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Why Are Boundaries Important in Recovery?
Recovering from alcohol and substance abuse is a lengthy, often complex process. Setting boundaries in recovery is a major tool to utilize in achieving a clean and sober lifestyle. Setting healthy boundaries in recovery improves relationships and communication and allows you to understand yourself and others better.
Often, boundary lines are blurred during addiction, affecting every aspect of a user’s life.
Boundaries are simply a means of protecting yourself: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Think of them as lines in the sand for the world around you. They allow you to establish guiding rules for how you function around other people and in the many situations, life throws at you.
- Building Boundaries
- Boundary Set Backs in Recovery
- Boundary Areas to Consider in Addiction Recovery
- Boundaries When it Comes to Enabling
- Examples of Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries
- How to Maintain Boundaries in Addiction Recovery
Building and setting boundaries is an essential life skill, especially for people in recovery. However, setting boundaries in recovery is no simple task.
Unfortunately, some recovering addicts grew up in dysfunctional homes. There, boundaries are highly rigid, leading to suppressed emotions or distant
relationships. Later in life, the addict’s interpersonal relationships continue to be defined by the old roles and patterns. As a result, the risk of depression, anxiety, and addictive or compulsive behaviors increases.
Learning how to set boundaries in recovery gives the patient a needed sense of self and helps them respect other people’s boundaries. In the addiction field, this is called “embracing the authentic self”. This is a process of “discovering who you want to be, how you want to interact with other people, and taking responsibility for the consequences of your choices.”
Why are setting boundaries in recovery so important? First, they protect a person with addiction from being manipulated, abused, or taken advantage of.
Meanwhile, new boundaries also protect other people from any harm the addicted person may consciously or unconsciously inflict upon them.
Boundaries can provide a clear distinction that prevents those in a relationship from becoming codependent. By setting healthy boundaries in recovery, the person battling addiction can trust their own thoughts and feelings. The next step is communicating those thoughts and feeling to others.
Healthy boundaries make it clear what type of treatment is acceptable to a person with substance use disorder. Setting healthy boundaries in recovery also spells out what consequences will result from violating a boundary. People with healthy boundaries take care of their own needs and can say no when they have to.
Boundary Set Backs In Recovery
How you deal with setbacks plays a major role in recovery. Some examples of setbacks are not setting healthy boundaries, not asking for help, engaging in high-risk situations, and not practicing self-care.
However, a setback does not have to end in relapse.
Unfortunately, recovering individuals tend to see setbacks as failures.
Some might see setbacks as confirming their negative view of themselves. Perhaps a person in recovery might feel that they cannot live life on life’s terms.
These negative feelings can lead to more substance misuse and a greater sense of failure. Eventually, the addicted person stops focusing on the progress they’ve made and begins seeing the road ahead as overwhelming.
But setbacks are a normal part of progress. They are not personal failures. Recovering from a setback–even a relapse–can help you develop and stick to healthy boundaries.
After a relapse, creating strict boundaries aids in preventing future relapse. Consider these boundaries as a relapse prevention plan. For example, refrain from contact with a person who consistently pressures you to use alcohol or drugs.
Another recommendation involves writing a detailed list of boundaries that are set.
The list may include:
- Main triggers.
- Coping mechanisms when the desire to drink arises.
- A list of people you can contact for support.
Experts agree that having this sort of plan will help with prevention. It also allows the addicted person to feel a sense of order and control.
Areas to Have Strong Boundaries in Addiction Recovery
Establishing recovery boundaries depends on the specific situation of the addicted person.
Here are some basic but strong areas to address:
Boundaries with friends
You can save yourself from uncomfortable situations by letting friends know they cannot be around you while drinking or using drugs. If they refuse to make that concession, you should reevaluate the relationship. Toxic relationships are one of the biggest triggers for an addict trying to stay clean.
Boundaries with social activities
Especially important when a person is new to recovery. It is typically dangerous for a newly sober person to take part in social settings where drugs and alcohol are consumed. Even if you intend to be a designated driver or drink non-alcoholic drinks, these situations can be sources of temptation. Staying sober requires learning when to say no. Missing a social event is better than risking a setback in your goals.
Boundaries with work
Staying busy and productive is healthy while in recovery, but it requires balance. If you overwork yourself or spread yourself too thin, stress may increase, and you may find it more difficult to maintain sobriety. Try stepping back and asking if you have a healthy work-life balance.
Boundaries with a significant others
If your significant other wants you to stay sober, realistically, they should not drink or use around you. Let others know that you need their support and encouragement when it comes to staying clean and healthy.
