When a narcissist is a child, they learn that they aren’t allowed to have boundaries. In fact, they don’t know what a personal boundary is, let alone how to maintain one. The trauma that causes narcissism to develop involves either abusive parents who don’t allow boundaries (perhaps because they’re narcissists themselves) or overprotective parents who run over the children’s boundaries to protect them. In either case, narcissists don’t respect boundaries.
A narcissist does, however, learn how to manipulate other people, and to do that, they often need to push boundaries. They also generally feel they are superior and entitled, so the rules don’t apply to them. They think they can ignore boundaries, and often, they find it amusing to do so.
My narcissistic mother, like other toxic parents, never allowed me to have any personal boundaries. She would force me to talk about things I didn’t want to, read my personal diary, and even go through my trash. I had no privacy, and if she knew something bothered me, she would push my boundaries on that subject just to watch me squirm. It was horrible, and when I finally began healing, it took me a long time to understand that I deserve to have my boundaries respected. So do you, which is why it is important to understand the reasons why a narcissist will push or ignore your boundaries altogether. Here are 11 common reasons.
1. Superiority Complex
When a child’s psychosocial development is interrupted, it disrupts the formation of critical identity mechanisms that allow an individual to support their own self-esteem and soothe themselves when something goes wrong.
For a narcissist, the trauma that disrupted the development of a healthy ego caused them to become filled with shame and self-loathing. They secretly believe their true self is hopelessly flawed.
That’s why they buried that true self and constructed a false self-image in its place. They then infused that false self-image with grandiose ideas of superiority. You can easily imagine a wounded child telling themselves insistently, “I’m better than everyone else. I’m like a superman (or superwoman).”
It’s actually very sad, but this superiority complex makes them feel as though they have a right to do whatever they want when it comes to other people. They’re super-humans and, as such, should be able to cross any boundary they want to cross.
As superior individuals, they do what they want, not what people tell them they have to do. If they need to cross a boundary you’ve set, you should simply let them do it.
Often, they don’t even know they’re crossing a boundary. They’ve never known boundaries, and so they’re not used to respecting them.
But even if they do know you’ve set a boundary, they don’t believe that you should want to prevent them from crossing it. Other people, maybe, but not them.
2. They Don’t See You as a Separate Entity
The problem with the false self-image that a narcissist constructs to replace their true ego is that it can’t support the narcissist’s grandiose ideas. It can’t prop up their own self-esteem like a healthy ego would be able to do.
That’s why the narcissist needs external validation. They need other people to reassure them that they are as grandiose as the image they’ve created for themselves. They manipulate the people around them to get them to give them the adoration they need to feel as grandiose as their delusions warrant.
Because the other people who provide the narcissist with their supply of adulation are effectively doing the job of a healthy identity, the narcissist comes to think of them as simply an extension of their identity mechanisms. They don’t see them as independent entities with their own identities, needs, and desires.
Thus, to the narcissist, you’re little more than an extension of their identity mechanism. You’re there to prop them up, and as such, you are not allowed to have boundaries that prevent the narcissist from getting what they need.
In their mind, they should be able to know everything about you they want to know and do anything they feel they need to do. You’re simply a part of them, so there is no separation, no boundary between you and them.
This is also why they don’t feel any compunction manipulating you how they might need to manipulate you to get what they need. You’re just another part of them.
3. They Don’t Care About Your Boundaries
Another rather straightforward reason that narcissists push boundaries is that they don’t care about the boundaries other people have. They were never allowed to have boundaries, and so why should you?
They don’t have a vested interest in your boundaries, which means they shouldn’t have to pay them any mind. They also don’t care if makes you uncomfortable when a boundary is crossed.
Narcissists are not capable of feeling empathy for other people the way healthy people can. They can’t put themselves in your shoes and understand how you feel. They might be able to logically understand how you might feel, but they don’t feel it on an emotional level.
