Boundaries are limits we set that help maintain our sense of well-being. For example, we all have physical boundaries – limits we set between how close or far we let someone get to us physically. Some of have had our boundaries crossed in early childhood. If we’ve been abused or sexually violated, we may never have had the opportunity to cultivate healthy physical boundaries. Others of us had normal physical boundaries but compromised those limits because of our addiction.
Emotional boundaries are like physical boundaries. They too are degrees to which we allow the emotions of others to impact our personal lives. Prior to getting sober, we may not understand that we have the choice to walk away from someone who verbally assaults us, smashes our sense of self-worth, and tries to define our self-esteem.
Boundaries are borders. If we’ve never learned them or had them, sobriety gives us the opportunity to create them. We get to find the balance between trusting everyone, trusting nobody, and trusting the people who have our greatest good at heart. Forming boundaries in sobriety is a process and they become healthier the longer we stay sober.
It is very common for people who are newly sober to have all or nothing boundaries. Some of us come into recovery and finally feel safe. The new and wonderful feeling of safety can lead us to trust everyone and anyone. While it’s healthy to begin to trust again, not everyone can be trusted. We must have boundaries and define limits of what is and is not acceptable to us and our wellbeing.
Others of us come into sobriety unable to trust anyone or let anyone in. We have built huge walls around ourselves to keep anyone from getting to us physically or emotionally. When I was newly sober, this is the side of the spectrum I was on. I blocked everyone and believed I was protecting myself. I let nobody get close to my physically or emotionally. I learned in sobriety that my harsh boundaries were unhealthy. They blocked me from friendship, love, and God. If you fall on this side of the boundary spectrum when newly sober, understanding that opening a door just a crack enables the light to get in.
All or nothing boundaries just don’t work. They either leave us completely vulnerable or totally isolated. Once we determine where we are on the boundary spectrum, we can begin to work our way toward defining healthy limits that will help us in our sobriety our lives overall.
Before we set new boundaries in recovery, we need to understand what boundaries are unhealthy. Here is a list of boundaries that are unhealthy.
Your boundaries are yours. You define what makes you uncomfortable and what doesn’t. If you’ve never had boundaries before, or if your boundaries have been trampled on due to abuse in the past, learning what boundaries are unhealthy is the first step in establishing how to set boundaries that serve you.
Now that we understand a bit about what boundaries are unhealthy and about all or nothing boundaries, it’s time to learn to begin to set healthy boundaries. Keep in mind, that our boundaries evolve over time and that even with our best efforts, sometimes our boundaries will still be crossed. The difference is that once we understand them, we can react differently when boundaries are compromised in the future.
Here are suggestions for setting healthy boundaries – especially in early recovery.
Those of us who come into sobriety with trust issues must work to break down some of our walls. It took me a long time to realize that blocking the world out was a coping skill that protected me in childhood but harmed me greatly in adulthood.
While working through the steps, I realized that my desire to keep anyone from knowing who I really was and how I felt prevented anyone from really knowing and loving me. Only after I began kicking the bricks I had built around myself out did I learn what it felt like to hear the words “I love you,” and understand the person who said it was saying it to ME – not the person I wanted them to see, but ME.
You deserve love. We all do. When we break old behaviors that included unhealthy boundaries, we open ourselves up to true human connection. If self-love and being loved well by others is not the goal of sobriety, I’m hard pressed to say what is.
Obviously, the point of sobriety is to save our lives, but a life that is filled with love is a life worth fighting for. Love defined by healthy boundaries, above all else, will safeguard our sobriety.
Breakthrough Recovery Outreach is full of love. We’ll love you before you love yourself. For help, please contact us at (770) 493-7750.