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Establishing Healthy Boundaries in Recovery

Healthy boundaries are crucial to being a healthy person who enjoys healthy relationships—yet many people are somewhat unfamiliar with the concept. Most people with addiction who enter recovery tend to lack a clear understanding of what boundaries are and why they are important.

Often, they have never experienced healthy boundaries before. They tend to come from families where boundaries were not well established or respected. Others found themselves in codependent relationships centered around their addiction.

Learning how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries is part of the Living Sober curriculum. In a number of sessions, participants learn how boundaries help them define their identity, becoming clear and confident with themselves, so others know what to expect from them.

Boundaries protect yourself and bring order. Without them, you are unable to regulate demands, ideas, dreams, responsibilities, opportunities, pleasures, and activities—exposing yourself to the risk of relapse. Life can become chaotic. Boundaries promote you: leaders and employers with good boundaries know that if you have good boundaries, you can be trusted to state clearly what you can and cannot do, welcome input and work passionately without burnout.

Healthy boundaries protect from being controlled by others. Having clear boundaries makes it difficult for others to control you, and makes it easier for you to say no when you need to. They protect your finest personal assets including knowledge, body, skills, abilities, purpose, and mission.

Signs of Ignored Boundaries

Our program goes over the many risks of ignoring boundaries in some detail. For example, over-enmeshment means requiring everyone to do everything together and everyone to think, feel, and act the same. No one is allowed to deviate from the family or group norms.

Disassociation is blanking out during a stressful emotional event. You feel your physical and/or emotional space being violated and you tell yourself something like: "It doesn't matter," which results in being out of touch with your feelings about what happened. Excessive detachment occurs when neither you nor anyone else in the group/family/relationship is able to establish any fusion of emotions or affiliation of feelings.

Victimhood or martyrdom: people identify themselves as violated victims and become overly defensive to ward off further violations. The “chip on the shoulder” scenario is reflected in your interactions with others. Because of your anger over past violation of your emotional and/or physical space, and the real or perceived ignoring of your rights by others, you have a "chip on your shoulder'' that declares "I dare you to come too close!’'

Invisibility involves you pulling in or over-controlling so that others, even yourself, never know how you are really feeling or what you are really thinking. In this case, the goal is not to be seen or heard so that boundaries are not violated. Aloofness is the result of your insecurity from real or perceived experiences of being ignored or rejected in the past. This feels like a violation of your efforts to expand or stretch your boundaries to include others in your space.

A cold and distant attitude builds walls or barriers to insure that others do not invade your emotional or physical space. This too can be a defense, due to previous hurt and pain, from being violated, hurt, ignored, or rejected. Smothering results when another is overly solicitous of your needs and interests. This cloying interest is overly intrusive into your emotional and physical space. Lack of privacy occurs when it seems that nothing you think, feel, or do is your own business. You are expected to report to others in your family or group all details and content of your feelings, reactions, opinions, relationships, and dealings with the outside world.

Setting Boundaries With Your Family

In recovery, it is particularly important to set up healthy boundaries with family members. Before you can start setting boundaries with parents, siblings, or other family members, you need to believe that your needs are valid and important. It’s common to feel afraid to share boundaries because you’re worried about offending a family member. Healthy boundary setting doesn’t mean you’re being hurtful, however. The opposite is actually true. The boundaries you establish allow you to build a better, more respectful relationship with everyone in your family and friends.

It’s important to be realistic, though. Be realistic about what will be healthy for you after setting boundaries. You’re taking a huge step toward self-care and doing what’s right for you.

You can be both firm and kind. For your boundaries to be respected, you’ll need to be firm when you share them. That said, being firm doesn’t necessarily mean you must be unkind. Be assertive but not disrespectful.

Be direct. When you’re having a tough conversation about the boundaries you need others to respect, it might be uncomfortable. Being direct is the best way to approach things. Be firm and clear about your needs. And finally, walk away when you need to. You never have to stay in a situation that feels dangerous or toxic. It’s your recovery that is on the line. You can try and talk things over if you feel that’s the best way to go, but at a certain point—especially if it has been difficult for some time—you can always simply leave.

Living Sober is a nonclinical program providing transitional support for people beginning their recovery journey for the first time, as well as for those who are stepping down from a higher level of care and want to give themselves the best chance for success. Our curriculum focuses on 12-Step immersion and is the foundation of a program that goes far beyond the concept of a conventional recovery residence typically only providing a transitional living space.

With over 30 years of experience in sober living, we created a program providing a structured transition back to a life of independence, free from substance misuse.

For more information about our services, call (561) 279-1037.


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