They don’t have compassion for you, which makes it easier for them to do things that make you feel uncomfortable. It’s not something they think about, and so it doesn’t stop them from doing what they want.
Every time my mother crossed a boundary of mine and I complained about it, her response was always something like, “Oh, get over it. You don’t have any secrets from me. Stop being so sensitive.” She simply didn’t care because she had no empathy.
I would say to her, “Can’t you understand how that makes me feel?” But she would just shrug her shoulders and say, “You’re just going to have to grow a thicker skin.” Then she would keep on doing the same thing she was doing.
It was maddening, and if I tried to stop her or shame her for what she was doing, she had no response. She just couldn’t see my side of it no matter what I did.
4. They are Trying to Control You
At the heart of everything a narcissist does is the desire to control you. Narcissists live in almost constant fear that they will be exposed as the truly flawed person they believe themselves to be.
Because of that fear, they try to control everything in their environment. They are trying to prevent being exposed. It’s not just narcissists who do this, of course, but they do it in a particularly persistent and aggressive way.
What they want is for you to give up on trying to enforce your boundaries so they can just do as they please and manipulate you without any restrictions. They somehow believe that if they can do that, they can prevent you from exposing their true self.
It sounds crazy, but it’s not that different from someone trying to control their work performance so they never have to fear losing their job. There are many things beyond your control that you might still try to control out of fear.
The narcissist is doing the same thing. They are trying to control the people around them. As former therapist and narcissism expert Mac Davidson notes, “The narcissist measures distance because it’s a way of testing tensions, rigidness, obedience, and what happens when you break.”
This information lets them know how much they can control you. When they cross your boundary, they are basically taking control of your own identity and self-respect. They are basically saying that they can do whatever they want, and you have no recourse.
That’s what they want to be true, but of course, you don’t have to let them do that. You do have the ability to assert your boundaries even if it means going no contact.
5. It’s a Test of You as a Source of Narcissistic Supply
For a narcissist, everyone is a potential source of narcissistic supply. Narcissistic supply refers to the almost constant adoration and praise that a narcissist needs to feel good about themselves. As this video explains, it’s difficult for narcissists to live without their supply.
They need people to constantly tell them how great, smart, beautiful, or (insert your narcissist’s desired compliment here) they are. You might not realize it, but people with a healthy ego are often shoring up their own self-esteem.
Think about how many times a day you might tell yourself that everything’s okay or everything’s going to be alright. If something goes wrong, you might reassure yourself that you’re okay.
These are things that a healthy ego does routinely as needed. For the narcissist, however, they don’t have the mechanisms they need to do that in an effective way. That’s why they need you; you’re that little inner voice that reassures them they are okay.
They need their sources of narcissistic supply to respond positively to their attempts to manipulate them. They need to feel as though they can prompt them when they need to and receive the positive reinforcement they’re looking for on cue.
If they can push your boundaries like they want to and get the response they want, they know you will be a good, reliable source of narcissistic supply. That’s what they’re looking for, and if you’re someone who represents a rich source of supply, they really want to be able to control you.
Children and romantic partners are the most stable sources a narcissist can have, and so they will push their boundaries more often than with other people in their life.
6. They Find It Amusing
Sometimes, the narcissist simply gets bored, and they are looking for something to amuse themselves with. That might mean manipulating you and other people into doing something that will be entertaining for the narcissist.
Narcissists love drama, and when they can create it by crossing boundaries set by the people around them, it makes them feel powerful. They feel like everyone is their puppet, and they can just do what they want.
I used to watch my mother do this with my father all the time. She would say something she knew would push his buttons, and more often than not, he would take the bait.
She would sit back with an odd look on her face as she watched him explode. I just knew she was enjoying the fact that she could set him off like that in an instant. I could see that she was loving the control she had over him.
Many narcissists have a sadistic streak, particularly malignant narcissists, and these types love to push buttons and create drama. They will even cross boundaries related to physical safety to get their kicks.
