Setting Boundaries In Recovery

You just finished treatment and now you are back at home. You’ve changed, but the people in your environment didn’t go through therapy and are still the same. You may need to ask them to do some things differently to support you in your recovery. They may not understand that they could be a trigger or that they may be putting you at risk.
This is why setting boundaries in recovery is an important topic.

If you struggle with the concept of setting healthy boundaries you are not alone, many people with addictions have never been modeled healthy boundaries. Learning to establish and protect your boundaries is vital to recovery. Starting to understand what a healthy boundary looks like is often the first step.

What Is A Boundary

A boundary is a limit we set to keep our self safe, physically and emotionally.

There are two types of boundaries, internal and external. Boundaries are important in all of our interpersonal relationships and with our self.

External boundaries are the ones you set with other people. They determine how you allow other people to treat you, what is okay and what is not okay. External boundaries involve our physical space and environment. They include our emotional and mental state, our time, our possessions, and our privacy, and are all areas where boundaries may need to be set.

Internal boundaries are the ones you set with yourself. You could look at internal boundaries as agreements you have set with yourself around your behavior. You might think of it as self-discipline, setting guidelines around how you spend your time, and control emotions and impulses.

If you’ve never set healthy boundaries before, have some patience with yourself. In order to set and maintain healthy boundaries you need to be healthy. If you are in the early stages of recovery that is likely something you are still working on. Starting to identify your value and worth will allow you to set limits and boundaries with others. It takes time to recognize boundary violations and identifying healthy limits.

Why Do We Need Boundaries

Boundaries are our way of expressing our personal needs they provide guidelines for what behaviors you will allow from others and yourself. It is a way to define for others what you think is acceptable or unacceptable behavior.

Setting boundaries in recovery is vital in letting others know that you want to have healthier ways of communicating and relating. It is a way to become more assertive, find your voice, express your values. Rebuild relationships.

It is also a way of discovering whether the people in your life are interested in having healthy relationship, whether they support and respect you.

  • Healthy boundaries allow you to learn more about yourself.
  • Take personal responsibility for your behaviors and self care
  • Have improved mental and emotional health
  • Gain self-respect
  • Become more comfortable saying No
  • Experience healthier relationships

When To Set Boundaries In Recovery

You may already have some ideas of where you need to set boundaries. For example if there is abuse going on in your relationship, letting your partner know that it will no longer be tolerated is necessary. There may be more subtle things happening that just don’t feel right but you don’t know whether or not it is okay.

Do you find yourself making excuses for someone’s behavior, getting knots in your stomach, are you feeling overwhelmed by what is being expected of you, are you feeling resentful? Start to pay attention to your feelings, these might be indicators of a boundary violation.

You can also check in with your values, are you being asked to do something the is in violation with your value system. For instance if one of the components of your recovery program is honesty and you value that, if someone asks you to lie for them it would be a boundary violation.

Healthy & Unhealthy Boundaries

In setting boundaries the first step is understanding what a healthy boundary looks like. If you are new at setting boundaries you may question whether or not you are being reasonable in your request to set limits.

As a guide to help understand whether or not someone is crossing a boundary here is a list of some of your personal rights.

  • You have a right to say No without feeling guilty.
  • You have a right to make mistakes and not be perfect.
  • You have a right to be treated with respect and dignity.
  • You have a right to be uniquely you.
  • You have a right to ask for what you want.
  • You have a right to feel however you feel and express it.h
  • You have a right to change your mind.
  • You have a right to determine your own priorities.
  • You have a right to not be responsible for other people’s feelings and behaviors.
  • You have a right to privacy, and your own needs for personal space and time.
  • You have a right to be in a non-abusive relationship.
  • You have a right to be playful, have fun, and enjoy life.

    Remember that these rights also apply to the other people in your life.

Unhealthy Boundaries

  • Telling others how they should feel or think
  • Agreeing with others to people please, giving up your own opinions or values for someone else.
  • Forcing your opinions and beliefs on others, using pressure and/or aggressiveness
  • Codependent behavior that includes taking responsibility for someone else’s feelings

How To Set Boundaries

Identify why you want to set the boundary. Is the motive about self-care? Is it about control? It is also a process to learn the difference, but the more you check in the more you will start to recognize if there is really a boundary violation that needs to be addressed.

Once you have identified that you want to enforce a boundary you need to express what your preference is. Using “I” statements is a good way to start. A statement from Al-Anon is a great premise to follow –

“Say what you mean, mean what you say, just don’t say it mean..”

Step 1. Identify the boundary

Step 2. State it using”I” Statements in a respectful way

Step 3. Stay calm but be firm, if applicable state the consequence if the boundary isn’t followed.

Step 4. This may not be a one and done, be assertive and repeat the boundary if it isn’t being respected.

What it might look like:

It can feel really uncomfortable when you first start doing this, stay calm, stick to the facts, the purpose is to let someone know that you are not okay with their behavior. For example “I worry when you are running late and would appreciate it if you could text me to let me know that you are working late.”

Use the broken record technique, remain calm and repeat your boundary without engaging in an argument about why. For example.” I can’t lend you any money right now”, regardless of what their comeback is you just continue to repeat your boundary, “I can’t lend you any money right now”, even if they come back with a lower amount and promises to pay you back, your response stays the same, “I can’t lend you money right now.

What Gets In The Way Of Setting Boundaries

Now that you are starting to understand healthy boundaries and the benefits what might get in the way of setting them?

One of the biggest reasons is fear.

Fear of confrontation, we might upset someone, they may reject us, make fun of us, or even leave us.

Guilt, it feels selfish to ask for our needs to be met, or respected.

Safety if you are in a relationship with someone abusive or unpredictable and are unsure of their reaction you may be fearful of speaking up. (It may be safer to set a boundary with someone else there.)

At the very least it will feel out of your comfort zone and you may get push back. Just remember the reason you are doing this is all about emotional health and wellness for yourself and your relationships. It will start to feel more comfortable with practice.

Respect The Boundaries Of Others

You are not the only one with boundaries. The boundaries of others matter as well. Even if theirs are different, give them the respect you wish for yourself.

You may not always agree with others’ boundaries. For instance, maybe you don’t understand why your co-worker or significant other needs personal time each day. You may thrive on interaction with others while they prefer being alone. Still, it’s essential to honor their wishes and show you care.

Boundaries With Yourself is a Must

Having healthy boundaries with yourself is critical to the recovery process. By the time most people get sober, they have severely damaged the relationship they have with themselves. Rebuilding self-confidence and experiencing self-love is an ongoing process that takes time and dedication.

You can start to rebuild the relationship you have with yourself by making the commitment to stay sober one day at a time. This could be the first internal boundary you set with yourself. As you live up to this commitment with each passing day, you will feel more comfortable in your own skin.

Like most change this is a process and there will be things that go well and there will be bumps in the road. Focus on what you do want and solutions versus the failures. Every failure is an opportunity to learn what doesn’t work.

Peace and Joy on your recovery path!

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