Family Dynamics | Boundaries in Early Recovery

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We often hear about the family members need to set boundaries, but boundaries in recovery are incredibly important as well.

Boundaries in Recovery: A Two-Way Street

Setting boundaries in recovery is essential. We often hear about the family members’ need to set boundaries. We don’t as often hear about the importance of this for people in early recovery. 

It takes two people to make a codependent relationship. For this reason, boundaries are a two-way street. As part of our programming, we work with our clients on setting boundaries. 

Family members become consumed by the addict’s emotional ups and downs. The addict learns that the variations in their emotional, mental, and physical state have a powerful effect on their loved ones.

The addict begins managing or reacting to their loved one’s concerns about them. This often leads to them hiding their addiction from their loved ones. It also frequently leads to fighting.

Boundaries Help Shame and Skill Building

Conflict with family members about their addiction contributes to a sense of shame for the addict. Healthy remorse about these actions can certainly help bring change. But shame is crippling and undermines recovery. Addiction has a way of writing a shame-based story. It traps the person within it. There is a time for making amends in recovery. Attempting to do so too early often becomes self-serving. Reconciliation is something the addict needs to build toward. 

Codependent loved ones also become the “rescuer.” They pay debts. They bail the addict out. And they do whatever is needed to manage the consequences of the disease. The addict’s problem-solving skills and distress tolerance atrophy. They become overly dependent on their loved ones coming to the rescue. 

One of the first steps for clients is learning to reach out to others beyond their codependent loved ones for help. They learn that they have other means of support during distress than counting on their family members to rescue them.

Boundaries Give Time to Heal

Family dynamics during early recovery are almost always strained. Clients want to “make things right” before they themselves have begun to heal. 

By limiting contact with family members early on in treatment, we help our clients focus on their own recovery. This also allows family members the time to focus on their own emotional well-being.

The space created between the clients and their families during treatment often feels difficult for both parties. It can seem like they are not able to love or be available for their family members.  However, we see this as a necessary break from the chaos of addiction.  

This transition period gives both the clients and family members time to begin practicing healthy boundaries. Although difficult at times, this reorientation period can lay the foundation for healthier family dynamics in the years ahead.

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