Boundaries & Personality Disorders (especially borderline, narcissism)

Boundaries are important around those with personality disorders as they generally don’t have any themselves.  It’s important for adults as well as children with a personality disordered parent to learn about boundaries from somewhere.  I think that boundaries are implicit many times in society.  As long as a person sets that space and behavior expectations around them, the word “boundary” and it’s definition may never even be used to describe what is that they are doing.  However – what they are doing keeps them safe, and for those of us who don’t do it as naturally or are just learning it (children & adults), we need to specifically call it out and focus on it.

For example, I have a neighbor who I know grew up with a narcissistic or sociopathic sister.  She’s Chinese as well, having grown up in China.  I think she oftentimes doesn’t understand boundaries and is also unable to teach them to her daughter.  The Chinese component is important to understand – as culturally they don’t have that much money and frequently the whole family lives in one very small (a room or two) house.  In the poorest of areas, the houses have shared bathrooms in the streets.  This friend of mine’s family when she was growing up had one bicycle for the family to use (no car).  She will come by my house all the time unannounced – and what drives me the most nuts is that her daughter watches in anticipation for when we arrive home and they show up within minutes!  This adds to chaos in my house and assignments or chores that are set aside to play or talk when they shouldn’t be.  She’s a good practice ground for me to learn to nicely set boundaries 🙂

I found an article by Kathleen Fuller, phd which provides 40 Self Help Quiz Questions to Know Yourself and Your Boundaries.  It’s good for self examination.  I’ll call out here a few which I really feel come into play when dealing with a personality disordered person, and how I’ve seen them work in my past & present.  I would guess though, that if someone else looked at the entire 40 list, they may have an entirely different top 10!

1.  I’d rather help another than take care of myself / I spend most of my time helping others and I don’t tend to my wants or needs.

This was really big when I was in my marriage.  Everything focused on him (until we had children).  I would book his travel arrangements, make sure he had his lunch, make sure he was eating healthy, wash his clothes, clean the house, even cleaned up his really poor credit report by making sure all the bills were paid on time (maybe covering bills myself).  Why didn’t I demand that he had to do this stuff himself?

In my children, I see this come into play for them.  On his weekends, almost everything revolves around what he needs.  They go to his work with him, they run his errands with him, they do his chores for him.  It’s all about someone else taking care of him – and that’s how he sets up his relationships with others regardless of age (girlfriends or his kids).

2. Other’s opinions and beliefs are more important than my own / It’s difficult to know what I think / It’s difficult to make decisions.

Shoot… look at me… I’m raising my children Catholic because I told my ex I would.  I’m not Catholic myself.  Why is his religion more important than mine?

I let myself believe that in all sorts of topics – that my ex knew how to invest better than me, he is more worldly than I and my small town upbringing, etc.

For my kids, I have a magnet on the fridge with the quote “Be who you are and be that perfectly well.”  I press that upon them… who are YOU and what do YOU want for YOU?  Screw your dad’s need for you to wear “collars”.  What’s YOUR sense of style?  Show me your originality! God put us here as individuals because we all have something specific to contribute, right?

The other way I see this come into play is when I look to therapists or others to tell me what’s going on with my kids.  I KNOW what’s going on – I know so in my gut, without the degree in psychology, social work or psychiatry, or child development.  If I just listen and trust myself, I know those answers.  (Now – that doesn’t pan out well in court, so we need the evaluation for my son from the PhD anyway).

One more point on this… I tweeted a link the other day to a court recording of a judge that is under investigation (thankfully).  The woman was asking for the rights to the house and a protective order because the ex/father was being physically violent.  The judge asked “where is he going to go if I put him out on the street?”  REALLY?  Hello judge… this is part of the reason she’s stayed… well now it’s time for her to have that courage to say “if you’re going to behave like you are… there are consequences!  Me and the kids needs are MORE important!”

3. I am uncomfortable asking for what I want or need (or what my children want or need)

How often have I hesitated to say what I needed or stand up for what my kids need?  Even on the little things – like when I went to get a bad haircut fixed and told them exactly what I wanted them to do.  I was sooo mad at myself when I walked away with a worse haircut because I let them talk me into some other way that they said they could fix it.  Lesson learned. Speak up.  We are important too.

4. I feel responsible for other’s feelings.

Amen, eh?  I saw this in myself and I see it in my kids as they walk on eggshells trying to passify their father.   Now I just imagine how his feelings and the crap that goes on in his life is his journey, not mine.  I kinda pretend that he has this fishbowl around him and I just get to peer in and watch but that the fishbowl protects me from it pouring into my life.

Now I’m working on teaching my kids that too.  I use examples of how they don’t need to focus on making mommy happy if there’s something that makes me grumpy (my emotions are mine, and I own fixing them).  That way they can draw the correlary to their dad – although sometimes it’s with help.

5. I tend to be loyal in relationships even though I am being hurt.

This is the very definition of an abusive relationship, isn’t it?  We brush it under the rug – first one small offense, then another.  Eventually all the techniques they use weaken us and we don’t even realize that we’re hurt anymore – or we tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter. Or, get this… I remember my ex’s mom telling me that as long as it’s 50% good, that’s good enough.  NOT…

It also reminds me of my five year old son, who desparately wants to have a good ‘daddy’.   So much so that he’s disassociating from the bad events and only remembering the good.  He feels bad for his dad because of the way his sister is complaining about his actions.