7. They’re Like a Spoiled Child
Another reason a narcissist will push boundaries is that they are like a spoiled child who doesn’t like being told they can’t do something. They don’t like restrictions, and so they will try to get away with as much as they can.
In fact, narcissism can be caused by spoiling a child, and when that happens, the adult narcissist is used to getting their way. They don’t like it when someone prevents them from doing what they want.
If you tell them you don’t like what they’re doing, like a spoiled child, they will try even harder to do it. It’s almost as if they’re sticking their tongue out at you.
If you give in, they will know that this tactic can work anytime they want. It’s like giving them the green light to do what they want. Narcissists, like spoiled children, feel entitled to do whatever they want.
They think the world owes them, and they can’t imagine you wouldn’t give in to their demands. They may be used to getting what they want, and they can’t believe you are presenting an obstacle.
Just like with a spoiled child, giving in will only make the situation worse, so you’ll want to stand your ground. The narcissist will usually try again and again, however, so you’ll have to be as determined as they are about preventing them from violating your boundaries.
8. They Want to Make You Feel Guilty About Your Boundaries
My mother used to try to guilt-trip me at every turn. When I started going through the healing process and set firm boundaries with her, she tried to make me feel like I am a bad daughter for doing so.
She would constantly let me know how my desire for healthy boundaries was having a negative effect on her. She told me that I was going to let her die since I wouldn’t come running every time she called.
She would also try to make me feel as though my need for privacy was somehow causing her pain. She would say things like, “I thought we were closer than that.” The thing is that it’s not about how close you are to a narcissist.
No matter how much you let them violate boundaries, they will always seek more from you. You can’t give someone with such a personality disorder enough. You could dedicate every moment of every day of your life to making them happy, and it wouldn’t be enough.
The nature of their mental illness doesn’t let them feel as though it’s enough. They have a void inside, and there is nothing you can do to fill it. The best thing you can do is to take care of yourself.
Don’t listen to their attempts to guilt you into taking down your personal boundaries. You can’t help anyone in your life if you’re not willing to help yourself.
9. They’re Angry
Nothing makes a narcissist angrier than when you assert a boundary with them. But sometimes they push the boundary in the first place because they’re angry about something else.
When my mother was angry with my father, she would come to me and start pushing my buttons. She was essentially taking out her frustration on me. It’s like someone who kicks the dog because they’ve had a fight with their spouse.
When they are feeling particularly frustrated, narcissists will often push the boundaries of the people around them. They are seeking that sense of control. They want to feel as though they can get a response out of someone.
While it might be understandable on one level, it’s still not acceptable for them to do this. It will be up to you, however, to let them know that they can’t take it out on you. While it might prompt a dose of their narcissistic rage, you don’t want to give an inch, or they will take a mile.
10. Rules Don’t Apply to Them
Narcissists like to believe that the rules don’t apply to them. This is due, in part, to their superiority complex, but it’s also because they have successfully bullied people for much of their life.
They simply don’t want to adhere to the rules set by others. They have grown accustomed to manipulating people into letting them have their own way, and when they run into a strong obstacle, they simply can’t accept it.
They can’t accept that you’re setting a rule for them. They don’t believe they should have to follow it, and they will continuously try to get you to back down.
My friend with the narcissistic husband confronts this issue all the time. She told me recently about how she has to constantly reset boundaries with her husband. He will accept her boundary and be good about not violating it for a while.
But during that time, he will be charming her, and then he will push the boundary once again. It’s as if he thinks she will forget about the boundary since he’s been so nice.
This is a perfect example of how a narcissist will persistently try to push your boundaries. They can’t accept that your rule applies to them, and so they try to violate your boundary in many different ways.
If one approach doesn’t work, they will come up with another approach. This is why you have to be vigilant all the time. My friend says it’s hard to be strict with her husband after he’s been sweet to her, but she has to do it, or he will run all over her boundaries.
You have to enforce your boundaries every time there’s a violation. Even one lenient moment will cost you dearly in the future.
