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The need for boundaries.

When people choose not to get back to you in an age where they saw your message, what does that say? The need to set boundaries is necessary?

With the abundance of ways we can connect with one another, it’s hard to understand why people are so hard to get hold of… If this is your experience, the need for boundaries may be in order.

It’s no secret that mental illness comes with some unique vulnerabilities. An example of our vulnerability is that some may see our illness as the reason we behave on certain ways.

In other words, they may interpret a normal and even heathy action as abnormal. One such example is the need to set boundaries.

Here, let me explain. The need to set boundaries is a heathy response to a relationship that has one or more unhealthy elements to it. So, let me provide you with an example:

Carlos, a 20-year veteran of the military who struggles with PTSD, is doing his best to heal. A family man, all he wants is to make things better for him and his family. So, Carlos and his therapist have set out a plan where he does his best to re-integrate into society. For many with PTSD, this can be exceedingly difficult. Nonetheless, he is trying. His goal is to find friends to socialize with.

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However, modern society seems to be centred around working, going home, and doing it all over again. As if this weren’t bad enough – and even though modern communication may have more ways to reach out than ever – it seems to Carlos that it is harder to stay connected. “How am I going to learn to be okay with the noise and chaos of the world if no one will answer my texts or other messages?” Carlos says to himself.

Even though Carlos reaches out to many who he sees as friends, he has little luck getting a response. Why? Because It’s now a norm for many to discard messages – this despite the fact that messages and phone calls are almost impossible to miss these days.

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So, what’s going on here? Surely, we all have people we consider friends? If this is the case, what’s the deal with ignoring one another? Moreover, what does this do to people suffering like Carlos? Whether intentional or not, people with mental-health conditions already struggle with feeling lonely and isolated because of the battle with their own minds. Therefore, if people whom they identify as friends remain silent, it can torpedo their wellness plan. It does this by exacerbating the above-mentioned feelings of loneliness and isolation.

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I have run into the exact same challenges as Carlos. And guess what? This one-way communication is indeed very lonely and isolating. However, there is good news. But beware, it’s both easy and difficult.

Firstly, let’s start with the difficult part. As far as those who can’t be bothered to reciprocate when messaged (and it’s chronic), there is the need to set boundaries. Assuming that the non-respondent is someone you are close to, it may be better for your health to push through the anxiety and go through with it letting them know how you feel.

The mental health benefits of setting boundaries

Why is setting boundaries important? Well, in my experience they can act as a relief valve on the stress the silence is producing. When we are bothered by someone’s actions, we shouldn’t feel bad about being honest about how they are making us feel. Moreover, once it’s out in the open, the issue comes to at least a partial resolution. You’ve made it clear how you were feeling and that can be empowering. Nothing better than a sense of closure.

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Even though it will help you somewhat, the reaction that you get may not be what you’re hoping for. In fact, it’s likely going to create tension. In addition to this tension, you may encounter a defensive response or worse yet, more of the same. However, it’s important to realize that you can’t control the way people respond, just how you deal with it.

Despite the potential conflict that arises, the need to set boundaries will leave you in a place where you can find peace with the lackluster relationship. Regardless of the potential fallout, you must shed the fly-by-night friends if you genuinely want to heal.

How to establish boundaries

When we try to set healthy limits, we need to be prepared for the response. Often people will come to their own defence rather than acknowledging how they are making you feel. Regardless, we still need to say our piece. Remember, we only want quality relationships of mutual caring and support. This is a good thing. In with the good and out with the uninterested.

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It may be helpful to see boundaries as cleansing the ghosts. In other words, if your “friends” are not getting back to you, they are ghosting you and if they are inclined to do so, then you should set limits. This is especially true when someone reaches out only when they want something.

Photo by Mwabonje on – The need to set boundaries

Another way of thinking of it is: if it’s broken, then it’s ready for the trash. Before you discard someone, though, give them the opportunity to work with you to fix it.

So, the question becomes, “How do I do set these boundaries?” Well, right off the bat, be honest. I don’t recommend being honest in a brutal sense – rather, let a cooler head prevail. Why? Because anger is always followed by regret. Besides, there are many reasons someone doesn’t respond. Tact is always the best approach.

Carlos setting boundaries with “friend.”

