What are Healthy Boundaries?

So what exactly are healthy boundaries?

This is a question (and concept) that I think many of us struggle with in general–but especially after coming out of a narcissistically abusive relationship.  Many people (myself included) tend question what is normal and what is problematic, and what is appropriate trust and what is us being paranoid or hyper-vigilant?

Here are some of my aha moments as far as healthy (and unhealthy) boundaries go.

Here is an image that I created that comes from the book “Healing the Child Within” by Charles Whitfield in which I think he gives a fantastic explanation of what healthy and unhealthy boundaries are:


The first four types of boundaries are what the progression of healthy boundaries looks like. This progression is made over a prolonged period of time in which trust is slowly built by sharing appropriate information with a person and then observing how they react or respond to that information.

If the person that we are sharing info with proves themselves to be trustworthy with the small amount of info we give them, then we can give them more–but if they take the info we tell them and then use it against us, make fun of us, belittle us, or tell other people things personal things we’ve told them (aka gossip about us), etc. then we need to back up our boundaries to the level of trust that is appropriate for us to have based on their actions.

And keep in mind that boundaries are not set in stone. They are continually being defined and refined as our dynamic with that person changes.

Where so many of us go wrong (again, myself included) is that we tend to think of boundaries being based on our relationship with that person and not based on their behavior.  Meaning, that people tend to think they need to be open, honest, and trusting with a person because they are a parent or a significant other or what have you, but not focusing on whether or not that person has actually proven themselves to be trustworthy.  Or worse, they’ve proven that they can’t be trusted, but yet we try to convince ourselves that we need to “learn to trust them again” after they’ve broken trust because they are a parent or significant other.  Trust is something that is earned and not something that is blindly given–and we get into trouble when we forget that!

So for example, according to this diagram, healthy boundaries between two people in an healthy intimate relationship, let’s say between two married people, overlap by about 50%. It would only be appropriate to have a 50% overlap if that level of trust has been earned.  Which, in theory, it would have been earned before two people got married.  But if that trust has been damaged, then it’s a mistake to continue treating them with that level of trust when they’ve already shown they can’t be trusted.

It would be inappropriate (and unhealthy) to continue a 50% overlap if the person has not earned that level of trust. If a person has broken trust, let’s say cheated, then our boundaries need to be backed wayyyy up with this person–beyond that of a total stranger because not only can we not trust this person, but they working in their self-interest at the expense of us and our relationship with them!  This is not a person who is on our team or who is looking out for our best interests–and it would be wise to distance ourselves and proceed with extreme caution and to move slowly when having them rebuild trust–because they are the ones who need to be making the lion’s share of the effort to rebuild trust–not us.


Notice how in the above image, when trust has been broken, the one person distances themselves farther away from that person than they would from a total stranger.  This is important to realize (and to do) because our boundaries with a stranger are cautious but neutral, our boundaries with someone who has shown that they are actively working against us, need to be to stay much further away from them–either making their behavior deal breaker stuff, or having them work towards rebuilding trust.

Instead, what most people who struggle with healthy boundaries do (especially when in a relationship with a narcissistic partner) is that the partner has made the narcissistic partner their whole life (or the narcissistic person has insisted they be their whole life) and then when they lie, cheat, steal/siphon household funds, etc., the partner backs up a bit, but not nearly enough to get themselves to a place where they can be safe or sane.  The narcissistic partner then gets defensive and angry when their partner isn’t quick to trust them again, or to start having sex with them again, and generally uses a lot of guilt, obligation, and overall manipulation into being allowed full access to their partner.  …It would be appropriate and reasonable if a person cheats on you to want to talk to the person they cheated on you with, having them get a tested for STDs, or for them to be home on time, or even for them to quit their job if they cheated with a person they work with. (Frankly, I would also insist on having separate bank accounts, pulling a credit report, and having their passwords to everything, because if a person lies to such an extent in one area, odds are this is the tip of the ice berg, and they are lying in other areas too.)

This might sound extreme, but this is all part of doing the work of rebuilding trust.  It’s like when a teenager gets caught sneaking out and doing something really problematic like getting drunk, or using drugs, or staying at their boyfriend’s house when his parent’s aren’t home.  Trust needs to be rebuilt between them and their parents.  Many parents want to know who they are going out with and when they’ll be back, talking to the parents of the other teenager that they snuck out with, and potentially monitoring their grades and/or other online activity.  The teenager who broke trust would need to prove through their actions that they can be trusted again, and that takes time–at a minimum several months.

unhealthy boundaries after trust has been broken


And my take on what it would need for me to rebuild trust might be very different from yours–and that’s okay.  Everyone’s boundaries and deal breaker behavior is different.  What’s important is that you get clear with yourself what you need to do to stay safe and sane, and where your boundaries are in all that.


Dana 🙂

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I am a self-help junkie, former advocate for victims of domestic violence, current psychiatric RN, as well as being a recovering victim of Narcissistic abuse.

My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.

Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.

