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Developing Healthy Boundaries in (Addiction) Recovery

Boundaries define what is acceptable, and what is not, in a relationship. Creating healthy boundaries in (addiction) recovery is an important art of your process. It’s about what’s okay and what’s not okay. And it’s about ensuring that your needs, wants, and values are acknowledged and respected. It is possible and likely that you have different boundary types in different relationships. It is also likely that your boundary style is influenced by your attachment style.


Brené Brown has found that the most compassionate people are also the most boundarised. This is because maintaining boundaries keeps you out of resentment, and you can continue connecting from a place of compassion. We’ve all felt compassion fatigue at times when it just seems to run out, right? So, this is important to note.


According to Brown’s research,

“Compassionate people assume other people are doing the best they can, but they also ask for what they need and don’t put up with a lot of crap”.


Assuming that people are doing their best without setting boundaries and looking after yourself, is another route into resentment, judgement, and misunderstandings. We’re not our best selves when we’re coming from this place.

7 Boundary Types
Boundary Styles

WHAT IS A COMPASSIONATE BOUNDARY?

According to an article on Mindful.Org a compassionate boundary is the act of turning toward whatever difficulty you might be feeling with compassion and listening to the underlying need that you want to request, that is both compassionate to yourself and the other person involved. When a boundary is crossed, the first emotion you often feel is anger. Anger is there to protect you from harm and lets you know that you that you need to re-assert your boundary to come back into harmony.


HOW CAN YOU TELL WHEN YOU AREN’T HOLDING COMPASSIONATE BOUNDARIES?

You say yes when you really want to say no.

Other people’s problems become your priorities.

You neglect important concerns related to home or work.

You suffer physically because there is so much outward focus that you aren’t listening within to our self-care needs, like sleep, meditation, exercise, taking breaks, etc.

You accept abuse of any kind in your relationships.

You are overly apologetic and don’t speak authentically about what you truly feel and need.


Anger and setting boundaries are clearly connected. Anger is one of the emotions you will feel when you experience a perceived threat. When threatened, your brain releases the hormone epinephrine, followed by norepinephrine (noradrenaline), which prepares the body to survive the threat by increasing our heart rate and blood pressure and narrowing our focus to fight, flight, or freeze. If you don’t allow yourself to feel our anger with kindness and acceptance, you won’t be able to create healthy boundaries, and this can cause great damage to yourself and others through your words and actions.


ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS IF YOU FEEL ANGRY

What needs, wants, or values need to be protected?

Which of my needs, wants, or values are being disregarded?

What is happening here that is not okay with me?

What needs to be restored?

What do I need to do to protect myself and what is important to me?

5 Steps to Creating Compassionate Boundaries

KNOW YOUR BOUNDARIES

Boundaries should be based on your values, or the things that are important to you.

Boundaries are an expression of your needs and wants.

Your boundaries are yours, and yours alone. Many of your boundaries might align with those who are close to you, but others will be unique.

Know your boundaries before entering a situation. This will make it less likely you’ll do something you’re not comfortable with, and means you’re staying aligned with your needs, wants and values.

You always have the right to say “no”. When doing so, express yourself clearly and without ambiguity so there is no doubt about what you want.


WHY IT'S HARD TO SET BOUNDARIES WITH YOURSELF

According to Social Worker, Sharon Martin, maintaining boundaries is a struggle for most people. We all know that limits and structure are good for us, but they’re hard to stick to! Have you thought about what makes it hard for you to set limits for yourself?


HERE ARE A FEW POSSIBLE REASONS THAT IT’S HARD TO SET BOUNDARIES WITH YOURSELF:

Your parents didn’t set healthy limits or boundaries for themselves.

Your parents didn’t set consistent, reasonable limits or boundaries for you.

There were no rules, inconsistent rules, or extremely strict rules.)

Boundaries or limits can feel like you’re being deprived or controlled.

Some mental health problems or addiction can impair your thinking or make it extra hard to monitor and limit yourself.


If you were fortunate, you had a parent who modelled healthy habits most of the time and made sure you did things like brush your teeth and go to bed on time. Over time, you internalised those boundaries and now set them for yourself. You learned that boundaries make life more predictable, which makes you feel safe. You learned that self-care is important and how to make healthy choices.


However, many of us had parents who lacked boundaries themselves (they chain-smoked, drank excessively, overspent, or brought a new girl/boyfriend home every week). And they didn’t set boundaries (or set them inconsistently) for us.

If no one taught you how to set boundaries or explained that they are for your health and safety, it makes sense that you might struggle to set them for yourself now. Being able to stay up as late as you want and eat too much junk food is fun when you’re 10 years old. But on some level, it’s also scary. You know that no one’s paying attention to you; you can’t trust your parents to look out for you.

Setting limits for yourself is one way to re-parent yourself. Boundaries give you the limits, security, and structure that you didn’t get as a child.


TIPS FOR SETTING BOUNDARIES WITH YOURSELF:

Identify different areas of your life that need structure or limits, such as finances, relationships, electronics usage, daily routine, physical health, nutrition, emotional health, and so forth.

Create boundaries that reflect your goals and values.

Don’t try to set too many boundaries all at once. Setting boundaries is a process and trying to make too many changes at once can backfire.

Use compassionate accountability.

It’s counter-productive to expect perfection and be hard on yourself for not holding all your boundaries all the time.

When you struggle with a boundary, be gentle with yourself.

Being too harsh or unrealistic with yourself leads to shame, hopelessness, and giving up.

Explore the reasons for slipping up, adjust your boundaries, if needed, and plan to improve.

Make incremental changes. Often, it’s helpful to adjust your boundaries incrementally and not change everything all at once.

Setting Boundaries with Self

Brené Brown’s work on boundaries is empowering and relevant to recovery, as she is herself living a recovery lifestyle. She says,

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can't base our own worthiness on others' approval. Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say enough!”


In her two-part podcast series on Unlocking Us, Brown and her sister, Ashley, discuss “Living Big” where they discuss the connection between boundaries, integrity, and generosity.

Living BIG - Brene Brown
The Importance of Boundaries

BOUNDARIES AS AN ACT OF LOVE

When implementing boundaries in your life, it is important to remember these three things:

You have the right to say no.

You have the right to enforce boundaries - even when others don’t approve or agree.

You have the right to ask for what you need.


BOUNDARIES ARE AN ACT OF LOVE FOR OTHERS AND FOR YOURSELF

Boundaries keep us safe and our relationships healthy. Boundaries are the limits we set to protect ourselves from being used, manipulated, or disrespected by others. When boundaries are honoured, we are demonstrating respect for ourselves and others. The benefit of establishing boundaries is they improve self-esteem, they conserve your emotional energy, and they develop independence and agency.


This is why setting boundaries is an act of love. Putting in the effort to set boundaries shows that we care for the long-term health of our relationships, and for others in general. Sometimes setting boundaries is an act of self-love. We set boundaries because we love ourselves, and we love others.

Boundaries are an act of love
Barriers to Setting Healthy Boundaries (1)
Barriers to Setting Healthy Boundaries (2)
Setting Boundaries Worksheet
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Setting Healthy Boundaries Cheatsheet

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