Mending boundary fences requires the right tools

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)

I get most of my mail at a PO box and only a few things come to my rural mailbox, which sits on the road at the end of my driveway. A few days ago I checked the mailbox, and there were several Christmas cards ”¦ including one from an EX-friend.

We had reconnected a few years ago. He was an old college chum, a guy that I had palled around with when I was in my first couple of years of nursing school. He is also a nurse, now retired. We had a lot of the same interests then and still do, so since he had recently moved to this area, we started going places together and just being pals again. This was really kind of fun to have a “running buddy” to go to auctions with. My son D had also known my buddy’s sons at scout camp, so it was a “family friendship” as well.

After a couple of years of this, he began to act kind of snarky and did some things that were frankly dishonest and stupid. One of the things he did was to break a small agreement we had made, nothing “serious” as far as money was concerned, just $56, but he just didn’t do what he said he’d do and it greatly inconvenienced me. I decided it was serious enough of an inconvenience that I would try to talk to him. We sat down in my dining room and I brought up how he had backed out on the small agreement we had made and that I didn’t appreciate it. He became absolutely livid, called me a liar, accused me of trying to cheat him, etc., so in the very middle of his rant, I told him “Get out of my house right now!”

Since that day I had actually seen him only a couple of times in various stores. This year at Thanksgiving he showed up at one of our living history events ”¦ and I just ignored his presence and kept going. He also saw me and realized that I had ignored him.

My son and I had seen his son a couple of times, as he buses tables at a restaurant we eat at once in a while and both of us had been very friendly to the boy and cordial. Neither of us hold any grudge against the boy for his father being a jerk.

“Cooling off”

So there was a Christmas card from my ex-friend in the mailbox, and inside was a note from him saying that the “cooling off period” between us had gone on for far too long and he wanted to be friends again. I laughed when I read it.

This man is not a psychopath, he is just a jerk without a great deal of understanding of social discourse. He isn’t going to burn my house, or murder me, or anything else. But he took the holiday as an appropriate time in his mind to try to “mend fences” —without the proper tools.

Why would I laugh? Well he obviously thinks that “bad behavior + time = pretending it didn’t happen and everything’s lovely.”

Well, it may be true that “tragedy + time = humor,” but it does not mean we “pretend it never happened.” Time passing does not mean that no recognition of bad acts and no apology + time means “all is well.”

I don’t hate this man, I’m not still angry at him. I have “forgiven” him, in that I do not harbor bitterness toward him, but I don’t want to associate with him, to go places with him, or have him over at my house, because I have LOST TRUST in him. While I can “forgive” him, without TRUST, there just isn’t any need for association, because being around people I don’t trust isn’t something that makes me happy.

Being a stickler

Why am I being such a stickler? It wasn’t a big deal, really. I mean, come on, it was only $56, and he just lost his temper and called you nasty names. You’re a big person, Joyce, can’t you take the “high road” and just get over it? Now that a couple of years have gone by, shouldn’t we just cool off and be friends again?

The answer is NO! I don’t want to be friends with this man, now or ever, even though he is not a psychopath, he is not dangerous, and overall most people would say he’s a pretty good guy. However, he flunked the “Ox Drover friendship test,” which consists of an apology. His apology should have had three parts:

  1. acknowledging that what he did in breaking the agreement was wrong,
  2. that he was sorry he acted like he did, that he had no right to call me ugly names, and
  3. that he would never act like that again.

However, because he shows no recognition that what he did was wrong, there is no (#1) He shows no remorse for what he did so there is no (#2). He is only extending his “olive branch” to me to “pretend it never happened.” And of course because there is no #1 or #2 in his “extended olive branch” there can’t be a (#3), which means that I can’t trust him to not repeat this kind of behavior. I also realize that he has a hot temper when he is crossed or disagreed with or when he gets called out on BS.

Lost trust

As the philosopher Nietzsche says “It doesn’t matter to me that you lied, what bothers me is that I now cannot believe you.”

I lost my trust in my now-ex friend that day when he broke his word, and then projected on to me the problem, then called me a liar.

At the time that happened, my boundaries with people who were “close to me” were still pretty shaky, but I was getting my “training wheels off” with boundaries and I made this one quickly and firmly and have not wavered one whit from that day.

I actually started to write a reply to him, because he isn’t a psychopath, and I thought maybe, just maybe, he would see the error of his ways. But I got to thinking about what I would write and realized I didn’t even care enough to tell him what a jerk he is.

The best part though, is I don’t even feel guilty about not replying, and I don’t wonder if I should have taken his proffered “olive branch” (sans apology).


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79 Comments on "Mending boundary fences requires the right tools"

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I had a friend who offered a place for me to escape to, just a break to be able to think which I could not do when I lived with my husband. It was vital to me b/c when I had some relief from my husbands bombs, I was able to realize that I had to leave him, there was NO fixing my marriage.

