Monday, April 21, 2014


I think we all know what the word "boundary" means in general, but what does it mean when applied to a person? It means the "limits" of what one can allow for themselves.  It can refer to all aspects of a person...their body, thoughts, feelings, money, property, personal space etc. In working with people recovering from addiction, boundaries are a major topic and a major area requiring growth. We spend a lot of time on it.

The reason why so much time needs to be spent on boundaries is that when a person's boundary is "crossed" it can lead to all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. People might feel angry, hurt, resentful, pressured and more, when a boundary is crossed. Difficult feelings can be very big triggers for people to use their substance. Rather than feel the uncomfortable feelings they can easily turn to their substance for comfort.
Boundaries are tricky though. One interesting thing is that people often do not know that a boundary was crossed, they just know they feel "yucky". Initially it is often a backwards puzzle to figure out what boundary was crossed. The only clue might be that uncomfortable feeling.  

So, the first step in boundary work is identifying what your boundaries are. Are you okay with continuing to lend money to someone when they still haven't paid back the last loan? Are you okay with people being late and keeping you waiting? Are you okay with people dropping by your house unexpectedly? Are you okay with someone borrowing your car? Boundaries really vary from person to person. What is okay with one person may not be okay with another. Each person has to determine what is acceptable for themselves.

A huge part of boundary setting is having the ability to say "no".  for example, if someone asks you to do something that you don't want to do, are you able to say "no"? There may be times when you agree to do something you don't want to do and that can be fine. There may be good reasons to do it. However, if  you feel very angry and resentful about it then maybe you need to rethink it, maybe you should have said "no".

Saying "no" is one way of setting a boundary. Another way is to actually express what your boundary is, as others may be infringing without knowing it.  Expressing a boundary, or in other words setting a limit, with someone can feel very difficult. All kinds of fear and shame and other difficult feelings can arise. People fear their relationship might be damaged or that the person they are setting a limit with will be angry. Boundary setting often works out well. Many times people do understand and want to be respectful. Sometimes it doesn't though and you have an angry or hurt friend on your hands. Those are the times you have to remember that you are setting a boundary to protect yourself from potential relapse. When it comes to your  recovery you have to take very good care of yourself and hopefully the people in your life will understand.

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