Whether your personal boundaries deteriorated during addiction, or they were never that healthy to begin with, recovery is a critical time to become familiar with the particulars of your comfort zone.
When you are in recovery, you are allowing yourself to pursue the possibilities of life outside of dependency. It is both joyful and incredibly challenging, particularly as you begin to tackle some of the issues at the root of your addiction and test new coping tools. In order to protect the progress you make, and to let yourself flourish in life, you’ll need to become reacquainted with your personal boundaries.
It is likely that your boundaries were pushed or completely lost during addiction, or that your boundaries may not have been very healthy even prior to your dependency. Recovery is an ideal time to explore your boundaries and learn how to communicate them effectively.
Understanding Childhood Trauma, Addiction, and Boundaries
Lack of healthy boundaries can come from a desire to please people, or a fear of being rejected or betrayed. For some, these issues can stem from negative experiences in childhood. Neglect, or unhealthy emotional relationships early in life can leave people unable to express emotions, communicate needs or gauge whether a relationship is positive or not. For those whose personal growth has been threatened by overly strict or abusive families, they may find themselves struggling with codependency as adults. In either scenario, the development of healthy boundaries that protect one’s sense of self and sustain mutually beneficial relationships is either stunted or totally absent.
Additionally, addiction tends to further dismantle healthy personal boundaries, leading people to consistently revise the rules they set for themselves or others. While substance use may numb deep feelings of hurt and lack of security caused by the absence of healthy boundaries, the stress and pain caused by these feelings is only displaced, not actually addressed.
Assessing Your Boundaries in Recovery
When you are considering how to work on your boundaries, it’s important to identify the ones that you currently have. It can be hard to know what healthy boundaries are, particularly if you grew up in situations where there were none present. Below are some signs of healthy and unhealthy boundaries:
Signs of Healthy Boundaries
- You are able to say “no” when you want to, and without guilt
- You can disagree with others respectfully and accept that people have different values, beliefs, and ways of living
- You feel comfortable and confident in your own values, beliefs, and way of life
- You can communicate your needs clearly and effectively
- You feel a sense of respect for yourself and others
Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries
- You feel unable to say “no,” or if you do you feel guilt and anxiety
- You let other people tell you what to do or who to be, or be disrespectful towards you
- You consistently deny your own feelings or needs for the perceived benefit of others
- You try to mold the values, beliefs or ways of living of others so that they match your own personal standards
- You are condescending and disrespectful towards those who do not agree with you
Healthy boundaries allow you to do what you are comfortable with, to respectfully communicate your needs, and to effectively manage your anxieties or frustrations. Having these boundaries not only helps you thrive as your authentic self, but also ensures that you are a positive force in the lives of others as well.
How to Start Building Healthy Boundaries During Recovery
Working on your boundaries can be started by following some basic guidelines. Here are a few tips as you begin to prioritise this vital component of your recovery.
Tip 1: Listen to Your Body
You’ve just said yes, but your stomach is in a knot, or your heart is pounding, or you feel tightness in your chest or your jaw. Your body is trying to tell you something, and it is important to note that. Stress responses can be activated when we push past the boundaries that we know deep down are needed to protect ourselves. If you are feeling a variety of uncomfortable physical sensations, take a moment to check in with yourself before you make your next step.
Tip 2: Communicate Calmly and Clearly
How many times have you stuffed down how you actually feel about something because you don’t want to deal with it, or because you feel like your thoughts don’t actually matter? When was the last time you blew up at a loved one about something that’s not really related to what you’re feeling? Part of developing healthy boundaries is taking a breath, focusing your thoughts on the issue at hand and how you’re reacting internally, and respectfully communicating that. This allows your needs to become part of the conversation, and gives others the opportunity to constructively engage with you.
A common starting point for this is by beginning your communication by saying “I feel…” This helps focus your statement on your own feelings or perceptions, rather than projecting blame or assumptions onto another.
Tip 3: Practise Saying ‘No’
A hallmark of unhealthy boundaries is the inability to say “no” even when you really feel opposed to something. This leads to significant stress and even guilt if you are seemingly going along with an idea or action you fundamentally disagree with. Giving yourself the licence to say “no” can be incredibly liberating, and can help people get to know the real you.
Remember that you don’t always have to offer an explanation for declining something, but if you do, it’s good to think about it beforehand and keep it succinct. For example,
- “No, I won’t be able to go out this weekend. I’m pretty tired and I need to catch up on my rest, but thanks for the offer.”
- “No, I won’t be having a beer. I don’t drink anymore. I would love a water though.”
- “No, I won’t be able to take on that extra task. My schedule is pretty full at the moment and I need to focus on doing my existing work well.”
Tip 4: Get Support from People You Trust
Whether it’s a close friend, a partner, a family member, or a therapist, it is helpful to get another perspective on how you’re moving forward with your boundaries, and to solicit advice when you’re encountering problems along the way. Professional support can be particularly useful if you’re feeling stuck or unsuccessful in your attempts to set healthy boundaries. Therapists will be able to identify different strategies for communication, and practice these interactions with you so you feel comfortable using them in your daily life.
Creating healthy boundaries requires the same amount of time and effort that you’d put into strengthening your physical health. Like getting back into shape, building personal boundaries can be hard at times, but ultimately will make you feel better and provide a solid foundation for a lasting recovery.
Building Boundaries, Strengthening Recovery at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab is a specially designed rehabilitation and wellness facility created to foster an environment of personal growth and healing for people who want to change their lives and overcome addiction or mental health issues.
Licensed by the Thai Ministry of Health and staffed by an international group of compassionate professionals, The Dawn offers tailor-made programmes that cater to each individual’s needs by using a comprehensive, holistic treatment method and modern techniques with proven results.
Exploring Boundaries with Interpersonal Therapy at The Dawn
The Dawn has a range of psychotherapeutic options available, including interpersonal therapy, also known as a process group. This type of unstructured group therapy is an ideal setting for exploring and testing boundaries in recovery. Focused on helping participants identify their feelings and reactions to interactions with others in the group, interpersonal therapy allows people to open up about what’s going on internally and examine these dynamics.
Call The Dawn today to learn more about how we can support your personal growth and lasting recovery.