If you are anything like me, you may have grown up in relatively dysfunctional home, where boundaries set by parental figures were either harshly inflexible, over-involved, or altogether lacking. When parents are strict or detached, children learn to stifle their emotions and avoid close intimate relationships. Families such as these tend to abide by the law of ‘outward appearance’ – as long as everything looks presentable and orderly to the outside world, what happens behind closed doors is of little importance. Crying is for the weak – ‘children are meant to be seen and not heard’. Parents that are heavily enmeshed in the lives of their children will typically allow them little personal space or privacy. This pattern of involvement will frequently result in individuals who have a harshly limited sense of personal identity.
Families that are deeply inter-reliant will often become somewhat codependent on one another, and the concept of setting personal boundaries will never even be considered. This recurring sense of obligatory self-sacrifice coupled with the inability to say ‘no’ can lead to severely compromising circumstances down the road – especially in the lives of recovering addicts and alcoholics. As a part of addiction recovery, addicts will learn the importance of setting boundaries and of respecting the boundaries of others. Frequently overlooked, the act of respecting boundaries others have set is equally as important as setting them themselves. One of the many gifts of addiction recovery is a newfound sense of self-awareness. Setting healthy boundaries allows this newly established authenticity of self to be expressed, respected, and further developed. And once the skill of healthy boundary setting has been fully honed, tuning into your inner voice and effectively communicating feelings and thoughts with others around you will quickly become second nature.
Setting Personal Boundaries
In order to set personal boundaries, you must first consider what kind of treatment you deem acceptable – as well as what qualifies as appropriate treatment of others. You must develop an unwavering (or at least firm) set of moral standards and personal beliefs. You must figure out what you deem too intrusive – what you, personally, feel comfortable with. Listed below are several steps you will need to take in order to establish a solid set of personal boundaries.
- Consider your sense of self-worth.
Prolonged active addiction is a severe self-esteem crusher. While actively using, all of our previously regarded ethics and standards tend to fall by the wayside entirely. We find ourselves doing things we never thought we had the capacity to do; treating those we care deeply about in ways we never would have deemed acceptable. Because our actions go against our internal grain so severely, our sense of self-loathing is usually amplified considerably. And because we continuously engage in actions we have long-since classified as ‘bad’, we begin to sincerely believe that we are ‘bad people’. In order to set self-respecting boundaries, we need to build up our self-esteem. It is important to remember that what we did is not a reflection of who we are.
- Gain an awareness of your needs.
In order to set healthy boundaries, you will need a comprehensive understanding of your own personal needs. What are your basic requirements? Because we tend to get so dramatically out of touch with who we truly are while deep in the throes of our addictions, self-awareness is a process that will inevitably take time. Once your needs are established, make sure that you are actively asserting them. Do you need an hour at the end of each day to meditate, unwind, and be alone? Stay true to that necessity! Learn to say, ‘no’.
- Ascertain your emotional state.
Pausing before reacting is something that most of us lack extensive experience in. We tend to be somewhat impulsive, lashing out in anger or swiftly blaming others without stopping to consider the origin of our feelings; processing our emotions and communicating calmly and effectively. This is a skill we must learn in order to set firm and successful boundaries – and it is one that we will certainly not master overnight! Practice identifying your emotions as they arise, and coolly communicating them with those close to you.
- Trust your gut.
If you begin to feel uncomfortable, it is likely that a personal boundary is being compromised. Listen to your instincts. If something feels wrong, chances are it is.
- Set limits.
Once you become more aware of how you feel you deserve to be treated, setting boundaries will become easier. Setting limits with those you love can be difficult, but it is important to remember that your own wellbeing should always come first. Some examples of healthy limits to set with friends are, “I care for you, but I cannot spend time with you while you’re drinking – the bar is not a safe place for me to be right now.” Or, “I can’t hang out on Saturdays, as much as I’d like to. I meet with my sponsor on Saturdays.” Some examples of limits that you may consider setting with family members are, “I don’t feel comfortable discussing every detail of my recovery process with you. Just know that I am doing well, working my steps, and truly taking care of myself.” Or, “I love you, but I will not be able to come home and visit until I have at least a year of sobriety under my belt.” Practice setting small limits first, and work your way up to the big ones.
- Stay true to the boundaries you have set.
If someone you love is repeatedly violating boundaries that you have clearly set, you may need to consider distancing yourself. Make sure that you clearly communicate consequences. For example, “I have asked you multiple times not to call me in the evenings. If you continue to call me, I will have to block your number.” And of course, if someone who has repeatedly ‘crossed the line’ is proving detrimental to your recovery, don’t be afraid to cut ties altogether.
- Respect others!
It isn’t fair to expect others to respect your personal boundaries if you fail to respect the wishes and requirements of your friends and family members. Treat others the way you would like to be treated! Show others the same amount of consideration and regard that you expect to be met with.
The Importance of Setting Boundaries in Addiction Recovery
The more comfortable you become defending your own set of personal boundaries, the easier it will be to protect yourself from potentially sobriety-threatening situations and circumstances. Learning to say ‘no’ is a crucial component of recovery, as is getting into tune with what you are comfortable with. The more you practice setting healthy boundaries with your close friends and family members, the quicker the skill will become second-nature. Remember – only you know your limits, and when they are being pushed! Self-awareness is only one of the countless gifts that addiction recovery presents; take advantage of it, and maintain peace and serenity within your newfound, sober life.