For families, the subject of boundaries is an inevitable topic that will arise when dealing with a loved one in recovery.  However, all too often boundaries are used as a form of punishment rather than as a communication tool or as a way to establish guidelines of acceptable behaviours.  This is because families often feel that they are being forced into putting down boundaries that they’re not necessarily aligned with.  Therefore, defining and creating boundaries can come from a place of resentment and anger, rather than from a place of love and encouraging healthy behaviours.

Firstly, what are boundaries? I like to think about it as my non-negotiables about behaviours that are acceptable to me – and it’s clearly articulated in advance what my response to those behaviours will be.  Boundaries are the things that I will not compromise on and I am able to hold them when they are challenged.   Boundaries are also a direction reflection of our values and principles.

You can always tell if your boundaries are working or not by one simple question. Do people treat you in a way that’s acceptable to you or not?  When we’re working with families or partners of clients, the answer is usually no!

Here’s how to ensure that your boundaries are supporting the family member, not triggering them.

I like to use Byron Katie’s formula for creating boundaries.  A good way to think about boundaries is to recognise ‘what is my business; ‘what is their business, and what I like to call ‘God’s business.  So, let’s run through these first:

  • My business – is my feelings, my thoughts, my decisions, my actions, my life.
  • Their business – is their feelings, their thoughts, their decisions, their actions and in other words, their life.
  • God’s business – is outside of my control – what I often refer to as looking at issues such as world peace.

You will notice that ‘my business’ does not include what other people are doing.  It’s focused on what I’m doing, how I’m thinking, how I’m feeling and what my decisions are.  This is a clear distinction in boundary setting – because you can’t tell others what to do, you can only tell them what you will do in response to their behaviours.

This formula is one of the most powerful ways to look at boundaries, but also the most difficult because families and loved ones are often so enmeshed in the dysfunction of an addict, that they are unable to clearly define what is their own business and what is that of the addicts.

To move away from boundaries that punish, I like to introduce another questions to think through:

What is the most loving thing to do?

  • For them?
  • For me?
  • For my family?

This question gets us thinking about the most loving and powerful choices we have available to us.  And then choosing the one that works for all parties.

When creating boundaries, we need to be clear on what is our business; and then start from there.  We can look at several different types of boundaries including:

  • Emotional boundaries
  • Ethical boundaries
  • Physical boundaries

Developing Boundaries – The Formula

One of the most common questions about boundaries is, “what if my son/daughter/partner/mother/father brings drugs into the house?”  My response always is, “is it ok with you, or not?”  If it’s not, then that’s your ethical boundary: there is to be no drugs in the house. 

Then you get to choose your response to what will happen if they do bring drugs into the house.  Will you report it to the police, will you flush it down the toilet, …what will happen?

Then you communicate that to your loved one in advance of it happening.  And this is one of the most important parts of creating boundaries.  You need to communicate your boundary before it happens – not in the heat of the moment. 

For example, if you advise your loved one that drugs in the house in not acceptable and that if you find them you will hand them into the police, then that’s what you do.

Now, notice your fear around this choice.  What comes up for you?  What arguments do you come up with in your head about how this is not the right thing to do.  So, put it through the filter of “what is the most loving thing to do” – for them, for me and for my family.

Most people undermine themselves when it comes to boundaries because they feel guilty about someone else’s choices.  For example, if you hand drugs into the police, won’t they be arrested? Possibly, but that’s what they have chosen, and that’s the consequence of their choice.

All the very best, Tabitha


To learn more about our family and partner programs, please email info@whitehavenclinic.com.au or see our website at Our Services (https://www.whitehavenclinic.com.au/services-2/#fp) .

Byron Katie, author of ‘Who Am I Without My Story’ – www.thework.com