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Learn / How to Set Boundaries in Recovery

How to Set Boundaries in Recovery

By 
Kayla Gill
|
 October 11th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Boundaries protect you from harm, empower you, and boost your well-being.
  • Types of boundaries include physical, emotional, mental, and time boundaries.
  • You learn to set boundaries in rehab, therapy, and through other recovery resources.

Boundaries allow us to protect our mental well-being, have healthier relationships, and meet our own needs—and learning how to use them is a crucial part of recovery. You can set boundaries by respectfully communicating your needs. 

Boundary-setting is a skill that takes practice. The process may seem daunting at first. But it’s also a rewarding part of recovery. Showing up for yourself is healing. 

If you’re recovering from addiction, rehab can be a great place to learn how to set boundaries while in recovery and practice this new skill. You’ll learn how to state your needs in a safe environment with professional and peer support. And you’ll walk away with boundary-setting tools that will serve you in recovery and throughout life.

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are the limits you set to protect your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. They define what is and isn’t acceptable in your interactions with situations, other people, and yourself. Setting and enforcing personal boundaries teaches us lessons that are important for recovering from drugs or alcohol: 

  • Boundaries safeguard your personal space. Having a sense of security allows you to process your emotions and focus on healing. 
  • They foster healthy emotional responses. Emotional stability helps you make rational decisions1 and cope with stress.
  • They protect your mental health. Saying no gives you more control over your life and grows your emotional resilience. 
  • They teach you to conserve your time. Giving too much of your time to others is draining. Setting time boundaries ensures you have the energy to focus on your healing. It also helps to prevent burnout and stress. 

Usually, treatment programs teach boundary setting in the early stages of recovery.2 You have several resources to help you establish healthy boundaries:

  • Rehab: Rehab teaches you how to set healthy boundaries for long-term recovery. You’ll have a chance to practice in individual therapy, group therapy, life skills coaching, and more. 
  • Wellness centers: Burnout, stress, and depression are signs of unhealthy boundaries. Wellness centers teach you how to undo unhealthy patterns so you choose how you spend time and energy. 
  • Therapy: Therapists help you set boundaries using different techniques, including role-playing, self-empowerment workshops, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more. 
  • Recovery coach: If you need help staying on track in your healing journey, you might consider recovery coaching options. Recovery coaches can offer non-clinical assistance with enforcing boundaries.
  • Online resources and books: Credible websites and books are an affordable way to learn the basics of boundary setting. They’re a good way to get started on your journey, or supplement what you learn in treatment.

Different Types of Boundaries in Recovery

During recovery, you’ll learn how to set various types of boundaries to safeguard your well-being. 

1. Physical Boundaries 

Physical boundaries protect your body, personal space, and comfort zone. They include physical touch, personal belongings, and the right to privacy: 

Examples of physical boundaries: 

  • Communicating that you don’t want to be touched without permission  
  • Setting limits on personal space
  • Asking for privacy

2. Emotional Boundaries 

Emotional boundaries safeguard your feelings and emotions. Communicating your needs protects you from emotional harm and fosters healthier relationships. 

Examples of emotional boundaries:

  • Saying no when you don’t feel comfortable about something
  • Limiting how much you share about your recovery—you may not want to talk about it at all with certain people, and that’s okay
  • Asking for help when you need it 

3. Mental Boundaries

You set mental boundaries on your own thoughts and beliefs. They protect you from getting caught up in negative or harmful thoughts. 

Examples of mental boundaries:

  • Challenging negative thoughts
  • Focusing on the positive
  • Recognizing when to not take things personally

4. Time Boundaries

Time boundaries protect your energy. By managing your schedule, you avoid the stress that comes from over-committing. 

Examples of time boundaries:

  • Saying no to things that aren’t a priority
  • Taking breaks
  • Setting time aside for self-care, therapy, interpersonal relationships, and more

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Benefits of Establishing Healthy Boundaries During Recovery

  • Boundaries enhance self-esteem. Addiction and self-esteem3 are linked. Learning to believe in yourself again is monumental for healing. One way to do that is by setting boundaries. They teach you to value your own needs, reinforcing self-worth and self-respect. 
  • You learn to build better relationships. Boundaries are key to building and maintaining healthy relationships. Communicating your needs fosters mutual respect and healthier connections. There’s a strong link between social support and long-term recovery.4 
  • You can reduce stress and anxiety. The recovery process is joyful and stressful at times. Boundaries help you gain back a sense of control, focus on your own needs, and avoid overextending yourself. This helps minimize unnecessary stress. 
  • Boundaries protect your recovery. Unhealthy boundaries can expose you to triggering situations or people. That’s why learning to say no is a relapse prevention strategy.5 Boundaries teach us to respect our healing journey. 

Set Boundaries for a Healthier and Happier You

Setting and enforcing meaningful boundaries is a form of self-love. It’s also an ongoing process. Recovery is a chance to learn about yourself. As you do that, you start to understand how to show up for yourself. 

If you want to learn more about your recovery options, connect directly with a treatment provider and compare them by price, insurance accepted, what they treat, and more. 


Frequently Asked Questions About How to Set Boundaries in Recovery

Why are boundaries important for addiction recovery?

Boundaries are essential for addiction recovery because they protect your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. They help you feel safe, respected, and in control of your life. By enforcing boundaries, you can avoid triggers, build healthy relationships with family and friends, reduce stress, and more.

What are the different types of boundaries in addiction recovery?

There are 4 main types of boundaries in recovery: physical, mental, emotional, and time boundaries. These protect your space, emotions, thoughts, and energy. You learn to set these boundaries in rehab and therapy. If you have a recovery coach, they may offer non-clinical assistance with boundary setting.

How do I set boundaries in recovery?

To set boundaries in recovery:

– Identify your needs and wants.
– Be clear and specific.
– Communicate your boundaries respectfully.
– Enforce your boundaries.
– Be patient with yourself.

Boundary setting is usually taught in the early stages of addiction treatment. You learn to reinforce them throughout your journey.


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