How to Set Healthy Boundaries — A Guide for Recovering Addicts

By | May 2, 2014
We have met the enemy

We have met the enemy (Photo credit: gwilmore

Healthy boundaries are essential for building and maintaining healthy relationships. They help us form fulfilling connections with others while keeping us safe from abuse and harm. But for many recovering addicts, the ins and outs of maintaining healthy boundaries are shrouded in mystery.

Addicts often grow up in dysfunctional families, and as result they grow into adults with either weak boundaries or overly rigid boundaries. People with weak boundaries are vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment and can lose their sense of personal identity. People with rigid boundaries suppress their emotions and tend to remain aloof from others, so they fail to form meaningful connections. Whether you receive treatment at a Bay Area drug rehab or elsewhere, learning to set healthy boundaries and respect the boundaries of others is crucial for your success in recovery.

Everyone Needs Healthy Boundaries

Much has been said about the importance of healthy boundaries for the families of recovering addicts, but the recovering addict themselves also need to establish healthy boundaries. If you are a recovering addict, it can be difficult to establish boundaries with your loved ones in the beginning, partially because your loved ones will also be struggling to redefine their personal boundaries.

Some of your loved ones may have weak boundaries and may attempt to take too much responsibility for your life. They may get their feelings hurt or be disappointed when you assert your own boundaries. They may also attempt to cross your boundaries.

It’s important for you to remain true to your own boundaries even as you respect the boundaries of those around you. Maintain your respect for the boundaries of others even when they themselves are not articulating or defending those boundaries.

Find Your Boundaries

English: Three drug addicts seen smoking a hug...

English: Three drug addicts seen smoking a huge amount of crack cocaine.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you can set your own boundaries, you need to figure out what’s important to you. Recognize you have the right to be treated well and have your rights and personal space respected. You may need to work on developing your sense of self-worth, but that doesn’t mean you can’t begin establishing boundaries right away.

Boundaries can pertain to tangible or intangible things, like money, your body, your values and opinions, your feelings and your sexual needs. Think hard about what behaviors you can and cannot accept from others, on a physical, material, emotional, psychological, spiritual and sexual level.

Your boundaries clarify what behaviors you will accept from others. You should establish consequences for what will happen if someone violates your boundaries. A person with healthy boundaries gives of him or herself when it is safe and appropriate, takes care of his or her own needs and is able to say “No,” when he or she needs to.

Set and Defend Your Boundaries

Once you have determined where your limits are, you need to articulate them. This is called setting your boundaries. Examples include such statements as “I’ll talk about this when you are calm,” or “I don’t want to be around people who are drinking.”

When you feel someone is treating you in an unacceptable manner, like violating your boundaries, you need to assert yourself. Don’t give in to emotional outbursts; if you’re having a strong emotional response to the way someone is treating you, it’s a good idea to take some time to step back and think about why you’re feeling that way and what you want to communicate to the person who inspired that feeling.

When you defend your boundaries, be polite and firm. Let the other person know that their behavior isn’t acceptable. Let them know what sort of behavior is acceptable.

People who have healthy boundaries themselves will respect your boundaries if you assert yourself. People with poor boundaries may feel offended, disappointed or hurt, but as a person with healthy boundaries, you need to realize you are not responsible for the feelings of others. If someone continues to challenge your boundaries after you have asserted yourself, you need to be willing and able to enforce consequences. If the boundary violator keeps disrespecting your boundaries, you may need to minimize your contact or stop seeing them.

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is one of the most difficult tasks recovering addicts face. While it may be challenging, establishing healthy boundaries is well worth it. Only when you have developed healthy boundaries can you experience true fulfillment, connection and happiness in your relationships.

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