Setting healthy boundaries is an important skill to develop in any aspect of life, but it is especially important in addiction recovery. Boundaries can range from too rigid to too loose and these two extremes can significantly impact the way a person views their relationships and how they interact with those around them. These types of boundaries, especially early in life, can affect behaviors and patterns that can play a role in the development of addiction. As a result, much of recovery must focus on learning how to create healthy boundaries for oneself and respecting the boundaries of those around them.
Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries
Learning how to establish healthy boundaries is imperative to successful recovery. Boundaries are vital because they are a way to protect oneself from negative influences, avoid manipulation, and prevent harm from developing. Rigid boundaries can make it difficult to connect with others and may suppress a person’s ability to express themselves while loose boundaries can blur lines in a relationship and allow co-dependency to develop. While it may feel as though there is a fine line between healthy and unhealthy boundaries, it is important to spend time assessing what is acceptable for yourself and how you can communicate your needs in a productive way.
Healthy boundaries may look different to various people depending on their individual needs. They are not created in an attempt to control or dictate relationships with others; rather, they are an outward projection of what is acceptable for you. The creation of healthy boundaries includes determining what feels right for yourself, learning how to communicate your thoughts and boundaries in a healthy way, and outlining what the consequences of a crossed boundary looks like. It is a way to protect your needs and learn how to say “no” when faced with difficult situations.
If the boundaries you set are weak and not upheld, you may feel or experience the following:
- Feel guilty saying “no”
- Allow others to define you and make decisions for you
- Feel threatened or used by others
- Feel pressure to follow the advice of others
- Sacrifice your own needs or goals in favor of someone else’s desires
- Hesitate to express your thoughts and feelings
- Feel responsible for the thoughts and feelings of others
Creating Boundaries in Addiction Recovery
Boundaries are a vital component of recovery for numerous reasons. It is not only important for the person in recovery to learn how to set healthy boundaries, but it is also crucial for their loved ones to learn how to as well. In recovery, boundaries can be the difference between sobriety and relapse. Without them, it can enable destructive behaviors and patterns that allow addiction to flourish and can lead to breakdowns in relationships. Boundaries may require some collaboration with others in order to be successful. This is especially true when working to mend relationships that have been damaged due to substance abuse. Families, friends, and loved ones can all consider the following when working to develop healthy boundaries:
- Reflect on your needs: Before setting boundaries, it is important to reflect on your feelings and needs. You are entitled to your feelings and beliefs. You are allowed to express your needs to others and you have a right to be treated fairly. For some, coming to terms with this can be difficult as addiction can affect how one views themselves and their worth.
- Work through your feelings: It is natural to initially react strongly to something, but taking some time to think through why you react in a specific way can help you identify the underlying thoughts and emotions that drive it. This allows you to reflect honestly on your own reactions to situations and assess how you respond to them rather than giving in to your initial knee-jerk reaction.
- Start by creating limits: Part of the boundary-creating process is setting limits. This can be a great starting point in determining what actions, behaviors, and situations you find acceptable or not. Once you determine what your limit are, communicate them directly and honestly with those around you.
- Trust your gut: You may find yourself in situations that make you uneasy or uncomfortable and it can test your boundaries. Rather than responding in a way to weakens your boundaries, trust yourself and follow through. By following your instincts, you will remain true to yourself and your needs.
- Assert yourself: When you set boundaries, they will be tested at some point. Know where your limits lie and do not be afraid to speak up for yourself. Coming to terms with the fact that you cannot control how someone may respond to your boundaries is important. Even if someone feels disappointed that your limits do not align with what they want, you should still do what is right for your physical, mental, and emotional health.
- Respect others’ boundaries: While you are creating and following through on your own boundaries, you must also come to terms with the fact that other people may have boundaries that do not align with your own. As important as it is to respect your own boundaries, you must also have respect for others.
Creating boundaries can be difficult, but it is vital in recovery to protect your sobriety. Not only can it help protect you from triggers and enablers, but it can help you greatly improve your relationships moving forward. Everyone’s boundaries are different and understanding where your limits lie can help you shape your identity and develop healthy relationships with peers and environments moving forward. Only you know what is right for you in terms of boundaries making it imperative to spend a generous amount of time investing in their development throughout recovery and in life after treatment.