You have likely heard the expression “if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile”. This saying, which translates to the idea that if you give someone a little power or freedom, they will try and get a whole lot more, applies to so many situations in life.
At Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we often hear this expression during breakups or separations from partners with narcissistic tendencies. It’s more important than ever to “defend the inch” rather than give an inch as relationships come to an end with partners who have even mild narcissism because these mild narcissistic tendencies will typically be worse during a break-up or divorce.
In this post, we talk about how you can defend the inch rather than give in during breakups with difficult people by both holding strong boundaries and rooting in your own truth.
Hold Strong Boundaries
When you are going through a breakup or divorce, especially with a challenging person, it’s more important than ever to hold firm boundaries. That looks like getting clear on your limits and firm in your values. Sometimes you may want to believe that the other person is coming around or that if you give in on something, maybe he or she will also give in on their end. These false beliefs can lead to a lot of pain and disappointment as situations unfold and others don’t behave in the ways you would expect.
For instance, if you are going through a divorce with a narcissist, he or she may use forms of manipulation to try and get control of the situation. Perhaps your former partner will try to convince you to settle your divorce without lawyers to save money. He or she might try and make the case with promises that they will be fair and equitable and that if you hire lawyers, it will put you both into financial ruin. However, if you agree to this arrangement, your former partner will likely not be fair, equitable, or collaborative, once they have seen that you’ll agree to do things their way. In our experience, this is usually just the beginning of them pushing your boundaries as a way of continuing to control you and the situation for their narcissistic supply, now that you’re no longer together. This is an example of where having tough, firm, and unwavering boundaries are critical to your sanity and important for your future.
Root in Your Own Truth
Beyond having firm boundaries, it’s important to understand and stay rooted in your truth in order to defend your inch. This looks like speaking your boundaries, holding firm around your beliefs, and learning how to use your voice to effectively work with a narcissist. Because people who are in a relationship with a narcissist often feel manipulated, gaslit, and threatened, it’s hard to speak your truth and even to clearly identify it. Start by ignoring their attacks and negative messaging. Honor what you know to be true and don’t fall victim to believing the messages they are sending you about your self-worth, your own reality, and your power and potential.
Take time for reflection and identify your top values and needs. As an example, if you are working through a custody agreement or parenting plan with a narcissist, getting clear about your values will help you speak your truth. Perhaps you feel it’s most important for your children to be enrolled in a particular school district and also have the ability to see each parent on major holidays to keep traditions and rituals intact. Recognizing these values will help you find your voice around them and hold strong boundaries as you defend your perspective, your beliefs, and your inch.
Going through a divorce or breakup is hard enough, but when it’s with a former partner with narcissistic tendencies, it can feel almost impossible to manage. Holding firm in your boundaries and rooting in your truth are two important ways to defend your inch and take back your control and power during this difficult time. At Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we often work with clients going through separations like these. In fact, our group therapy for divorce sessions often focus on strategies to get through a divorce or breakup with a narcissist.