6 Tips for Setting and Maintaining Healthy Boundaries in Addiction Recovery
Learning to set and maintain healthy boundaries is an important part of addiction recovery. Maintaining healthy boundaries means that you respect other people’s values and autonomy and you expect them to do the same for you. Unhealthy boundaries are typical in dysfunctional relationships and these are often one of the factors driving addictive behavior.
For example, a physically abusive relationship is a situation where one person uses violence to control the other. This violates their right to personal safety and their right to make their own decisions. What’s more, physical abuse often leads to depression and substance use. If you are in an abusive relationship, the best thing to do is usually just to leave and get as far away from your abuser as possible. This is a very clear boundary, using physical distance. However, other relationships may be more complicated, and learning to maintain boundaries is a healthy behavior to learn in general. Here are some tips.
Know Your Values and Priorities
First of all, if you are going to set boundaries, it helps to know why. Start by identifying your core values, whether they’re family, integrity, honesty, learning, kindness, or whatever else. It might help to take some online tests to help you clarify your values or you may spend some time writing about it. Perhaps look back through the major decisions you’ve made in your life and see what your guiding principles have been.
For example, maybe you turned down a job that paid well because you felt you were being asked to do something dishonest. That indicates that you value honesty above money. That’s good to know and it indicates honesty is a value you are willing to protect. Knowing what’s really important to you can help you figure out where to draw the line and give you a boost in courage when you need it most.
Listen to Your Gut
Another way to identify your values and to recognize when someone might be violating your boundaries is to listen to your gut. We often react emotionally before we fully understand a situation rationally. That doesn’t mean your gut is always right, just that if you feel weird about something, pay attention to the feeling and don’t dismiss it without consideration.
For example, if you feel confused by what someone is telling you, it could be they are trying to manipulate you--a clear violation of your boundaries. Take a step back and don’t make any decisions until you are seeing things more clearly. Or perhaps you just have a bad feeling about a situation. That might indicate that you should move away from that situation. Our instincts have evolved to keep us safe so give them some credit.
No relationship is perfect and there will be plenty of times when you just disagree. Boundary issues don’t always imply sinister intent; often people just go along with things and the other person has no idea they don’t want to do them. This happens every day in big and small ways. It’s your responsibility to be clear about what you want and don’t want.
That means learning to communicate clearly. No matter how well the other person knows you, they aren’t psychic and they may not know what you want unless you tell them. The key is to do it politely. Not every disagreement has to lead to an argument. In fact, most disagreements can be worked out pretty easily if both parties are willing to listen.
Keep in mind that this goes both ways. It’s important to communicate clearly about what you want and it’s also important to listen to the other person and respect their values and autonomy.
Learn to Say No
In many situations, especially when you’re recovering from addiction, learning to say no is a skill in itself and it’s one of the first skills you should learn. When you leave treatment, people may offer you all sorts of things. Since drinking is so common in American culture, there’s virtually no chance you won’t be offered a drink from time to time, usually by people with good intentions. That’s why a polite but firm no is a crucial skill to master quickly.
Work With a Therapist
So far, we’ve discussed some important considerations in setting boundaries, but there may be deep-seated psychological reasons why setting boundaries is difficult for you. If you grew up in an abusive household, for example, or if you’re currently in a codependent relationship. Sometimes people lose touch with their own needs and desires entirely and sometimes they feel like setting boundaries is just impossible for them. If that’s how you feel, you need to talk to a therapist. They can help you figure out what you want and need and help you develop the skills to assert yourself.
Family therapy is also great for this since it focuses specifically on family dynamics, clear communication, and healthy boundaries. Getting the relevant people to work through their relationship issues can make a huge difference. However, not everyone has to participate in order for family therapy to be effective. Just changing the behavior of one or two family members can change the whole family dynamic.
Get Reassurance from Your Support System
Finally, it’s always harder to set and maintain boundaries when you feel isolated. This is especially true when you’re first trying out a new behavior that you’re not really sure about. It feels like a big risk. However, if you have a strong support system behind you, you don’t feel quite so alone, even if your support system doesn’t happen to be with you at the moment.
This is one reason going to 12-Step meetings is helpful, even after you’ve completed a professional treatment program. You may also want to consider attending Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings, for family members of people with substance use disorders, since you may fall into that category too. If you do have a family member or close friend with substance use issues, these meetings can give you a different perspective on setting boundaries with them.
Boundaries are crucial not only for recovery but for being your own person and directing your own life according to your core values. Setting and maintaining boundaries means knowing what your values are, listening to your gut, and learning to communicate clearly and respectfully. It’s also important to keep in mind that maintaining values requires practice. You’ll get better the longer you keep at it.
At The Foundry, we know that much of recovery from addiction is about learning practical skills to improve your relationships and manage your behavior. Great relationships are especially important for a strong recovery. We use a variety of evidence-based practices, including CBT, DBT, and family therapy to help you improve your communication and relationship skills. For more information, call us at (844) 955-1066.