11. They Want to Embarrass You
Another common trick narcissists use to violate your boundaries is to do it in front of other people. They think you might not be so diligent about enforcing the boundary if other people are looking on.
This was one of the most difficult things I dealt with when my own narcissistic mother would violate my boundaries in front of my friends. She would say the most awkward things, and I would feel so embarrassed.
When I started enforcing my boundaries, it was hard to do it with other people looking on. But I simply started saying things like, “We’ve talked about this before. I’m leaving.” Then I would take my friend and go.
It only took a couple of times of doing that before she stopped trying that tactic. If you play it right, the narcissist is the one left feeling embarrassed. Also, it’s important to remember that if the narcissist is willing to embarrass you in front of other people, it’s only because they fear you will embarrass them.
Doing so on a few occasions will usually solve the problem of having them try to cross your boundaries in front of other people. If you don’t know what to say, simply leave. The narcissist will be left having to explain to the other person what just happened.
They will only go through that on one or two occasions before they will decide it’s not working for them.
Why Might You Have Weak Boundaries?
While we’re on the subject, it might be worth asking yourself why you have weak boundaries in the first place. It’s something you might need to address in your own healing journey. Boundaries are not really about getting other people to respect you.
They’re really about respecting yourself. If your boundaries are weak, it’s often because, on some level, you don’t think you deserve to set that boundary. By looking into the reasons behind weak boundaries, you can heal any old wounds that might be causing them.
Doing so will help you to prevent different kinds of toxic people from abusing you. It will also show healthy people that you respect yourself. That’s really what boundaries are about, and it’s important for your sense of self-worth to enforce limits that are important to you.
Let’s examine these common reasons why you might have weak boundaries.
You Grew Up with Toxicity
If you were raised by one or more toxic parents, you might not have been allowed to set personal boundaries. This is a common reason people have weak boundaries as adults. They were never taught it was okay to set limits on how other people treat them.
It might not even have been obvious toxicity. It might have been as simple as parents who neglected your needs. In that case, you learned that your needs weren’t important, and thus, you never learned to set boundaries for yourself.
To learn more about how to recognize toxic parents, check out this video. It has some great insights into identifying the traits of toxicity.
You Want to Avoid Conflict
Many people who have porous boundaries are simply trying to avoid conflict. Setting a boundary means enforcing that boundary, and that means telling someone when they’ve crossed a line.
That can be hard to do because you know it will start a fight. Like my friend whose narcissistic husband would charm her and then try to cross a boundary, you might not want to upset the apple cart when things seem to be going well. If you don’t, however, things will get worse, and conflict will be inevitable.
Fear of Rejection
It’s normal to fear rejection. There are evolutionary reasons why humans, as a species, fear rejection and potential ostracism. When our ancestors were roaming the African savanna, being alone was often a death sentence. While that’s no longer true, we still have that fear.
You also might not have been allowed to say no when you were a child, and you’re just carrying on the same behavior as an adult. Those old fears still have a strong hold over our behavior, and they are difficult to break with, but you need to do so to take good care of yourself.
Narcissists constantly push boundaries for many of the reasons we’ve discussed, but you do have the ability to prevent them from doing so. It’s important to remember that setting and enforcing boundaries is something we do to respect ourselves. It’s a self-care technique that helps strengthen healthy relationships. Toxic people are threatened by someone who clearly respects themselves. They will often go to extremes to try to violate their boundaries.
One method a narcissist will frequently use is to try to trigger you emotionally. They learn about those old wounds that spark an emotional reaction in you, and they push those buttons so they can cross a line with you. One thing you can do to prevent that is to use my 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers to recognize, defuse, and heal those old emotional wounds. By defusing your triggers, you prevent narcissists and other toxic people from violating your boundaries. The roadmap is a free guide that will give you step-by-step instructions on how to deal with emotional triggers. Just click on this link, and I’ll send a copy directly to your inbox.
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel