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What to expect when you say “no” to a narcissist

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How to predict the reactions when trying to set boundaries with a narcissist.

Narcissism tends to breed destruction. Even in its most trivial forms, it can destroy healthy interactions — and engaging in long-term relationships with a narcissist can result in significant trauma, suffering, and devastation. Unfortunately, there are many instances where breaking out of a narcissistic relationship is impossible, but for the sake of self-preservation (and survival), learning how to set boundaries in these relationships is crucial.

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A major key to understanding when dealing with a narcissist is their unique ability to twist reality, along with their seemingly impenetrable belief that what they believe to be true is absolute. This makes communicating with narcissists almost insurmountable. Arguing will only lead to an endless circle, reasoning will be utterly useless, and emotional reactions will only give narcissists more ammunition to use against you.

Break up when you can and set boundaries when you can’t.

The depth of dysfunction that can occur when communicating with a narcissist has led some experts to recommend breaking away from them when possible. Loosening deprives the fire of fuel. It gives you the opportunity to breathe and regroup. But when that’s not an option, victims of narcissists often find themselves forced into the role of boundary setting.

Understanding the need to set boundaries is essential when interacting with a narcissist. Boundaries need to be black and white, despite the very gray situations that life can throw up—any leeway in setting boundaries will only help narcissists cross that line faster. The most basic way to set a boundary is to learn how to say “no” to a narcissist.

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“No” is a complete sentence when dealing with a narcissist.

Giving reasons or offering alternatives to the situation at hand may seem reasonable when communicating in a healthy relationship, but in a narcissistic relationship, “no” has to be the end of the sentence.

Given the nature of a narcissist, it will be extremely frustrating to hear “no” without an opportunity to argue, persuade, or manipulateand likely to cause their behavior to escalate, at least in the short term. However, over time, with the steady establishment of boundaries without any room for maneuver to manipulate the outcome, they may eventually move on to other victims.

The Narcissist’s Reactions to Hearing “No”.

Successfully setting boundaries with a narcissist begins with a critical understanding of your ability to say “no.” You have permission to reject, disagree with, and say no to a narcissist without having to justify it. However, that doesn’t mean it will run smoothly from this point forward. There are some basic reactions you can expect when you start setting boundaries with a narcissist.

  • They will immediately ask for your reasoning. Taking “no” as the final answer is alien to a narcissist’s innate nature—they are essentially programmed to pursue their desires at the expense of everyone around them, so their first reaction to a “no” is likely to be an intense campaign find out his Why.
  • They will try to get you into an argument. Pushing your buttons and using personal insults is a surefire way for a narcissist to distract you from setting a boundary. When the verbal insults start flying, you can be sure they’re trying to dissuade you from your stance—and dumping some of their anger on you in the process.
  • You will change reality. You may find yourself faced with completely absurd “evidence” from narcissists as to why “no” is unfair. Narcissists are particularly adept at ignoring reality and making statements that are patently false — but they make them with such bravery that you will question what you know to be real. This method, called gaslighting, is a very tangible way narcissists control the narrative around them.
  • They will slander you to others. When a narcissist can’t get what they want, demeaning you to others to falsely build their self-image is a defense mechanism. It also helps them rationalize in their own minds why you’re telling them “no” in the first place – if there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, then your “no” answer may be seen as illogical and unfair.
  • They will try to woo you. When the personal attacks don’t move you, a narcissist often turns on the charm. Once the dust has settled on the “no,” they might resort to mock-agreeing with you—but only in the hope that next time you give up a small fight, you’ll be more likely to say “yes.” Being a narcissist is all about power and control. So if emotional damage doesn’t make you reconsider your response, they’re likely to consider agreeableness as an option. After all, image is incredibly important to a narcissist, and they ultimately want to be seen as a victim if you set a limit on them.

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wearing down the immune system

Although the immediate consequences of saying “no” to a narcissist may seem too challenging, setting boundaries is the only way to survive these interactions. Eventually, with practice and a refusal to engage in combat, you will be rewarded with less interaction, no matter how much you up the ante. However, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Narcissists will rarely give up completely, but eventually you can gradually wear down their defenses.

In the end, try to remember the overriding truth that you have your own opinions and are allowed to make your own decisions, even if they don’t agree with the narcissist in your life. You have a fundamental human right to freedom of expression – and you can (and should!) exercise that right, even in situations that may seem almost hopeless. It’s time to reclaim your personal power.

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