Monday, July 25, 2011

Why I need to have healthy boundaries

Most of us who come to Al-Anon build walls to hide the pain of a life with alcoholism.  I started building those walls when I was a kid, trying to cover up my shame and creating a fantasy world through reading and walling myself off from the dysfunction.  What I didn't realize at the time was that I had only some broken down fences with which to establish boundaries for myself.

When I first heard about boundaries, I knew that I had breached many with a lot of people. And I had no good idea how to establish those that I needed to take care of myself other than by isolating. By admitting that I was powerless over others and accepting that I could not make anyone do anything, I have gradually learned that a healthy boundary is one that I can enforce.   It isn't one in which I ask the other person to establish the boundary for me.

I can remember warning my wife before going to parties that we would have to leave if she drank too much--as if that had any affect on her.  I couldn't control her drinking.  I couldn't make her leave.  What I realize now is that a good boundary would be saying, "I'm going to leave".  That is a boundary that I can stick by.

Broken down fences are like broken down defenses because I'm left vulnerable to whatever may decide to jump, slide under, or glide through the fence. And I've had to shore up my boundaries with those who are potentially "toxic".
It's a familiar thing in Al-Anon. How to deal with someone in our life who is causing a great deal of pain? Detaching with love and setting boundaries are good ways to do that.

I realize that people who don't have a positive input into my life can be draining.  I have to decide what is best for me.  This is not an easy solution but one that I have come to understand by putting my best interests first.  I simply don't have much time for those who are selfish and think only of themselves.

In the past, putting the needs of others first and mine last has done a lot of damage.  I now look at damage limitation  because my energy resources are low, my physical resources are limited, my emotional resources have been battered and I have been beaten down so badly for many years.  I have to be kind to myself so that I stand even a chance to recover from the affects of alcoholism and find some quality in my life.

So I have learned that I do not have to take on the whole world's needs before looking to my own. Others forget I have needs, because I have not shown them I do.  I would be strong regardless of how bad I felt.  I thought that not being otherwise would leave me vulnerable.  I now know that I have a right to have needs too.  I do not surround myself with totally selfish people who have no thought for me except to use me to make themselves feel better or as a sounding board for all they cannot cope with, with no regard to what that does to me.

I got to the point before the program that I didn't like hurtful people in my life, but I also didn't know how to get them out of my life or how to detach from them. It has taken me a while to realize that I don't have to like everyone nor do I have to stick around those people who have the potential to be harmful to me. I used to try to ignore them but found that it's hard to ignore the elephant in the living room. Turning the other cheek never worked because I would just get slapped on the other one. And I don't wish to be a martyr. Now, I'm done with people that I don't want to be with. I inventory myself and make a decision on whether I want the drama or the potential of a serenity "breaker".

"In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for "finding himself." If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence." Thomas Merton


  1. Good post Syd.

    I spent so many years confusing boundaries. I had to finally realize that boundaries start with "I". Boundaries give me the control in my life that I needed when dealing with a son addicted to heroin.

    Struggled with that "You" concept. Finally began to realize that any time I dealt with issues and his behaviors and it began with you or a substitute for that pronoun I was no longer dealing with boundaries, it became about rules. And we all know ho well rules work with addicts and alcoholics.

    Boundaries are good, they allow us be be healthy.

  2. Excellent thoughts for today Syd! Thank you!! I needed to hear this.

  3. I think we all need healthy boundaries. I used to think it was my express duty to put up with the unhealthy people in my life, in order to show them a more compassionate and sane lifestyle.
    In the end we can't make their life choices.

    One thing that comes to mind is the thought, we have to mind our own side of the street and let them mind theirs.

    I've discovered life is far too short to spend time on detrimental relationships that bring nothing but hurt. I'll still hold out a hand to those that need it, they however need to meet me part way. (Hugs)Indigo

  4. Can I ask you a question? I am obviously one of those people who have mixed up boundaries but I am trying hard to understand. This will probably sound very basic but this whole boundary thing feels very different when it is your spouse. Very different than dealing with my son. I guess it shouldn't but it does.

    If I choose to remain in my husbands life. I have to accept that there is nothing I can do to change him. I can however decided not to accept his "behaviors". I get that. What I don't get is how this makes my alcoholic husband aware that there is anything wrong. How do I inspire change, I know I can't do it for him and I know I can't force him to do it. But accepting him as an alcoholic sounds counter productive.

    This is a very simplistic way to explain whats going on and as we all know there is nothing simplistic about any of our lives. I want to be able to look at this in a healthy way because I am choosing to stay in this relationship. I love him. Call me in denial or whatever but it is not realistic for many reasons for me to look at trying to get out of this marriage. Not to mention I don't want to.