The need to set boundaries – the right way.

Carlos decided to set boundaries with a friend who never responds to his messages. Regardless of the platform, this friend remains silent – unless the friend needs something. His message went like this:

Hello my friend,

I wanted to write you to express my concerns over the fact that you never respond to my phone calls, texts, or other messages. Firstly, I understand that we are all living busy lives and it can be difficult to reach out. However, because I don’t message that often and because your responses are even fewer, I want to check-in to see if everything is okay. Also, I would welcome your honesty on the status of our friendship. If I have done something wrong, please, feel free to let me know. Additionally, if I have misinterpreted our friendship in some way, feel free to let me know where we stand.

I have, in the past, helped you with many things and I feel like I have been in your corner to support you. However, if you cannot or are not willing to provide the same for me, I must respectfully move forward in my life without you.

I really do believe that it is best for both of us. If you only reach out when you need something, then it’s a not a true friendship.

At this point of in my life, I am seeking meaningful connections with others. I do, however, wish you the best of luck moving forward.

Best wishes,


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The typical responses.

Now that you have decided that the need to set boundaries mattered enough to write your friend and tell them how you are feeling, the waiting game begins. Be warned, this can go several diverse ways. First off, prepare yourself for the possibility that you may not get a reply. While this can be stress-producing. their choice not to reply sets the boundry. Personally, I don’t waste much time or mental energy on those who don’t reply; what they don’t say speaks volumes… I got what I needed.

Other responses range from apologetic (faithful friend) to justification and defensiveness (a person who has little value in the friendship). Whatever the case, the need to set boundaries will liberate you from the ghosts in your life.

And like any other confrontation, it will produce anxiety and it will make you feel like you are in the wrong, but not so. If you have invested all the energy in it, how can you be the one in the wrong? It’s okay to detach yourself from them; they have from you, so let go.

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The impacts on mentally ill people

For those with Mental Illness the fear and anxiety can be amplified at the very thought of asserting where they stand. Furthermore, many mental health conditions, come with mistrust issues. Worst still, many, like PTSD for example, come with a heaty dose of rumination. In other words, the angst plays mind games and will fill in the gaps of the silence produced by the non-responsive friend.

Therefore, people with mental illness often need to know where you stand. So, in this sense, it’s even more important for them to cut ties with the ghostly people they thought they knew.

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Instead, gravitate towards those who have proven that they value you as a friend. Similarly, ensure that the feelings are mutual. Equivalent relationships are healing. If you have this in your life and choose to focus on the non-responders instead, beware – this could halt you in your tracks. Toxic should never take priority over healthy. You deserve to heal; you deserve great folks in your life.

I want to leave you with this: Remember when I said that people may see a normal action as disorder driven? Because a request to set a boundary with another person may seem unexpected, they may see it as impulsive. Therefore, they may associate your actions with whatever mental illness you’re struggling with. This can prompt a response that implies that your effort at clear communication is, “just because you are feeling ______.”

If this is their reply, I would suggest that they have established their lackluster feelings about the friendship. You’re better off without them as they have tossed responsibility for the demise on your shoulders

More about self-care here

Jonathan Arenburg
Jonathan Arenburg

Jonathan Arenburg is a mental-health blogger, writer, Wellness coach and published author – appearing in the i’Mpossible’s Lemonade Stand III. He has also been a contributing writer for Mental Health Talk, a column in his local paper. In addition, he has also written for the mental-health advocacy organization Sick Not Weak.

Jonathan has also appeared on several mental health-related podcasts Including: A New Dawn, The Depression Files, Books and Authors, and Men Are Nuts. Since being put off work because of PTSD, Jonathan has dedicated his time to his mental-wellness journey while helping others along the way.

Educated as an addictions counsellor, he has dedicated most of his professional life of eighteen years to working with those who have intellectual disabilities, behavioural challenges, and mental illness.

He has also spent fifteen years in the volunteer fire service helping his community.

His book, “The Road To Mental Wellness,” goes into detail about his life-long battle with depression, anxiety and more recently, PTSD. In it, he hopes to provide insight on how mental illness cultivates over a lifetime and, if not recognized and treated, how it impacts the entirety of one’s life – right from childhood into the adult years. Jonathan lives with his two children in Nova Scotia, Canada.
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