The process of learning how to protect yourself through setting boundaries takes time. Alcoholics can have a tendency to belittle those around them. Enabling them to heap unacceptable behavior upon us can become a way of life. We must learn a few emotional tools to use in order to protect ourselves from the many insults that can be hurled our way by the alcoholic in our life that we dearly love.
Learning how to set healthy boundaries with an alcoholic will produce a protective shield around our emotions. The result will be that we will experience much less guilt and shame in our lives.
How to Set Healthy Emotional Boundaries With an Alcoholic
Before we can begin to learn how to set healthy parameters, we should identify with the things that the alcoholic is doing in our lives that we consider to be unacceptable behavior. Emotional boundaries can be set once you are aware of the things that upset you that they do.
What are the things that really bother you the most in relation to their behavior in your life? For instance, swearing in front of the children, nasty name calling, yelling or screaming and constant antagonizing in efforts to start an argument.
A great way to get in touch with your feelings is by keeping a journal. If you do this on a daily basis you will begin to discover what the emotional triggers are that set you off. I like to call these emotional triggers, “buttons.” Alcoholics love to push our buttons.
1) Make a list of all of the things that cause you to get angry that they do. Write down how arguments begin and end.
2) Look at the list and see if you can notice certain things that they intentionally do to try and create difficulties in the home or workplace.
3) If you had buttons on your body that they were pushing in order for you to react in a negative way toward them what would those buttons be?
Once you begin to understand what the buttons are that are causing you to argue or get upset, start responding differently. For instance if your friend, spouse or child is the alcoholic and they often call you degrading names to try and initiate an argument, rather than defending yourself, just say things like:
“I’m sorry you feel that way”
“That’s not true”
“Stop calling me names”
“Stop calling me names in front of the children”
Setting boundaries with alcoholics is like declaring laws that they must follow. If they do not abide by your rules that you’ve designed to protect your emotions then you must reinforce the boundaries. It’s like having the authority of a law enforcement officer.
Imagine if you had a large shield in your hand and you used it to deflect the insults that are being thrown your way. That’s what your doing once you learn how to set healthy boundaries with an alcoholic.
What is it that we are protecting ourselves from by setting boundaries with alcoholics? I think mostly guilt and shame. If we feed into their attempts to upset us, then we get angry and say things that we really don’t mean to say. Afterward, there are feelings of guilt and shame that we must deal with.
If we can learn how to stop the triggers from going off and the buttons from being pushed, we will have a lot more self-control in these difficult situations.
Give yourself permission to plant your feet, stand firm and in a loving way let the alcoholics in your life know that you will not tolerate unacceptable behavior anymore. If they ignore your boundaries the next day that you previously set, then kindly remind them of what you said the day before. Setting parameters is difficult and maintaining your position is critical for protecting your emotional well-being.