Boundaries: How to set them and mean it!

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"We begin to see that God has not given us the right to control another person’s behavior, but we have been given the responsibility to set limits and boundaries for ourselves with others."


WHAT ARE BOUNDARIES?


“Boundaries” is a term that may not be familiar to people new to recovery. There are many different types of boundaries: internal, external, physical, emotional, intellectual, sexual, time, energy etc. Boundaries can be thought of as setting limits, guidelines, or ground rules within personal relationships. They are unique for each person

In codependent families, boundaries are never the same from day to day. Sometimes there are no boundaries at all. They shift and change depending on the emotional climate of people in that family. Many of us spent a lifetime giving away our power to others. Often we lost the inborn sense of what was rightfully ours – our personal integrity – sometimes mistaking our lack of boundaries for gentleness, acceptance and love.

We may be “people pleasers” and have trouble saying “no”. We may not have a sense of who we are, what’s OK and what’s not. Attending meetings, listening, and appropriate feedback from a sponsor or other supportive person, will facilitate a better understanding of boundaries.


BOUNDARY VIOLATION EXAMPLES


Emotional boundary violation happens when someone “puts down” or discounts our emotions or feelings as unimportant, unnecessary or wrong. Sometimes people will try to spare us in this way from feeling our own pain, fear, anger, guilt, joy, sadness or shame. Emotions are not wrong or bad, they just are. If we do not allow ourselves to experience the full range of our feelings they won’t go away. They will eventually come out in ways that may be more painful or when we least expect it.

Healthy Emotional Boundaries: We all have the God given right and potential to have our own feelings. We are also responsible for what we do with them and how we show them. Other people are also entitled to their feelings and accountable for their behavior around them. When we become aware of our boundaries, we respect and value others’ boundaries too. No one can make us feel anything we do not choose to feel.

Sexual Boundary violations happen at any age when someone speaks about or touches our body in a way that is sexually offensive, painful, frightening, embarrassing or shaming to us.

This boundary is truly personal – sexual boundary violations can be verbal, emotional or physical. If we were never taught about sex or were told incorrect information, a sexual boundary is violated.

Mental (Intellectual) Boundary Violations happen at any age when someone discounts what and how we think. To be told by someone that our “thought processes” are “less than” anothers is a boundary violation. When we experience this violation we learn that to judge and be judged is okay. And we end up violating other’s boundaries in the same way.

Healthy Mental Boundaries : It is our choice to accept or reject what others say about what we think or say. As we recover and gain in our own self-esteem we have more faith that we are thinking in a spiritually sober way and we allow others to have their own thoughts without interruption and without ridicule.

An example of a physical external boundary is the “comfort zone” of space around you. This is a flexible space, which varies for different relationships and for changing circumstances in relationships.


WHY DO WE NEED BOUNDARIES?


ACA'ers need boundaries – they are essential to our recovery. We need to set limits on what we shall do to and for people. We need to set limits on what we will allow people to do to and for us. By setting clear boundaries on our own behavior and what we will accept from others, we begin to take back our lives from being controlled by other people’s thoughts, feelings and problems. We claim ownership of and responsibility for ourselves.

Setting limits doesn’t mean intolerance or selfishness. It means refusing to allow ourselves to be harmed. It means accepting responsibility for our own beliefs, feelings and actions. It means learning how to take care of ourselves, one day at a time.

We need to set healthier boundaries to avoid abandoning ourselves, care-taking, fixing or otherwise trying to control other people. We need to set boundaries with others who attempt to control us by telling us how to think, feel or behave.

Boundaries help us recognize, honor and respect our individual and unique qualities.


ASSESSING OUR BOUNDARIES


Determining the appropriateness of our current boundaries is a vital step in the recovery process. Good questions to ask ourselves include:

Am I angry?
Do I feel used?
Do I feel violated?
Do I feel resentful?
Do I feel isolated?
Do I feel frightened?
Do I feel like a child?
Are my boundaries allowing me to maintain healthy relationships with others and myself?

In assessing our current boundaries we may discover that either our boundaries are not firm enough or are nonexistent or that they are too rigid.

If our boundaries are too rigid, we might be unable to form intimate relationships with others.

We may need to examine core issues such as trust and vulnerability. While these rigid boundaries may have protected us in the past, today they may be preventing us from achieving fulfilling levels of intimacy.

We can learn to relax overly rigid boundaries when we truly feel that we can trust ourselves to practice self-care.


ESTABLISHING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES


We often discover that a good starting point is to establish new boundaries with our inner selves. These boundaries are subtle and may include setting limits around abandoning our feelings, losing touch with ourselves, wanting to be intimate for someone else and not ourselves and thinking obsessively.

As one member shared: “I used to get insomnia because I couldn’t shut down my ‘worrier.’ Now I listen closely to that part of me and let it have its say, but I also draw a boundary with it. I’ll tell myself ‘OK you can have 15 more minutes, but then I need to get some sleep.’

