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Learning to set boundaries during recovery is a crucial part of the process. You’ve likely heard the term “boundaries,” but you may not have thought much about what it means. Maybe your struggle with unclear boundaries returns to a difficult childhood, or perhaps you never learned about respectful boundaries. You’re not alone if you need help determining where to establish healthy boundaries.

The journey to self-discovery starts with self-respect. Recovery involves thinking about your values and setting respectful limits for yourself. Understanding the different types of boundaries can help you determine which ones to establish, laying the foundation for long-term recovery.

1. Physical Boundaries: 

Physical boundaries are the most straightforward to recognize. Your body, possessions, and personal space belong to you alone. However, your experiences might make this concept challenging to grasp. 

If you’ve faced interpersonal abuse, learning to set physical boundaries may be difficult at first. Establishing these boundaries for yourself and communicating them to those around you is crucial. Your physical boundaries can be as simple as telling loved ones not to touch a recovery journal you’ve been keeping or as complex as removing triggers like alcohol from your home. 

Communication is key to maintaining healthy physical boundaries and relationships with loved ones. If someone close to you uses substances around you and makes you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to speak up. You might need these substances removed to feel safe. If your loved one crosses these boundaries, you may have to find a different place. Respect your recovery and put your well-being first.

2. Emotional Boundaries: 

Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from those of others. It might seem obvious that your emotions are yours alone, but if you’ve experienced past abuse, you know your emotions can be manipulated. 

Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, author of “I Want This To Work,” defines emotional boundaries as respecting and honoring feelings and energy. “Setting emotional boundaries means recognizing how much emotional energy you are capable of taking in, knowing when to share and when not to share, and limiting emotional sharing with people who respond poorly.”

You may need to reevaluate your relationships based on these new emotional boundaries. For example, you might feel guilt and shame about how you treated loved ones during your addiction. 

Communicate these feelings to them, but be kind to yourself. If anyone mistreats you for your past and tries to manipulate your feelings of guilt, it’s important to distance yourself. Remember that you deserve emotional well-being without manipulation from others.

3. Time Boundaries: 

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, making your time just as valuable as anyone else’s. During active addiction, most people spend their time seeking and using their substance of choice, often hiding their abuse. Transitioning to having more free time in early recovery can be overwhelming. To set appropriate time boundaries, you must prioritize and manage your time to focus on activities that support your sobriety. 

This may mean saying “no” to social invitations or delaying personal projects to make time for activities like attending 12-step meetings and talking to your sponsor. Following a schedule is crucial in early sobriety. 

Remember to allocate time for leisure, relaxation, and self-reflection. Find opportunities to explore new interests, spend time with loved ones, or simply relax. What you do with your time is ultimately your choice, so make the most of your fresh start in life!

4. Internal Boundaries: 

Internal boundaries are the limits you set for yourself, guided by your values, morals, and self-discipline. 

People with strong internal boundaries stay true to their values and avoid behaviors that go against them. In active addiction, you might have done things that now conflict with your morals. For instance, you may have lied to cover up a friend’s substance use. In recovery, lying contradicts your values, so setting an internal boundary means committing to no longer enable your friend through dishonesty. If their behavior doesn’t align with your morals, don’t suppress it. 

Strong internal boundaries also involve respecting your limits. Don’t hesitate to remove yourself from situations if they become triggering, even beyond obvious scenarios like parties with alcohol. Some everyday activities or conversations can become overwhelming, and it’s okay to step away when needed. 

Internal boundaries also include taking responsibility for your actions. This level of self-awareness means understanding how you interact and react in different situations. For example, your partner may have enabled your addiction to avoid arguments in the past. Instead of blaming them, take accountability by understanding their perspective. Practice empathy and self-awareness regarding your past and present.

Setting boundaries, although challenging at first, is essential for achieving lasting recovery. Work on discovering your sense of self and building confidence in your values and personal limits. Knowing when and how to set boundaries takes time and practice. Recognizing that boundaries can be physical, emotional, internal, or related to time helps you understand their purpose and apply them in your new, sober life.