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Why Boundaries are Crucial for Families in Recovery


Addictions don’t happen in a vacuum.

And once they happen, they don’t leave our friends and families untouched. Whether you’re the person who is addicted or you love that person, the substance use disorder shapes the way we relate to each other on a basic level. We call this behavior pattern “codependency.”

What is Codependency?

Back in the 1980s, counselors began to notice a certain behaviors were common to most familes dealing with addiction. Once they started comparing notes and writing books, they realized that the same things were happening in other families who were dealing with other types of long-term pain–mental illness, abuse/neglect, or even chronic physical illness..

Codependency blurs the lines between “you” and “me”

The core of codependency is a belief that someone else is responsible for making you happy. We don’t always put it in those terms. But the end result is that we don’t take care of ourselves the way we ought, so we allow other people’s pain to diminish us through poor boundaries.

We let how others define our self-worth and dictate where we put our energy.

Why Boundaries Are So Important and So Hard

Healthy relationships have healthy boundaries.

A boundary is a limit, either physical or emotional, that people set to define who they are within a relationship.

  • Boundaries protect the relationship, keeping it safe, supportive, and respectful.
  • They give you room to express who you are and what’s important to you.
  • They define what’s acceptable and what’s not.

In a toxic relationship, boundaries are unhealthy and unreasonable–either too weak or too strong. They can be used to manipulate, control, and keep people at a distance. Bad boundaries don’t respect the other person and they don’t respect you.

Unhealthy boundaries feel bad

Even if you don’t have clear boundaries, you feel it when they’ve been crossed:

  • When you’re asked to lie, you’re stomach feels queasy.
  • When you’re carrying too much of the load, you feel angry or resentful.
  • When your partner twists the truth and places the blame back on you, you feel confused.

Unhealthy boundaries are unclear. They drift to and fro. You shrug off something one day that another day leaves you tied in knots.

Healthy boundaries can feel bad, too..at first

When we haven’t had healthy boundaries in our lives–for instance when we grew up in an emotionally abusive or neglectful home or have had parents with addiction issues, we learned that having a good boundary wasn’t worth the price. Maybe we even learned to feel that we aren’t worthy of being treated with respect.

Deciding where our boundaries are and then developing the determination to enforce them can feel awkward–even painful–as we wrestle with ourselves and others who will test those boundaries.

Once you exercise your boundary muscles…

  • You’ll find you think more clearly.
  • You’re able to deal with harder situations better (resilience).
  • You’re less resentful.
  • You can be more present in your relationship with others.

How to set up a boundary

As you and your family work through your recovery journey, you’re going to find the need for boundaries. You’ve learned to relate to each other and to the world in ways that weren’t healthy. In order to grow together, you’ll need to figure it out.

Remember, recovery is a huge transition for you and your family. There will be times that you do better than others at standing up for your boundaries. It takes practice and time to learn to relate differently.

Steps to creating a boundary:

  1. What’s your motivation? What good thing do you want to achieve from this?
  2. Put it in an “I” statement. “I don’t lie for others.” “I will not drive when I’ve been drinking.” “I will have dinner at 6 pm. If others are here, they can join me. But I’m not waiting later than that.”
  3. Keep the emotions out of it: Al Anon has a saying “Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Just don’t say it mean.” The boundary is to communicate your limits for you and others.
  4. Know what you’re going to do when the boundary is violated. Make it reasonable and enforceable–something you’ll follow through on. “If you yell at me, I’m leaving the room.”
  5. Be ready to defend your boundary. It’ll take a lot of strength and determination on your part, but over time, it gets easier and feels better. You might have days where you don’t want conflict. Others might make you feel guilty for changing, but this is good for you and it’s good for others. It’s worth the work.

Developing Healthy Boundaries is a Part of Recovery at Spring Gardens

At Spring Gardens Recovery, we know where you’re coming from. Many of us have been there. We’re all trained to help.

At our drug and alcohol treatment center in Tampa, Florida, we work with you to teach self care. Boundaries are a big part of being good to yourself and those you love. At Spring Gardens Recovery, we also model boundaries, because you’re part of our family and we care enough about you to set those boundaries.

Give us a call at (866)244-9556 anytime or contact us here on the site to take the steps to feel better about yourself and figure out healthy ways to interact with yourself and those you love…without alcohol or drugs.


Lora Horn is a writer covering key issues in psychology and addictions. When she’s not writing, she’s usually enjoying a nice cup of tea with her cat cuddled by her side.

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