One of the most difficult boundaries I have ever set was with a close friend from back home. This person was in the entanglement of alcoholism, and it was clearly interfering with our relationship. When I would visit back home, I would no longer stay with this person as I used to, and our phone conversations became less and less. Quite frankly, I just didn't want to be around the addictive behaviors any more. I had confronted the behavior repeatedly and shared my feelings, and was met with denial. I had no idea how bad it truly was, though, until a catastrophic event happened, which brought the whole secrecy surrounding the addicition into the light. At this point, I think I was truly confused about what it meant to set a boundary with this person. Even though I was working with individuals and couples every day with this very issue, when confronting it in my own life, it felt overwhelming. What I realized, and what helped me the most was to remind myself:
1. Boundaries are not our attempt to change the other person, they are TO TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES! When I set my boundary with this person, I shared that if the use alcohol continued, I would confront the behavior and share my feelings. If the behavior continued, I would no longer visit this person when I was back home (to take care of myself). Remember... boundaries can feel like punishment if you don't remind yourself "what behavior do *I* need to change in this situation TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF"? My other boundary was that I would reserve the right to re-evaluate our relationship.
2. Boundaries are not ultimatums. I wasn't saying that if the drinking didn't stop, I wouldn't have a relationship with them anymore (though I certainly could have done that, if that is what felt like I needed to do to take care of myself). I was telling this individual that I was changing one aspect of our relationship, in order to take care of myself. Basically, when we don't set boundaries, we are inadvertantly telling the other person that taking care of them (or not disrupting their life) is more important than our own self-care. This is a codependent behavior, and one that I had to change about myself in this particular relationship.
Fortunately, for me, I wasn't alone in my boundary setting. Other important loved ones around this person were also on board with setting boundaries, which helped to snap this person out of denial. But ultimately, it was this individual's choice to stop drinking and get in recovery. Did our boundaries have something to do with this? Absolutely. They put this person in enough pain to recognize how the behaviors were impacting other's, and this causes the person to start FEELING. I always say... people don't change until their pain gets higher than their fear of changing. Our boundaries contributed to this process.
What boundaries do you need to set in your life, to start taking care of yourself??
Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.