  5. When I permit the breaching of my boundaries, I suffer the consequences, and they are never worth it. If I don't respect myself enough to say "No," the world is full of people who will take advantage of that inability. I choose not to hang out with those sort anymore. My fixer hat is permanently retired.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. It's a good reminder. I need to work on both setting boundaries and respecting them, although I think I'm getting better at both. I feel like I use my boyfriend and best friend as sounding boards, though, and I worry that I stress them out, although they do tell me when they need to go and I always check in with them and say, "Is this stressing you out? Do you mind listening?" I used to have a therapist that told me I needed a sounding board, because my parents never listened to me, and she was willing to be one for me like once a week, but I don't live near her anymore. Well, writing helps, and so does exersize and prayer - sometimes I do those, too. But other times I almost need someone in the room so that I can think out loud about how to solve a problem. Gotta go. Thanks again for sharing!

  7. "I got to the point before the program that I didn't like hurtful people in my life, but I also didn't know how to get them out of my life or how to detach from them."

    This is incredibly true for where I am in the process. And my trying to locate the boundaries, what I can and cannot tolerate, what I'm going to do about it, etc etc is an interesting, almost comical, process to observe in myself. Like three days ago when I could neither continue in a conversation, nor sit with my partner through a meal where he had just said something dismissive and cruel. I simply got up, walked away, but then had to walk two and a half hours to home. Yay for boundaries, boo for blisters.

  8. It has only been within the last two years that I have begun to understand what a true, healthy boundary is. I am working on establishing these, and the al-anon work helps.

  9. excellent explaination of boundaries! :)

  10. Sometimes boundaries for me have alot to do with detachment. I become enmeshed with my qualifier.
    Loosing self it is challenging setting boundaries.
    When I make plans and the qualifier cant follow through it is important that I still show up for myself. It isnt easy to go alone but I have learned that I can enjoy my own company.
    It is up to me to make the choice on how I am going to deal with a situation.
    Detachment is one of the most valuable techniques Al-Anon offers those of us who seek to reclaim ourselves. Simply put, detachment means to separate ourselves emotionally and spiritually from other people.

  11. Great post Syd. Setting boundaries, being able to stick by them and then let go of the resistance, is a beautiful thing for sure.

  12. What I have learned about boundaries is if you let one be violated, it gives people license to keep violating others. You have to defend them, each one, or people won't take you seriously.

    If someone is used to you not enforcing your boundaries, they will test this several times to see if you really mean it.

  13. Boundaries are critical to a good life. Being a "people pleaser" is deadly as far as I'm concerned. It means we never can be true to ourselves. I have far fewer people in my life now and it's a great comfort.

  14. Thank you for posting these thoughts. I have never thought about the ultimatums I have made as being "boundaries" - and now realize just how right you are about creating boundaries that were easily disregarded by my spouse. I am married to an alcoholic and am new to learning to recover from alcoholism's effects. My husband is currently working the AA program and receiving so much support from those he has sought out - but I have had a hard time letting go of my pride and seeking out help for myself and the damage done to me. I am comforted seeing that there are people out there who are going through the same thing - b/c for so long I have felt isolated.

    I guess I just want to thank you... Your post is really the first thing I have come across that has really helped ME.

  15. Such a good post about boundaries. I think this concept can be so hard with children and parents, too. Mostly because boundaries change as the grow. I needed to pay attention. Sometimes I think my son is still 14, but he's not. Thanks

  16. About a month ago I went to work and there was a lot of low level, high energy buzzing around, not unlike a beehive. I felt good, did not engage in other people's stuff and had the thought, 'it's like it's happening outside myself'. And quickly realized that it should be that way!

    Good to read you, Syd.

  17. Very thought-provoking post, Syd. Self-responsibility is a difficult thing.

    As children, we are taught to consider the needs of others and to put others first. Often we are told that to put our own needs first is selfish.

    Perhaps that's because we forget how to draw the lines between wants and needs. It's fine to put our wants at the back of the line, but we must look out for the needs that are required for healthy self-worth.

    Just another of your many great posts, Syd.

  18. You teach us so much, Syd. So much...

    "Turning the other cheek never worked because I would just get slapped on the other one" is something I relate to COMPLETELY.

    Thanks for this post.

  19. Boundaries are such a great topic to talk about, especially for me. After 33 years I have finally found them and choosing to implement them in my life. I am learning boundaries are so important if I wish to stay true to myself and no longer wish to accept hurtful and abusive behaviors. Now that I am setting them the tone of my relationships have been changing. I have lost some people who I thought were important and at the same I have experienced closeness with others. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!


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