How to Set Boundaries in Relationships During Bulimia Nervosa Treatment

Friends working with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Treatment is a huge growing period for many, as you spend day-in and day-out focusing on yourself, your behaviors, your thoughts, and your feelings. Throughout all of this work, you may be learning about things that are not quite as effective as you thought they were, such as your relationship dynamics. Boundaries may need to be put in place as you learn and grow.

Communicating this and implementing boundaries to make changes to these dynamics is crucial in treatment, as returning to previously dysfunctional relationships will likely trigger your disorder. This may be difficult if you have never really set boundaries before or found it challenging to maintain them.

Check-In With Your Current Boundaries

You likely already did this during your time in treatment but it is worth discussing what this looks like and why it is important. Looking at your current boundaries isn’t simply considering what they are and whether you would like them to change.

This is a deeper process of looking into what limiting or core beliefs are at-play in your boundary-setting. Do you have a belief that doing anything for you is selfish? Do you feel that setting boundaries with your elders is disrespectful?

These beliefs are black-and-white thoughts that do not serve effective boundary-setting and will act as a barrier for you.

In Charles Whitfield’s book titled “Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting, and Enjoying the Self,” (available in PDF online), he has a survey that may help you to examine your current boundary beliefs [1]. Processing how you can rewrite these will help you to be more comfortable doing something different.

Practice Assertive Communication

Friends setting boundaries for one's bulimia treatmentThe key here is the word “assertive.” Boundary-setting is taboo in our society because of the false belief that it is selfish or harsh. In truth, as Brene Brown says, boundary-setting is an act of love and self-love.

Setting boundaries means you respecting yourself enough to say what you are and are not comfortable with and value your relationships enough to ask the individual to respect these to avoid negative repercussions of boundary-violations.

A key to setting boundaries in a way that reflects this love and self-love is to be assertive. Setting boundaries aggressively will likely cause further misunderstanding and pain. Assertiveness involves firmly stating your thoughts and feelings and communicating the boundary in a specific and clear manner.

Assertiveness might also mean repeating this pattern multiple times to maintain a boundary that continues to be violated. You have likely not advocated for yourself for a long time while in your disorder, so this will be new and challenging.

Push through the discomfort knowing that you deserve to have your boundaries respected and that this will help you to move closer to a recovery-focused life.


[1] Whitfield, C. (2010). “Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self.” Health Communications, Inc, Deerfield Beach, FL. 

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published October 27, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on October 27, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

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