When You Love an Addict, Boundaries Help You Love Yourself

Boundaries help us focus on the one person we can control – ourselves.

When you love an addict, focusing on yourself can seem counter-intuitive, even selfish. After all, you aren’t the addict. However, using boundaries helps you love yourself.

The following is the third and final article of a three-part series exploring how substance abuse and addiction can sabotage healthy, stable relationships. Today’s topic, boundaries.

I have found that it is very easy to lose yourself in the hustle and bustle of life. I have found this to be true in my own personal life. I have found this truism to hold up to what my clients experience in their own lives.

As a parent, it’s easy to lose yourself in the highs and lows of your children. It’s quite common to get engulfed into demands and stressors of your job. It’s commonplace to lose your own identity and sense of self in a romantic relationship or marriage.

When life is in a good place, many folks nevertheless struggle to take care of themselves and prioritize their own well-being.

Related: Help, I’m Addicted to My Addict

Now, imagine a loved one is struggling and suffering. It can be difficult to take care of yourself when things are going great or even just ‘okay.’ It is incredibly challenging to focus on your own wellbeing when your loved one is suffering, especially when they are suffering from a progressive and chronic disease like addiction.

When someone you love is an addict, focusing on yourself can seem counter-intuitive, even selfish. After all, you aren’t the addict. You aren’t the person in the throes of pain, suffering, or struggle. In fact, the addict may see you as their lifeline, the person that can save them from their addiction.

But if there is one thing that a loved one of an addict will inevitably learn, it is this: you cannot control an addict. You cannot save or cure them. You are not that powerful. Boundaries help us focus on the one person we can control – ourselves. Boundaries also help guide us to what a healthy and functional relationship looks like.

Recovery and Relationships (For Everyone)

What does forming stable relationships have to do with overcoming alcoholism, drug addiction, or any other addictive behavior? Well, two reasons immediately come to mind.

First, the kind of thinking that promotes recovery also helps form healthier relationships and vice versa. Second, one of the most common triggers for relapse is stress due to relationship problems.

Consequently, one of the most valuable sources of support for recovery is a solid, nurturing relationship. So, knowing how to form and nurture stable relationships is one of the most valuable skills for staying clean and sober.

What Is a Boundary?

This is where boundaries play such a crucial role. At their core, boundaries are limits. Personal boundaries can be mental, emotional, physical, or financial limits that people set for themselves to protect and prioritize their well-being. Healthy boundaries help ensure relationships are safe, supportive and respectful.

Boundaries are designed to protect healthy characteristics in a person and within a relationship. They also block destructive characteristics from residing in a person or relationship.

Boundaries help everyone. They protect the traits that will nurture healthy growth in a relationship and they protect both parties from overstepping the limits of what another person is designed to provide in a relationship.

Related: Enabling an Addict Only Makes Things Worse

A healthy, nurturing relationship has the opposite qualities of a codependent relationship. Instead of high intensity and dramatic experiences, a healthy relationship promotes gradual development and change.

Instead of dishonesty, manipulation, and controlling behaviors, a healthy relationship promotes honesty, trust, respect, and acceptance. Healthy individuals don’t try to control others, just as they don’t want to be controlled. They can put themselves in other people’s shoes and trust the other to do the same.

Healthy individuals also accept other people’s right to disagree and make different choices. They say what they want the other person to know, clearly and directly, and expect others to do the same. They ask for what they want instead of hinting or manipulating. They also accept other people’s differences, separateness, and independence.

They do not expect one person to meet all their needs and are confident of their own ability to get along on their own. Healthy individuals also expect that they will solve their own problems. They can be supportive and care about something without taking on responsibility for it.

Common Characteristics That Promote Healthy, Stable Relationships:

  • I do not expect immediate change but can accept gradual development and change.

  • I practice honesty in my relationships and expect the same from others.

  • I am a trusting person and demonstrate trustworthiness in my relationships with others.

  • I practice giving respect to other and myself, and I expect the same from others.

  • I accept other people’s right to disagree and make different choices.

  • I accept other’s differences and do not require others to believe, do, or think as I do.

  • I accept other people’s separateness and need for their own identity and purpose.

  • I accept other people’s independence and need for space within committed relationships.

  • I have confidence in my own independence and ability to get along on my own.

  • I believe I can solve my own problems or ask for help when needed.

  • I practice clear and direct communication in my relationships and expect the same.

What healthy trait needs growth or development in your relationship(s)? Or what healthy trait needs protection in order to grow and progress in your relationship(s)?

Addiction doesn’t wreak havoc only the addict. Addiction is a family disease.

However, when we use our loved one’s addiction as an excuse to justify our own unhealthy behaviors, we allow the disease of addiction to rob of us of choice and control in our own lives.

What’s been the hardest boundary for you to hold with your addict family member, friend, or loved one?

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