Setting healthy boundaries is essential when you have a family member or friend with a substance use issue.
No matter how tough things get, we all need to ensure we are healthy, well-balanced, and able to take care of our own needs. Learning to set healthy boundaries can help you make the most of your life no matter what you are facing.
It’s Okay to Be Okay
A common concern we hear from family and friends of those with substance use issues is that they feel guilty to just be happy. Not unlike “survivor’s guilt,” you might feel like it’s inappropriate to feel optimistic, to rest, or to simply enjoy your day when your loved one is struggling. You deserve to be happy and to create a good life for yourself. And, by maintaining a positive outlook on life, you can help those you love even more.
It’s Normal to Feel Worry and Guilt
Unfortunately, feeling worry, guilt, and shame is common when one has a family member or friend with destructive substance use issues. Often, the life of the caregiver becomes second place to the life of the substance user and worry and guilt become a way of life. You may have said things like this to yourself:
- ‘Why are they lying to me?’
- ‘They won’t eat if I don’t make them food’
- ‘I’ll make the problem worse if I upset them’
- ‘Are they using again?’
- ‘I need to be available in case this is the time they overdose’
- ‘I can’t tell if I’m making too big a deal; maybe they are getting over it’
- ‘Others will think I didn’t raise my child right, that I’m neglectful of my family’
The list goes on and on. It might even feel like the more you worry, the less they need to.
It’s normal to want to help your loved one, to want to prevent them from harm, to feel responsible to protect them and others. The problem is when the worry and guilt overwhelm your own happiness and well-being.
It’s Normal—and Necessary—to Set Healthy Boundaries
If you want to continue to be supportive of someone with a substance use issue (or the family around them), you need to learn how to draw healthy boundaries.
‘Healthy boundaries’ mean that you make sure you are in a positive, stable, healthy place before you engage with others. It’s a critical component of self-care and caring for others.
The First Step: Awareness
Learning to be aware of these overwhelming thoughts and emotions is the first step to know when you yourself need to focus on your own health. Notice when you are anxious—do you find yourself drinking too much coffee, not eating enough, not sleeping enough, compulsively cleaning the house? Are you continually asking the substance user where they are? Are you finding you are giving them too much support—whether it’s financial, emotional, etc.—that you are enabling them? Or do you simply feel that you’re just irritable all the time? These and other behaviors may be tell-tale signs that you need to reflect on your boundaries. Noticing these issues in yourself allows you to know when your boundaries are crossed and will help you to design boundaries that work for you.
The Second Step: Separate Yourself from Your Loved One’s Actions
Though concern and worry about your loved one and their substance use is normal, at some point you must realize that you cannot control them. They are their own person, and you must learn to separate yourself from them and their actions.
Drawing a boundary—one as simple as saying ‘I cannot control them, only myself’—does not reflect negatively on you as a person, nor on your love for them. It’s a sign of respect for you and for them.
The Third Step: Focus on What You Can Control
While we all truly wish our loved ones would be able to seek help and recover from their current issues, you need to accept that you may not be able to change your loved one. You can point them to helpful resources, but it’s up to them to take the next step.
Focus on your feelings about yourself and your approach to the situation. In the long run, just the fact that you love and care about someone may be the thing that encourages them to change. This is often a long and difficult path, but patience and self-care are keys to getting through this trying time.
Join Us at Families Strong
Families Strong can offer you a range of resources and support to guide you through this time. Navigating healthy boundaries is something Families Strong WV covers during our sessions because we’ve learned that many family members and friends struggle with it. By learning more about how to set firm boundaries and look after yourself, you can still maintain some form of balance in your life. We can help you to say ‘no’ when you must—when it’s in your best interests and will protect your mental and physical health.
For more support with a family member or friend with substance use issues, visit familiesstrongwv.com to find an upcoming group near you. If you have questions about our program, get in touch with our team today at (681) 378-2086 or email [email protected]. Families Strong WV offers 8-week long group sessions which will equip you with the tools and resources to support your loved one no matter how tough things get.
Families Strong is a free, 8-week support group for the families and friends of individuals who are using substances. It is designed to help reduce the negative effects of substance use issues on families. The program is developed and guided by Mosaic Group, nationally recognized experts in behavioral health. To learn more about the program and how your organization or state agency can partner with Mosaic Group to implement it, contact us at [email protected].