When you’re dealing with a narcissistic ex, you hear lots of advice to set boundaries to protect yourself, your kids, and your sanity. Right? What happens when you start setting those boundaries with them? How do they react?
There are a couple of important things to remember before diving in a bit deeper:
- They are used to walking all over us. We were trained. We learned that we had to submit to them, obey them, pander to them. And in my case, I had to practically read his mind and anticipate his needs.
- They are big, giant, adult toddlers. When a toddler is told they can’t have what they want, what do they do? They throw a tantrum. Since our exes have been used to getting what they want with us, expect to see big man-sized tantrums when boundaries are put in place.
With those things in mind, please remember that there is always a safety concern when setting boundaries. A narcissist is a loose cannon, capable of anything - even beyond what we think they’re capable of. I was in denial about the safety issues in my own situation and I was so afraid that I didn’t put any boundaries up.
Take a moment to reflect - be honest with yourself - how afraid are you? Is your fear keeping you from setting boundaries that you need? If so, what can you do to put safety measures in place?
You need boundaries for yourself and for your children because they can’t set them for themselves, unless they’re older.
You’ve probably gotten used to just doing whatever your ex wants because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t. So what you’re doing as you set boundaries is retraining your ex - the giant toddler who is used to getting their way. You’re not training them to help them grow into a responsible human being like you would parent a toddler. You’re training them to show them what you will and will not put up with or accept.
In my case, I needed to put up a boundary that I would not accept him getting in my car at custody exchanges anymore. I would no longer go to church with him. And do you know what happened when I finally set that boundary? I got 42 texts and 21 missed calls, several with voicemails that he left.
That kind of reaction is proof that you need that boundary in place and your ex knows that they’ve been controlling and manipulating you all this time. Just like a toddler who can’t have a toy, you can expect the narcissist to blame you for what’s going on. “I wouldn’t have to do that if you wouldn’t have done this.” “We wouldn’t be in this situation if you didn’t leave, if you didn’t take me to court, blah blah blah.”
What the ex is doing is trying to redirect the energy of the conversation away from them and onto you. You’re not giving in anymore, so they’re going to whine and complain until you do. But you’re leveling up! You’re not that person anymore and you’re not giving in.
They will minimize your feelings. When I told the ex we would no longer be going to church with him, he told me it was no big deal and I was overreacting.
They will stomp around in anger. Your ex may have historically broken things, punched holes in walls, things like that. They might leave and cause a scene.
In these cases you need to plan ahead. When you’re ready to let the ex know of a boundary you’re putting up, plan to do it when you have the kids. That way they can throw their tantrum when the kids are not nearby. You know the kids are safe and you’re not worrying about them in addition to dealing with the adult tantrum.
Be prepared for the ex to give you a guilt trip and try to make you question yourself. In my case my ex started asking “Who is this? Is this really Vickie?” Because historically I hadn’t stood up to him like that. Maybe your ex will say things like you’re putting this all on him when he’s got so much work to do. He might even try to threaten you.
You’ll know this stuff is coming and you can stand firm. Take it one boundary at a time and solve one problem at a time! Trust me, if I can put boundaries in place with the ex, I know you can do it, too.
If you'd like some help setting boundaries, I've got a community of moms, like you, sharing custody with these awful narcissists over on Facebook. Our conversation there is full of advice and encouragement.
Join us, Sister!
God made you for this! He has equipped you for the battle and you have all you need inside you to make changes. I believe in you!
God made you for this!
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