Set Boundaries With a Narcissistic Stepdaughter by Saying This…
It’s never easy to talk to a narcissistic person. Narcissists LOVE to dominate a conversation but lack the will to listen. A narcissist is extraordinarily unlikely to accept or acknowledge anything that goes against their ideas.
To make things worse, you’ve noticed an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that your stepdaughter has narcissistic traits. That, or she is possessed.
Any opposing comment on your part is an attack on her fragile ego, whether the feedback is truthful, in the best interests of others, or not. Her inability to admit any wrongdoing makes setting boundaries extremely tricky – unless you cooperate and validate, she has little interest in what you have to say.
When you were first introduced, she may have quickly assigned you the role of the new best friend. You were startled that things were going so smoothly but happy to be welcomed and excited about the future. She wanted to bring you into her world, and do fun activities together. Then, one day, things changed, and the mask slipped.
If the narcissist in question is your stepdaughter, you might feel pressured to maintain at least the semblance of a good relationship, but don’t have enough authority or closeness to change her behavior truly.
For the sake of your relationship and whether you live together or not, you wanted to get along. You never imagined that you and your stepdaughter would be at loggerheads.
First, the bad news, you won’t be able to change her, and unless she undertakes some deep inner work within her psyche or seeks professional help, she’s unlikely ever to change.
Narcissists tend to be challenging to manage, but if you have to engage with her for the sake of your partner, you will need to set firm boundaries. Here lies your power. If you’re unsure of what to say, we’ve written some handy scripts.
Script 1 | Be Polite and Firm
As I have mentioned before, I am not comfortable with this behavior. Please don’t do this. Thank you for understanding.
The goal of this script is to provide a universal formula for expressing something that you don’t like. You can repeat it as much as possible with a polite tone, calmly. Say this as if you expected them to be reasonable (even if you don’t).
This script serves your relationship with your narcissistic stepdaughter and the people around you, showing you in a better light. It’s also to the point, so you can repeat it until the other person hears you. As we are dealing with narcissists, you probably will have to say it more than once.
In terms of “this behavior,” it’s smart to be as transparent as possible. For example, you might say, “I am not comfortable with you interrupting me when I speak” or “I am not comfortable with how you talk to me.” When you are specific, it becomes harder for the narcissist to twist your words or get offended.
Script 2 | Shut Down Any Discussion You Don’t Want to Have
I am fine with the situation and don’t want to talk about it. Let’s change the subject.
This script can be useful for situations where your stepdaughter begins to criticize you or speak about her own ideas as applied to you. For example, she might say that she has a better way of doing things or criticize your appearance or behavior.
All you have to do is to shut down the conversation. Once more, this script is generally more effective when it is said in a polite and calm tone of voice. When you say it, you should change the subject or repeat the same formula if your stepdaughter insists. Don’t engage in conversation and shut it down politely.
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Script 3 | Dress Your Requests in Compliments
Hey, I wanted to see if you could do this. I think you’re the best person for the job.
Sometimes, you don’t want to fight. You just want to get something done. With a narcissist, it’s a good idea to play up to their inflated sense of self-esteem. Give them a compliment or show that you think that they are especially capable of doing this thing better than others.
This script can be tricky, as it’s easy to sound sarcastic, which may be counterproductive. Apply it when you think you can give a compliment more or less sincerely. What does this accomplish? It is a way of having a positive interaction with your stepdaughter and also a way that makes it more likely that she will listen to you.
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Script 4 | Offer Praise and Positive Recognition When You Can
I think that was really cool. I really liked how you handled that. You have a knack for cooking/sports/juggling.
Praising a narcissist may seem wrong. Isn’t their ego already big enough? It is, which is why you shouldn’t be afraid to make it bigger. It’s happened already. You can use positive reinforcement, praise, and validation as a way to improve your relationship with your stepdaughter or to make it more likely that she will listen to you.
Narcissists respond very badly to criticism but tend to be drawn to praise, so by offering this, you might be able to reach them more easily. Again, it’s more useful to try and find things that you can genuinely praise them for. Don’t be sarcastic or ironic as you say positive things.
If you have to alter the language to make it more sincere (e.g., praising the behavior but never the person), do it. She will respect your boundaries more if she is recognized for it.
Script 5 | Glamourize the Benefits
I know that you don’t really want to do this, but it would look so nice on your resume.
It seems to be very popular.
It’s such a glamorous thing to do!
You can ask most people to help even if they don’t derive a direct benefit but narcissists are fundamentally self-centered. When you need something from your stepdaughter or want her to pay attention, you may find it easier to draw her attention to a particular benefit to her.
If you can link something to a specific advantage, especially ones related to power, status, popularity, or recognition, you will have an easier time getting her on board.
Talking to a narcissist can be draining but there are ways to make it easier. Offer her what she wants and set clear boundaries by showing the narcissist it is more advantageous for her to do what you are saying. Don’t be afraid to give too much praise or recognition; instead, use this to your advantage to make conversations flow smoothly.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Kacel, E. L., Ennis, N., & Pereira, D. B. (2017). Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Clinical Health Psychology Practice: Case Studies of Comorbid Psychological Distress and Life-Limiting Illness. Behavioral medicine (Washington, D.C.), 43(3), 156–164. doi:10.1080/08964289.2017.1301875
Yakeley, J. (2018). Current understanding of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder. BJPsych Advances, 24(5), 305-315. doi:10.1192/bja.2018.20
At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.
Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!
Never the Right Word
Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation.
In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.
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