When Narcissists Fake Being Sick to Manipulate You – Re: Boundaries, etc
I just blogged about this very topic just yesterday, June 25 (today is June 26) when I saw this video on You Tube today! Talk about coincidental timing!
So this psychologist, Dr. Ramani, made this 11.54 video (I’ll embed it below, you can also watch it on You Tube here) who discusses a letter by a woman married to a guy who uses (fake) illness as an excuse to leave social functions early.
The woman said her husband has a habit of faking sickness to get out of social obligations or to depart them early.
Well, the woman’s kid sister was turning 18, the family was throwing a birthday party / dinner for the young lady, and this married woman had her husband go with her.
The husband said he didn’t want to go, but the wife wouldn’t take No for an answer on this one – the husband never wanted to go to parties, and she seemed to feel like the husband would or could make an exception for this, since it was for her kid sister.
So they go to the party, the husband vomits on purpose while at the party but makes it look as though he’s sick – all so he can leave the party early and force his wife to go with him.
The psychologist who is discussing this story (she’s reading from a letter the woman wrote asking for advice) points out that so many people are quick to tell people like the woman who wrote this letter “to have boundaries,” which the woman tried on her (probably narcissistic) husband, but he didn’t heed her boundaries and instead actually doubled down on his obnoxious behavior.
I’ve seen several of Dr. Ramani’s videos before, she’s quite good, and I like her, but I always cringe a little when I hear mental health professionals who specialize in narcissism (as she does) sort of denigrate the concept of having boundaries, which she sort of does in the video embedded below.
Boundaries Usually Work And Are A Good Thing To Have
I spent 35 or so years (Link): as a severe codependent.
I believe boundaries are very important and can be life-saving and can improve one’s mental health.
Boundaries may not work in all situations or with all people, true enough, but by and large, boundaries DO work with most people and most situations and can save your self esteem, energy, mental health, and possibly your bank account in the long run.
I was heavily discouraged while growing up by the faith community I was raised in (which was Southern Baptist, gender complementarian, evangelical) and by my very, very codependent mother, from having boundaries.
I was taught to not even have normal, gentle, very mild boundaries with people in any situation, no matter how abusive the other person was being towards me.
I was conditioned from childhood into my adulthood, mostly by the church and my mother, to be very codependent, which included (but was not limited to), lacking boundaries!
I was taught that so much as politely confronting or correcting verbally abusive or rude people would be “mean” or “unfeminine” for me to do, and I was further taught by Mom and church that the Lord Jesus would frown and be very disappointed in me if I corrected people who were treating me poorly – so I was taught to NOT have boundaries.
The message I got constantly growing up from Mom and Church is that “nice, sweet, loving, godly, un-selfish girls and women always give of themselves, don’t defend themselves when mistreated, and never have boundaries; that’s how God prefers it.”
And let me tell you, I ended up un-necessarily suffering over life as a result of that toxic teaching.
I didn’t realize until I got into my mid-40s and began researching the topic of codependency and all that is related to it (such as having boundaries) what boundaries were or that it was acceptable, normal, and healthy to have them.
As more years went by and I also began researching other topics (such as narcissism, where N.P.D. is a Cluster B personality disorder) I found out that boundaries do not always work on people with certain personality disorders.
I’ve seen other psychologists who specialize in narcissism in particular (and/or codependency), or ones who, just in issuing general life advice, to tell you in their articles, books, or videos, that sometimes leaving a person for good, cutting a person out of your life, or limiting your time around them, is also a form of having boundaries.
This means if you are having recurrent problems with the same person, and you’ve already tried politely and firmly conveying and communicating your disagreement or displeasure with their behavior,
but they refuse to change their behavior (and act smug or uncaring on top of it), your next move may be to DIVORCE the person (if you’re married to them), or QUIT YOUR JOB (if it’s a boss) or cut ties (if it’s a friend or neighbor).
Cutting people out of your life and avoiding all contact with them permanently (or limiting contact with them) is ALSO a boundary.
Having boundaries is not only limited to speaking up directly and plainly and letting the difficult person in your life know that their behavior bothers you. That is one type of boundary, yes, but that is not the only type of boundary.
