She consistently ignored my personal boundaries
We were really good friends. Our kids were the same ages and we organised playdates for the children but when things with Jennifer began to get difficult, I wanted to spend less time with her.
If you have ever had someone in your life who is highly manipulative, then you will relate to my story about Jennifer. I don’t see her anymore and we have no communication. I write this blog post to serve as inspiration for healthy boundary setting. I am sure I didn’t do everything right and her side of the story is very different, but for the many people I meet who wish they could distance themselves from a toxic relationship, this is what happened to me.
Initially, Jennifer was a really kind and attentive friend. We met at school when dropping our kids off and she invited us all over for tea at her house. She liked to give gifts to me and the kids so I felt I had to reciprocate. However, I got the feeling the gifts I bought – a pot plant, a lemon drizzle sponge – were not what she wanted. Quite quickly she was inviting us to something at least once a week and I had a sense that the relationship was running away from me. When I realised from other parents that Jennifer talked about us with them, I began to feel really uneasy. There was something not right about the friendship and I couldn’t work it out. Perhaps I just was being stand-offish, I reasoned.
The playdates continued and Jennifer also invited herself and the kids over to ours. She never invited herself directly – there was always a good reason for her to drop by a school project or something to talk to me about – but I was uneasy when she was in my house and felt drained once she had left. All the signs of a relationship that ignores my personal boundaries was there. You would think I would have called it sooner, but I think Jennifer got inside me somehow.
It was when I could hear her voice in my head criticising my choices that I pulled back. I bailed on our appointments at the last minute and delayed texting her back. She responded by saying she felt hurt and betrayed by me. Her health was not good and she was losing sleep over our friendship. It was outright manipulation and I felt scared of a potential outburst at the school gates. It wasn’t that I had ever seen her angry – she was in fact quite funny and jokey – but I could tell that there was aggression under the surface.
I knew she was complaining about me and the kids to other parents. I considered whether we should move school to get away from her. It seemed like less hassle than telling her what I really thought and risking her anger.
Eventually, I booked a session with a therapist and told her all about Jennifer and my experiences. He explained about narcissistic personalities and co-dependent relationships. It made so much sense to me. I saw that I had been trying to protect Jennifer from the truth; she was a horrible friend and she was hurting me. I needed to own that truth.
It was really uncomfortable and I cried with the therapist. I knew that Jennifer and other parents at school would misunderstand my actions and believe her claims about me. I knew I might never get the chance to explain myself. Being misunderstood was something I would have to swallow to gain back the control of my personal space. We talked about me acting towards her in a way that reflected how I felt. I wanted to run a mile.
So I blocked her number and stopped talking to her at school. She clearly made up rumours about me that spread around the class but thankfully there never was a showdown at the school gates. She moved away last year and I breathed a sigh of relief. I just hope she has been able to see her behaviour for what it really is not for what she means it to be.
I wrote my 8 must-do steps for healthy boundary setting straight out of my experience with Jennifer. You can read the 8 steps here.
I hope that following the steps will be as helpful to you as it was to me and that you can once again restore peace and safety to your relationships.
For more about narcissistic personality types and co-dependent relationships, I recommend the following books and websites: Conquering Shame and Co-dependency by Darlene Lancer, Becoming the Narcissists Nightmare by Shahiba Arabi, Co-dependent No More by Melodie Beatie; CoDA-uk.org for resources and local CoDA groups; lifeworkscommunity.com provides a helpline for recovery from co-dependent relationships.
I would love to hear from you if you think you may have a narcissist in your life.
(The names and details in this story have been carefully altered to protect identities.)
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