6. I tend to take on the moods of those close to me.

This goes back to another post on did on the question of being an ’empath’.  Yes, I have to work hard on becoming conscious of when I am doing this as I completely do so without even realizing it.

7. I tend to trust others right away.

Ha! I was raised this way.  So again – I was raised without being taught strong boundaries.  Instead of waiting, watching and forming my own opinion about a person – I trust that they are good and mean good to me regardless.  I also rationalized away bad behavior in exchange for my desire to believe that there’s good in everyone.  But is there?

8. I tend to get caught up or in the middle of other people’s problems.

OMG… I watch my daughter do this extensively.  She has a great amount of empathy.  If there’s anyone nearby that needs help, she is aVisit Sitelways there for them, and even so much as offers me to help as well.  It’s good to help others, and I do think that this is what the world needs to make a difference in the lives of children who are caught in abusive situations.  So many people will listen to what is going on and then say “but that’s not my place to intercede.  It’s not my business that I just watched that parent smack the shit out of that child in the grocery store and call her an asshole.”  True… it may not be ‘our problem’ but it is as whole as violence leads to more violence.  If we want a society with less violence, then we need to intervene at times.   The key is being able to discern the difference.

9. I lend others money and don’t get it back in time (or at all)

I did this myself and there are others that have commented the same.  It’s great to be generous, but being generous with a personality disordered person means being a rug for them to walk on.  If you’ve done it in the past – forgive yourself and brush it under that rug.  What we do today is the start of something new!

10. I feel I put more into relationships than I receive from those relationships.

Doesn’t this relate to other’s needs being more important than our own?


7 Responses to “Boundaries & Personality Disorders (especially borderline, narcissism)”

  1. Heather says:

    One of the hallmarks of NPD is emotional manipulation via triangulation. That’s why he’s being “worse” towards you. Eg, no reason to be nice bc he has someone else to do the work for him. Once she falls off, he’ll either be nicer again
    Or will have another person on the side to manipulate.

  2. Ruby says:

    Great post. I am learning about setting boundaries too. Looking back on our relationship I can see that he crossed massive boundaries early on and that allowing that opened the floodgates. I struggle with communicating boundaries in all aspects of life with pretty much everyone. I am hoping to help my children learn that the “everyone elses thoughts and opinions are more important than mine” mentality is not the way to go. I dont know if its that the N seeks people that dont set boundaries well/ put other people first I wonder if its more the rule of elimination, anyone else would let them know early on that they cant get away with that and the lack of empathy / perspective fom the N would mean the relationship never develops? I totally relate to the red flags comment above by “tired of Ns ridiculous statements..”. I saw and recognised the red flags and kept on aqua planing into the future.. (thinking that if I just did this or that.. he / we would be so happy – so much potential).. I also find it hard talking to anyone else about him as anyone in my life detests him and think that I constantly make excuses / defend him.. I still grieve that potential we had (perceived potential?), when we got together we were two young professionals, great careers, did some great travelling together and had great plans (but in reality…).

  3. Tired of N's ridiculous statements says:

    Amazing how I am not alone with this. I have been in counseling because of all these traits since my ex N hubby left me (i was nothing like this before him). In my opinion, these traits seem to grow like a cancer cell until it becomes a tumor. Then the tumor burst and spreads all over deteriorating one’s healthy self. I learned through counseling that these are co-dependency traits. For almost every N you will find a co-dependent because a co-dependent is so attractive to manipulate. And I thought I read somewhere (maybe this site) that these traits will often time cause the N to leave (most often times they don’t). They leave because they are bored with these traits of ours and already have someone else on the side waiting. The weird thing that I find is that the new woman is bringing out more of the NPD in him towards me. Is that possible?

    I would like to add that while having all these feelings, I knew they were red flags. I just brushed them off because I didn’t want to be the “insensitive” one. Now knowing they are red flags, I learn to trust my guts. A work in progress but, definitely stronger and it annoys the living daylights out my N who is still trying to find any tiny way to control me after 2.5 years…!!!!

    This site has been a great comfort and support because sometimes, I find it hard to explain the NPD to everyone. They just think he’s a pure evil, selfish a**hole.

    • You are right – it is really hard to explain NPD to someone who hasn’t experienced it personally, and it’s very validating to find those who understand!

    • Ruby says:

      I like this comment! It all makes so much sense to me!!!
      In regard to your question about the new woman and the NPD, I wonder if during their honey moon stage you will remain the target of his NPD, but as the tumor develops (to borrow your terminology), she will increasingly become the target and *hopefully* you will get some relief. This is the fantasy I entertain regarding my ex….

  4. Julia says:

    Oh boy do I see myself (and my children) in these character traits! Thank you for your post. I’m going to check out the entire quiz. I’m always telling my daughter, the most tender-hearted person I’ve ever met, that she is NOT responsible for her father’s happines (or mine). I’m trying so hard to teach her boundaries while at the same time trying to teach myself. Nothing of the sort was ever mentioned, let alone discussed with me as a child so I’m hoping that, at the very least, by discussig it I am introducing her to the idea that she isn’t responsible for her grown up parents! As a child, I definitely felt that burden and carried it with me right into adulthood (yay me!). I am just now learning this and dealing with it – eight years after divorcing my ex. Slow learner??? Apparently! Thanks again. You’re a blessing in my life!

    • Thank you! I’ve been on the same learning path as you. Doesn’t matter when we learn, it’s the fact that we’re willing to take that look within and keep learning, right? At least that’s what I try to tell myself 🙂

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