Why Boundaries Are Important in Recovery

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Why Boundaries Are Important in Recovery

friends, boundaries, setting boundaries, recovery, supportSetting boundaries is a phrase we hear a lot about but don’t always understand until we’ve received the proper guidance. Yet everyone from busy working parents to people in recovery to caregivers for senior loved ones eventually learn the value of a few kinds but well-placed “no thank you” responses or “I ask that” requests to encourage peace in their lives.

Why Boundaries Are Necessary

To live healthfully and have enriching relationships, we all need boundaries. The American Psychological Association officially defines them as “a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity.” There are also boundaries therapists must respect while counseling individuals.

So what does this mean? Psychologist Danit Nitka writes, “according to personal space theory, we have boundaries and can regulate how permeable they are—meaning what we let in and out—when it comes to the physical, mental, and spiritual environment.” In all aspects of your being, clear boundaries help:

  • Identify how you respond to individuals and circumstances that drain your energy.
  • Keep you safe and foster more respect.
  • Improve various relationships.
  • Allow for healthy expressions of self-love.
  • Develop better focus for what’s most important to you.
  • Communicate specific needs without confrontation.

Normal boundaries aren’t walls—they’re defining markers of behavior. For example, for someone in recovery, sobriety is a top priority. When friends invite them out for dinner and drinks, the healthy boundaries they communicate upfront help them and others honor this intention, such as:

  • “I’d love to join you for dinner! I’ll just head home afterward.”
  • “I appreciate the invitation, but I’d rather not go to a sports bar. Can we meet for coffee later?”
  • “I’m in recovery, so I won’t be drinking. However, if you’re interested, I’d like to suggest a great new restaurant I’ve just heard about.”

A boundary supporting your sobriety doesn’t close you off from people. Your responsibility is to outline the perimeter. Their responsibility is to acknowledge and respect it.

What Type of Boundaries Might You Need?

A sobriety boundary is just one of many that people use to create better wellness. However, for most of us, boundaries aren’t learned until much later in life, so PsychCentral provides a list of others you might consider.


You’re accountable for your feelings, and it’s important to communicate and encourage mutual respect of feelings with other people without judgment or criticism. These types of boundaries also help you not to think you have to take responsibility for others’ feelings—for example, being a “people pleaser” just to avoid conflict.

Financial or Material

“I don’t feel comfortable making that choice” is a way to protect your finances and possessions and the decision not to loan money or possessions to others. You can also refine this boundary to positively position yourself for raises and promotions.


You’re allowed to speak your mind with consideration and non-confrontationally. Use “I statements” to clarify your point. The Depression and Bipolar Alliance suggests something like this: “Instead of ‘Stop touching my stuff and stay out of my room!’ try ‘I feel violated when you enter my room and go through my things, because I value privacy. What I need is a space that I know is private to record my thoughts’.”

To put this into a work context, a mental boundary guideline might be, “I worked through many problems to come up with these solutions. I think it’s important that I speak about them in the next meeting instead of someone else taking credit for these ideas.”


Some boundaries are mandatory to maintain security of your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual spaces, and perhaps even for safety reasons. For example, as you move through recovery, it might be necessary to disengage from people who don’t support what you’re trying to accomplish.


Communicate respect for your physical needs. Whether it’s about rest, someone sitting too close for your comfort, a need for privacy, what’s permitted in your environment, or a literal hands-off from your person, you have a right to state the guidelines, such as, “We don’t allow alcohol, drugs, or smoking in our home.”


You have total agency to consent and how you prefer sexual interaction is an essential boundary, regardless of the type or length of an intimate relationship. You’re in control of the who, what, when, where, and how. Sometimes it’s as simple as openly stating what you do and don’t like, such as “I like to be touched like this.”

Spiritual or Religious

Always remember it’s your right to have spiritual or religious beliefs—or not.


This is often a hard one for many people, as they don’t want to seem disagreeable but find it challenging to say no when asked to help or when someone demands constant availability. Review these various options to understand how to be polite but firm.

Becoming a Better Human at Seabrook

Our addiction team in New Jersey tailors your treatment needs to help you not only stop using substances, but also adapt new behavioral techniques into your daily recovery practice so you’re always learning, growing, and achieving. Is this where you’re ready to be in your life? Ask how we can help.