When you care about someone, it’s only natural to want to help them, forgive them and do whatever you can to keep them safe. But when the one you care about is caught in the throes of addiction, your well-intentioned help may do more harm than good. With addiction, setting firm boundaries is best.
A boundary is a limit that you will not allow to be crossed. Unfortunately, when your sibling, parent, child, friend or partner is addicted, having your boundaries disrespected can become commonplace.
While it is true that you can’t force someone to behave exactly as you want, what you can do is change your response to their undesirable behavior. By clearly defining and enforcing the type of behavior you won’t accept, you establish that your needs are important and must be respected. If an addiction sufferer can see, and is forced to accept that their behavior is inappropriate, they will be much more likely to take responsibility for their actions, desire change and finally, seek addiction treatment.
Setting boundaries with addicted loved ones may not always be an easy thing to do. In fact, it can be nearly unbearable to think that you might cause your loved one any amount of suffering. However, at some point we must acknowledge that while our actions may be well intentioned, enabling a loved one’s addictiononly contributes to the problem.
Below, we offer five tips to help you set and enforce boundaries when someone you love is addicted.
Define Your Boundaries
Observe your loved one and carefully consider which behaviors you find unacceptable. Does your loved one steal from you? Use drugs in your home? Are they constantly lying or do they lose contact and leave you wondering about their whereabouts or safety? Identify these problem behaviors and clearly define them to yourself and to your loved one. Make sure your loved one understands not only what your limits are, but also why you are setting them. Select only a few boundaries at a time rather than creating a long list to avoid the situation becoming overwhelming for you both.
Determine a Response to a Crossed Boundary
The boundaries you set should be both reasonable and possible to enforce. Clearly decide on the action you will take if your boundary is not respected. Explicitly note this for yourself and state this to your loved one.
For example, you may say, “Next time you gamble away your pay check, you’ll have to find another way to pay rent. I will no longer give you money to cover your bills.”
Importantly, in addition to stating the consequences of crossing your boundaries, you must also believe them. If you are not really serious, your loved one will be able to sense this. Saying something like, “If you drink again, I’ll divorce you,” is pointless if you both know that you’re not going to follow through.
Stick to Your Guns
After stating the consequence for a crossed boundary, you have to stick to it, no matter how painful it might be. Your boundary will hold no weight if your loved one doesn’t feel they need to take it seriously.
When you first start to set boundaries, your loved one will almost certainly try to test them. Someone consumed by addiction will frantically resist restrictions if they make it more difficult for them to feed their addiction. This can be especially challenging to endure as your loved one may try various forms of manipulation to make you go back on your word; they may plead, offer plausible rationalizations or even resort to threats. At this point, it is imperative that you don’t let them believe that all they have to do is cry or use intimidation to make you back down.
Build Your Self-Respect
Each time you allow your loved one to ignore your boundaries, your self-respect takes a hit. Setting and enforcing limits on the behaviors that you will and will not accept sends a message that you are important and so are your needs.
Watching a loved one struggle and exhausting yourself trying to help them recover while avoiding pushing them away can be completely consuming. Amidst all of this, it’s easy to lose sight of your own importance, and it’s nearly impossible to stick to your resolve when you don’t acknowledge your worth.
Take some ‘me’ time to focus on your own wellbeing. Meditate, exercise – whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you matter. When you believe that you are a person of value, your entire attitude will convey this and your loved one will be more likely to respect the lines you’ve drawn.
It’s important to remember you don’t have to fight this battle alone. Reach out to your family members or friends for support. Seek counselling or attend support groups. Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings can be a great resource. You can gain access to relevant literature as well as comfort from sharing with others who understand what you’re going through. You are not the first person to struggle with an addicted loved one and you certainly won’t be the last. Support from others will help you to trust that you can be strong through this difficult process. When you’re feeling weak, leaning on others can help you find the will to hold your ground.
If you are seeking addiction treatment or a drug intervention for your loved one, reach out to our specialized intervention consultants today.