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While in recovery, we tend to think of our recovery work as all of the logistical things we have to do, the meetings we attend, the therapy sessions we schedule, the regular check-ins with our sponsor. We might not realize that in addition to all of these important steps, much of our recovery work is also the emotional work we do within our relationships. Our relationships are some of the most important and influential elements of our lives. They can influence how we spend our time, how we feel about ourselves, and what kind of outlook we have on life. They can impact our state of mind, our mental health issues such as our depression and anxiety, and even our struggles with addiction.

For many of us, our relationships can be extremely triggering and a huge source of conflict and turmoil in our lives. Many of us are in unhealthy and toxic relationships. We feel as though we're always arguing. We feel like our partners and friends are mistreating or even abusing us. We feel unseen, unappreciated and misunderstood. In these kinds of difficult relationships, having healthy boundaries is often one of the things we struggle with the most. We have a hard time identifying what our boundaries ought to be and how to establish them. Once we do feel like we're setting a boundary for ourselves in a relationship, we struggle to maintain it and to ensure that it's being respected by everyone involved, including ourselves.

What Are Boundaries?

Healthy boundaries are the measures we put into place around how we want to be treated and how we expect to be treated. While some expectations can be problematic because they cause us undue stress and tension, having healthy expectations in our lives helps us to make sure our needs are being met. In order to know what our boundaries should look like, we want to take inventory of what our needs actually are. What do we need from our partners and friends? How do we prefer to be treated? What expectations do we have from our relationships? What kinds of things do we find to be unkind or unfair? What things are unacceptable to us? What are our deal-breakers? How can we establish healthy boundaries in our lives and then maintain them on a regular basis?

What Do Healthy Boundaries Look Like?

For example, many of us will want to set boundaries related to healthy communication in our relationships. We have needs we want met around how we communicate, what styles of communication we employ, and how we interact with each other. Are we listening mindfully to one another? Are we focusing on problem-solving as a team? Are we attacking one another because of disagreements, or are we able to support each other's differences of opinion? A healthy boundary when it comes to communication might be determining that we want to refrain from engaging with each other when we're overly angry or reactive. We might make the conscious commitment not to engage in an argument when we're in this unstable, volatile place. As part of that boundary, we might choose to separate for a period of time in order to meditate or to do some deep breathing exercises, anything to calm ourselves down, and then reconvene when we're feeling better prepared to listen fully and be kind to one another. This can prevent us both from being dismissive and hurtful. It can put a stop to recurring patterns of interrupting, talking over each other, ignoring one another, reacting out of spite, and letting things get out of control. This kind of healthy boundary can help us to cultivate compassion, understanding and patience within the relationship.

Why Don't We Respect Ourselves?

Sometimes we're our own worst enemy when it comes to having healthy boundaries. This is often because we're dealing with some severely limiting, toxic beliefs around our worthiness and deservingness. We feel we don't deserve to be treated well in our relationships. We feel unworthy of love and respect. We don't appreciate ourselves for who we are, so we have a very hard time finding people who appreciate us. Many of us have been through very traumatic experiences, or we've fallen on hard times, and we internalize these things to mean we're not deserving of respect. We manifest from the inside out, so if we feel internally that we don't deserve to be disrespected, we will manifest relationships that compound this mentality for us and convince us that this is true.

Why Do We Struggle With Boundaries?

For many of us, these limiting beliefs around self-respect come from the conditioning we've been exposed to. Perhaps we grew up in families that struggled with how to identify and set boundaries. Maybe our families had poor communication skills and lacked conflict resolution skills. We tend to absorb whatever we witness, so if our childhood experience was one of weak boundaries, chances are that is the pattern we will continue to perpetuate as we get older. We'll have a hard time standing up for ourselves. We'll feel uncomfortable speaking our truth and demanding respect. We'll feel pushy or overbearing if we assert ourselves. We'll feel out of place, or like we're doing something wrong, if we defend ourselves against someone else's mistreatment.

What Do Boundaries Have to Do With Recovery?

When we don't have firm boundaries, we aren't showing ourselves the full level of self-love and self-respect we deserve. We'll find ourselves repeatedly in situations that are unhealthy for us. We'll constantly be triggered by the unkind things people say and do. We'll stay in unhealthy relationships. These patterns contribute to our being depressed, anxious and deeply unwell. They fuel our mental health issues. We use our drugs of choice to escape thinking about the difficult things we're going through, to distract ourselves from our toxic relationship dynamics, and to avoid being honest with ourselves. We don't want to confront the fact that our lack of boundaries is impacting our health in negative ways. We're afraid to admit we're hurting ourselves and being self-destructive in how we navigate our relationships. Having healthy boundaries has everything to do with our recovery. The more we can be firm about making sure our emotional needs are met, the happier and more at peace we will be. We'll be far better equipped to do the work to keep ourselves well, because we won't be chipping away at our well-being and undermining our progress in recovery by accepting weak boundaries, or having no boundaries at all, within our relationships.

At WinGate Wilderness Therapy, we believe in the importance of helping you learn more about yourself as an individual, and we work with you to design a personalized treatment plan to meet your needs.

Reach out for support today.

(800) 560-1599

P.O. Box 347
Kanab, UT 84741

About the Author:
Shayne Gallagher
Shayne Gallagher

Founder/Executive Director

For more than 30 years, Shayne Gallagher has provided...

For more than 30 years, Shayne Gallagher has provided healing wilderness experiences for adolescents, young adults, and families. With...