Defining Secondary Boundaries

The next few installments of the blog will be about defining secondary boundaries. As a team at the workshops, the counselors and I have been raising the bar on what and how we present the material. We’re constantly discussing how we can make the workshop more effective and present a TON of important content in the most meaningful way.  A member of the team, Jim Phillis, recently presented a breakdown of 10 types of secondary boundaries that have been very, very helpful. I hope you’ll take this material and apply it to your own recovery. I have already applied it to mine, and am making some changes which I’ll share as we go.

First, what are secondary boundaries? They are the fences we cross on our way to going off the cliff of acting out. In other words, they are experiences where we can potentially enter the addictive cycle and ultimately act out. It is important to remember that secondary boundaries are typically innocuous in themselves; they are usually not sinful. However, when we encounter them, we must acknowledge that we are one step closer to sinning. By defining them, we are simply heightening our own awareness and raising our level of intentionality with respect to integrity.

Here are the first 3 types:

  1. Geographicalplaces that can be triggering. It can include particular cities or parts of town.  It could include places within your home. The idea is to define which geographical areas might activate lustful thoughts. Once defined, you’ll need to decide on a strategy to handle them. That could be avoiding them, but more likely will mean being on heightened alert when you are in them.
  2. Situationalcontexts that can be triggering. Examples I regularly hear are 3 B’s: Bars, Beaches and Ballgames. With situational triggers it is also important to look more deeply, to see if the issue is the emotional experience of the context. Other situational triggers might include:  issues at work, payday, church, meetings where women/men are present, when you’re home alone.
  3. Relational – think people. These are relationships and specifically, situations within those relationships, where you might be triggered. There is overlap with situational here as you’ll see. Again, it is important to look at what happens emotionally in these relational situations to see what makes it a boundary. Examples may include certain people: a flirtatious coworker, a “touchy” person, a family member whom you have a strained relationship with. It could also include particular situations within relationships: conflict with spouse, disciplining kids, dealing with parents or siblings.

To close, remember that we aren’t trying to define every single situation where we might be triggered and to stay away from it. That’s impossible. And unbiblical if we’re to be in but not of the world. The crux of the exercise is to raise our awareness and preparedness. When I worked at Arthur Andersen I was part of a team that developed DRP’s – Disaster Recovery Plans. (The plan at Andersen didn’t account for tax fraud, however). The goal was to assist clients in anticipating situations that might arise where corporate data systems could be compromised (natural disaster, theft, etc), then create a plan to keep the business functioning effectively in light of it.

Same thing here: we want to anticipate situations that might trigger us and have a plan to keep ourselves functioning effectively in light of them.


6 thoughts on “Defining Secondary Boundaries

  1. Jason,
    This is very helpful. It’s true, that often we recovering addicts find ourselves in serious struggles before we even realize we’ve made a choice. Recognizing secondary boundaries alert us to the fact that we sometimes set ourselves up for “stuff” to just start happening. We often feel that the temptation is just too strong and we hardly have a choice. The truth is however we didn’t notice the boundaries we’ve crossed to open our weaknesses.

    I would like to encourage you to consider blogging more often. As recovering addicts we often find it difficult to be real, to enter into someone else’s pain or struggles or to even own our unique stories. It is helpful to know there are others who have been where we are and have some hope to offer. The conversation available through blogs of this quality seems scarce.

    • Thanks Chris! I appreciate your feedback. To your point, I used to hear myself saying, “How did I get here?? I didn’t mean to end up acting out!” The truth was, I crashed through all sorts of fences on my way over the cliff.

      And thanks for your encouragement. I am trying to be more consistent with it; a weakness for sure. I am also hesitant to write something for the sake of my weekly entry; I want it to be meaningful to yourself and others. Somewhere theres a balance of the two I’m sure.


  2. Establishing and excepting secondary boundaries is very important to recovery I have found. When you do cross those boundaries though it is important to know that it is not the end. We serve a loving, forgiving God who can give us strength to go on and become stronger. Approaching my one year anniversary of attending EMB, God can change a man!

  3. Pingback: More Fences | Every Man's Battle

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