How to Establish Personal Boundaries in Recovery

Setting Personal Boundaries in Recovery

Each and every one of us is entitled to our own thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and personal space. In recovery, it’s especially important that you learn how to value yourself in a way that is not dependent on the view other people have of you.

While living in a Eudaimonia sober home, you may have old friends that try to tell you what you’re doing is stupid or tempt you with using substances again. You may have family members that tell you you’re being selfish by spending time away from home in recovery. You’ll be faced will all sorts of challenges that seek to undermine your sobriety.

Defining and setting your own set of personal boundaries is an essential part of learning to live sober on your own and doing so will help combat these challenges.

What Is a Personal Boundary?

Personal boundaries are physical, mental, and emotional limits and rules we set for ourselves. These rules and limits help us define who we are by protecting ourselves against manipulation and creating a standard by which our self-worth and our integrity is communicated.1,2

While you were deep in your addiction, you most likely had very unhealthy boundaries. For many individuals, this presents itself as being unable to tell a friend “no”, refusing to ask for help, or compromising personal beliefs due to a fear of rejection.

You may have been raised in a home with boundaries that were either much too strict, which led to the development of suppressed emotions and distant relationships. Or your upbringing may have been comprised of boundaries that were nearly non-existent, which makes it difficult to develop a sense of self.3

Even as an adult, these old patterns can be carried over into relationships and behaviors, resulting in anxiety, depression, or addiction. To fully address the contributing factors of your addiction and flourish in recovery, you must learn how to define and implement your own personal boundaries.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

If you’re still unsure what the difference is between healthy and unhealthy boundaries, here are a few examples of common behaviors that display healthy and unhealthy boundaries in everyday life.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries in Addiction Recovery
Jumping into a new relationship impulsively without thinking.Thinking about the benefits or drawbacks of a relationship with someone.
Ignoring your own personal beliefs and values to make someone else happy.Maintaining your own personal values despite what other people may think of you.
Accepting gifts, favors, and actions even when they are unwanted.Saying “no” when someone offers you a gift or a favor that you do not want or acts in unwanted ways.
Indirectly expressing your needs and wants or expecting others to automatically know what they are.Clearly and expressing what you need and want from someone and responding respectfully if you are declined.
Saying negative things about yourself or thinking harmful thoughts about yourself.Treating yourself with dignity, respect, and kindness.
Trusting everyone or trusting no one.Developing an appropriate trust over time.

Source: http://loveengineer.com/healthy-and-unhealthy-boundaries/

Benefits of Healthy Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

Establishing healthy boundaries in recovery has many benefits that that will help you maintain motivation and sobriety on a long-term basis. Setting healthy boundaries in recovery while enrolled in sober living allows you to protect yourself from manipulative relationships and safeguard your recovery with the following benefits.

  • Resist temptation – A set of well-defined boundaries will keep distractions and temptations at a minimum, making it easier for you to resist. Determining who you will and won’t spend time with, locations you will actively avoid, and items you will not purchase, or handle are all effective ways to protect your sobriety and reduce the likeliness of relapse.
  • Learn how to say no – Learning how to say no is difficult, especially when you feel a need to be accepted. Part of defining your boundaries is recognizing your own self-worth and valuing your own opinions, needs, and wants. As you learn to do this, saying no will become easier.
  • Gain self-worth – Recognizing your self-worth and self-efficacy is an essential piece of the recovery journey. Addicted individuals often have very low self-esteem, leading them to make decisions that negatively impact their lives and the lives of others around them. Setting boundaries in recovery will help you develop a sense of identity and improve the way you view and respect yourself and others.
  • Improve communication – In defining your boundaries, you will learn to recognize what you want and need in a relationship and in time, will be able to communicate that effectively. You will also learn how to communicate without blaming. Ongoing group counseling throughout a sober living program can also help you develop your communication skills.
  • Take responsibility – In drug and alcohol rehab, you learn to take ownership of your actions. After rehab, you continue this process by living a life of integrity and character. By learning how to respect and love yourself, you also learn how to accept the consequences of your behaviors and develop a healthy structure and routine that guides the way you choose to live your life.
  • Experience a more fulfilling life – These benefits all contribute to you experiencing a more fulfilling life. Boundaries improve your overall well-being and allow you to establish healthier and more rewarding relationships with others.

How to Establish Personal Boundaries in Recovery

Defining your boundaries is much easier than setting them and learning how to do so will take time. Here are five simple steps for establishing personal boundaries in addiction recovery:

  1. Identify harmful risk factors. First, you must identify the harmful things in your life that could put your sobriety at risk. These may be places, people, possessions, behaviors, or thoughts.
  2. Develop a plan. Once you have identified them, you can work with your counselor or recovery support group to develop a plan to combat them. This plan will involve clear-cut, enforceable actions that you can adopt into your everyday life. For example, this might mean that you delete the phone numbers of old drug dealers from your phone. Or maybe you decide that changing your number is the best way to cut harmful relationships out of your life. These are both ways you can begin defining your personal boundaries and implementing them immediately.
  3. Be consistent. Sticking to those boundaries you have identified is just as important as setting them in the first place. To do this, you must be honest with yourself and others who will hold you accountable.
  4. Seek out peer accountability. Being open with your peers about your initiative to set new boundaries for yourself is the best way to remain accountable. Whether you meet with your sober living program coordinator once a week to discuss your progress or you grab coffee with a housemate bi-weekly to talk about personal boundary issues and successes, recovery is not achieved in isolation.

Setting healthy boundaries in recovery isn’t always easy, but your peers in recovery will be able to share life experiences, encouragement, and wisdom they’ve found in their own recovery journey to help you set and maintain healthy boundaries within your relationships.


  1. https://uhs.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/relationships_personal_boundaries.pdf
  2. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ec7b/2c8b6b8d3f6657a5c10fd038985d9d2b2bfb.pdf
  3. http://new.ipfw.edu/affiliates/assistance/selfhelp/relationship-settingboundaries.html
  4. https://blogs.psychcentral.com/addiction-recovery/2012/10/importance-of-boundary-setting-in-recovery/
  5. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-importance-of-personal-boundaries/
  6. https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/30177086/Boundaries_of_Intimacy3.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1501865654&Signature=Cik%2BXEbUM2Il8P6FsAEJSrzDCaY%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DBoundaries_of_intimacy.pdf
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