The importance of boundaries in addiction recovery
People early in addiction recovery do not usually have healthy boundaries. Having healthy boundaries is a crucial part of having a good life, as you need them to have healthy relationships and a decent level of self-esteem.
It takes time after getting clean to build them up. This article looks at why you might not have healthy boundaries, what healthy boundaries look like, the importance of respecting other's boundaries, and what you can do to get healthy boundaries in your life.
What are healthy boundaries in addiction recovery?
Your life in addiction was probably pretty chaotic. You may have had people staying in your house who you didn't know well or perhaps did not know at all. You might have been in a relationship where neither person respected the other's boundaries. Perhaps you had similar relationships with family members and friends.
In addiction recovery, it is time to change this. Having healthy boundaries in recovery means that you respect yourself. This adds to your self-esteem, which is key to flourishing in recovery. Healthy boundaries are vital to have robust relationships. At a more fundamental level, not having healthy boundaries can lead to excess stress and even relapse.
Healthy boundaries are limits that you set in order to take care of yourself. They help you say "no" when you need to, and they help you stick to your goals. There are many different types of healthy boundaries. Your boundaries may be physical, like not letting someone touch you without your consent. Boundaries can be financial, like not letting someone borrow money from you if you know they won't pay you back. Boundaries can also be emotional, meaning you don’t let someone take control of your emotions.
Early recovery and boundaries in addiction recovery
There are a few reasons why people in early recovery might not have healthy boundaries. First, addiction itself can lead to problems with boundary setting. When you're using, you're probably not thinking about the consequences of your actions, which can make it hard to set and stick to boundaries.
Second, people in early recovery are often trying to please other people. You might be trying to make up for lost time with family and friends or trying to prove to your boss that you're worth keeping around. This can lead you to say "yes" to things that you don't want to do, putting up with disrespectful behavior from others.
Third, people in early recovery often have a lot of anxiety and stress. This can make it hard to stick to your boundaries, because you're so focused on keeping everything together that you don't have the energy to deal with someone else's boundary-pushing behaviour.
What do healthy boundaries in addiction recovery look like?
There are three types of boundaries: healthy, porous, and rigid.
Porous boundaries are ones that you put in place, but that you're okay with other people crossing. For example, you might tell a friend not to knock on your door after 10 o'clock, but then you don't challenge them about their behaviour if they do.
Rigid boundaries are ones that you put in place and that you don't want other people to cross. For example, you might have a rule about not borrowing money from friends, or about not talking to certain family members who you know will upset you.
Healthy boundaries are somewhere in the middle. They're limits that you set to take care of yourself, but that you're also willing to negotiate slightly. For example, you might have a rule about not talking to certain family members, but you might be willing to make an exception for a holiday or a special occasion.
How can you get healthy boundaries in addiction recovery?
The first step to getting healthy boundaries is to become aware of the boundaries that you currently have in place. This can be a challenging process because it requires you to look at your past behaviour and identify the patterns you have fallen into.
Once you've become aware of your current boundaries, you can start to set new ones. This process will probably be slow at first, because it can be difficult to say "no" to people who you're used to saying "yes" to. But with time and practice, it will get easier.
Tips for developing healthy boundaries
1. Be clear about what you want and don't want
The first step is to get clear on what your limits are. This may take some time and reflection, but it is essential to be as specific as possible. For example, if you don't want people to enter your personal space without permission, communicate this clearly.
2. Communicate your boundaries to others
It is not enough to know what your boundaries are, you also need to communicate them to others. This can be difficult, especially if you are dealing with people who have been disrespectful of your boundaries in the past. However, it is important to be assertive and stand up for yourself.
3. Be prepared to enforce your boundaries
If someone does not respect your boundaries in addiction recovery, you should be prepared to take action. This may mean setting consequences or walking away from the situation. Whatever you do, make sure that you stand up for yourself and protect your rights.
4. Seek support if needed
Developing healthy boundaries can be difficult, especially if you have a history of being taken advantage of. If you find yourself struggling, reach out for help from a therapist or your support system. Recovery is a process, and you don't have to do it alone.
Here are a few places where you can start to set healthy boundaries:
In your workplace
You have the right to set limits on how much work you're willing to do, and on what types of tasks you're willing to do. You also have the right to say "no" to any assignments that you're not comfortable with due to ethical concerns.
