Alcoholics, addicts, codependents, overeaters, debtors, alanons, humans, lions, tigers and bears (oh my), all have problems with boundaries. Commonly people talk about "setting boundaries" -- alcoholics and addicts talk about it constantly -- but I think in my own journey in recovery I started throwing the lingo around before I was absolutely clear what it meant. I wasn't "wrong" in my understanding of the terms and concepts -- but I wasn't clear.
So first, let's get clear on the "what it is" part:
A boundary is a limit. "This is what I will do. This is what I won't do. This is what I will not allow in my life. This is what I will not allow you to say to me. This is what I will not allow you to do to me. This is what I will accept from you. This is what I won't accept from you." It is a clear statement that says "No" to some behavior (an action or an inaction) from another person in any context, be it love, family, work, school, etc. And then it is the calm, consistent enforcement of that statement.
These are my boundaries:
- Other people's behavior does not dictate my behavior. If you lie to me I still speak the truth to you. If you steal from me I do not steal from you. My ethics and my principles are not changed by my anger or my fear, nor are they flexible in the context of "standing up for myself" (which in some situations is just "retaliation" in recovery drag.) You don't get to decide how I behave by the way you behave.
- You can spoil your day -- that's up to you -- but you can't spoil mine -- that's up to me.
- If you want to behave badly that's on you. But I'm not going to be part of it. I leave or you leave if you want to behave in a toxic or hurtful (to me, to you, or to an innocent bystander) manner.
- Helping someone is not the same as enabling someone. Generally I do not shield people from the consequences of their actions (or their inactions), and I do not expect them to shield me from the consequences of mine. I most especially do not shield an alcoholic or addict from the consequences of their using.
- I won't support other people's lies.
- I will not allow people to abuse me verbally, emotionally, mentally or physically -- and while I am not responsible for the whole world around me, I will not sit idly by when others are being abused.
Some of the above are inspired by what I've heard in AA meetings, and have become a part of how I try to "trudge the road of happy destiny." Some I've learned from working the Steps, some from working with sponsors, some I learned from the work of Melody Beattie in the book "CoDependent No More" -- and some I learned the hard way, that is, by not having the boundary and thus being beat up and beat down -- and then beat down some more. Because believe me, if you can't set boundaries then every Crazy you meet has an All-Access Pass to every area of your life. (And an alcoholic without boundaries is a resentment machine.)
I'm not a superhero (much as I like to wear a cape now and then). Absolutely I miss the mark on these some days. And sometimes when I'm not spiritually fit I get confused as to my part in a situation, and then how to set and keep healthy boundaries feels complicated and overwhelming. (Tenth Step, anyone?)
But if I start from clarity -- if I know what a boundary is and consequently then what my boundaries are -- I'm in a much better place to cope with things as they come at me.
Or, to put it another way: As life hands me its lumps and miracles I'm going to be a lot more graceful in accepting both.