Learning to Set Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries are part of healthy lives and positive relationships, and setting clear boundaries is an important aspect of drug and alcohol treatment and recovery.

Many addicted people grow up in environments where boundaries are either too rigid or completely non-existent. For others, personal values and healthy boundaries become lost in the presence of addiction. Frequently, people tend to become involved with those who have no boundaries, or to reject friends and family who truly care.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are created by you to honor your own personal values and beliefs by creating a safe space between you and other people. They allow you to decide on personal limits and what you will and won’t tolerate. Once established, boundaries help you determine suitable consequences when your boundaries aren’t respected.

Boundaries are established to create walls between yourself and others. In simple terms, setting boundaries means you teach other people how you want to be treated.

Boundaries are especially important during recovery. As you learn to communicate your boundaries with other people, you establish a stronger sense of self. Although setting boundaries is difficult at first, healthy boundaries lead naturally to self-confidence and healthier relationships.

If your personal boundaries are weak or nonexistent, keep in mind that establishing limits doesn’t come naturally, especially if you find it difficult to stand up for yourself. Communicating your boundaries to people in your life requires time and practice.

However, without boundaries, you are more likely to be abused or manipulated while sacrificing your own needs for the needs and wants of others. With healthy boundaries, you learn to respect and honor yourself – without guilt.

Learning to Set Boundaries

Don’t rush into the process of setting boundaries. Instead, remain calm, take a deep breath and take time to identify your emotions. Realize your feelings are always valid and you have a right to uphold them, even if other people don’t agree. Consider the following points, which may help you establish healthy boundaries:

  • Keep in mind that healthy boundaries are fair and realistic.
  • Don’t allow your emotions to determine your boundaries. Doing so will weaken your boundaries and allow you to be manipulated by other people.
  • Don’t give in to feelings of shame and fear. It’s normal to feel guilty if you have a habit of people-pleasing, but guilt is usually a good sign that you’re headed in the right direction.
  • Establish boundaries based on your own needs and values – not your need to please others. People-pleasing means you are willing to allow yourself to be manipulated or abused.
  • Once you have established your boundaries, be kind, firm and consistent, but stick to the guidelines you have established. Eventually, people will learn to respect your limits.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. Practice being assertive, which gets easier with time.
  • Remember that you are responsible for your own feelings, and that you can’t control the feelings or behavior of other people. Don’t take it personally when people disagree with the boundaries you have established.
  • Expect pushback from others, especially at first. Don’t argue or make threats when people refuse to respect your boundaries. If necessary, walk away or tell the person you can talk about it later, when you (or they) are calmer.
  • Trust your instincts when something doesn’t feel right. In time, you will learn to identify quickly when your boundaries have been crossed.
  • Always respect the boundaries of others, even if they are polar opposites of your own.

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