In your sexuality
You have the right to say "no" to any sexual activity that you're not comfortable with. This includes kissing, touching, and intercourse. You also have the right to set limits on how often you have sex, and who you have sex with.
In your friendships
You have the right to set limits on how much time you spend with your friends, and on what types of activities you're willing to do with them. You also have the right to say "no" to any requests that you're not comfortable with.
To maintain long clean time, you must also set boundaries related to drugs and alcohol. You might tell friends that they cannot bring drugs or alcohol to your house, or engage in any criminal activity while they are around you. This does not just apply to friends, and you should let your family or partner know these things too.
In your family
You have the right to set limits on how much time you spend with your family, and on what types of activities you're willing to do with them. You also have the right to say "no" to any requests that you're not comfortable with.
It is common for people in recovery to have a co-dependent relationship with their family members. If someone in your family is constantly making demands, you need to be clear that, regardless of what happened in the past, you will not be carrying them out any more.
Respecting other people's boundaries in addiction recovery
Boundaries work both ways. While it is important to set boundaries for other people and enforce those boundaries, it is also crucial that you respect other people's boundaries. Here are some reasons to do this.
Decreases disappointments. If you are always expecting people to behave according to what you want them to do, you will always feel disappointed. Letting go of expectations for others allows you to respect people's boundaries and allows you to be more free.
Creates more peaceful relationships. Not respecting others boundaries leads to relationships fraught with conflict. When you overstep the mark, people are likely to become resentful. This may not be obvious at first, but resentments will build up.
Makes you more agreeable and deepens relationships. Respecting boundaries also makes you an emotionally safe person for the people around you. If you are always flying off the handle when people don't act in a way that you want them to, they will be unlikely to confide in you as they will be unsure of your reaction. They might even be less likely to want to spend time with you.
Examples of respecting other's boundaries
You might ask a sibling to help you move a sofa in your house, and when they say no, you fly off the handle. In this situation, practice letting go of what your sibling does helps to respect your sibling’s boundaries.
Perhaps you have warned a friend about her boyfriend being bad news, and she just won't listen. Respecting her boundaries means letting go of trying to control her relationship. The reality is in these situations that people will usually do what they want to do, regardless of what you say.
Maybe you have asked a parent to lend you money, and they have said no. You know they have the money to give you, so you ask them again. In this situation, you should respect their first answer. They might have a good reason for not wanting to lend you money. Even if they don't, it is their choice.
Respecting these people's boundaries is part of living "life on life's terms". Doing this will grant you more peace in your life. People may even respect your boundaries in return whereas in the past they wouldn't have.
Healthy boundaries in co-dependent relationships
Co-dependency in relationships is when a one-sided relationship develops, with one person looking after the other person in the relationship. Both people have a need to be wanted.
These relationships are common in people with addiction problems, even after they get clean.
Signs of a co-dependent relationship
- Spending most or all of your time with the other person
- Concentrating on the other person in the relationship's problems (and not your own)
- Finding it difficult to be alone
- Canceling plans to spend time with your partner
- Trying to "save" the other person
People may get into a co-dependent relationship for several reasons, including:
- Having low self-esteem and require someone else to validate them or boost their confidence.
- Fear of being alone
- Being in emotional pain and needing to concentrate on someone else to hide from it
Co-dependent relationships are never healthy, and they ultimately lead to resentment from one or both sides of the relationship. Even after this resentment has become deep, there may be an unwillingness from the two people to end the relationship.
If you are in a co-dependent relationship and want to make it work, it is time to focus on your boundaries in addiction recovery. You have to be open to communicating and listening to each other's needs evenly, and take responsibility for your actions.
You have to learn to take a good look at the relationship, and see what is working and what is not. People in co-dependent relationships sometimes struggle to see how their relationship objectively. It may be worth seeking the assistance of friends or family who are emotionally healthy. You might also try speaking with a relationship counsellor who is well-versed in co-dependency.
Ultimately, if the relationship is not working and has become toxic, it might be time to end it. If you struggle to do this, there are support groups that have been set up to help people who have problems with co-dependency. The most popular of these is CODA, a co-dependency support group based on the principles of the twelve steps.
Respect yourself and others
Setting healthy boundaries is an essential part of recovery from addiction. By being clear about what you want and don't want, communicating your boundaries to others, and being prepared to enforce them, you can start to protect yourself from further hurt and develop healthier relationships.
Remember that the door swings both ways, and while enforcing your boundaries, make sure that you respect other people's boundaries.