Healthy boundaries are critical to establishing healthy relationships, especially when a relationship involves someone who is struggling with substance use disorder. Boundaries set expectations as to what behavior you find acceptable and what you do not.
Boundaries that are too strict or too relaxed can be harmful in their own ways, so it’s crucial to strike a healthy balance between the two. There are three stages of setting and maintaining a boundary:
- Defining the boundary.
- Setting the boundary.
- Maintaining the boundary.
Boundaries are a two-way street. You have to feel comfortable establishing your own, but able to respect the boundaries of others. Healthy boundaries are integral to healthy relationships, and they’re essential to move forward in recovery.
Healthy Versus Unhealthy Boundaries
Boundaries–healthy or unhealthy–establish the behavior you’re willing and unwilling to accept, as well as the consequences that result from violations of those boundaries.
Healthy boundaries can prevent manipulation, abuse and codependency, and they encourage you to communicate more clearly with others. With healthy boundaries in place, you feel more comfortable asserting yourself. Healthy boundaries include:
- Encouraging others to share thoughts and feelings.
- Honoring your individual beliefs and values, even if other people don’t agree with them.
- Respecting others.
- Taking accountability for yourself and what you do and say.
Unhealthy boundaries can make a person to become a victim of mistreatment or abuse, or act against their best interest. They include:
- Telling someone else how they should think, feel or act.
- Sacrificing your individual beliefs and values to appease someone else.
- Forcing your beliefs or advice on someone else.
- Allowing someone else to define you and control your actions.
- Taking responsibility for someone else’s feelings.
- Feeling guilty for saying “no.”
- Feeling hesitant in expressing your opinions or asserting yourself.
Healthy Boundaries Require Consequences
If you’ve set boundaries and limits regarding specific behaviors, you have to be willing to enforce their consequences. You can’t control the behaviors of others, which is why it’s so important to establish consequences.
For example, boundaries can establish consequences for a loved one’s substance use (“If you continue to abuse alcohol, you can no longer live here.”). Enabling a person’s substance abuse by keeping unhealthy, weak boundaries doesn’t do anyone any good. Taking ownership of your loved one’s substance abuse problems prevents them from fully understanding and experiencing the real consequences of addiction, which breeds resentment and can damage relationships.
Setting boundaries can take some of the stress off of family members and give them more control over their lives, and it could help your loved one realize that they need help.
If you maintain contact with a person who continues to put you at risk for relapse, you have to reset your boundaries and take responsibility for your life and sobriety (“If I’m going to maintain recovery and continue to be your friend, alcohol cannot be present when we’re together.”).
It can be difficult to enforce boundaries, especially if you still keep in touch with old friends, but saying “no” and putting an end to relationships that threaten your sobriety is empowering and enables you to focus on the healthy activities, behaviors and boundaries that bolster your recovery.
Learning how to establish healthy boundaries is critical at any age or stage in recovery. At Segue Recovery Support, we offer case management and recovery coaching to keep clients and their families engaged in recovery. For more information about how our services can help you or someone you care about, please contact us at 1-866-905-4550.