Part 7: Building Healthy Boundaries

You have been hurt and more than likely violated by the addict. But if you’ve been trying to help and to give of yourself while they have used you, there are actions steps that will need to be addressed. Being hurt and feeling pain with God has a sacred place in our healing. However, moving beyond the mode of victimization into empowerment is where strength is found.

God has given you legal rights to be who you are, and to be safe from threat and abuse. Did you know that? Indeed, we are sometimes called to suffer, and we are also asked to be sacrificial. But in no way does that mean we can’t tend to our personal rights as His children.

Ancient Israel was protected by giant walls that led to fortification. They still needed to trust God to protect them. Yet, they were able to take this action to wisely protect their land and people. The only time they lost protection was when they strayed from God.

In the same way, we can establish personal boundaries to places fences around our lives that determine what we keep in and what we keep out. A true boundary isn’t a means of separation, but rather a tool of healthy defense.

While a boundary can appear to be influencing how people treat us, in fact it does no such thing. Healthy boundaries refuse to allow unhealthy people and behaviors from entering our lives. You may say “it’s too late. I have them and they are here.” However, even if they are present in your home right, you can take actions to secure and protect yourself in the future. Not only that, you can place a shield of God’s protection around you even in the midst of the chaos.

If the subject of boundaries seems overwhelming, understand its not an intellectual concept to grasp. We will have to not just learn about boundaries, but have them planted into us in a real and tangible way. It may take additional resources and materials to assist with this process. However, what we can gain right away is some practical application.

Defining Rights

The rights you have with the people in your life do not diminish the call to love. Loving people is God’s first agenda. But when we are engaged in relationships that are unhealthy, we will need to maintain a defense system. If we don’t understand our basic rights, we won’t know what we can defend against properly. Let’s look at some key areas:

  • We have the right to make our choices based on the Biblical definition of truth and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. No human being is ever allowed to take that right away from us.
  • We have the right to feel our feelings, even if they make other people uncomfortable. Our feelings are not sinful. They are an expression of what is happening within. They may need to heal, but they are not actually wrong.
  • We have the right to say no to lies and manipulation. We do not need to comply to people just because they need something from us. If you find yourself struggling with this, there is deeper work that can be accomplished through a recovery program.
  • We have the right to be our true selves – and not to have to change to please others.
  • We have the right to not allow or condone sinful behaviors in our relationship. This means we will have to fairly implement boundaries as will be discussed shortly.
  • We have the right to pursue our dreams, to care for our wellbeing and walk out our God given destiny. No matter where you are in your relationship, God reserves the right for you to live out your God-given potential. No one can steal that from you, unless you allow them too.

When we access rights, we have to understand that with them comes responsibly to uphold the rights of others. Here are some areas that contain restrictions:

  • We don’t have the right to hurt people physically, emotionally or through any means of abuse.
  • We don’t have the right to remove other people’s mistakes and failures by “doing things for them.”
  • We don’t have the right control people so they think, act or do what we want them to do
  • We don’t have the right to read people to make assumptions on their behalf
  • We don’t have the right to make accusations without facts
  • We don’t have the right to force people to treat us a certain way
  • We don’t have the right to use guilt, shame or any form of control to cause people to change.

Yours and Mine

A boundary separates two properties. It creates the authorization factor required to legally be in someone’s private space. In the addiction cycle, we can not only have our boundaries denied, but we can in turn deny the boundary of the addict’s individual rights. That’s because just as we can define our personal space, we will need to learn to allow ______________ to have the right to their own space.

More often than not, family members of addicts leave their own “property” and “jump the fence” to aid the addict. Unknowingly, they essentially barge through the front door unannounced and begin to house clean and perform tasks that are neglected. These have wide ranging scenarios as we began to discuss in the last chapter. The idea is that as we “scrub their floors,” we remove their ability to feel the consequences of their neglect. Shiny clean floors don’t need to be cleaned if someone else does it on their behalf.

But there’s even more. While we are managing their property we are neglecting our own. In Song of Solomon, a young woman faces this tribulation. She says:

 

My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I had to neglect. – Song of Solomon 1:6

 

That is a picture of enslavement. Put your own name in there, and ask if it applies. _____________ was angry with me and made me take care of his/her life. My own life I had to neglect.

If that fits, you are experiencing a sense of being oppressed. Whether you are experiencing that or simply lack an understanding of boundaries, this crisis becomes two fold. We enable the addiction, and self-neglect our own life.

Some of your boundary work is repositioning yourself back to your property and your personal responsibilities. That’s difficult!  You literally will need to begin to consciously see what you do that isn’t either invited or simply shouldn’t be your job to begin with.

If you don’t know where to begin, it’s helpful to find a three-column page where you can write your name, your family member’s name and God’s name. You can start to go through every facet of your daily life and see how entangled it has become. Ask God for wisdom.

Who Does What?

 

Define your responsibilities – use a separate piece of paper.

 

Your Name

 

You Addict’s Name

 

God

 

Fence Intrusions

In active addiction, there are varying levels of violations regarding boundaries. First of all, addicts are very manipulative and cunning to get what they want and need. They will push their way into our lives to gain access to anything that will help feed their addiction. Some of the boundary solutions that apply we already discussed: we simply stop helping them by cutting off ways that encouraged them keep using.

But our boundary issues will go deeper. We may have an entire system established that has allowed ___________ to intrude on our personal space and our individual rights.  The moment we feel unable to make choices because someone is making them on our behalf, we have to step back and assess what’s happening.