It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.
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About Dana 347 Articles
I am a self-help junkie, former advocate for victims of domestic violence, current psychiatric RN, as well as being a recovering victim of Narcissistic abuse. My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life. Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics. It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.


  1. My Narc is a sexual predator. In the beginning it was just serial cheating. Then it was stalking random strangers on Facebook. Than young girls on our sons friends list. Recently I discovered he’s been paying for sex with hookers off of a dating site. I followed him to a hotel where I confronted him and ended the relationship. He still denies soliciting sex even though I have the texts to prove it! We have a baby on the way. Which is the LAST tome we’ve been physical in five months. We also have two other kids. How does it get this bad? 14 years and I NEVER would have imagined this!

  2. Dana, Though I am not a recovering victim of narcissistic abuse, I do however, find insights from people like you important for me. I believe, and disagree if you think I’m wrong, that the behaviour of narcs is very revealing about general behaviour of people with fat lesser degrees of personality dysfunction. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that most people employ manipulative survival tactics similar to N’s to get what they want throughout their lives. If they are not fully aware of what are healthy boundaries. We can all learn from extreme forms of manipulative behaviour as I think it takes the extremes to help us notice the more subtle versions, which may exist in our lives. A-ha moments occur on such a regular basis I can hardly keep track sometimes. So thank you for your work and honesty and the fact that you care so much to help people wake from the illusions of relationship traps. In order to feel fully free and empowered, we should all take note of what the more obvious abuses, whether in our own lives or others, show us about the human condition. Thank you again. Regards. Mick x

  3. We all took psychology in high school and then again as part of those core college classes. Why isn’t this topic of narcissism more fully covered? They cover all the big ones, manic depressives, schizophrenics, etc? Yet we graduate thinking a narcissist is someone who simply looks in a mirror too often. Why that wrong impression? Who fears someone like that? How does that sad, but not fearful impression of a narc we read about, prepare us to truly recognize them as dangerous and completely flee from them? That is a bogus impression. That is not who my narc was? Perhaps in private, but I never saw him once gazing at himself endlessly? So can we fix that misconception once and for all? Today? For real? Why are we not taught the red flags of how to spot a narc? Any mother who does not tell her children how to spot a narc by junior high is doing their child a disservice. Having survived a narcissistic abusive marriage and only finding out it had a name and not a cure in the past two years, thanks to the internet and my google of “dealing with a controlling and abusive husband”, I find that lack of teaching about such a horrible danger completely unacceptable. I hope that has all changed in our high school curriculum since I graduated back in the late 70’s. That type of purposely destructive personality needs to be exposed early on in our lives, so that unsuspecting forgiving types don’t get sucked in to their world. The clincher is this and it is so unfair, that by telling others what you went through, what you survived to somehow also warn them, to educate them and their children, you also expose yourself for who you are. A caring, forgiving individual that narcs seek out. While doing so, are you thereby attracting another narc who hears the story perhaps second hand from a mutual friend? That thought is forever on my mind when I pass on why I had to get a divorce after 25 years and two children. How do you move on and away from attracting another narc combing the waters, and still warn others? So the information has to be out there already, everywhere, for everyone to see, on more tv shows, in more magazine articles, in more high school classrooms, so that it is common knowledge as you start out in life. We all need that info in our tool belt before high school graduation. Specifically that there are in fact “aliens” of a sort, living among us whose sole purpose is to somehow suck the living life out of others around them and then emphatically and convincingly deny it when they are finally revealed, only to have them move on to a new victim unannounced. Don’t leave it to just us past victims to tell their stories to educate the still clueless. We do not deserve to be on the next narc’s radar. Quite frankly No One does. But we especially deserve every opportunity to avoid those shark waters and get a shot at a narc free life from here on out. We deserve to have at least that, now that we have escaped. And yet, the amount we suffered, and the type of compassionate, overly forgiving people we tend to be, that perhaps we “over care” for our fellow humans, that quality about us, demands that we do not keep this a secret. We must know that others are being warned, because we just don’t see it being dealt with enough, as often as it needs to, to get that word out, so we know, OK everyone knows about Narcs now. No one doesn’t understand their early game, their end game, that we as a country know how to spot them, and how to stay away from them, how to get rid of them. We feel, that we know how destructive narcs can be at so many levels, that we do not want another innocent to come under their control. Ever again. Does anyone get that? That type of damaged human being, their existence, needs to be talked about, more than it is so that some young person doesn’t spend more than an evening in their presence ever again without figuring out she or he is on a date with a narc. And we need to be able to call people out on it, to their face, unapologetically, so that the narcs have the chance to own it, and to at least try to do something about it with a professional. Supposedly, narcs won’t get help, psychiatrists can’t even heal them. But if enough of us stood up to them and called them out, and told mutual friends, and they were branded as such and still decided to not get help, well we would all know who they were, at least. It’s their call not to get help. It’s our call to tell them openly who we think they are and that they need help. It’s our call to protect our friends and families from them. That seems fair to me. If that does not seem fair to a narc, too bad. Fair is not in their vocabulary. Deal with it, because I’m done dealing with all narcs of every age. When one approaches me the next time, I’m calling him or her out. I point them out to my daughter in her high school group when I see them, and she deals with them only at a distance from now on. That is the only way they will ever seek help, early on, and if enough people call them out. Otherwise, they will mature, get even better at the narc game of manipulation, constant lying, critical and physical abuse, their way or the highway, until they have mastered their art and inflict damage on countless caring individuals before they die. And the world truly needs all of those caring individuals to devote their lives to healing this planet, at every level, and not waste a single solitary moment being drained in a narc’s world. I want them exposed while they are still in high school. While there is still a chance to fix them. Before they grow up into the grown up unfixable versions. Can we do that? Where are the psychologists/journalist types who can fully take this mainstream and make this happen right now? Where? Are they all still hiding under a rock somewhere waiting for someone else to do it? Please step up to the plate! Where are the PHDs? Are you still conducting researching it? Switch gears already and expose them for who they are and the amount of damage they inflict on a society that is still walking aroung with blinders on. We need this information out there yesterday. We need people with the credentials to lead the charge! So wake up and do just that. IN BIG BOLD LETTERS. These websites are only good for people who have been through the fray. Well its a bit too late by that point. We have already been to war with a narc, for far too long, before, by chance we stumbled on who are opponent truly was. Your website needs to come out of the shadows to do some real good. Otherwise you are just preaching to the choir.


