Setting Healthy Boundaries
You have heard it before, but that does not make it any easier to put into practice. Setting healthy boundaries between you and your loved one can be among the biggest challenges of dealing with addiction.
This article will outline three elements of those boundaries: why they are so vital, what they can look like, and why saying “no” can be a tool of compassion.
Why Should You Set Boundaries?
Boundaries ensure that all parties understand that there is a difference between loving and enabling.
Let’s unpack that for a moment. As a family member to someone dealing with a substance use disorder, you want to do absolutely everything in your power to help. You would not be reading this blog post if you weren’t searching for every resource to support your family’s difficult journey.
The person afflicted with addiction does not necessarily place family and friends high on their priorities. Addiction, at its core, convinces the brain that the most important thing is the “next high.” Interactions with this loved one may change as they try anything to feed their addiction.
For everyone’s mental and physical wellbeing, it must be made clear that the individual suffering from addiction is still loved but their behavior is taking a toll on the family. Establishing what you will and won’t do—what is healthy and what isn’t—sets all people involved on a better path.
If you feel that the line between what you are willing to do for your loved one and what you should do is blurred, then consider resetting those boundaries. If your loved one has demonstrated any of the following behaviors, then it is time to reexamine how best to address their needs, as well as yours. “My loved one…”
- Has excessively asked me for money
- Is acting aggressively and without provocation
- Has become manipulative
- Lashes out and says deliberately hurtful things to me
- Lies compulsively
- Spikes between highly empathetic and extremely harsh behavior
What Do Healthy Boundaries Look Like?
Healthy boundaries do not enable the behavior of an addicted individual. These boundaries contain love, but also a generous supply of self-preservation and practicality.
It is imperative that your loved one understand—and that you internalize—that your health is just as important as anyone else’s. A lack of boundaries that has put your wellbeing into question is a problem. If you are not at your best, you are not in the best position to help someone with a substance use disorder.
Take, for example, half a dozen urgent calls in a row in the middle of the night. Answer all of them and infringe your sleep in a damaging way. Instead, respond to the first call and make it clear that you will continue the discussion in the daylight hours. Then, the phone goes on silent mode.
Silencing your phone is the digital equivalent of “saying no.” Keep in mind that “saying no” is a necessity when establishing boundaries. You cannot give your loved one everything they demand or even ask nicely for. In these moments, you know what is best and that may not correspond to the wishes of a substance abuser. Oftentimes, the most effective way to help is just say no.
When you find yourself frustrated or even in shock at your loved one’s actions, remember to remind yourself that it probably isn’t them talking. It’s the addiction. Addiction changes the brain’s chemistry. It impacts every interaction, including those with whom the individual is closest. In the process of helping them, you can also forgive them. Proceed without judgement.
Extend that same consideration to yourself, too. Remember that their addiction is not your fault. Disease does not play favorites. Your continued support and love should be applauded. Try not to judge yourself either. Take your own financial, physical, mental, and emotional health as seriously as you do theirs.
In maintaining these positive habits for yourself, you reinforce boundaries of the healthy variety.
Involving a Third Party in the Conversation
All of your best intentions can sometimes not be enough. Many of these concepts are easy to understand in theory, but difficult to implement in real life. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is an ongoing process—and a challenging one at that. If the time comes to sit down for a serious conversation about your loved one’s substance misuse and you don’t feel prepared, know that there are other options.
Experts at DK Solutions are trained facilitators of impactful interventions. There is nothing wrong with calling upon a professional to intervene. When someone is in the throes of addiction, a third party may be in the best position to really help. If you feel that moment has come, please consider an interventionist to aid in convincing your loved one to seek treatment.
- Check out the services—including intervention facilitation—offered here at DK Solutions. We always available to answer your questions about intervention and recovery strategies.
- The blog at the Great Oaks Recovery Center, one of our partners, expands on the best practices of “saying no” —a core concept of a healthy boundary—in this post.
- Psychology Today does a good job outlining “Five Must-Do Things if a Family Member Is Abusing Drugs.”