Boundaries & Guilt: How to Create Guilt-Free Boundaries
Most people who become entangled with narcissists or who get into abusive relationships in general have very poor boundaries. Luckily, this is something that can be changed and that's why we talk about them so much. You can learn to establish and uphold strong boundaries so that you don't fall victim to abusive relationships anymore.
One of the reasons it can be hard to establish boundaries is guilt. Often, people who have not always had strong boundaries can feel guilty about trying to create them. They may feel that they are being selfish or that they are going to be perceived as uncaring. It's understandable; many people who have poor boundaries are that way because they were raised in an invalidating or abusive environment where boundaries were punished, destroyed or not permitted. Because of this, we often find that a lot of the guilt people believe they feel when trying to establish boundaries is actually not guilt at all, but conditioning. They've been conditioned to believe that caring about themselves is wrong, that defending themselves is hurtful to others and that protecting themselves is selfish. This could not be farther from the truth, but that kind of conditioning sticks with a person and can be difficult to break. It's by no means impossible, though.
Just as a quick refresher, boundaries are the rules we create for ourselves regarding how we will accept being treated. They reflect our self-respect and how much we value ourselves. If we allow others to abuse us, we are not valuing ourselves enough and we need to work on creating boundaries that reinforce our self-respect. People treat us how we allow them to treat us, and except in very extreme circumstances, nobody has any power over you that you did not give them. You can take that back any time you want. All you have to do is decide that you are not giving people the power to hurt you anymore. That's one of the things that not reacting and the grey rock method teach us. These techniques take the power over your emotions and reactions away from the narcissist or the abuser and put that power back into your own hands, where it belongs. Reacting to things is a choice. You really can choose not to let something bother you. It may sound trite, but it is 100% true.
Whether the guilt you are feeling is genuine or whether it is the result of conditioning, it's important to remember that there is nothing wrong with caring about yourself and there is nothing selfish about refusing to put up with abuse. It becomes selfish when expectations are unreasonable, or when the definition of abuse must be stretched to fit the situation. This is what we see with narcissists. To a narcissist, not being permitted to have their way is abuse. This is of course ridiculous. No one always gets what they want, nor should they, and this is an unreasonable expectation. To a narcissist, you are abusive if you do not put their needs above your own. This is again unreasonable. When things become unreasonable and unfair, that's when they become abusive. Expectations should be fair, reasonable and balanced. They should not result in you or anyone else being hurt or being put in situations that are unfair.
One really good way you can decide whether your own boundaries are selfish or unreasonable is to ask yourself what you would think if a friend was describing the same situation to you. Would you think your friend was being selfish or unreasonable? If you would, then maybe you are being unreasonable. If you wouldn't, then maybe you should lighten up on yourself a little. This can help you create some emotional distance between yourself and the situation so that you can see it a little more clearly.
For example, if a friend told you that someone asked her to do something for them, but she was feeling ill and wanted to tell them she couldn't do it, would you really accuse her of being selfish for that? No. So don't think that of yourself. If a friend told you that his girlfriend had destroyed his property multiple times and he didn't want to see her anymore, would you really insist that he was being unreasonable and should give her another chance? Of course not. So cut yourself some slack. You're a person, too. You're allowed to make mistakes, you're allowed to have a bad day, you're allowed to be need some time and you're allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to say no.
You're allowed to say "I don't like that." You're allowed to say, "I don't want to do that." You're allowed to demand respect and leave the situation if you don't get it. No buts. That's it. The only reason to feel bad about not accepting abuse is because you have been conditioned to think that way. Sometimes just facing that conditioning for what it is can strip it of it's power. So much of what we as humans do is conditioning and reflex. When we learn to examine things and live more intentionally, a lot of that falls by the wayside and we see it for what it is: outdated programming that we don't need anymore.