The reasons we do this varies. Sometimes we have our identity and sense of security so immersed in this person that we assume that if we can fix them, we can also fix ourselves. This is called codependency. It is a mindset that is usually learned early in life. When codependency drives our boundaries, we will be more prone to appease people. Sometime we’ll even change our own beliefs and morals to align with what we think a person wants in a given moment. These moving fences in our life leave us vulnerable to attacks and crushes our sense of value and identity.

Whenever we are unable to say no, or feel we have lost our right to make choices for ourselves, we know we need to work through deeper challenges. This isn’t an indication that we are flawed, but it usually means we’ve been hurt. Facing this is difficult, but it will enable us with the resources to find hope and healing. There is always a reason for why we do what we do.

Even though you may want to genuinely set boundaries, you might find you are too weak to follow through. That’s when you know you need a group or counselor to help you. Your boundaries will need to be affirmed inside of you before they can be implemented in your relationships.

Defining and Implementing Boundaries

The development of boundaries is simply what you will allow and not allow in your life. Writing this out is fairly simply, until you are challenged by people who will push your boundaries. It’s not so much in your desire to have a boundary, as much as your willingness to implement a consequence. Sometimes the boundary is for you. If you know areas of weakness, you need to remove yourself or avoid places, people and things that are potentially harmful. An addict in recovery has to do the same thing – they create boundaries for themselves. They will have to avoid all the places where they could potentially stumble.

But life happens, and thus people will in some way test boundaries. Because boundaries aren’t a means to control the behavior of someone else, they have the purpose of personal protection. If you say “no” and someone doesn’t oblige, your boundary will only be effective if you have a means of administering a consequence. Our typical reaction may have been anger. In fact, anger by definition is the need to self-preserve because we feel that something is trying to take or misuse something that belongs to us. Anger also stems from our basic sense of identity abused. Anger is justified, but its fruitless in and of itself. It is false power that does nothing to change the circumstances.

In addiction, remember that you are loving the addict by allowing them to feel pain of bad choices. Thus, administering consequences is part of that valuable tool. It’s also far more effective than simply lashing out in anger.

Consequences empower the boundary and make it valid. If you have no intention of following through on a consequence, your boundary isn’t really a boundary. It’s a false threat. You could later say “I love _________ so much, I can forgive them for ____________,” but really you are just allowing the behavior, you have wrongfully defined love. Love isn’t a feeling – it’s a choice to make the right decision for a person’s wellbeing, not to necessarily appease them in the moment.

When you think about consequences, they should be something you can live with.   It’s common to make empty threats to an addict. It’s hard to enforce consequences. But it’s vital. A consequence has to also offer itself in proportion to violation.

That’s why you want to plan your boundaries out in advanced, and then have a method to enforce them. This works best when you state a boundary to the person with the addictive lifestyle. If you are married to someone who is an addict and are considering major decisions such as separation or divorce, it is strongly advised you seek professional or spiritual counseling or support to work through that decision. It is understandable to reach a point where you have had enough. Your consequence and breaking points in a relationship, however, should in some way align to God’s heart. This is very difficult to navigate. There is forgiveness that needs to be processed, even as you are setting boundaries.

Sometimes the right thing to do is to stay and to wait for God to intervene. Other times you may need to leave temporarily or even permanently if serious situations have occurred. Remember, trampled fences no longer protect. Your boundaries are only as good as your willingness to enforce them.

However, it’s vital to understand and remember that again, boundaries can’t control behavior – they simply offer guidelines. We can’t tell __________________ what to do. We can set boundaries in our own property that asks they respect certain guidelines. Don’t come home drunk. Don’t take _______ without my permission. The boundaries you are entitled to create lie within your space, not someone else’s.

Action Step:

Can you think of some boundaries you want stated? What do you feel most disrespected about? That is where you should start.

Boundaries are Bridges Not Walls

While boundaries separate our personal rights, they are not intended to act as walls.  Simply saying “do this” and “don’t do that” does very little to promote a healthy relationship. Boundaries are an invitation to learn how to respect, honor and love each other. They allow us to see and respond to each other’s needs and interests.

Enforcing a consequence isn’t intended to simply punish, but to offer the opportunity for redemption.  People can change. The pain of a consequence is intended to lead to repentance.  A change initiated by them, not by our demands.

When people genuinely seek help, genuinely want change, and genuinely are sorry, we can administer grace. Grace gives second chance. It says “let’s try again.’ Perhaps you feel you gave grace and grace again. However, there is a dramatic difference between authentic grace and simply not having boundaries in the first place. With grace, there was a true contrition experienced through a learned lesson. The person who violated is sorry and wants another chance.

If a person is not sorry, then tough decisions need to be made. You cannot have a true relationship with someone who is not sorry for their sins. Sin not only separates us from God, it separates us from each other.

It will be a challenge to deal with someone’s wrongful behavior without allowing it to contaminate your own heart. We can grow so resentful and angry, that we aren’t even able to build a bridge now or in the future.  The work of recovery and healing aids us through this. How you choose to manage the pain of someone’s refusal to change their destructive habits will define your future. If you choose to remain in bitterness you have forfeited your ability to find a life despite their bad choice. But if you choose to work through their violations, you can forge a pathway of redemption for yourself with God’s help, you can be free either way. The addict has a choice, and you have a choice whether or not to let their bad choices shape your future.

Read Part 8