Have you ever felt uncomfortable with some activity or situation? What about during an interaction with someone that triggered an emotional response, leading you to feel uncertain or frustrated? Your “boundary” might have been crossed. We all have boundaries, these invisible lines that define what you are comfortable with and willing to accept. They define your relationships with others and with yourself. Maybe you’ve had to tell someone, “Don’t talk to me like that!” or, “If you treat me like this, I will walk away.” These are examples of enforcing your boundaries. These limits help you maintain balance in your life and stick to who you are, building up your self-esteem and identity. Boundaries are also important during addiction recovery.


1. Boundaries and Your Identity

Lacking healthy boundaries can cause a person to experience emotional pain and instability, potentially leading to unhealthy attachments or dependency on other people. You might not be sure of who you really are and what you stand for. In other words, boundaries have a lot to do with your identity. Unstable and poor self-image are common in some mental health disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. 

Some people report feeling as if they are two people in one body, especially during emotional episodes, and afterward, reflect on being ashamed of that part of them. In an effort to find some stable ground, others have tried to reconcile the part of them that is struggling mentally with their roles and identities. This process is central to a patient’s recovery process. Addressing any dilemmas you have with your identity can help you determine which behaviors, interactions and types of communication are acceptable to you. 


2. Learning About Your Boundaries

Figuring out your boundaries can be overwhelming, but there are plenty of little steps that you can take. Even if the steps are small, give yourself credit for all the progress you make! You can start by pulling out a piece of paper and jotting down some things that cause you ill feelings. These feelings can be physical, spiritual or mental in nature. Identify situations where you felt either discomfort or resentment. Reflect on past situations and ask yourself how severe those feelings were and what could have caused them. You can also consider other questions:

  • What triggered you to compromise your boundaries at that moment? 
  • Were you afraid of rejection or abandonment? 
  • Was personal safety a concern? 
  • Were you overwhelmed with guilt?

Discomfort can be a sign that you are not comfortable with what is happening; your boundary is being crossed. Resentment can be rooted in feeling underappreciated or as if someone is taking advantage of you. This may be the case, but you may be overextending yourself for others, leaving little time for yourself. Alternatively, someone may be imposing their values on you and you don’t like it. Remember, sometimes you might not have the means (i.e., the energy, money, time, etc.) to commit to or satisfy others, and that’s OK. Don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself and living with integrity as you work through your recovery journey. 

Another thing you can test out is being direct. For example, you might have some friends that just get you. They know what you like and don’t like, and they know when to leave you alone. For other friends, though, this might not be the case. There is a diversity of cultures and communication styles that may be very different from your own, and explicitly stating your preferences can relieve any uncertainty. Holding people accountable when they ignore this is equally important, not only for the health of the relationship but for your self-esteem.


3. Coping by Using Substances

Having unhealthy boundaries with others can cause your inter-and intrapersonal relationships to suffer. Depression and anxiety can set in, and you might start to search for ways to cope. Americans struggle each year with mental health disorders and co-occurring substance use disorders (SUD). Studies have found that approximately those who’ve had a SUD will also experience a co-occurring mental disorder. Mental health disorders can likewise lead to SUDs.

The idea of working on setting boundaries can help you not escape again in drugs and alcohol because that can only complicate the problem. SUDs can compromise the important relationships you have with yourself and others. Instead of using, find ways to develop your boundaries and practice coping mechanisms to manage emotional pain. Some coping mechanisms may include holistic therapies that help you relax, build interpersonal relationship skills and practice mindfulness. 

Setting and defending your boundaries is important to your self-esteem, identity, and overall physical and mental well-being. Reflecting on what behaviors, interactions and types of communication are unacceptable to you and being direct about it can boost your confidence as you navigate recovery. At Authentic Recovery Center, we’re dedicated to not only treating SUDs but to identifying what might be causing them. If you or someone you love is struggling, call us today at (866) 786-1376.