Healthy boundaries comprise all the limits we set to protect our physical, emotional, and mental health. Boundaries protect us from harm in the obvious ways–from physical assault or verbal abuse, for example–but boundaries also protect us against manipulation and exploitation by others. Learning to set and maintain healthy boundaries is a top priority for people recovering from addiction for a number of reasons. First, unhealthy family boundaries often contribute to mental health issues and addiction in the first place. Sometimes children’s boundaries are violated in the form of physical or sexual abuse. Other times, parents, guardians, or other family members are emotionally abusive by disparaging, demeaning, manipulating, exploiting, or extorting children and teens. Any kind of abuse can have lifelong effects. Even adults who learn to enforce boundaries with their peers may still be vulnerable to abuse and manipulation by family.
Boundaries are also important among friends. Your peer group has a huge influence on your behavior. It’s extremely important to set strict boundaries with friends who still use drugs and alcohol. Often, the best course of action is to avoid these kinds of influences entirely but sometimes that’s not possible. For example, drinking is common and it’s not realistic or even desirable to cut out everyone in your life who drinks. However, it is important to make it clear to those people that you won’t be drinking and you won’t tolerate any pressure that might compromise your sobriety. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The following are some suggestions for creating and maintaining healthy boundaries.
See a therapist.
If you have been a victim of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, it’s crucial to get professional help. Those kinds of trauma are a lot to deal with on your own. A therapist can help you work through feelings of shame and help you with standing up for yourself. If possible, it’s also a good idea to participate in family therapy, which can teach families the importance of clear communication and boundaries. Not everyone has to participate for family therapy to make a difference.
Know your priorities.
If you want to enforce boundaries, you have to know what those boundaries are. Take some time to consider what your top values are and how other people’s behavior may infringe on those values. To do this effectively, it helps to tune into your feelings. Listen to your gut reactions instead of stifling your emotions. Take some time to journal about the challenges you’re facing and how you feel about them.
It’s much harder to stand up for yourself when you feel like you’re alone against a group. Make sure you’re connecting with other people in recovery and with supportive people in your life. Talking about your values, your recovery, how you feel, and challenges from other people’s behavior can validate your priorities and make you feel supported, even at times when no one is with you.
Finally, you actually have to practice setting boundaries. This is harder at some times than others. For example, it can be very hard to tell a parent to stop interfering with your life, since you have probably been conditioned to be obedient since you were a child. However, you can build your boundary muscles with other interactions. Ask the waiter if there’s any alcohol in the food you’re thinking of ordering. Ask a friend not to bring alcohol to your house. Even these small steps might feel uncomfortable at first but if you keep working on it, maintaining your boundaries will become easier.
Tree House Recovery of Orange County, California is a premiere men’s addiction treatment facility that uses eight different modalities to help our men become the best versions of themselves they can be. We teach our men that every day of their journey is something to celebrate and that recovery isn’t a sprint– it’s a marathon. To get started with Tree House Recovery, call us today at (855) 202-2138