Substance use can derail a person’s life, goals, and relationships. Families are the first group primarily impacted as a person deals with a substance use disorder. Recovery is about taking back a person’s life from substance use. Still, they are not always able to manage it well without the support of loved ones behind them. Healing relationships in recovery takes everyone working together. Resentments, anger, frustration, and other emotions build to the point a person is no longer able to function well in that environment, even if they are not the one with a substance use disorder. Learning how to set healthy boundaries and adhere to them contributes to long-lasting recovery.
How Boundaries Get Set
Personal boundaries are invisible barriers between one person and another. They define limits people set for themselves as a safeguard for their well-being. To have healthy boundaries is to set space aside where people know how to behave and respond, so everyone feels validated and heard. Unhealthy boundaries are behaviors or thoughts that manipulate people or relationships. Boundaries are a great way to keep people from rubbing off on you with their personal ideas or values when it does not align with yours. They are based on individual needs and give space to express what’s important, along with how to communicate acceptable ideals.
The challenge with codependent relationships is feeling like the person is getting their needs met while the loved one is dealing with a substance use disorder. Codependency signals a broken set of boundaries. Enmeshment, one type of unhealthy boundary, can develop where two people don’t know where they personally end, and the other person begins. The focus becomes on how someone else can meet their needs rather than focusing on how to care for themselves. Becoming self-focused is not about being selfish. It is more about proper self-care, including exercise, spiritual work, and resiliency.
Toxic Relationships Harm Everyone
The entire family is likely to suffer when one person has poor boundaries. Toxic relationships involve behaviors that cause harm to one another. These relationships are marked by shame, dishonesty, and emotional abuse. Manipulation is also part of the challenge. They disregard values and needs while causing pain for others involved because they continue to let things happen. When a loved one has a substance use disorder, a codependent parent, sibling, caregiver, or someone else may allow their child to get away with more than they should. This includes not paying their bills (they step in for them), buying them alcohol (safer to drink at home), lying for them, covering for their illnesses at work, and the list goes on. The negative behaviors peak during active substance use and continue long into recovery unless something shifts, and they begin to change.
Setting Clear Boundaries
Boundaries are needed with loved ones who have a substance use disorder because they cannot fix those themselves. Until they are in recovery long enough, they may not see how inappropriately they are behaving and blame others. Loving someone with substance use disorder can be heartbreaking at times, but having clearly stated boundaries will give both parties common ground to build healing on. A quick inventory of how we feel about a relationship can help determine if there is codependent behavior. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is there anger or resentment?
- Does this person cause anxiety?
- Is it hard to say “no” to them?
- Are there unclear expectations or confusing circumstances that feel manipulative?
Every situation and every person is unique and different. What works or resonates with one person and their situation may be less than helpful to others. A person may not be willing to deal with some things. Still, they put up with others, and the complicated relationship of codependence will continue to grow. In personal relationships, values guide boundary-setting. To heal from a substance use disorder and codependency, it is essential to outline boundaries clearly.
Setting Boundaries to Heal
Being consumed by someone else’s needs is not how boundaries work. They work by setting markers around how a person will behave. It is easy to identify warning signs that might lead to relapse in a loved one if healthy boundaries are not working. Self-care is one way to do this, but some other pathways to healing from toxic boundaries might include:
- Better communication of boundaries.
- Being honest but respectful.
- Talking about feelings and sharing needs that put people in a vulnerable state.
- “I” statements that provoke a sense of personal needs.
Know that, with counseling, the family can work together on setting healthy boundaries in recovery. If someone is going to push back against them, stand firm. The person impacted may still react, but boundaries are there to protect you, not the other person. In doing so, it helps their recovery, but they have to also work on their boundaries on their own. It is a work in progress and something a family can do together to heal the deep wounds of addiction.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.