Having boundaries is not only limited to issuing a negative consequence to the difficult person, where you tell them, “If you keep doing X in spite of the fact I’ve told you how much X bothers me, I will not do Z for you any more.”
That is another type of boundary, yes, but that is not the only type of boundary.
If you’re in some kind of relationship with someone where normal boundaries do not and have not worked, you might be dealing with a Narcissist, Borderline Personality Disordered person, or a Psychopath or a Sociopath, or an abusive person.
It’s true that by and large, normal boundaries will not and do not work on certain types of people, such as abusers or narcissists – but normal boundaries DO generally work on garden variety, non-personality disordered jerks, manipulators, and bullies.
Normal boundaries will work on most people most of the time.
As someone who is a recovered codependent who has found that boundaries and being assertive do work quite often and usually improve previously negative relationships (where the other person was constantly or consistently over time verbally abusing me, or taking advantage of me, but who now treat me with respect because I began having boundaries),
please do not uncritically listen or read any videos, books, or articles where mental health professionals who specialize in Narcissism (or Borderline Personality Disorder, Sociopathy or Psychopathy) appear to be lowering the importance of Boundaries, which may leave you with the inaccurate impression that it’s pointless or useless to have boundaries.
Overall in the game of life, with most people and most situations, it DOES pay off and have benefits to HAVE BOUNDARIES.
If you discern you may be dealing with a boss, family member, or a spouse who may have a personality disorder or an entitled, abusive mentality which does usually render normal Boundaries moot and ineffective (i.e., verbally confronting the jerk in your life to let him or her know that his or her behavior needs to stop), then your next Boundary is to limit contact with the person or sever all ties with him or her.
(As an aside: I have read, in content by mental health professionals, that having strong, healthy Boundaries upfront when you first meet or bump into a Narcissist or abuser does work.
The moment the jerk can see you are not easily guilt tripped, bullied, controlled, intimidated, or manipulated – because you stand up to them, you are practicing boundaries, etc – they will almost always move on to an “easier” target.)
In one of my older posts on this blog ((Link): this one), from a couple of months ago, I pasted in excerpts from an article that discussed Covert Narcissists and how some of them use physical illnesses to manipulate their targets (friends and family).
One sub-type of Covert Narcissist is the “Psycho-Somatic“ Narcissist – these are your usual type of Covert (also known as Vulnerable) Narcissists who have a very strong victim-hood mentality, but, they also claim or pretend to have, or exaggerate, physical sickness to manipulate you and guilt trip you into caring for them and staying with them.
If you feel guilty or afraid to say “No” to people when they ask you for help, empathy, emotional support, favors (like they ask you to run over to their house and wash their dirty laundry for them or mow their lawn), especially if the person uses a physical sickness (real, imagined, or exaggerated) as a basis to gain your pity or to ask you favors…
Please be aware this person may be manipulating you to take advantage of you!
But there are people out there (I’ve known a small number over my life) who will definitely lie or exaggerate physical illness to get you to pity them, either so that you will do chores for them for free, give them money, coddle them, or so they can “wiggle” out of responsibilities or social functions.
Edit. You Can Go Alone – or They Can
While I was engaged to my ex for a few years, I let him walk all over me and take advantage of me for most of the relationship, because I didn’t know any better, because I was taught by the complementarian Baptist churches I attended as a kid and by my codependent mother that being a really deferential door-mat was loving and feminine.
After a few years of being in a relationship with this selfish and self-absorbed jackass, I finally did (on only one or two rare occasions) draw boundaries with the guy, out of exasperation – I had not yet, at that stage in life, read any books about boundaries or codependency.
The ex and I were sitting on the couch one night watching television – it was around 6:00 pm or so.
I had no plans on leaving the house.
But my buffoon of an ex was an extrovert who always liked to be on the move. By contrast, I’ve always been an introverted couch potato. I prefer to stay at home, read books, garden, watch television.
Any time I would balk at going out (no matter how polite I was about it), my ex would pitch a fit and act like a toddler until I caved in to do what he wanted to do, which was usually get up and leave the house (which meant I had to fix my hair, put on make-up, shoes, etc). I always viewed leaving the house as “work,” not as “fun.”
