Setting Healthy Boundaries in Recovery

You often hear a great deal about the importance of healthy boundaries in addiction recovery. This term has become ubiquitous, but it’s still a vague concept for many people. Many people, including addicts and their families, don’t understand the difference between boundaries, rules, manipulation and ultimatums. Lines have been crossed in the past under the guise of convention, support and necessity.

Establishing healthy boundaries is more vital in recovery than it ever was. Therefore, it’s important to understand what they are and how to create them for yourself.

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are indicators of a limit or extent. A fence is a physical boundary that designates the extent of the backyard that you can use.

In relationships, boundaries are agreements that you make with yourself and others. They help us create a life that supports our needs. Boundaries allow us to connect with others in ways that nourish all parties.

People with healthy boundaries tend to have high self-esteem because they know what they can tolerate, and they’re willing to stand up for their needs. They know when to ask for help and when to offer it. They steer clear of uncomfortable situations because their personal guidelines tell them when to say no.

Boundaries are a protective mechanism. They help us make decisions and put ourselves in situations that keep us safe.

But boundaries aren’t linear, and we don’t live in a perfect world. Here are some of the problems that people can have with boundaries:

  • If you perceive the world as especially dangerous, you may create rigid protective boundaries that isolate you from others.
  • If drugs reduce your inhibitions, you may allow behaviors that you wouldn’t otherwise engage in.
  • If you don’t have clear communication, you may take someone else’s boundary personally or worry that your boundary will come off as rude.
  • Unhealthy attachments may lead you to disrespect others’ boundaries while using yours to control them.

Boundaries are flexible and adaptable. They change as we evolve throughout our lives. But many of us don’t spend time setting boundaries for ourselves. If we do, we have trouble enforcing them. And when we act in ways that are unaligned with our boundaries, we usually experience negative consequences.

Boundaries are:

  • Personal guidelines that we set up for ourselves
  • Meant to protect our fundamental safety
  • Indicators of what we will and will not tolerate
  • Flexible and adaptable, but not up for negotiation
  • Set up to respect ourselves and others

Boundaries are not:

  • Threats that we use to punish or manipulate
  • Ways to dissociate or disconnect from others
  • Negotiable; you may or may not accept someone’s boundaries, but it’s not your right to change them

Who Needs to Set Boundaries in Addiction Recovery?

Everyone should be setting boundaries with the other people in their lives. In addiction recovery, boundaries are especially important for the patients, health care providers, mental health professionals, friends and family members.

Setting Healthy Boundaries With Your Therapist

Your therapist or counselor sets certain boundaries in your sessions, such as:

  • Meeting in a safe, private location
  • Agreeing to discussion about specific themes
  • Refraining from making physical contact
  • Refusing to hold a session with you if you’re not sober

These boundaries are set up from the therapist’s perspective to protect them. They indicate that the counselor won’t tolerate feeling physically unsafe in a session or pursuing therapy when it is not productive for the patient. Patients have similar needs for safety and productivity. Therefore, many of the boundaries that protect us work for others’ benefit too.

Your Loved Ones Set Boundaries With You

Your family members have likely set boundaries with you, such as:

  • Refusing to lend you money
  • Requesting that you pay rent
  • Refusing to communicate with you when you’re under the influence
  • Offering assistance with a ride to an addiction recovery facility
  • Agreeing to join you at meetings
  • Refusing to lie for you

When you’re in active addiction, it can feel like your family members are hurting you by setting boundaries around their support and interactions with you. However, these boundaries protect them from being taken advantage of and safeguard you by failing to enable your unhealthy behaviors.

How You Can Set Healthy Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

If you’re the individual who is struggling with addiction, you will talk a lot about boundaries with your therapist during treatment. Your counselor can help you learn how to communicate your boundaries with others and stick to them when they’re tested.

Some of the healthy boundaries that you can set in addiction recovery include:

  • Saying no to events or activities that prevent you from attending meetings
  • Creating and following a daily routine
  • Avoiding people and places that remind you of your addiction
  • Refusing to communicate with people when they’re yelling or aggressive
  • Dedicating time to self-care activities
  • Refusing to interact with people who have manipulated or abused you in the past
  • Committing to a job and showing up on time

Some of the boundaries that you set in addiction recovery may seem extreme to others. For example, you might tell loved ones that you would rather communicate via text message to cut down on the time that you spend on the phone. This prioritizes your time and lets other people know how to connect with you. But your mother might feel slighted because you don’t answer her phone calls.

This is an ideal situation to discuss with your therapist. You can learn how to hold your boundary and communicate it in a respectful way. You’ll also learn how to manage situations in which others don’t respect your boundaries.

Let’s Talk About Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

When you’re going through addiction recovery, you hear about setting healthy boundaries all the time. But most people don’t talk about boundaries enough.

Many of your loved ones who haven’t experienced mental health treatment may not understand your needs beyond the way that they relate to them. In other words, when you tell your best friend that you can’t meet them at the local bar, they may feel hurt because they feel like you’re not making time for them. It takes clear, straightforward communication to express our boundaries in a respectful way and be heard without hurting feelings.

But it’s not your responsibility to worry about whether your boundaries will hurt someone else. You’re not meant to be compatible with everybody and every situation in this world. If something is compromising a boundary, you need to learn to let it go.

That’s much easier said than done. That’s why working with a mental health professional throughout your addiction recovery is so important. Counselors and therapists will help you set boundaries. Family programs will encourage your loved ones to learn about setting healthy boundaries. When you’re all on the same page, you can begin to heal within the ideal framework for you.

Setting and enforcing boundaries in recovery becomes much easier when everyone is using the same language. At Renewal Lodge, our family program supports this concept. We offer a safe, judgment-free zone for families to learn about addiction and how to support their loved one through recovery. Letting go of false beliefs and expectations makes way for understanding how to set and respect healthy boundaries in yourself and others.

Find Healing At Renewal Lodge

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Dear Renewal Lodge Visitors,

My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

My journey of recovery brought this once homeless, shame-based, traumatized, insecure young man to a life far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I discovered self-worth, the joy of helping others, the gifts of parenting and grandparenting, and most importantly the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life with integrity.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is that I have the opportunity to give back and help others discover their self-worth, dignity, and the skills to fully live lives that they find truly meaningful. This is the inspiration for developing the skills of Mindfulness in Recovery® (MIR) to meet the needs of new generations struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders. MIR is a set of evidence-based skills designed to help people fully integrate their tools of recovery in ways that are personalized, practical, and in alignment with their deepest values.

While we train counselors and therapists throughout the United States and abroad, I personally have chosen to work directly with the amazing team and clients at Renewal Lodge to develop the model MIR 12-step program for the nation. I choose Renewal Lodge because of the vision of its mission and the dedication of its team. Renewal Lodge is an extremely rare environment in which the staff embodies the very mindfulness and 12-step practices and skills they offer their clients. The results have been beyond my expectations. It is an honor to be here and I treasure my personal time with every client I meet.

With Gratitude,

John Bruna
John Bruna
Director of Mindfulness
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