It’s a new year, which means many people are making New Year’s resolutions, refining their goals, and hoping for the best. All of these things are great to give attention to! But what about the personal boundaries we need to help us get to the goals and step up our self-growth? Something we tend to forget when life gets busy is our standards of healthy boundaries. It’s also easy to take our sobriety for granted and start slacking on these standards. So to kick off 2020, let’s chat about healthy boundaries in recovery.
Remember, everybody has their own unique beliefs, perspectives, attitudes, and ways of thinking. Each person is entitled to their own needs and personal space. An important part of fulfilling this healthy sense of self is to meet these needs in a way that does not depend on other people outside of you. Your mental and emotional well-being is based on your view of yourself– not other people’s view of you.
Because of all this, finding healthy boundaries is something that needs to be revisited multiple times as part of the recovery process.
What are Personal Boundaries?
Boundaries are a set of physical, relational, mental and emotional “limits” we have for ourselves to protect us from experiencing harm or getting taken advantage of. Think of it as a standard of personal rules you have that need to be followed in order to function at your ideal level of well-being.
Healthy boundaries mean you take responsibility for your decisions, actions, and emotions; and you don’t try to take responsibility for others’ actions or emotions.
Boundaries help us live out our self-worth with integrity. They help us feel stable and secure through daily life. Setting boundaries means to align your needs and intentions with how you act, and how you accept other people treat you. It also means you respect other people’s boundaries and don’t disregard their personal space.
Unfortunately, it’s quite uncommon to learn or practice healthy boundaries growing up. And this can spiral into a lifestyle that goes hand-in-hand with addiction.
Why Do People Lack Boundaries?
Our sense of boundaries stems from childhood. Some children don’t have clear examples of healthy boundaries from their family, which could result in confusion, being vulnerable to harmful behaviors or relationships, anxiety, and “learning the hard way”.
Others experience boundaries that are too extreme with far too many unrealistic rules and expectations. This can result in chronic shame, rebellious behavior, suppressed feelings, or depression. Everyone has their own boundary issues, which is why it’s so important to consider creating personal boundaries in recovery.
A common struggle those of us in addiction recovery tend to have is saying “no” to people who influence us. Saying yes to a specific pressure, suggestion or impulse was how we used to feel approval, adventure, or temporary fulfillment. Maybe we knew it was a risky decision, or we didn’t even want to do the thing in the first place. But because there was no boundary for ourselves, we went along with the action anyway.
The boundaries– or lack of boundaries– we learned growing up usually follow us into our adult lives. Unhealthy boundaries can cause a lot of pain, exhaustion, and relationship problems when left unaware or unaddressed. It’s common for addiction to come along with some type of codependent relationship, as both lack boundaries for the well-being of individuals involved.
Examples of Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries
Healthy boundaries are what help keep you feeling safe, respected, and stable in your personal identity. They help you navigate relationships that are functional and mutually supportive.
Examples of healthy boundaries include:
- Saying no when you mean no
- Asking for help when you need it
- Confidently stating, “No, I don’t drink” when someone invites you to a bar
- Communicating your feelings with trusted loved ones
- Taking responsibility for your shortcomings instead of playing the victim
- Admitting when you’re wrong
- Doing your share of cleaning and helping with household responsibilities
- Giving yourself distance from family members who don’t respect your boundaries
- Ending an unhealthy romance or abusive relationship
- Sharing your honest values and opinions instead of lying to gain approval from others
- Telling the truth to your boss when you know your buddy cheated the company
- Keeping distance from any old friends or bad influences
- Moving away from your old stomping grounds if you constantly feel temptation
- Letting yourself have time to rest and recharge on your days off
Examples of unhealthy boundaries can look like:
- Always saying yes to things when you really mean no
- Being dishonest with your family about who you are
- Frequently taking on other people’s obligations
- Avoiding personal responsibility and accountability
- Letting someone walk all over you
- Staying in a manipulative relationship where your feelings are unimportant or ignored
- Overworking until you burn out or become ill
- Neglecting your physical, emotional, or mental priorities in place of catering to someone else’s demands
- Attending events or parties when you know you shouldn’t be in that environment
- Always pretending everything is ok, even when you are struggling
- Constantly blaming others for your mistakes
- Always taking the role of the victim when you really need to change your habits
- Not knowing how to communicate behavior that is unacceptable in a relationship
Why It’s Important to Make Boundaries in Recovery
In addiction treatment and recovery, it’s important to set and maintain boundaries. Recovery is a new chance to take charge of your life again. If you don’t set limits or expectations for yourself or others, it will be easy to let outside influences tell you what to do. When you get sober from drugs or alcohol, you start a process where you can grow into a healthier version of yourself. It’s important to understand the process, as well as the tools to help you stay sober and live a meaningful life free from addiction.
Addiction recovery is a time to open up about emotions that we’ve ignored through years of substance abuse. During this time it’s also smart to discuss with your therapist, sponsor or support group about making boundaries of your own. This will not only improve your recovery process, but it’ll also benefit your future relationships as well.
How to Actually Set Boundaries
There are many types of boundaries, and every person will have their own top priority for recovery.
To help you set some of your own boundaries, consider these helpful questions:
- Why do you want to set boundaries?
- How can you make boundaries with yourself? (consider recovery, work, free time, relationships, habits)
- How can you set boundaries with others?
- What are your biggest temptations? How can you make firm boundaries to avoid temptation?
- Who can you talk with to get help in creating boundaries?
Steps to Setting Boundaries in Addiction Recovery
- Know your boundaries and why they matter to you. Keep a list of your boundaries for yourself and between others.
- Respect yourself and others. You can’t expect people to respect your boundaries if you don’t respect yourself. And vice versa: also respect other people’s boundaries!
- Remember to get out of any relationship or situation which does not honor the boundaries you clearly state, or it could lead to future problems.
- Express your feelings and limits. It’s important to have healthy relationships where you can voice when someone hurt you or made you feel disrespected. Otherwise, passive-aggressive behavior can lead to crossing the line or making rash decisions.
- If you struggle with being assertive, know that you can still voice your boundaries. You might lose friends or partners who disagree with your boundaries, but it’s probably for the best.
If you need help setting boundaries in recovery, ask for help from someone you trust. A therapist, counselor, or sober coach can bounce ideas with you and formulate a practice. Usually, more drug and alcohol rehab programs are aware of the importance of boundaries and will help you in group or private sessions.
Reach out to Opus Health today if you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction. We help adults and families face treatment to get the support they need.