setting boundaries

The Importance of Setting Boundaries With Sponsors

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Recognizing personal boundaries is an ordinary social skill that some people do not learn as they grow up due to neglect, abuse, or unhealthy relationship role models. When you rely on someone to the degree that many people in recovery rely on their sponsor, identifying boundaries without explicit instructions can be challenging, even if you did not miss this critical life lesson. That is why most sponsors will have a discussion immediately to go over expectations and limitations.

The most common way to find a sponsor is by attending a 12-Step program or support group. Many in recovery have certain assumptions about how the sponsor and sponsee negotiate the boundaries of their new partnership for 12-Step groups. These etiquettes are mostly unspoken, but an experienced sponsor will go over them clearly and answer any questions you might have about them.

3 Most Common Boundaries for Sponsors

There are many different approaches to sponsorship within the sober community, and in what format you meet each other is going to have the most significant impact. For example, if you meet through a 12-Step program, then there will most likely be a more structured, standardized tone to your partnership compared to less traditional introductions. Below are the most common boundaries you should understand before seeking out a sponsor:

  1. Your sponsor will not do the work for you, and you should not expect them to. Recovery takes time and hard work. You need to take responsibility and remain accountable even when that feels difficult or uncomfortable. 
  2. You will get advice from your sponsor when you reach particular crossroads in your recovery or experience a problem, but they will not tell you which choices to make. You may benefit from hearing how they chose to deal with similar circumstances, but they will leave the final decision to you, which is the healthy way to support someone. 
  3. They can help you complete the 12-Steps by giving encouragement and practical assistance where possible, but ultimately you are the one who is responsible for your sobriety. You cannot expect them to be accountable for your life choices. 

What to Expect From a Sponsor

Your sponsor is someone who has chosen to serve others and use their experience to make your recovery easier. That is a gift. While they expect you to do the heavy lifting when it comes to doing the work, your sponsor will assist you by doing the following:

  • Encouraging you to attend meetings and holding you accountable for attending meetings
  • Regularly checking in with you and your progress to provide support and life lessons that might apply to your current circumstances
  • Emotionally supporting you through your recovery 
  • Providing practical support when appropriate
  • Sharing their own experiences and things that they have learned that helped them 

Respect Your Sponsor’s Boundaries

They have a life with their worries and responsibilities. While they have volunteered to help you in your recovery, that does not entitle you to ignore any boundaries that they set. You should show them the same respect that you want to be shown. If you feel that you are not getting enough support, then communicate clearly and work together to find a solution that works for you both.

How to Talk About Boundaries

The best way to get a clear idea of what your sponsor is comfortable or uncomfortable discussing is to simply ask. At the start of any healthy sponsor/sponsee partnership, there should be a clearly stated set of expectations. When sharing intimate and vulnerable details about your struggles with addiction and other aspects of your life, you need to know that you can trust the discretion of your sponsor. At the same time, they depend on you to be honest and open. Either of you should feel comfortable bringing up personal boundaries regarding topics, meeting places, and how familiar you treat one another. 

You and your sponsor will be in a long-term association that may develop into a friendship or remains strictly professional, depending on what you both decide. Never be afraid to speak up if you feel like certain boundaries are needed or that existing ones impact your recovery or mental health.

Setting and Sticking to Your Boundaries

When you make boundaries for yourself, it might be tempting to break them in certain situations that might benefit you or make things less awkward, but by doing that, you can set yourself up to start a bad habit. You can bend the rules to accommodate certain unusual situations, but you want to determine your boundaries and stick to them. You should also strictly follow any guidelines your sponsor sets regarding your interactions. You can build self-confidence, trust, and a sense of community by accepting the help of a sponsor. 

A sponsor can be an excellent source of life lessons and tips for working through common issues that everyone goes through during substance use recovery. Often they have been attending 12-Step or similar meetings for years and are very familiar with the community. Their experiences are usually well-rounded, and they choose to become a sponsor as a way to serve others who may need support. You have a responsibility not to take advantage of their kindness. Everlast Recovery Centers believes that everyone should have someone who can give them a helping hand and a listening ear. However, those unique partnerships come with boundaries and expectations that you need to educate yourself on and stick with to create a healthy sponsor and sponsee relationship. A good sponsor will walk beside you and support you without leading you. Learn more by contacting Everlast Recovery Centers today by calling us at (866) 338-6925.

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