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Boundaries & The Holiday Hoover

The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.


If you have lived with a narcissist, then you know that they don't like boundaries. They find them threatening and limiting. Boundaries are often perceived by narcissists as ultimatums and manipulation. To that end, they will often accuse people setting boundaries of attacking, manipulating, controlling or hurting them. They will attempt to downplay, ignore and "forget" when boundaries have been set and will often rage when they are enforced. All this can be a lot to stand up against.

That's the biggest reason you need to do it.

The holidays are a tough time for people dealing with narcissists. Often, the narcissistic person cranks up the hoovering, using guilt and other manipulative tactics to get people to weaken their boundaries. For those who don't know, "hoovering" is what it's called when narcissistic people turn on the charm or the self-pity or the future faking, trying to suck people back in to the situation again. They may complain that they have no one to spend the holidays with, that everyone has abandoned them, they may say it's your duty as family, or they may simply show up at family gatherings, hoping that no one wants to spoil the atmosphere by asking them to leave and potentially causing a problem. And that is par for the course with most narcissistic people; the problem is not what they've done. The problem is you pointing out what they've done.

It can be difficult to stand firm in the face of that, but it's important that you do so. So many times, we betray ourselves because we believe others' needs are more important, or we are strong enough to take it and they're not. But this is a toxic mindset. Other people's needs are not more important than yours, and it doesn't matter who is stronger. It isn't your responsibility to make life easier for other people to handle, nor is it your responsibility to sacrifice yourself so that someone else can have what they want. There is never a reason to put up with abuse or to betray yourself in that way. Keeping your boundaries firm is one way to make sure that doesn't happen.

Narcissistic people work hard at making others believe that their needs are the only ones that matter. This appears to be pretty sincere. In other words, they aren't just saying that; they really believe it. They also seem to truly believe that others are responsible for them, their reactions and their feelings. This is very similar to the way children view things, in fact. Adult narcissists seem to believe that everyone else is responsible for their feelings and their reactions and that others are controlling them through these things. They view boundaries as attempts at controlling them, and usually react very poorly to that. Again, this is very like a small child. For example, if you say to a narcissist, "I don't appreciate the way you're speaking to me and if you continue, I'm ending this conversation," it'll often turn into a tirade about how you do not control them, or how everything is always fine as long as they don't speak out of turn, or how you just don't want to hear the truth, etc. The thing for you to remember is that you are not trying to control them or do anything to them at all. If they want to talk to people like that, it's their choice. You are controlling whether or not you participate in conversations where someone speaks to you in a way that you do not appreciate. If they want to talk to someone like that, let them find someone who is OK with it. Stick to your boundary, enforce it and end the conversation if that's what you said you were going to do.

This is the difference between boundaries and ultimatums. Ultimatums are about controlling and manipulating other people. Boundaries are about what you will allow in your life. Pathologically narcissistic people sometimes call boundaries "ultimatums," but this is likely because they consider everything that gets in their way an attempt to control them and don't understand the difference between these things anyway. Because they are singularly focused on what they want, all they are hearing is, "You have to do what I say to get what you want," and that is the very definition of an ultimatum. Indeed, they will often reframe boundary enforcement to make it sound like that's exactly what you're saying. You have to ignore these attempts at emotional manipulation and trust yourself that you are doing what is right for you. You're either in control of yourself and your life or you're not. If you are, then whatever anyone thinks of your decisions is incidental. It's not their life, their feelings or their choice. It's yours.

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It's important to trust yourself in these situations. You know what's right, and more importantly, you know what feels wrong. Trust that, and show up for yourself. Be an advocate for yourself. Don't be afraid to say, "No, thank you." Don't be afraid to say, "Thanks, but I'm not coming." Don't be afraid to block, mute, ignore or walk away. No one has to agree with your decisions and it's not your job to make people feel better about them. In that same vein, you don't have to agree with other people's decisions, either, and your feelings about their decisions are your responsibility. As long as you are being clear, honest and genuine, as long as you are taking accountability for your actions and saying, "Yes, this is my choice and I'm making it for my own reasons,", that's all you need to do. You don't need to justify, argue about, defend or explain your choices. You can if you like, but remember that you don't have to - whether other people like that or not.

The truth is, validation from other people is nice, but you don't need it. You know what happened, you know how you feel, you know what you will deal with and you have the absolute right to act accordingly. Period.

Another aspect of boundaries is that they are not just about saying NO to other people. They are about saying NO to yourself, too. When narcissists hoover somebody, it only works if that person allows it to work. It only works if someone gives in. It's important to understand your own motives in these situations and your feelings, so that you don't end up making an emotional decision rather than a rational one. Your head can get confused. Your heart can get confused. Your gut never does. It knows when something is wrong. Trust it, and create your boundaries accordingly.

Boundaries are one of the biggest ways that you can show up for yourself. Enforcing them is one of the most powerful ways that you can drive the point home - to yourself and others - that you understand your own value. It can be scary and it can be uncomfortable, but it also feels really good to show up for yourself and assert your worth. It feels good not to betray yourself. It feels good to state and reiterate that you are worth more, that you deserve better. You just need to believe that, and you need to act on it.

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