The Importance of Setting Boundaries in Recovery

hand in front of a face

Creating healthy boundaries while you are in recovery is essential for your well-being and success. But setting boundaries when you are not used to doing so can be an immense challenge. Luckily, you are not alone. Most people who decide to set out on the path towards sobriety struggle with this aspect of recovery. It’s hard to identify your needs and stand up for yourself when the controlling nature of addiction is all you’ve known for a long time. This article will go over the importance of setting boundaries and how you should go about it.

Setting Limits is Good

Boundaries exist to protect ourselves and others from harm, and are especially crucial when we are going through tough times in our lives. Don’t think of boundaries as restrictions, but rather guidelines on how your needs can be met in a healthy way, and also guidelines on what constitutes unhealthy behavior that contributes to maintaining your addiction. Thinking proactively about what limits you need to set for yourself and others in order to give yourself the best shot at recovery is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Why Do Addicts Lack Boundaries?

People who are addicted to drugs and alcohol often lack important boundaries. Most of the time, addicts come from families who don’t respect boundaries nor have established any healthy boundaries for themselves. These are cases where boundaries are blurred and not entirely applied, which can really hurt individuals and the family system.

Boundaries are limits and as children, we are taught that we have limits to what we can and cannot do. Our parents set those limits to protect us from things that we cannot and should not have to handle. Those who grew up with limits know and understand the consequences of their actions. For people suffering from mental illness, trauma, and/or substance abuse issues, these limits may not have existed when they were younger. Lack of boundaries in childhood often leads to trauma, and trauma leads to addiction.

Parental neglect is common in family systems with poor boundaries. This is when parents do not care what the underlying issues of their children are. It could also be because they only care about what they want people to see in them rather than addressing their child’s problems. They don’t have any rules or guidelines for them to follow, so their children are not taught how to behave properly in a social setting or cope with stressors. Children who were neglected during childhood develop behavioral and emotional issues that often follow them into adulthood.

Another reason why addicts lack boundaries can also stem from the opposite situation. Poor boundaries can also exist in families with overprotective and controlling parents. In this case, their parents set up too many boundaries for them to follow, leaving them no room to make decisions on their own. Allowing children personal freedom and choice is essential for their personal growth, and being deprived of this does them a major disservice. These children grow up feeling dependent on other people and may develop issues due to their lack of confidence to make decisions. To cope with these feelings of hopelessness and insecurity, they may turn to harmful substances.

Setting Boundaries

In order to develop healthy relationships, we should establish boundaries for ourselves and the people around us. Here are some of the boundaries you should set:

  • Set boundaries with your family. While you may love your family deeply and feel they love you unconditionally, this does not mean that you do not have to set boundaries with them. Especially if you are close with your family, what they do and say is likely to have a major influence on your life. Family members who drink heavily or use drugs themselves can greatly influence you to pick up the habit yourself, or continue to use when you are trying to recover. To avoid these issues, talk to them about how their alcohol or drug use affects you, and that you would still like them to be a part of your life but you cannot be around them while they are using drugs or drinking. Family members can also lack an understanding of your addiction. They may not accept the fact that you won’t drink at family gatherings and celebrations, and may try and convince you to join in with the rest of the guests. These are the instances where boundaries can protect you.
  • Set boundaries with your friends. Friends are extremely important to have when you are going through recovery. But some friends may not understand why you are trying to get sober, especially if they are addicts themselves. Talk to them and explain what is going on and how you need their help to stay clean. If they don’t want to hang out with you anymore because of the boundaries you set, then they are not true friends to begin with. As you go through the steps of recovery, you should begin to develop a clear picture of the kinds of people you want to surround yourself with. If they don’t want to be part of your sober life, then it’s best that you move on too.
  • Set boundaries with your social activities. Attending social gatherings as a recovering addict can be overwhelming. It’s the sad reality of today that most adult social gatherings involve alcohol, and sometimes even drugs too. It can be quite hard to completely avoid this, which is why it is necessary to set boundaries for these types of settings. This is why it is not good for someone who is trying to be sober to be in a social setting.  Peer pressure often exists in this large gatherings, so learning to say “NO” and sticking firmly to it will be your saving grace.
  • Set boundaries with work. Having something to channel your energy into is great, especially if you are in recovery. Becoming a productive member of society is one of the ultimate goals of addiction recovery! However, it is also important to maintain a healthy balance between work life and personal life. Work has the tendency to become stressful, and when you are stressed, there is a chance that you might go back to using drugs or alcohol again. Talk to your boss and ensure you do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle. Work-related stresses will take a toll on you in the long run if you do not set sufficient boundaries.
  • Set boundaries with your partner. If you have a romantic partner, make sure to let them know that you will need their support in order to stay sober. If they are addicts as well, encourage them to cease their drug and alcohol use as well and work together on living a sober lifestyle. If they refuse to do so, you may want to strongly consider ending the relationship as it will be difficult for you to do what is best for yourself when you are so close to someone who has no interest in getting clean.
  • Set boundaries for yourself. As someone who is looking to set their life straight, it is best to set some boundaries on yourself as well. Figure out what you want and establish rules that you must follow in order to achieve your goals. Maintain your standards and stay true to your sobriety by allowing yourself to grow within your capacity without drugs and alcohol involved. Once you do, you will see that you can do so much more than you ever thought you could.

Setting proper boundaries can help you regain control over your own life. Those who have little to no boundaries in place are susceptible to being taken advantage of and failing to stick to a plan of recovery. But with the right guidelines for yourself in place, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of success! Good luck!