Maintaining Strong Boundaries with an Addict

Detaching your emotions from your behaviors is an important skill to learn when a loved one is an addict. It means that no matter how upset, angry or manipulated you feel, you will always behave in the same way toward the addict and her addiction. Understanding that emotions and actions can be separated is the first step toward setting up strong boundaries between yourself and an addict.

Emotions, Enablement and Boundaries

The addict in your life will try to use emotional appeals in order to get what she wants. She may say things like, “If you don’t give me money, you don’t really love me,” or otherwise try to manipulate your emotions in order to get what she wants. On the other hand, your own emotions may cause you to act a certain way toward a loved one with an addiction. You might be too scared to say no to her demands. You may ignore problematic behaviors, like stealing. Perhaps you also feel too confused about your own feelings in order to express them to the addict. You might lie to other people on behalf of the addict or make excuses. You may even bail her out of jail. All of these actions (or inactions) enable your loved one’s addiction. Setting boundaries with an addict requires you to definitively decide how to respond to situations, detaching yourself from any extraneous emotions, and then being consistent.

Examples of Boundaries

To set up boundaries between yourself and an addict, you first need to identify your enabling behaviors. You also need to make note of anything the addict does that is manipulative. Then, you need to firmly decide what you will not do. Write it down! For example, if you have been “fixing” the problems an addict gets into, stop. Let her face the consequences of her actions. Understand that it may be painful for both of you, but that the consequences of a prolonged addiction are even worse than this short-term pain. This includes calling into work for your loved one to make excuses for her absence, handling her commitments or responsibilities or bailing her out of jail. If you have been supplying money to an addict, stop. Do not keep credit cards, withdrawal slips or cash where the addict can access them. Do not pay her bills. If you can do so in a way that maintains your safety, tell the addict in a firm, assertive way that these are the new rules. Tell them that you will no longer enable their addiction in any way, and as soon as they want real help from you, such as help entering a rehab program, you will be there in an instant. Maintaining strong boundaries with an addict may include other uncomfortable measures, such as changing the locks on your doors or dissolving a shared bank account. The addict will likely beg, plead, make threats or otherwise manipulate you into giving in. Be sure to see these issues as black and white: the answer is either “no” or “yes, I will drive you to the rehab center right now,” for example. Behind the addict’s persona is the heart of the person you love. Detaching yourself from your emotions in order to set up and maintain boundaries is difficult because of this, but it is the only way to insist on recovery. Once your loved one is in recovery, you can begin to re-establish a healthy relationship. Resources How to Stop Enabling Someone Who Is Addicted 7 Signs You’re Enabling an Addict How to Set Healthy Boundaries With Addicts and Alcoholics

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