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The Importance of Boundaries in a System Riddled with the Disease of Addiction

We often hear, “nothing changes if nothing changes.” Sometimes easier said than done in a system that is being held hostage by the disease of addiction. Addiction, unfortunately, is not a spectator sport. All members of the family “get to play” whether they want to or not. Family members find themselves walking on eggshells in their own homes for fear of how the addict will react. This fear keeps the system stuck in bondage despite the negative consequences.

Many family members share that they have attempted to make changes. Still, the addict is much more resilient than they are to get what they want and are successful at breaking through established boundaries. The family members are often unwilling, too tired, scared, and conditioned not to HOLD THE LINE. We use this term to describe what it means to set the boundary and not waver. The problem is that the addiction teaches your loved one to be relentless, manipulative, and charming to get the family member to bend their boundary.

Rocking the boat is essential to creating change in the system; however, addiction breeds secrecy and expects the family members to remain silent. The family members remain fearful, knowing that they are behaving in unacceptable ways and enabling their sick loved one to do the same by staying safe in their comfort zone of dysfunctional patterns.

Family members often ask, “What is a boundary, and how do I begin to set new ones that will impact my loved ones and myself?”


What is a Boundary?

Boundary: A line that marks the limit of an area, a dividing line.

A limit or space between you and the other person, a clear place where you begin, and the other person ends. The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is to protect and take good care of you. (Webster’s Dictionary)

Healthy boundaries can serve to establish one’s identity. Healthy boundaries can help people define their individuality and help indicate what they will or will not hold themselves responsible for. If you are tired, stressed, emotionally drained, feeling sad, hopeless, resentful, or angry, then you might be suffering from POOR boundaries.


Road map to assist in creating boundaries


B- Behave in ways that demonstrate your authentic self. Does Saying yes enable me to show up impeccably? If not, it’s unacceptable, and the answer is no.

O- Own your power to make decisions. You always have a choice. Most importantly, you have the right to change your mind and renegotiate.

U- Understand that not everyone will be happy with your yes or no’s. Their reaction is not your responsibility. You may risk disappointing others or even making them angry. Your responsibility is to be true to yourself. You are 100% responsible for your 50% in any relationship.

N- Non-negotiable. Get clear about what you are not willing to waver on. This insight will make your decision timeless and perhaps less painful for everyone involved.

D- Dedicate to self-preservation Ask yourself, will saying yes to this leave me mentally, physically and/or spiritually depleted? If so, the answer is NO – This is a sentence, by the way. Once you declare, “No, that does not work for me,” you do not owe an explanation. I am sure we can all recall when we said yes, when we meant to say no, and the detrimental results that we created for ourselves.

A-ASK for what you want and need. Communicate clearly, so you are understood. Do not assume others can read your mind and know what you need/want. Accept that we all have our limits.

R-Respect your decisions and hold the line. Wavering on your yes or no confuses others. It also creates a space of blurred boundaries which often leave us feeling taken advantage of or disrespected. Remember: We teach people how to treat us by our boundaries.

Y- You, You matter! The yes or no should not infringe on your personal set out standards. You are entitled to self-interest and adopting the motto: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”


One slight shift outside your comfort zone can create a tsunami of ripples that have the potential to change the system. The relief you so desire is in the turbulent water that you create. Keeping things status quo is potentially deadly in the arena of addiction. Take a risk, start small, pick the boundary that is not the most challenging and watch the results unfold. This action will give you the strength and courage to continue to stretch yourself and make healthier choices for all those “riddled by the family dis-ease of addiction.”

Remember to HOLD THE LINE; this is where the miracles occur!