What is the difference between a boundary and a rule



What is the difference between a boundary and a rule?

How do I tell the difference between a rule and boundaries

I am experiencing sadness and loss not because of the addiction but because of what has separated us.

Plan to travel to South Carolina this summer.


This is my definition, and not hard and firm…

A boundary is an arbitrary rule you make to protect yourself from other people, i.e., You can’t do XX in my house, (because it bothers my tranquility and feeling of safety)

A rule is something that says what is and is not allowed, and it is true for all people, not just specific people, and it isn’t arbitrary, i.e., No smoking in the house. (everyone, not just you)

It’s probably good that I didn’t go to law school because I can already see the holes in this.

Perry Mason Thinkstet


I have been struggling to come up with the difference between a boundary and a rule. At first I thought, well that’s easy! But it isn’t easy.
I think of boundaries as something I set up for any person who wants to be in my space. I won’t be around someone who is yelling or swearing at me. I won’t engage in a conversation with someone who is altered by drugs or alcohol. As I think @Thinkstet said, boundaries are specifically set to protect me.

I think of a rule as more consequential. This is my house. The house rules are no using drugs. Breaking this rule means you can’t live here anymore. ( Or visit while using.) The lines are blurred because that specific rule protects my boundary. Rules are related to legal issues, as well. The law says you can’t drink and drive. It is also my rule. My boundary is that if you get arrested for drinking and driving, I won’t bail you out.


I like what @Alair and @Thinkstet said:

I think a lot of people get confused with boundaries because they want their boundary to control what other people do. But that’s not how it works, and we have to be okay with sticking with our boundary even if we’re not okay with the outcome for them. Because our boundaries are about the outcome for us. And sometimes, the outcome is completely different for everyone! And that’s okay, too.

Rules make me think of school or board games, not relationships. A rule is rigid, unchanging. A boundary can be more flexible and fluid. Setting a boundary doesn’t have to mean forever. It can move based on how the relationship grows.

What do you think, @KVJ?


Nicely said, Alair- I also think people like me get really drilled down on little words, really pedantic, because of our love for language and in the meanwhile our loved ones are throwing these language landmines ahead of us to distract from what’s really worth attending. So who cares? Boundary, rules, and recommendations. hmmmmmm


I see boundaries as limits of what is allowable within a range, and gives the person the ability to make acceptable choices within those limits. A boundary is something you use to protect yourself.

While rules are hard fast, less forgiving, and more specific. Rules are often created to prevent chaos or for safety reasons. A rule is something you enforce on someone else to control their actions.

A boundary is the place in which rules may exist. A persons boundaries are important, they protect them and help keep them healthy both physically and mentally.


I am struggling with this…I have rules/boundaries, but honestly I dont hold my addicted son to them. This past weekend is a prime example. I knew going into the weekend would be difficult as it was the 2 year anniversiary of his girl friends death from a fentanyl laced pill. I knew he would use and I took 5 days off from work to prepare and be ready. But it didn’t matter, he still used and because we are both still grieving her loss (she was like my own daughter) I allowed it…in my home…so stupid I know! I allowed it once I saw him under the influence of ketamine. And then when the drug was all gone and he had no $$, no means to get more… I drank…I drank ALOT!!! like an idiot, I hate myself for it… we were both a complete mess. I am so afraid to lose him and can’t stick to my rules/boundaries.


Yes of course, @ momentsandlight, unfortunately I have horrible insurance. I have many health issues and I never seek help because I simply cannot afford my $6950 deductible/annual payment which is b4 I even get to pay a co pay. So every appointment is full pocket. I know I need counseling, I know my son does but our country doesn’t really give a damn about that so I won’t bother going into further detail about the lack of government support. I make decent $$, I work a ridiculous amount of hours/week but my insurance is horrible. I see no help for either of us. I want help for us both but simply cannot afford it. Do i buy groceries, pay the electric bill, or pay for 1 and only 1 counseling session a month for 1 of us.


Hi @tracim925 - what a traumatic experience for both of you to have to go through and be reminded of this past weekend. Sometimes before we can even set healthy boundaries, we need to be able to look at ourselves and learn what it is we’re feeling and what we need to get better. It sounds like there is a lot of pain for both you that is being pushed aside with substances. Perhaps looking more closely at this pain with a professional might be a good first step. Have you considered or have you gone to therapy?


@Tracim925 I understand that you are in pain after losing someone who you and your son held dear.
It might help if you look into a NA or AA meeting, or an Al-anon meeting. They are “free” with pay as you can donations. I mention this because you said that you don’t have extra cash for treatment. Treatment is an option, but it doesn’t have to cost. The cost is what you are willing to surrender in order to have freedom.

I understand the insurance debacle. I am uninsured through work, so pay for healthcare myself and have it for emergencies. Therefore, I don’t do anything medically that I don’t HAVE to do. Perhaps going to an AA or NA meeting will help clarify your thinking around how you can affect change in yourself and your son’s choices.

BTW, your honesty around overserving yourself in response to your son’s drug use was brave. I’m sure if you can talk to someone about your choices then some different scenarios can be explored.


A boundary is something you do a rule is something you put on other people.
Boundary: if someone raises their voice at me I walk away
Rule: if you raise your voice at me I won’t talk to you anymore.


My boundaries are usually stronger than my rules. Breaking rules tends to be less for me and my household. It probably shouldn’t be, but the truth is that’s how it is. My boundaries are that you cannot use and come home. If my daughter uses, she has to leave (and goes to the streets). I have her twin sons here and they don’t need to be exposed to the drug use if I can help it. Rules may be things like don’t eat in the living room or do some chores: if those things don’t happen, she won’t have to go out to the streets- there is no serious things that could happen from breaking those rules…


Hi @val22gal22 - thanks for chiming in. I appreciate that your insights are true and transparent. I never even knew that there were boundaries except the fence and map kind until 20 years ago.