My final post in this series discusses the emotional fallout of boundary setting and gives some suggestions for how to manage the challenges of boundary maintenance. Codependency is seemingly-harmless until those behaviors escalate to the point that everyone involved in codependent relationship dynamics suffers. The act of addressing codependency is not without its own challenges, though.
Once a boundary is introduced into relationship dynamics, certain barriers arise. Whether you are the boundary presenter or the audience/receiver, these barriers will present themselves internally and externally. External barriers include inconveniences caused by the boundary itself, while internal barriers create emotional stress when the boundaries are met with resistance. Think of a family that has been impacted by substance abuse. Depending on the duration of addiction-related issues within the family dynamics, family members may decide to establish boundaries to prevent issues from escalating further.
However, the longer addiction has progressed within relationship dynamics, the more difficult it may be to set healthier boundaries because everyone involved is familiar with the way things have operated for so long.
If daily meetings are part of an effective sobriety plan, family members may find themselves frustrated at the amount of time the recovering person is spending outside the home. Wasn’t that part of the problem of addiction to begin with: no more quality time? This creates a sense of inconvenience despite the boundary itself—engaging actively in recovery resources—being a very positive one. One of the more extreme examples of inconvenience that I’ve heard others share occurs when a person in active addiction refuses to get help and their addictive behaviors cause ongoing turmoil in relationship dynamics. A boundary is needed here, and sometimes exhausted family members decide their boundary is to contact police under certain circumstances, cut off financial assistance, or force the person to leave the home. These are incredibly inconvenient actions to take, but this inconvenience might pale in comparison to the toll active addiction takes on everyone in the family.
Internal barriers to boundary maintenance can be the most difficult to identify. Codependency is marked by a difficulty coping with both your own emotions and other people’s emotional reactions. Boundaries that work to prevent the negative outcomes of addiction typically aren’t received well by people in active addiction who are not yet ready or willing to take action to maintain sobriety. Even more challenging are boundaries that are established internally. For example, if a person in active addiction continues overstepping or disregarding every other boundary previously established, their loved ones may need to set an internal boundary that helps them: say “no” when needed, express emotions when appropriate, and let go of the compulsion to control.
Just as the person in active addiction engages in toxic habits that are painful to break, so too do people who rely on codependent behaviors to drive their decisions. If these discussions on codependency resonate with you, take some time to utilize resources that will help you recharge mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Seek therapy and support groups. Seek guidance from loved ones in your life who can help you stay accountable. Instead of overstepping your own boundaries by giving in to worries you experience and acting on codependent urges, talk openly through these worries with people you trust. Recognize your self worth and if you view yourself in a negative light, work to reframe your self-image to account for your strengths. If you are a caregiver, you must begin nurturing your own needs and honing the skill of coping with difficult emotions. and I don’t mean white-knuckling through the feelings; coping is so much more than that. Coping is when you feel burnt out and like you can barely go on, but you still find compassion and patience for yourself. You mean more than your acts of service and more than the ways you make people feel.
Written by: Melanie Childers
Melanie is a Licensed Professional Counselor who received her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from The University of Alabama in 2015 with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy. She has over 5 years of experience working with those who struggle with addiction and with couples and families. She is trained in EMDR therapy and has experience in working with people in the LGBTQ+ community. Melanie works under Lifeline Solutions, LLC, which has two locations serving communities in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. For more information about psychotherapy services, contact Melanie at 205-614-2604or firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.lifelinesolutionsllc.com.