  4. He discarded me and moved on/in with his new supply (like he did with his last two wives) quickly … they have been together for 2 years now and seems to be great, etc. Can they change by finding the right person?? It seems they are so happy…

  5. My comment is a question… At 51 yrs of age I am finally figuring out why on earth I have so wanted simplicity but have only had chaos in my life, I am such an extreme Empath with some narc traits it seems… Why do both of my male Narcs, my late daddy & my bf, seem to have overt & covert traits so as I am unable to categorize them to either group.

  6. I had clear knowledge about my boundaries for majority of my life.. until one day my own sister noticed that i was in a very low point in my life, started manipulating me, emotionally eating up and i ‘trusted’ her, which i never did for a single day in 22 years. And yes she was a sociopath and 4 years down the lane i am still struggling to make my boundaries clear with her AND other family members.

    The painful part is not the trust being broken but when you are already in a very low point in life, you feel lost and you just ‘need’ someone to trust and you start trusting that one wrong person. That attitude opens up our mind(and life) to ALL such wrong people since now our standards have become way too low and ANYONE can now be ‘trusted’ without necessarily being earned and here we become doormats, struggling to build back self-esteem day by day while being knocked down by betrayal day by day.

    Thanks for the article. It was an eye-opener, in fact a reminder of how smart i was with people and boundaries before i got messed up with bad events and bad people.

  7. I have missed my narcisisist terribly in the past 13 months of being without him. Through YouTube, I learned about this disorder, and slowly started the process of getting myself back to normal. I was literally destroyed, having to make the choice of leaving him over 1 year ago. I did everything right; No contact, etc. But two weeks ago, In a weak moment, I texted him and told him how I missed him. He immediately texted back and told me that he wants me back, and for a couple of weeks it felt good to imagine being back together with him. Now, I realize I have done somthing very dangerous and foolish. It was easy to spot–the characteristics that they commonly share. I was trying to see if I could find that he was the exception , but I see thsat he’s NOT. I don’t know how to get out of this and I’m slightly scared. To my comfort, I have distance from him. But he could get to me in less than a day if he wanted to.

  8. Nice article, thank you.
    Particularly, that a person needs to work to earn trust again is a big point for me to take on board here. I have a partner who is not doing that work, sadly.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  9. Before I had researched and truly realized I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a suspected/undiagnosed narcissist; I had informed him that we needed to rebuild trust. The plan was to separate with the intent of reunification. I researched it heavily, and had decided to rent a place for myself so I could begin working on myself in a safe place. Based on research, I created an outline of what I felt it should look like until we had rebuilt our trust. He was angry at me for “making rules” and saying that being apart could never help us rebuild trust. It is nice to see this visual as a bit of vindication for what I had wanted to do, knowing that we needed clear, defined boundaries and quite a time period of hard work to rebuild what had been broken.
    over 2 years later, with a 1.5 year protracted court battle for our divorce (and a still pending appeal on his part), and learning of hundreds of thousands of dollars of hidden debt (financial abuse), and 2 full years of therapy; I can see our relationship for what it was. He didn’t want me apart in a place where I could create those healthy boundaries and rebuild trust, he needed me close, where he could control me and keep me in the FOG.
    I’m so thankful for places like this and a community of people/support to help get beyond that place, and into a much healthier and happier life 🙂

  10. Hi Dana, I truly enjoy what you have shared about all forms of abuse.
    You teach in such a pleasant way, that’s refreshing.
    Thank you for sharing this knowledge, for our protection too.
    The scriptures also offer spiritual protection for us,
    This true knowledge found in the Bible, also protects us from any “ new age “
    practices. I would love to share this information with you.
    Warm Regards & Deep Respect,

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