4 Unexpected Ways Setting (and Keeping) Boundaries Sets You Free
“Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote the poet Robert Frost, meaning that there’s less room for conflict when everyone knows where the boundaries are. That’s especially true for those of us who love an addict.
Boundaries are those physical and emotional limits we set to let other people know how to treat us. They’re lines we won’t allow others to cross, designed to protect our own well-being. They also limit the behaviors we’ll accept from ourselves. When our boundaries reflect our innermost needs, beliefs, and values, we become clear about what we will and won’t do.
In a very real sense, boundaries help us define and express who we really are. Paradoxically, although boundaries involve setting limits, they’re one of the surest paths to personal freedom. To see why, consider these four unexpected ways that setting (and keeping) boundaries can set you free.
1. When you set boundaries, you’re free to live your own life. Codependence is often the result when someone we love becomes addicted. We can get so wrapped up in trying to “fix” or “rescue” our loved ones that we end up trying to live their life for them. Boundaries free us from this impossible task. They allow us to focus on the only life we can actually do something about—our own.
2. Boundaries free you to live in harmony with your moral values. It’s easy to get drawn into the moral “squishiness” that comes with addiction. “Little” lies about why our spouse missed work can mushroom into bigger lies about why we need a prescription refill, what happened to the rent check, or who was at the wheel of a car after an accident. But the more lines we cross, the foggier we get about our own moral principles. Boundaries help us hold onto our moral moorings. When we’re asked to do something that makes us uncomfortable, we can honor the limits set by our moral boundaries.
3. Boundaries free you from the perpetual conflict that comes with addiction. Addicted people live in a world of shifting realities and moral ambiguities. Since we don’t know what to expect from one day to the next, opportunities for misunderstandings abound. Knowing our own boundaries can shine a light of clarity through the chaos. When we’re clear about what is and what isn’t open to negotiation, we can maintain our serenity, refuse to be drawn into conflict, and walk away from problematic situations before they escalate.
4. Boundaries free you to extend genuine love. Loving an addict is draining. If our emotional boundaries aren’t clear, we can find ourselves playing the martyr and getting mired in feelings of resentment, self-pity, and anger. Protecting our emotional well-being is the first step in healing the relationship—even if our addicted loved one is not yet ready. For it is only by caring for ourselves that we can extend to others the kindness, generosity, and compassion that are the foundation of genuine love. As the author Leo Buscaglia noted, “To love others, you must love yourself.”
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