Interestingly enough, setting boundaries between us and the person we love will enhance our life, and maybe theirs, too. Doing less and engaging less can benefit all of us.
I spent a lot of my life looking for approval. Whoever I thought you wanted me to be, that’s who I was, and I lost little pieces of me along the way. Not many boundaries in that real-life scenario.
Now add a using loved one to that picture. I know you can relate to this. What wouldn’t we do to maintain the lie that it was just a phase, that tomorrow would be better, that we could fix it? We’d give anything and do anything. We’d compromise our inner knowing and our principles. Fear ruled, and overruled our better judgment. We stopped setting boundaries because we were afraid of the worst-case outcomes. In situations like this, all the lines are blurred and there are no boundaries. Everyone is in chaos.
What are boundaries, anyway? How are they different from limits?
A good place to begin is understanding what a boundary is, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries.
A boundary is something you put in place to protect YOU. It’s the line in the sand that establishes where you end, and the other person begins. A boundary says, this is what I will tolerate or not, engage in or not, do or not do in order to look out for myself. Setting a boundary affirms that you matter at least as much as the person in front of you.
A limit is usually something measurable (curfew, time on devices, what you’ll pay for). It’s often confused with a boundary, and can fall in the category of an unhealthy boundary.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Boundaries
An unhealthy boundary is all about other people. It becomes about controlling them and how to stop their undesirable behavior, words or attitude. This usually backfires.
A healthy boundary is one that focuses on you and your needs. Someone says or does something that impacts you negatively (be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual). You decide what you need and what you can do to restore your sense of equilibrium, calm and control over your own life.
Here’s an example:
Your loved one drinks heavily, especially at night. He comes in very late, after midnight, making noise and disrupting your sleep. You are exhausted and frustrated. It’s difficult to wake up and get out on time, and your brain is foggy at work.
“You come in late and make noise. You’re breaking things and throwing up. You can’t do
do this anymore! It’s inconsiderate. It’s bad for you and bad for me. I’m taking away
your car keys.”
“I really need sleep and don’t want to be woken up at night. I’ve asked you many times to
come in earlier and more quietly, but you’re still coming in very late and making a lot of
noise. It’s affecting my health, my work and my mood. Starting tonight the door will be
locked at midnight, and you’ll have to find somewhere else to sleep if it's later than that..”
Can you feel the difference? There are no anger and resentment in the words of the healthy boundary. It is simply a statement of facts and can be delivered neutrally (if not always with love). If we go back to a fundamental idea about relationships - that you can only control yourself, your words, your feelings and attitudes - it makes perfect sense. Take it back to the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to the know the difference.
All three components of the Serenity Prayer are part of setting healthy boundaries, and they are empowering.
One more thing about setting healthy boundaries: you must be 100% committed to following through. No wiggle room. If not, you are teaching that your word is not your word, and you will not be taken seriously. In that case, it’s better not to establish a boundary at all.
And finally, script out what you want to say. Practice it with a friend or coach for wording and tone. You cannot predict the response of the person to whom you’re delivering the message, but you’ll know you’ve done everything possible to set and follow through with a healthy boundary.
P.S. Setting healthy boundaries is an integral part of your, and your loved one's, recovery. This is the work of the BALM - Be A Loving Mirror - Family Comprehensive.
If you are ready to get some self-care and sanity back, as well as be a positive influence on your loved one's recovery, contact me to learn more about the BALM Family Comprehensive. email@example.com