Watch children learn how to walk. They teeter back and forth, letting their legs catch up with them. The way they learn balance is by falling, which shows them when they’re leaning too far one way or the other. It’s the same when learning how to ride a bike – a necessary part of the learning comes by making mistakes, and experiencing what it’s like to be out of balance.
This is how we learn new behaviors in recovery.
Suppose we have been withholding our true feelings and stuffing our anger, for example. As we try to relate more honestly, it’s almost guaranteed that we will explode and say something hurtful. If we’ve been too gregarious and flirty with people of the opposite sex, we will shift to the other side and be remote and aloof. It will take time and experience to find the right balance.
When it comes to revealing ourselves, and being honest with the people in our lives, we may well experience a similar struggle to find the right balance.
Most of us have created lives of isolation and secrecy, with no one knowing the whole truth about us. Often, after our secrets come to light, and we start telling the truth, it feels so freeing that we want to tell everybody.
It’s wise to be careful here.
Make no mistake: our spouse, our sponsor, and key recovery friends need to know the whole truth. We need to practice ruthless honesty with ourselves and the people in our program. But when it comes to people outside of our program – extended family, neighbors, work associates, people at church, other friends – it’s good to think about the boundaries (limits) of our self-disclosure.
In the past, many of us had problems with limits. We’ve done some things to excess and neglected other important things.
Sometimes we haven’t had good judgment about what we ought to tell someone or who we ought to tell. We likely have kept secrets that made us lonely and sick. At other times – especially in early recovery – we exposed too much in inappropriate situations and hurt someone else or ourselves.
Developing a healthy sense of internal limits is a change that comes with time in recovery. Gradually, we gain a stronger feeling of self-respect and become more intuitive about when to express something and when not to. We start to develop more accurate perceptions about whether or not someone will be safe to open up to.
Emotional maturity involves having healthy boundaries. One way to think about boundaries in relationships is to think of the balance of self-disclosure and privacy. Self-disclosure allows us to be known. Privacy, on the other hand, is the freedom to choose what and when to confide in a friend. We need both.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your responses – and any stories about this – in the comments.