As family members and friends of an addicted loved one, you have probably observed this person fail to establish clear boundaries. You may also have a hard time establishing the boundaries that would protect you from this person’s behavior.
Learning healthy boundaries is an essential aspect of self-care. Boundaries help us know who we are and make healthy choices. They give us confidence in using the words “yes” and “no.” When boundaries are violated regularly, the wounds take years to overcome.
In childhood, boundary violations occur when parents/authority figures:
- Fail to listen to and validate the child’s thoughts, feelings, and needs
- Fail to stay attached and connected to the child when they disagree with the child
- Impose limits that are too strict, preventing the child from learning from experience
- Set inconsistent boundaries and limits, creating confusion for the child
- Create an inappropriate alliance with the child that interferes with or substitutes for the relationship between parents (thus destroying a healthy parent/child boundary)
- Tell the child what to think, feel, or need, giving the child no freedom to choose
Boundary injuries sustained in childhood create four types of unhealthy dispositions. The compliant disposition is easily controlled by the demands of others. The non-responsive person is too self-absorbed to notice others’ needs. The controlling person fails to respect others’ boundaries, and the avoidant person fails to recognize his or her own needs and ask for help.
Even if we learned healthy boundaries as children, many of us allow our boundaries to deteriorate over time or in certain circumstances. You know your boundaries have been violated when:
- Others ignore/discount your thoughts, feelings or opinions
- You let others persuade you to do things you know are wrong or that make you feel uncomfortable
- You fail to impose proper discipline on yourself or others
- You act selfishly and disregarded the needs of others
- You let others’ mistakes dictate your future and lead you into despair
- You let others’ expectations rule your life
If you find that you are consistently sacrificing your sense of self in order to accommodate others, you might want to do a boundary check. You can begin by reflecting on the following questions:
- Which boundary injuries did you experience growing up? How have those injuries affected you?
- Which of your boundaries (thoughts, feelings, needs, values, personal space) are violated most often?
- Who/what violates your boundaries?
- Why do you allow your boundaries to be violated?
- How might the boundaries in your family need to change?
We protect our boundaries when we express how we feel or what we think. The following Assertiveness Statement can help you put your boundaries clearly into words:
I feel __________________________when you _________________________.
It would help if we could __________________________________________.
If this simple statement feels difficult or even dangerous, ease up. Don’t feel pressure to respond immediately. You can simply say, “I’m feeling confused about how to respond right now. Please allow me to think about this for awhile.” After some reflection and space, you might feel the assurance you need to create a boundary and protect yourself.
As we learn to recognize and establish our boundaries, we help ourselves, our family, and our addicted loved one live with greater honesty, integrity, and self-respect. Ultimately, boundaries help us all recover from the destructive disease of addiction.