I have done a LOT of work to get my head straight, it’s taken years. But one of my most hurtful times was when I told my friend I did not NEED the help anymore but that I wanted to share and enjoy our friendship and she told me she didn’t need any friendships, she has all the friends she needed. And she went nc on me. At first I thought it was a misunderstanding (I am dense that way!!), but then she told me she never liked me. This was the SAME phrase that my husbands minions said to me so I was VERY wounded, I wondered what was wrong with me.

Then one day, I stopped wondering what was wrong with me. I decided that since I KNOW myself, I know I am a person who would make amends to any wrong or hurt. And if someone does not allow me to make amends, then it is b/c THEY have a hidden agenda. Most times, that hidden agenda is that they need to feel superior and control over others. The best gift that I can give them is a “No”, to move on, and to be grateful to GOD for the blessing I received.

When I read your post, it seemed to me that this was what you encountered and I wanted to validate you and validate your response. You took the emotionally healthy route. Good for you. When people empower themselves here of LF, we give a special shoutout, “TOWANDA”, and I say that to you. TOWANDA.



Explaining the DSM-IV (or whatever number) is that it is NOT INTENDED FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC, but is intended for professionals to “be on the same page” about diagnoses.

In regular medicine, there are lab tests for bacteria, or for kidney failure, or heart problems, and X rays for broken bones, and most of the time, in fact, the vast majority, if Doctor A makes a diagnosis of “diabetes” or “kidney failure” Dr. B would also make that same diagnosis.

There actually ARE now “criteria” for the diagnosis of Diabetes, the person has to have a fasting blood sugar over XYZ, and/or a HA1C test of over ABC…and heart failure has to have XYG signs and symptoms.

And that is essentially what the DSMs are is giving a list of various SIGNS & SYMPTOMS for a diagnosis of “depression’ or bi-polar, or whatever the various mental Illnesses as DEFINED by the DSM (which is done, remember, by a COMMITTEE)

Now, if you put a bunch of psych docs in a room together to discuss and debate a diagnosis there are a LOT OF THINGS going on. EGOS, OPINIONS, RESEARCH, BULL CHEAT and so on.

Remember too, a “camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

In the case of “psychopath” which is the term Dr. Robert Hare wanted to use, he got voted down….and the list of things got changed and the last name given it was “anti-social personality disorder” but it is NOT identical to a “psychopath”—ya da ya da ya da!

So, in our talking here about a psychopath, or a sociopath or anti-social personality disorder, basically we are using the PCL-R which was developed by Dr. Robert Hare and is used to Put the LABEL ON a person (legally) as a psychopath, though that “diagnosis” does not reside in the DSM-IV or any other diagnostic manual. Get it???? Laugh out LOUD! The professionals can’t agree on what a PSYCHOPATH IS, what the symptoms are, what the name should be….and the public thinks a psychopath is a serial killer, and a sociopath is someone who is a serial killer BECAUSE HIS MOMMIE ABUSED HIM…

Well, for what it is worth…I go with dr. Robert Hare and his book, “without conscience” for my “diagnosis criteria” and the Psychopath Check List-Revised, which is also intended for trained professionals, but it is pretty simple really, and I think most people who can read and write ought to get the GENERAL idea of what it all means.

So there, you have it, a retired professional with some mental health experience, but NO EXPERT on anything….and my OPINION. Hope that helps. LOL


Towanda!! Thank you so much for your words of validation. She did need me so that she could feel superior. I felt sometimes that she was envious of me and so each time it looked like I may have not done something that she may have done, she took full advantage of that opportunity to tell me “how easy it was” and “how it didn’t take that long” with the undercurrent saying “you’re lazy, you’re stupid, I’m better than you.” No matter how small, she used these opportunities as a chance to get “even”. Friendships shouldn’t be about competition. And even though they helped with a place, I decided since I couldn’t help with a lot of cash, so I would help purchase food. I bought a pair of shoes for the baby and a couple of shirts for her, plus gave her an expensive garment. So when I think about it, it wasn’t like I was totally dependent without any measure of compensation. But why do I even have to think like that anyway? Even my children noticed her behavior was bizarre. And so I didn’t want them to deny their own feelings, so I validated them. Not in a mean spirited way, but just letting them know that this is not proper behavior. Thanks again!!

Katy, I second the TOWANDA!!!

That quote you: “Then one day, I stopped wondering what was wrong with me. I decided that since I KNOW myself, I know I am a person who would make amends to any wrong or hurt. And if someone does not allow me to make amends, then it is b/c THEY have a hidden agenda. Most times, that hidden agenda is that they need to feel superior and control over others. The best gift that I can give them is a “No”, to move on, and to be grateful to GOD for the blessing I received.”

That is exactly the attitude you should have…confidence in yourself and not allowing the other person’s behavior to make you think you are the one who did something “wrong.”

SOLIKEOVERHIM: Good for you for validating your children’s feelings.

I am so relating to the WTF statements I am reading.I have one that i thought might ice the cake.My spath had been caught on thirty two porn dating sights during our relationship and had been hooking up with these women for sex.When i kicked him out of my life for good and he was begging and trying to get me back….he said…’if you ever cheat on me’ ‘I will hate you forever’.Now that is a double WTF statement don’t you agree?God it feels good to have their crazymaking gone out the door.Idiots!

