Setting boundaries while you’re in recovery

Setting boundaries while you’re in recovery

An addiction – whether it be to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, virtually anything – is a challenging road to navigate.

Even when you’re in recovery, your addiction is likely to take a toll on you, your friends, and your family members. In other words, the people you’ll be relying on the most while in recovery are also the people with whom your relationship will likely require some mending.

But mending these relationships is hard work. Addiction is known to fuel many fear-based behavioural patterns, like control and resentment.

During recovery, it’s of paramount importance that you take the time to set healthy boundaries within your support system to keep your interactions and communications civil and stress-free.

On the tail end of a challenging addiction, it’s extremely likely that you’ll pursue the approval of those closest to you in everything you do.

Keeping your interactions comfortable, then, can have many positive effects for everyone involved, and it can even decrease the likelihood of backsliding.

Why is boundary setting important for recovery?

A personal boundary can be defined as a physical, emotional, or mental limit that people set for themselves in order to safeguard their overall well-being.

They can help you feel balanced and in control of yourself. As such, the importance of setting boundaries clearly and honestly is very important in helping you recover smoothly.

Boundaries can…

Encourage self-esteem

With every boundary you set for yourself, you are reminding yourself of your own importance.

Throughout the course of your addiction, you’re likely to come to judge yourself too harshly and come to think of yourself as worthless. For every boundary you set, you are regaining your worth.

Encourage confidence

Setting boundaries involves putting yourself out there. It takes emotional vulnerability and clear communication.

You’ll find that setting a well-defined, healthy limit with someone you love will increase your self-assurance.

Provide good mental well-being

When setting boundaries, you’re given a sense of responsibility and self-awareness.

Not only can it help you feel proud, but it can help you develop healthier channels of communication and cultivate compassion, too.

Help deals with resentment

If you fail to set healthy boundaries, you are essentially giving others permission for their actions toward you.

An inability to confront and verbalize anger leads to resentment, and residual resentment leads you to return to the coping mechanism with which you’re most familiar – your addiction.

What boundaries should you set?

The boundaries you set should be based on your needs – not anyone else’s. Therefore, some of these may apply to you, while some may not:

Physical boundaries

Even around your family members and close friends, you may be uncomfortable with physical contact – even something as benign as a hug or a handshake.

This is perfectly normal, so if you feel uncomfortable being touched, let them know!

Emotional boundaries

Ensure that you are managing your own emotions for yourself, not to please others.

If you take responsibility for the moods and feelings of others, you’ll be unable to distinguish between your own emotions and those of your friends/family.

Mental boundaries

Your thoughts and opinions are worth hearing! Assign value to them (and to yourself) by making it clear that your opinions should be heard.

Conversely, make sure you’re keeping an open mind while hearing the thoughts of others, too.

Sexual boundaries

Say no when you feel uncomfortable. Nobody but you are in control of your sexual boundaries.

Material boundaries

If you’re asked to loan people things that you aren’t comfortable lending out – money, cars, clothes, anything – maintain clear limits with your friends and family in a way that’s assertive and steady.

How to set boundaries through your recovery

People have different communication styles. Many value direct, honest feedback, while others prefer a more tactful approach.

It’s important when communicating your boundaries to adopt an approach that covers all bases. In other words – be firm and direct; don’t be overzealous and rude.

Words matter, especially when communicating boundaries. After all, you’re telling somebody you love that you don’t find their behaviour acceptable. The best way to be respectful is to:

  • Stick to the facts;
  • Avoid assumptions;
  • Use ‘I’ statements; and
  • Focus on your experiences, not the other person’s.

For example, say ‘I find it uncomfortable when you pat me on the shoulder like that,’ followed by ‘I’d prefer a handshake or a high-five from now on.’

Remember, the purpose of setting boundaries is to let someone know that you aren’t okay with their behaviour.

They might still react defensively, but if you’re setting a healthy boundary from a place of self-care in a respectful manner, you’ll be able to acknowledge their reaction without feeling like it’s your job to fix it.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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