experiences, trials and errors within this realm of relational boundaries. Did you enter your childhood knowing where that line was, that point of demarcation between yourself and the person you love? Or did you, like me, learn that lesson the hard way, losing (or nearly losing) yourself beneath the back-breaking, soul-sucking weight of sexual betrayal trauma? How do you define a healthy boundary?
And, how has your concept of boundaries grown or changed along with your recovery? We invite you to share your comments anonymously below — and if this podcast has helped you, please consider rating it on iTunes, so that more women in trauma can find the support they need to recognize, understand and explore the value of healthy personal boundaries.
How To Learn About Boundaries When You Need Them The Most
Now, for those of you who’ve spent any time at all listening to our podcast, following us on social media or working with one of our BTR coaches, you know firsthand how often (and how emphatically) we encourage trauma survivors to seek safety and stability — those two key components that must be in place for meaningful healing and recovery from sexual betrayal. Because of our training through APSATS, The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists, we don’t mess around when it comes to those two priorities—and it’s because of that emphasis that so many of our clients learn to survive (and ultimately to thrive) beyond the paralyzing pain of sexual betrayal.
But here’s something cool you may not yet know:
Because we believe so firmly in the power and priority of safety and stability, we’ve recently added two new opportunities for BTR listeners to “zero in” on all things boundaries! Coach Sarah (that’s Sarah with an H) has a six-week support group titled Setting & Holding Healthy Boundaries — a group that explores a comprehensive process for identifying, crafting and deciphering all aspects of setting boundaries. Because Sarah’s support group fills up so quickly, we offer it repeatedly as soon as it fills. For more info email Coach Sarah: email@example.com.