What are Boundaries?

Boundaries is a word that is often thought of as being used purely in therapy or in various types of psychobabble that many people in rehab and recovery work in 12 step fellowships will ignore or not go near.

This is a real shame, as the idea of boundaries and an understanding and implementation of them in an individual’s recovery work is a key and crucial element of their staying sober and moving forward with their life.

Anyone entering rehab is likely to be struck by the number and type of rules and regulations that often exist by way of structuring the individual’s life whilst they are in rehab. To many people these rules and regulations seem excessively rigid, and often put people off going into rehab as well as giving them an excuse to leave once they are there.

There is no doubt that some rehabs take these rules and regulations to an extreme, but it is likely that they would argue that the purpose of these rules and regulations is to provide some type of structure for the individual to begin their recovery process in.

The structure is of itself a set of boundaries, providing what should in theory be a safe place for the individual to begin the process to effectively switch off from their active alcoholism, and begin the process of their emotional recovery.

The nature of boundaries is in fact an integral part of any healthy child development in any relatively normal or safe and well functioning family.

The intent is to provide a safe and secure environment, where the child can essentially bounce off a permanent structure in such a way that allows them to develop their own sense of identity whilst exploring what is and what is not acceptable.

Many people who are alcoholics have grown up in homes where there were either no boundaries or very lax boundaries. This meant that they never really developed a healthy sense of self or a healthy identity, and in many ways always felt out of control at some level.

This internal and often external chaos has often been a key element of fuelling their active alcoholism, and is one of the first things that recovery, either in rehab or in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, seeks to address.

The boundaries that are set in a rehab are obviously external, although the intent is to provide a sense of safety that ultimately an alcoholic will be able to operate into their own life, and create a sense of safety that is within.

The sense of an inner stability and safety will take some time to develop for most people, and is to a large extent dependent on the individual recognising a lack of boundaries in their life, and where this has taken them.

Setting boundaries about one’s own life is not about setting rules, although this may be the initial sense of what is happening. It is about recreating at an adult level a healthy sense of self in the individual that does not let other people manipulate them, and gives them the freedom to explore and rebuild their life in a loving and healthy context.