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4 Types of Boundaries in Recovery

Setting boundaries in addiction recovery is an essential part of the process.

Learning to set boundaries in recovery is a significant part of the process. You hear the term “boundaries” but may not have given the specifics around them much thought. Perhaps your relationship with fuzzy boundaries stems back to a traumatic childhood. Or, maybe you were never taught or experienced examples of respectful boundaries. Perhaps you were even restricted too much. You aren’t alone if you are unsure of where to start building healthy boundaries.

The path to self-discovery starts with self-respect. The recovery process includes reflecting on your values and establishing respectful limits for yourself. Understanding different types of boundaries can help you decide how and which to set, creating a foundation for long-term recovery.

Types of Boundaries in Recovery

Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries are the easiest to recognize. Only you are entitled to your body, space, and belongings. However, this concept may be contrary to what you’ve experienced. If you’ve struggled with interpersonal abuse before, this won’t be easy to learn at first. It’s essential that you set physical boundaries for yourself and communicate them to those around you.

Your physical boundaries may be simple, such as telling loved ones not to touch a recovery journal you have been keeping, or more complex like removing triggers, such as alcohol, from your home.

Communication is key in maintaining healthy physical boundaries and relationships with your loved ones. If your loved one is using or drinking around you and it makes you uncomfortable, do not be afraid to speak up. You may need these substances physically removed to feel comfortable and safe. If they cross this boundary, you may have to remove yourself from the situation and find a different place to live. Your recovery comes first, and if your loved one cannot respect this, you need to redefine your relationship.

Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries are when you separate your feelings from those of others. It may seem obvious to say your emotions are yours and yours alone. But anyone who has experienced abuse in their past can tell you that they’ve felt hurt, confused, and manipulated about their own emotions.

Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, author of “I Want This To Work,” defines emotional boundaries as respecting and honoring feelings and energy. “Setting emotional boundaries means recognizing how much emotional energy you are capable of taking in, knowing when to share and when not to share, and limiting emotional sharing with people who respond poorly.”

You may also need to reevaluate current relationships based on your new emotional boundaries. For example, you may feel some guilt and shame about how you treated your loved ones during your addiction.

Communicate these feelings to them but give yourself grace. If anyone tries to mistreat you for your past and manipulate these feelings of guilt, remove yourself. Know that you deserve emotional health and wellness without manipulation from others.

Time Boundaries

Everyone has just 24 hours in a day, making your time as valuable as anyone else’s. In active addiction, most people spend their time finding their drug of choice, using, and hiding their abuse, and because of this, adjusting to more free time can be overwhelming for those in early recovery. To set appropriate time boundaries, you have to establish priorities and manage your time to give them the attention they require.

To avoid overcommitting, you may have to say “no” to friends and family and sometimes to yourself. You need to ensure that you have the time to do the activities required to stay sober. Allow yourself to attend 12 step meetings, speak to your sponsor, and any other activities you feel are necessary, even if it means turning down an invitation or putting off a project. Following a schedule is critical when you are in early sobriety.

When developing your schedule, don’t forget to include leisure time for yourself. Everyday life can be stressful, and you will need time to relax and reflect. Create opportunities to find new hobbies, spend time with loved ones, or simply enjoy a quiet evening to unwind. What you do with your time is ultimately up to you. Make the most out of your new life!

Internal Boundaries

Internal boundaries are those you set with yourself. Guided by your values, morals, and capacities, internal boundaries can also be considered self-discipline.

People with strong internal boundaries are in tune with their morals and values, avoiding anything that contradicts them. When you were in active addiction, you likely engaged in behavior you no longer agree with now that you are in recovery. For example, you may have routinely lied to others for a friend who was also secretly using. Now in recovery, lying goes against your morals. Setting an internal boundary in this situation means committing yourself to no longer enable your friend by lying. If their behavior doesn’t align with your morals, don’t suppress it.

A person with strong internal boundaries also respects their personal limits. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from situations at any time they become triggering. These situations can go beyond the obvious, such as a party where alcohol is served. Some everyday activities or conversations can become overwhelming. Exiting before those feelings start is an internal boundary you can set.

Internal boundaries also include taking accountability for yourself. This level of self-awareness means that you understand how you interact and react within a situation. For example, your partner may have enabled your addiction to avoid an argument in the past. Instead of blaming them for this behavior, you will take accountability now by understanding why they felt they had to enable you. You can now talk through your issues by practicing empathy and self-awareness of your past and present.


It may be difficult, especially at first, but boundaries of all kinds are critical to achieving lasting recovery. Make an effort to find your sense of self and become confident in your values and personal limits. Knowing when and how to set boundaries takes time and practice. Realizing that boundaries can be physical, emotional, internal, or involve time helps you understand their purpose and apply them in your new, sober life.


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