Can someone please tell me what “friendship” test you use? Someone made reference to Oxy having one. I really need one to follow. My problem is feeling afraid that I’m being too picky and that I won’t have any friends at all. Also, the guilt I feel for setting the boundaries. How do I get over that feeling?

Great post, thanks for sharing! Setting those boundaries are really difficult for me because I’ve always felt this overwhelming sense of guilt that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Then I feel alone because I don’t have any friends really. But I know that it has been a year now since I’ve been completely away from the Sociopath so my friend attraction mechanisms were really off there for a little while. I was doing somewhat of a boundary setting with this girl I go to trade school with. She only ever talked to me about her problems. She never bothered to ask how I was doing, etc first. It became a source of anxiety for me and I kept finding myself avoiding her more than anything. I finally told her through a text message what was bothering me. After about a month, she sent me a text to say, “You were right about what you said. I’m so sorry that all I ever talked to you about was my problems.” I just said back, “that’s okay, I’m really proud of you for saying that.”

And that was it! I didn’t hear from her for an entire week only to get another text that said, “I’m thinking about going to see a therapist, what’s a number I can call?” As part of my Al-anon program, I said, “Well, you’re going to have to look that up.” She replies, “I don’t have the time to do that right now.”

Now that upset me. If she had said, “I know, I tried, but I’m really not good at that stuff. Would you mind helping me?” or something like that, I probably would have caved in. But that’s just it, I would have felt like it was “caving in” in the first place, that’s not cool either. I replied to her, “I’m not going to be the friend that you only send a text message when you want to get something either!” She replied, “Uhm, oooook”.

And that was it. The next text I received from her was a couple of days ago where she actually asked how I was doing, but that was only because she wanted to “thank me for putting kind words onto her facebook page about her”. I give up!

that’s sad that this woman is very self-absorbed. It does sound like she is trying though.

I think the key is to not invest emotionally into a person until you’ve spent some time just observing them and feeling them out. If we do that, then we don’t feel hurt when they don’t seem to reciprocate the feelings. I guess that would be an internal boundary rather than an external one.

Boundaries are hard for me too and I think you did a really great job with setting boundaries with your friend. She seems to be learning a bit. Stick to your principals and she will get it. The great part about boundaries, is that spaths run away from people with boundaries.


Loving the name:)

Hmmm, friends. I dont have many lol. Some I lost touch with when I was with spath boy. Since discovering my life, post spath, I’m a lot more discerning when it comes to friends. I have three close friends who I work with and love them to pieces and 1 other friend who is a mutual friend of ex and me. But you know I don’t go out socialising anymore and I don’t really miss having friends. As in …..friends I had in the past used me in much the same way as you have been used.

I Try not to be cynical but there’s a lot of “fake” people out there, lovers or otherwise. Don’t give up ….just get rid !



I’m glad that you are in the Al-anon group and I think I am hearing a lot of the tendency to “enable” in your “feeling guilty for setting boundaries.”

I have felt “responsible” for the happiness of those around me for my entire life I think. So if someone else was unhappy, it was my “fault.” I either didn’t do enough for them or something else I failed in. CALL BS on THAT!!!!!

YOU DID GREAT by telling her to look it up. She was trying to put the responsibility for the therapist on you….if you suggested Therapist A she would not have liked that person and it would have been YOUR FAULT (she would think) for recommending them.

You are RIGHT, she must accept responsibility for herself, for seeking out a therapist, and hey, if she doesn’t “have time” to look up a number when is she going to have time to go to a therapist? CALL BS on that!

My friendship test is pretty simple actually.

Is the person HONEST in what they do and say? If they are dishonest with others they will be dishonest with me.

Do they treat others well? They will treat me the same way eventually.

Are they responsible? Do they have a job? Go to school? Pay their bills? Take good care of their children or pets? Do they behave in a RESPONSIBLE manner? People who are irresponsible with the things that they SHOULD take care of like supporting themselves financially, taking good care of their kids and pets, etc. People who are irresponsible in 1-2 things are usually irresponsible in more things, including “friendships.”

Are they kind? If they are hateful to the waiter or the usher, or some other person, if they cut people off in traffic or push to the front of the line, they are not the kind of people you want as a “friend.”

You are NOT being “too picky” to expect that people treat you with respect, kindness, honesty and responsibly. People who flunk this “test” are not people I want in my life as “friends.” I may have to work with them, be neighbors with them, and be polite to them etc. but I do not have to consider them “friends.”

I’m like strongwoman Ii don’t go out and socialize a lot, but I have been making some new friends in the neighborhood, and have a female “running buddy” that likes to go to auctions and we go to town with each other. she and her husband moved to this area about a year ago and she had lived in the same place for 40+ years before moving here to be near her daughter, so she didn’t have a lot of friends to “run around” with and it just worked out for us both as a pleasant association, and I think is becoming a real “friendship” but at this point in time we are just “running buddies’ but the more I am around her the more I like her, so there is never a time when it is “too late” to make new friends.

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