Codependency Workbook Exercise Three: Setting Boundaries

Close up of thoughtful womanIf you are reading this article, then you probably have completed Codependency Workbook Exercise Two by creating a list of your troubled relationships. Congratulations for completing this. Generally, in codependent relationships there is some pain and emotional abuse. They tend to be rather lopsided, with you doing most if not all of the giving. When you realize this, you may get angry and feel as though others are using you. You may wonder why this is. It is because when they meet you, they sense that you are a caretaker who will want to help them. When you do this, it is because you care about them and believe that you can love and care some of their problems away. Most of the time this cannot be done. Often, by giving to them, you are actually making it easier for them to continue their maladaptive behavior.

If your loved one gets a DWI, you may rush out and hire a good lawyer who may get him or her off. Had this person suffered the consequences of the DWI, he or she might have been ordered to complete substance abuse treatment, which might have ended or at least interfered with the drinking. So if you are in a relationship with a person with an alcohol or drug problem, can you think of a boundary that you could set that would be good for you and, in the long run, him or her? For example, you might tell this person that if he or she has another legal problem related to substances, that you will no longer help. The person will be on his own. Of course, he or she may not like this and try to push your guilt buttons. Remind yourself that you are not only doing what is best for yourself but also for the other person. You might take your boundary a step further and tell the person that effective immediately, you will no longer undo any of the consequences of his or her using. I suggest you only set the boundary when you are ready. The hard part will come when you have to stick to the boundary. You will need some support from a therapist, your sponsor, or a friend to hold to it. Once you maintain a boundary you will find that it is easier to stick to the next one.

What are some other boundaries that you might set? Maybe you have a friend who borrows money from you and has never paid it back. The next time the friend asks to borrow money, you might tell him or her that you are unwilling to loan any more money until the person repays you the funds already owed. Maybe you have someone who always asks you for rides but never offers to pay for your gasoline. You might decide to tell this person that you cannot afford to continue giving him or her rides. Make a list of all the boundaries that you need to set to take care of yourself. While you are identifying them, do not worry about actually setting them. Try to take one step at a time. I know that the thought of setting them is very scary. You may also be scared about what will happen to your friend if you set them. If your friend is dysfunctional, something will happen to this person no matter what you do. Once you get the hang of doing this, you are going to feel an enormous sense of relief. You will realize you are not responsible for everybody, nor do you have to help someone just because that person needs it.

If you are like some people, you may fear that if you stand up for yourself, you will be abandoned by your friend. I believe that if this happens, then that person was not really a friend to begin with. Can you imagine treating someone that you care about like that? I am sure that you cannot. Now you will have more energy to direct toward taking care of yourself. You will no longer feel so angry at others. The next time you feel like a victim, you may need to check and see if you need to set another boundary.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Joyce McLeod Henley, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, SAP, Codependency Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jorge

    May 23rd, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    I am the classic enabler, I know it, but it feels so much harder to change than it is to just do the things for other people in my life who need my help. How can I let them all down? They need me.

  • Joyce McLeod Henley

    May 23rd, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    Jorge, it is hard to set boundaries and keep them. Most co-dependents feel very anxious of they don’t help others. However, if the person you are helping is an addict , the only way they ever want help is because of the consequences of their using. So, if you fix the consequences, they are less likely to get help. It is very difficult to watch them struggle, I know, but its best for them and you.

    Good luck to you. One of my early articles talks about where to get help and support. Let me know how you are doing.

  • Mack

    May 23rd, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    I played the role for a long time, and finally I was not only disgusted with her for putting me in that position but also with myself for feeling so weak and being unable to tell her no. I knew that I was only encouraging the habit, but she was like my drug, but I wasn’t hers if you catch my drift. We went along like this for a long time until I finally saw the light. Don’t know exactly what finally did it for me, but I guess I got tired of feeling like I was being used over and over again with little, or nothing in return.

  • Dan

    May 24th, 2012 at 12:46 AM

    I cannot understand why people go on and protect and help their addict family members time and again. I understand the love and affection. I’m a father too but if my child ever got into trouble with drinkin or substances then I would let him learn his lesson and not protect him. That will only give him the feelin that he can get away with things.

  • Barb

    August 8th, 2016 at 5:16 AM

    My daughter has an addiction problem. I have tried to help her with therapy and even a residential treatment facility. My showing love for her. 8 months later, she STILL has an addiction issue but is now home and verbally assaults me daily (some days 3 or more times a day). It is easy to say what you MIGHT do if one of your kids had a problem and a LOT tougher to follow through on when it IS YOUR KID. Please don’t preach to those of us struggling with these issues. Our plate is FULL to overflowing with criticism already

  • Jarvis

    May 24th, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    Dan- that’s easy to say when you are on the outside looking in. And I do think that most parents start out with the very same intentions that you have. But if you just for once get to finding yourself in the situation where you realize that your son is an addict, are you telling me that you wouldn’t step in and don anything in your power to stop the pain? I can say that I would like for my kids to learn their lesson too, but I think that the dad instinct takes over and at a certain point you want to protect them more than you want to teach them a lesson.

  • Joyce

    May 26th, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    Jarvis, it is true that the hardest relationship to let go of is a child. Having raised three children, I know how terrible it can be to face our powerlessness over them. We fear that when we let go of them, that something terrible may happen to them. If they keep using substances something will happen to them. Somehow, with help and support, if we can learn to let go and allow them to experience the connsequences of their using they at least have a chance.

  • Bertha

    April 17th, 2013 at 3:50 PM

    My relationship is not with an addict; however i am a codependent, afraid of not being loved, so i kept taking anything he will give me… just to keep him loving me…now i realized what i have done, i ruined my relationship with the person that I thought will be the only for me…I never gave myself a real value, and now he think he can disrespect me (He never did it before)…I am suffering the consequences of my poor self esteem…anyone on a similar note? I will appreciate any input…

  • Lilly

    April 8th, 2014 at 4:07 AM

    I love how you say setting boundaries gets easier over time! It truly does! After I got out of denial and accepted that I let a loved one use me, I began with a small boundary. It was responding (not reacting) to criticism without defending myself. With a “you think?” There was pushback. I did not realize how this person had a deep need for control and manipulation. This person used scowls and silent treatment- they flipped to anger and accused me of things. I responded with “I’m sorry you feel that way” I also realized it’s ESSENTIAL to treat myself tenderly after being around this person. I am around them much less. I have to catch myself wanting to rescue them periodically. I feel sad that they are unhappy but I can no longer go down the sinking ship with them. My boundaries teach people how to treat me now.

  • Deb

    October 21st, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    How can I get this article to go to my Facebook page or email ? I have a friend that needs this !

  • anonymous

    September 30th, 2016 at 1:05 AM

    i used to be a codependent but with constant effort and through jesus christ i have almost overcome from codependency. praise the lord. all i can say that you can overcome any problem in christ. no problem is bigger than him

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