Boundaries with yourself
It is also a good idea to establish a set of personal values and standards. Examine your core values and beliefs and trust them. Then, do your best to stick to what you hold important in life and apply it to your situation.
Boundaries When it Comes to Enabling
Regrettably, friends and family can worsen a situation by enabling a person who misuses drugs and alcohol, despite their best intentions.
Enabling is doing things for an addicted person that they would normally do for themselves if sober. A person steps in and takes control of a situation because they think it will be beneficial. However, doing this often protects addicts from the consequences of their actions, further encouraging their use.
You may realize at this point that you have been enabling your addicted loved one. How do you change? It’s helpful to remember that you can’t change other people. But you can change your behaviors and reactions toward those people.
To this end, it’s important to know what healthy and unhealthy boundaries look like. It will allow you to have relationships where your best interests and the interests of others are balanced. That interchange will benefit both your life and your recovery. Here’s what to know about setting healthy boundaries in recovery.
Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Boundaries: Examples
Examples Of Healthy Boundaries
- Encouraging sharing of thoughts and feelings
- Maintaining your values and beliefs even though others may not agree or share the same personal values.
- Respect others and require that others respect you; choose not to interact if unable to meet those standards.
- Take responsibility for the things you say and do
- Take full ownership of how you define yourself
Examples Of Unhealthy Boundaries
- Sacrificing personal values, beliefs, goals, or plans to please someone else
- Expecting others to fulfill your needs
- Feeling guilty when you say “no.”
- Hesitating to share your opinions or assert yourself when you are being treated unfairly
- Frequently feeling manipulated, threatened, victimized, or mistreated by others
- Taking responsibility for someone else’s feelings
- Telling others how they should think, feel, or behave
- Offering unsolicited advice or feeling pressured to follow someone else’s advice
Examples of Maintaining Boundaries in Recovery
Now it’s about setting boundaries in addiction recovery that is healthy. How you go about setting and maintaining boundaries is a personal choice. Every person has to set boundaries. What works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa.
So, when you are creating your boundaries, consider these steps:
Establish a personal bill of rights:
Realize that you have a right to have your thoughts, feelings, values, and beliefs and to express to others how you would like to be treated.
Identify your emotions:
When you are having a strong response or reaction to something, take the time to determine what exactly it is you’re feeling. Once you’ve done that, it will be easier for you to convey your feelings but without lashing out.
Once you’ve established how you want to be treated, set limits with others in a clear, direct and calm way.
If you feel like the boundaries you have set are being violated, say something. Asserting your needs is part of maintaining the boundaries that you have set. This doesn’t mean blaming or lashing out, but rather asserting yourself calmly and firmly.
Listen to instincts:
If something feels uncomfortable to you, a boundary is likely being violated. Tune into your instincts, and you’ll know how to respond assertively.
Defend the boundaries you set:
If you feel your boundaries are constantly violated, you may need to cut ties altogether. When you choose not to allow others to violate your boundaries, you are reclaiming responsibility for your own life.
Respect other people’s boundaries:
The Golden Rule applies when it comes to boundaries. If you expect others to respect yours, you have to respect theirs — even when they are different than your own.
Family And Boundaries
Setting or maintaining boundaries with family and friends may be difficult. The difficulty is a natural thing to experience in recovery. That’s because when you were inactive addiction, it’s likely that your boundaries were severely blurred or even nonexistent. But now, it’s time to learn that setting and maintaining boundaries is essential to your recovery.
Once you have set those healthy boundaries, each family member must work on self-awareness and responsibility. They should also communicate their needs, emotions, and concerns when and if those boundaries cross.
Trying to care for and change the person with the addiction can come at the expense of the caregiver’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It’s a phenomenon often characterized as “codependence.” In such situations, a family member may engage in self-defeating behaviors that damage their self-esteem and quality of life.
It’s been observed that family members can make sense of their experiences when looking at them through the lens of codependence. In addition, patients who are more motivated for treatment may also be more invested in repairing relationships after discharge. For this reason, helping families understand codependence and its consequences may be helpful for their loved ones in substance use disorder treatment.
Everyone involved in the recovery process must be accountable. For example, if you step out of bounds, admit to it. If you lose control of your emotions and lash out, recognize your unhealthy behaviors. Then, take control, apologize and learn from the experience.
By respecting the boundaries of others, you will be amazed by your boundary transformation. If you want to learn more about setting boundaries in recovery, the treatment admission experts can help you.
Relationships and Addiction Recovery Related Guides
Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 9/27/2021
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