How to Protect Yourself in a World of Narcissists and Other Assholes

Let’s talk about boundaries, baby…

When I was a teenager, I knew exactly what a boundary was.

It was that invisible line we crossed over when my parents drove us from Arizona on our way to Disneyland.

Welcome to California!

When my first husband came along in my early twenties, I held tight onto my “boundaries are state lines” belief and threw open the doors to my heart because that was what nice girls were supposed to do.

And nothing mattered more to me than being nice.

To someone else, that is.

When I was 29 and he admitted to having sex with other women like it was an Olympic sport, before the ink was dry on the divorce papers my second husband came along. And I jumped headfirst from the high dive without even checking to see if there was water in the pool.

Still convinced that boundaries had nothing to do with me personally (that was the job of map-making people), I found myself in another abusive marriage to another abusive man who barreled into my life like a tornado.

And instead of fleeing for safety to the cellar, I flung open my doors, stood on the front porch, and invited him in.

Not to say I didn’t draw any lines in my relationships, but they were wispy ones in the sand that anyone, especially the men I loved, could breeze right through.

Plus, I wanted to be nice. I wanted to be liked. I didn’t want anyone to see me as mean.

Oh, the horror.

So I gave and gave and gave, without expectations of ever receiving the same amount in return.

“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” — unknown

I made myself uncomfortable so others could be comfortable. I was selfless when others were selfish. I made myself available to unavailable people. If marriage was a bank, I deposited every last cent I had and made the men I loved rich, my pockets empty so theirs could be full.

Was I ever rewarded for this sacrifice? No. Not even a little bit. Why?

Narcissists. And other assholes.

My most foolish assumption was that everyone was inherently good at their core. Sure, people made mistakes, but no one hurt others on purpose, right?


Because of that, and because I had no boundaries to protect me, my doors were wide open for narcissists and other assholes to come walking through. They didn’t even have to knock. I didn’t even look through the peephole to see who it was first.

My welcome mat read, “Come on in, I trust you.”

Consequently, for nearly three decades I was walked on, walked over, ignored, dismissed, disrespected, belittled, criticized…you get the picture. And by the very people I loved most in the world.

All because of boundaries. Or rather, my lack of them.

Nowadays, I don’t have to worry about being treated in a way that is less than I deserve. I don’t risk falling for another narcissist. I’m not taken advantage of by others. I know exactly who I am and what I’m worth, thus I don’t tolerate assholes who tell me otherwise. And I don’t fear what others think of me because I know that’s their problem, not mine.

All because of boundaries. Or rather, my abundance of them.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Boundaries are about you.

Not the other person. They are there to honor the relationship you have with yourself.

You’re not being “mean” when you set a boundary.

This is a tough one for all of us people-pleasers out there (well, I’m a recovering one and have been clean for several years now). I’m here to tell you, being “nice” is overrated. What’s more important is to be kind, especially to yourself. And there is no greater kindness than protecting that valuable heart of yours.

Boundaries teach people how to treat you.

I don’t mean that there aren’t those out there who will still be assholes, or that narcissists can be trained to be good people (yeah that’s not happening). But when you have boundaries in place, you won’t have to worry about them walking through your door. More like you see them through the peephole after they’ve knocked and, while locking the deadbolt, state loudly, Not interested!

It’s okay to tell people what you’re not okay with.

Is someone making you uncomfortable? Denying your needs? Do they talk down to you or victim-blame you? Make you feel unsafe? You have every right to express yourself when a line has been crossed. And you can do so without even raising your voice, without confrontation. Just a simple “No” sometimes is all it takes. Afraid of their reaction? Read on…

People will have one of two reactions to your boundaries.

When you express or enforce a boundary, people will either react out of respect — Oh I’m so sorry I didn’t know — or they will react out of defiance and push back against your boundary by making you feel you have no right to have one — Who do you think you are, why are you being so mean and selfish? Why is this a good thing? Read on…

Use boundaries as a tool to weed out narcissists and other assholes.

The only people who are going to be upset about you having boundaries are those who benefit from you not having any. Abusers gotta abuse, and they need a victim to do so. Having clear and firm boundaries will help you identify the toxic ones right out of the gate. If narcissists are vampires (but instead of your blood it’s your soul they suck), boundaries are your garlic.

Once your boundaries show you who people are, believe them.

Let’s say you’re getting to know someone but they’re pushing you to move faster than you’d like. So you say you want to move slower and they respond by making you feel like you’re doing something wrong (narcissists are notorious for this, also known as love-bombing). At that moment, this person is showing you exactly who they are, which is someone who doesn’t respect you or your needs. Believe them the first time before they have to show you again and again and again.

What no one ever teaches us when we’re young (or if they did I missed that class, probably because I was playing hooky with narcissists and other assholes) is that boundaries are our first line of defense against unhealthy relationships.

Once I realized how having personal boundaries could save me from future heartbreak by people who didn’t have my best interests in mind, I went quickly to work on figuring out what exactly I would and would not tolerate in any relationship.

Boundaries helped me create a safe space where I could live according to my values and beliefs without having to sacrifice myself for the sake of someone else.

You know, live and let live.

After all, I can’t control others. I can’t change a narcissist or any other asshole (can you imagine how much time and energy that would take even if I could? Thanks but no thanks).

I can only control myself.

And after living for decades with abusive men who broke my heart into no less than a million pieces, once I put it back together there was no way I was going to risk it being shattered all over again.

Thus, boundaries.

Because it’s not only state lines that need them.


Suzanna Quintana

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