By David Joel Miller
Sometimes drawing boundaries goes very wrong.
Having good boundaries is important for good mental health. Families that do not set boundaries develop long-term problems. Parents need to be parents and children need to be allowed to act like kids. People have the right to think what they think and feel the way they feel.
One important part of recovery is learning to set boundaries. Mature relationships, healthy ones, include the right to say no to things that make you uncomfortable.
Boundary setting, like so many other life skills, done well can increase your happiness. Done poorly, boundary setting results in adding to your problems. In recovery or just plain growing up, there are lots of boundaries that need setting.
In early recovery, from whatever you call your life issues, many people find that they have not done a good job of setting boundaries. People drop in whenever they chose. Family members may show up expecting to stay for a while, sometimes months. They may “borrow things” without asking. All sorts of inappropriate things happen.
To have an emotionally healthy life you need to work on setting boundaries. What is OK and what is not. Let your yeses by yes and your no’s be no.
In addiction and mental illness roles and boundaries get blurry.
If you have gone through a period of illness, drug use, alcoholism or any mental or emotional illness, chances are roles got blurred. Parents have not been living up to their roles. Children may have had to care for their parents and siblings.
Dysfunctional families do not have clear roles or if they have roles those roles may not be appropriate. Children get used to telling parents what to do. Your family may be calling up to tell you what is wrong with your partner and your boss.
In recovery, boundaries have to change.
You have to start telling others that your choices are your choices. Then it becomes your challenge to make good choices. Recovery means you stop blaming others for your problems. It also means you have to take on the personal responsibility for those choices.
Sometimes you need to tell people to stop telling you what your kids should do and wear. Some of you will have had to tell people who have been in your life a while that if they cannot respect your boundaries then they need to stop calling or coming around.
Your time is your time.
You may need to set boundaries on what time you will give to others. You should not need to live your life running to do for others no matter how much you care about them.
One place you can’t set a boundary.
You can build a fence to keep people off your property. Good fences make good neighbors, so the saying goes. But one place you can’t put up a fence is on your neighbor’s property. I see a lot of people in all forms of recovery get that one confused.
You can say “If you can’t give me a ride then I will need to stop giving you rides.” That is a boundary. What you can’t say is “I am setting a boundary. From now on your need to give me rides when I need them.”
Boundaries are about what you will do and accept. They are not a way of getting others to fit into your plans. When you start setting boundaries expect others to push back. They may well start setting boundaries also. If you want others to respect your newly set boundaries you will need to respect theirs also.
Boundaries around feelings are a huge problem.
Do not say “You have no right to feel that way.” Do not try to dictate how others feel or think. What you can say is “I am sorry you feel that way, or even, “how you feel is not my responsibility.”
Your feelings are yours. Their feelings are theirs. Work on seeing the difference here. It is possible for two or more people to feel differently about something. You do not to have to be experiencing the same feeling as others. You need to maintain the right to feel the way you feel and grant others that same right.
Your lack of boundaries does not prevent others from having boundaries.
Dysfunctional families often have blurry or absent boundaries. People take each other for granted. Your things may not have been respected. Others may have felt that you owed them to do for them. As you begin to set your boundaries, avoid becoming the aggressor and trying to even the score by imposing on others. If you want your boundaries respected respect others.
Keep your boundaries consistent.
Once you set a boundary, don’t just walk into my house without knocking or don’t smoke dope around here, keep to it. People will test you. Things have a way of sliding back into the old patterns. Make sure you remind others that you have these new boundaries. If they can’t respect this you may need to find ways to get them out of your life or to minimize their impact on you and yours.
Good boundaries help you have good relationships. Learn what is acceptable to you and enforce those boundaries. In the process of setting boundaries, accept that others have the right to set some also. Boundaries mark the places where you end and another person starts. Practice maintaining good boundaries and you will have a better life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books