So that evening, we’re sitting on the couch watching television, and all the sudden, my ex jumps up exclaiming, “Let’s go eat dinner at Acme Steak House!” (it was a steak house restaurant I had introduced him to, 2 – 3 years prior, as it was a 15 minute drive from my old job).
I told the ex, “No. It’s too late in the evening. It’s a 45 minute commute to get to that restaurant. If you had wanted to go, you should’ve asked me yesterday or several hours ago!”
The idiot (that would be my ex), per usual, would not drop it and kept nagging and badgering me to go.
I finally had enough. I was very angry. I said – in a very angry tone – while pointing at the door – “If you want to eat at that restaurant so badly, there’s the door! Just because we are a couple doesn’t mean we have to do everything together all the time. You are welcome to go to the restaurant by yourself if want to, but I am staying here!”
Then I resumed watching the television.
My ex stood there quietly for a few moments, and then he sat down to watch television with me. He stopped nagging and badgering me – the first in our relationship.
In years past, when I had meekly and very politely tried to reason him into not going out, or asking him for some kind of compromise, that calm, rational, fair, and polite approach never worked.
He’d just get more and more agitated when I would not immediately agree to go out, he’d falsely claim that we “never went any where” (not true, that guy got his way in that relationship 99% of the time), and he’d continue having a toddler-esque tantrum until I caved in and agree to go to where ever he wanted. That happened quite often in that relationship for a few years.
That night when I got very angry and let my anger show and instructed him if he wanted to go out, that was fine, but he’d have to do so without me – I was going to stay at home on the couch watching television by myself while he went to the restaurant (and I told him he could come back and watch television with me after he got back from dinner alone) – was the first time he ever backed down, shut up about it, and stopped nagging me.
There’s a lesson in there for women who are in a similar situation. If you’re a woman who’d like to go out more often, but your partner doesn’t like to go out and will even feign sickness to get out of social engagements (or to leave a party early), then go without him!
(As for me, although I didn’t like to go out often, I did not claim to be sick to avoid going out, I usually straight up let my ex know after the first few years we were dating that my preference was to more or less stay at home on the couch watching TV. But he hated my introverted, home-body personality style.)
Just because you’re dating the guy or married to him does NOT mean you two have to do everything together.
So, while you’re watching the video below, be aware that while, yes, Boundaries don’t usually work on some type of people (such as Narcissists) most of the time, that contrary to Dr. Ramani’s eye-rolling, Boundaries are not useless.
Boundaries will in fact work most of the time with most people in your life.
Boundaries may not work on a Narcissist or Abuser you’ve been in a relationship with for months or years, but…
Once you start practicing Boundaries, you will become much quicker at spotting the abusers, manipulators, and even some of these “Cluster B” personality disordered people quickly – once you spot them quickly, you know to avoid them as much as possible.
Again, good video, just bear in mind that Boundaries are still a good thing to have, even if they don’t usually work on Narcissists or abusive people.
And yes, there are some people out there who will use physical sickness – real or invented – to play on your heart strings, guilt trip you, to get their way with you.
Be aware of that and start learning to get comfortable with telling people “No,” even if they are like, “But I have a sickness, I can’t help it.”
Another part of that puzzle: begin realizing that YOUR needs, feelings, and considerations are just as important as anyone else’s, even including the friend or family member who claims sickness.
Meaning, no, you don’t always have to prioritize the needs of your sick friend or family over your own or come running every time they text or call to complain about how their sickness is impacting them!
Applicable to Emma (and to “Donna Hazel”):
(Link): Actor Ezra Miller, Leftist Identity Politics, Pronouns, and the SBC (Southern Baptists) Actor Ezra Miller, Leftist Identity Politics, Pronouns, and the SBC (Southern Baptists) – Priorities Out of Kilter
(Link): When You’re in Imbalanced, Unfair Relationships – You’re the Free Therapist, The Supportive, Sounding Board Who Listens to Other People’s Non-Stop Complaining, But They Don’t Listen to You – re: The Toilet Function of Friendship
(Link): Emma Responds – My Comments