Setting boundaries is a part of everyday life, but it is especially critical for those in recovery. Boundaries that are too rigid or too lax can both be damaging in their own ways.
Early in life, boundaries can have a profound impact on a person’s personality and relationships in the future. Strict boundaries may cause a person to suppress emotions or have distant relationships, while lax boundaries can make it difficult for people to develop identities or a sense of responsibility.
Boundaries are a two-way street; however, and while people must be comfortable with establishing their own, they must also respect others’ boundaries. This is critical in the development of healthy relationships and is important to address in addiction treatment.
Establishing boundaries can help prevent people from being taken advantage of, abused, or manipulated. It can also help define relationships more clearly and help prevent codependency. It helps protect a person from conscious or unconscious harm, while encouraging people to trust their inner voice and communicate clearly with others.
What do Healthy Boundaries look like?
Healthy boundaries establish the types of treatment that you find acceptable and the consequences that result from violations of the boundaries. When healthy boundaries are established, a person is more comfortable asserting their thoughts and feelings, and they are able to say “no” when necessary.
Unhealthy boundaries, or weak boundaries, can be revealed in a variety of ways. They may cause a person to act against their own best interest or become victims of mistreatment or abuse. Examples of this may include:
- Sacrificing personal values or plans to please someone else
- Allowing others to define them by making decisions and choices for them
- Feeling guilty for saying “no”
- Feeling used, mistreated, or threatened by others
- Hesitation in expressing opinions or asserting themselves
- Feeling pressured to take others’ advice
- Taking responsibility for the feelings of others
- Telling others how they should think, feel, or act
In contrast, healthy boundaries require a person to consider what is best for them. What may work for some might be too intrusive for others. Before establishing boundaries, there are numerous things to remember:
- You have a right to your personal feelings, values, and beliefs
- It is important to identify underlying emotions to have meaningful interactions; this encourages honest, direct communication
- In addition to setting expectations for how you want to be treated, set limits as well; for example, you might choose to be around only sober people
- If your boundaries are violated, it’s okay to speak up; it’s okay to say “no” or express if something is not right
- Trust your instincts when you are unsure about whether or not your boundaries are being pushed
- Defend your boundaries; there will be times when they will be tested
Boundaries are accompanied by consequences. Consequences must be something you are willing to enforce. If you have expressed your boundaries and set limits regarding certain behaviors, you must also establish consequences. In recovery, one common boundary limits and provides consequences for others’ use of substances. In order to protect sobriety, boundaries must be in place to avoid enabling peers and environments. Unfortunately, you cannot control the boundaries of others, which is why it is important to establish concrete consequences and enforce them when necessary. If a person continues to put you in danger of relapse, you must be willing to reclaim responsibility and ownership over your own life and sobriety.
Check out the video below by Dr. Holly Daniels about Healthy Boundaries for those in Recovery.
Boundaries in Recovery
When a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol, establishing boundaries may be one of the few ways you can help. Enabling a person’s behaviors will not motivate them to seek help. Instead, by setting boundaries and clear-cut consequences should they be violated, those who struggle with addiction may finally realize they are in need of help.
Preventing a person from experiencing the full weight of the consequences of addiction can make it nearly impossible for them to understand the amount of danger they put themselves and others in. Often times, the needs of the family suffer as the needs of the addicted person take precedence. This can create resentment and further damage already fragile relationships. Setting boundaries can help remove some of that stress and allow family members to regain some control over their own lives.
One of the most difficult parts of recovery for many is reconciling with loved ones. The negative behaviors that accompany substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly damaging for relationships and difficult to overcome. Boundaries play a role in this as well. They can help loved ones learn to take responsibility for their actions while simultaneously protecting others who are involved or close to the situation.
Just as it is important for family and friends to set boundaries, it is important for the person in recovery to do so as well. Setting boundaries can help eliminate negative influences and protect sobriety. While some boundaries can be difficult to enforce, such as those with old friends, it is imperative to learn how to say “no” and end relationships with those who threaten your recovery. Focusing on getting regular exercise, proper nutrition, support, and developing relationships with sober peers can help strengthen boundaries.
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