Setting and Maintaining Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

November 2, 2017 Jami DeLoe

People in addiction recovery often have difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries. Learn to identify healthy boundaries and how to keep them.

Setting or maintaining boundaries with family and friends may be difficult if you are in recovery from addiction. The difficulty of setting limitations with others is a natural thing to experience in recovery because when you were in active addiction it’s likely that your boundaries were severely blurred or even nonexistent. The lack of boundaries in your life at the time may have led to manipulation, abuse, allowing others to take advantage of you and put you in harm’s way. It also leads to codependency in relationships, which likely fed your addiction and kept it active. But now you are in recovery, and it’s time to learn that setting and maintaining boundaries is essential to your recovery.

Why Is Setting and Maintaining Boundaries Important?

Establishing boundaries is important for everyone, but especially for those in addiction recovery. When you set healthy boundaries, you no longer allow yourself to be taken advantage of, and you learn to find your voice and to use it. As you express your thoughts and emotions, your communication and relationships will begin to improve. By setting boundaries you are establishing a sense of self that you likely did not have before or after your active addiction.

Understand Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries

It’s important to know what healthy and unhealthy boundaries look like. It will allow you to have relationships where your best interests and the interests of others are equal and reciprocal. That reciprocity will benefit both your like and your recovery.

Examples of Healthy Boundaries
  • Encouraging sharing of thoughts and feelings
  • Maintaining your personal values and beliefs even though others may not agree with them
  • Being respectful of others and requiring that other respect you; choosing not to interact if they don’t
  • Taking responsibility for the things you say and do
  • Taking full ownership of your definition of yourself
Examples of Unhealthy Boundaries
  • Sacrificing personal values, beliefs, goals or plans to please someone else
  • Expecting others to fulfill your needs
  • Feeling guilty when you say "no"
  • Hesitating to share your opinions or assert yourself when you are being treated unfairly
  • Frequently feeling manipulated, threatened, victimized or mistreated by others
  • Taking responsibility for someone else’s feelings
  • Telling others how they should think, feel or behave
  • Offering unsolicited advice or feeling pressured to follow someone else’s advice

What to Think About When Setting and Maintaining Boundaries

Now that you have an idea of what healthy and unhealthy boundaries look like, it’s time to establish some healthy boundaries of your own. How you go about setting and maintaining boundaries is a personal choice. Every person has to set his or her own boundaries. What works for you may not work for everyone else, and vice versa. So, when you are creating your own boundaries, consider these steps to help you:

Establish a personal bill of rights: The first step is to realize that you have a right to have your own thoughts, feelings, values and beliefs and to express to others how you would like to be treated. This may be difficult, especially if your self-worth has suffered in the past, but it is worth doing.

Identify your emotions: When you are having a strong response or reaction to something, take the time to determine what exactly it is you’re feeling. Once you’ve done that, it will be easier for you to convey your feelings to the other person honestly, but without lashing out.

Set limits: Once you’ve established how you want to be treated, set limits with others in a clear, direct and calm way.

Speak up: If you feel like the boundaries you have set are being violated, say something. Asserting your needs is part of maintaining the boundaries that you have set. This doesn’t mean blaming or lashing out, but rather asserting yourself calmly and firmly.

Listen to instincts: If something (a person or situation) feels uncomfortable to you, it’s likely that a boundary is being violated. Tune into your instincts and you’ll know how to respond assertively.

Defend the boundaries you set: You have to expect that the boundaries you set will be tested, especially if your newly learned behavior is much different than your old behaviors. Everyone has to have time to adjust to their new roles. That said, if you feel that your boundaries are constantly being violated, you may need to minimize the contact. If they are a risk to your addiction recovery, you need to cut ties altogether. When you choose to not allow others to violate your boundaries, you are no longer a victim, and you are reclaiming responsibility for your own life.

Respect other people’s boundaries: The Golden Rule applies when it comes to boundaries. If you expect others to respect yours, you have to respect theirs – even when they are different than your own.

APA Reference
DeLoe, J. (2017, November 2). Setting and Maintaining Boundaries in Addiction Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 13 from

Author: Jami DeLoe

Jami DeLoe is a freelance writer and addiction blogger. She is an advocate for mental health awareness and addiction recovery and is a recovering alcoholic herself. Find Jami DeLoe on her blog, Sober GraceTwitter, and Facebook.

Ann Miko
November, 3 2017 at 6:19 pm

Excellent article!

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