We remember we are the only ones who can engage our boundaries; we can’t rely on others to recognize and respect them. In this way, we learn to take better care of ourselves.

The following list provides examples of some typical challenges that recovering ACA'ers may encounter when establishing boundaries:

Mom comes to visit without calling. Is this OK with me? If not, what boundary can I set? Do I ask her to call me an hour before visiting? A day?

A friend asks for a loan. Do I feel comfortable with this? Do I expect to be paid back? How might I feel if I’m not repaid? Am I being kind or care-taking?

I’m single or divorced and dating. Do I have sex on the first date? Do I stick to my boundary? Do I have sex because I feel pressured into intimacy?

My partner/spouse is late for dinner. Do I go ahead and eat when I want to? Do I wait until I’m hungry and resentful?

My partner/spouse spends a lot of money on something. Do we have an agreement on how much money we spend? Do we keep and spend our own money? Share it?

My meeting usually starts late. Is this respectful of our time boundaries? What prevents us from starting promptly? Have I raised this issue at the meeting?

I need to leave for an important appointment, but an acquaintance won’t stop talking. Do I continue to fidget and hope s/he reads my body language? Do I politely wait until s/he is done, while feeling increasingly used? How do I take care of myself?


COMMUNICATING OUR BOUNDARIES


Not speaking up for ourselves and expressing our feelings in an open, honest, and healthy manner keeps us trapped in our codependency, a disease, that for many members, is a disease of silence.

The people we relate to need to know we have boundaries and that we are serious about them.

Healthy communication is clear, concise and honest. To improve our communication, we first need to know our hearts and minds clearly.

We can continually ask ourselves: “What do I think, feel and need?”

Once we answer these crucial questions, we can empower ourselves to express our feelings openly and honestly without being controlled by our fear of the reactions of others.

We speak slowly, firmly and clearly when drawing boundaries.
We avoid justifying or explaining ourselves, even when we feel a compulsion to do so.
We listen carefully to our own thoughts and feelings and know we do not have to give an immediate response to other’s comments or questions.


CONCLUSION


When the day comes and we say “No, I’m clear about my feelings, and I won’t be going,” and we don’t feel a pressing need to justify ourselves, we have taken a major step forward in our recovery.

When we speak clearly and honestly when we set a boundary and don’t allow another’s anger to control us, we have taken a major step forward in our recovery.

With time and practice, we will know. We will know when we have verbally owned our power. When our hearts and minds are clear, our speech can be simple and direct.


SOURCES


What have been the consequences in my life of unhealthy or unclear boundaries?
Who is it most difficult for me to set and enforce boundaries with?
Am I complaining about someone in my life who is using me or not treating me appropriately or respectfully? What is preventing me from taking care of myself?
Do I respect other people’s boundaries? Do other people respect mine?
How is making someone else my Higher Power violating their boundaries?
How do I feel when I am around people with rigid boundaries – too many rules and regulations?
How do I feel when I am around people with few or no boundaries?
Am I willing to communicate clearly and directly what my limits and boundaries are?
What are the keys to setting healthy boundaries for me?

Setting boundaries is about learning to take care of ourselves, no matter what happens, where we go or who we’re with.
Boundaries emerge from deep decisions about what we believe we deserve and don’t deserve.
Boundaries emerge from the belief that what we want, need, like and dislike is important.
Boundaries emerge as we learn to value, trust and listen to ourselves.
We cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of another person’s feelings.
The most important person to notify of our boundaries is ourselves.

We offered support and encouragement not advice.

We understood that our way of working the steps may not be right for everyone.

What was important was that it was right for us.


QUESTIONS & THOUGHTS FOR REFLECTION TIME


What have been the consequences in my life of unhealthy or unclear boundaries?
Who is it most difficult for me to set and enforce boundaries with?
Am I complaining about someone in my life who is using me or not treating me appropriately or respectfully? What is preventing me from taking care of myself?
Do I respect other people’s boundaries? Do other people respect mine?
How is making someone else my Higher Power violating their boundaries?
How do I feel when I am around people with rigid boundaries – too many rules and regulations?
How do I feel when I am around people with few or no boundaries?
Am I willing to communicate clearly and directly what my limits and boundaries are?
What are the keys to setting healthy boundaries for me?

Setting boundaries is about learning to take care of ourselves, no matter what happens, where we go or who we’re with.
Boundaries emerge from deep decisions about what we believe we deserve and don’t deserve.
Boundaries emerge from the belief that what we want, need, like and dislike is important.
Boundaries emerge as we learn to value, trust and listen to ourselves.
We cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of another person’s feelings.
The most important person to notify of our boundaries is ourselves.

Examples of Healthy Boundaries

Because we had faith that the recovery process worked for anyone who worked it, we were not inclined to “rescue” fellow ACA members or others even if we felt uncomfortable with their situation.

We offered support and encouragement not advice.

We understood that our way of working the steps may not be right for everyone.

What was important was that it was right for us.

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