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You have the right to disconnect

  • Story Highlights
  • Life coach: It's OK to disconnect technology and hide from some people
  • Avoid squids -- people with sucking tentacles of emotional needs
  • Have several rehearsed exit lines to disengage from relationships
  • You can be abrupt and compassionate with problem-sharing people
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By Martha Beck
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( -- The great English writer E.M. Forster may have valued connection above all else, but for us 21st-century folks, disconnection is as necessary as connection for creating a healthy, happy life.

Some times you need to pull the plug on technology and some relationships.

Some times you need to pull the plug on technology and some relationships.

When we force ourselves to connect against our heart's desires, we create false, resentful relationships; when we disconnect from the people who deplete us, we set them free to find their tribes while we find ours.

I've listed some of my favorite disconnection strategies below, in the hope that you might find them useful.

1. Hide -- Blame my high school English teacher -- I'll call her Mrs. Jensen -- who married at 17, bore her first child at 19, and was a farmwife and mother of four by age 22. When she felt overwhelmed, she'd retreat into a field of tall corn near her house and hide there, listening to her children search for her, until she heard a cry of genuine pain or felt ready to reconnect, whichever came first.

"Martha," Mrs. Jensen told me, "every woman needs a cornfield. No matter what's happening in your life, find yourself a cornfield and hide there whenever you need to."

I've used hundreds of other "cornfields" over the years: cars, forests, hotels, bathrooms. I've been known to hide for days, but even a few minutes can calm my strung-out nerves -- or yours. If you don't already have a cornfield, find one now. How to find peace and calm every day

2. Go primitive -- We all know that technological advances have made connection easier than ever before. They've also led some people to think that breaking away is a violation of the social order. At such times, I become downright Amish, religiously committed to avoiding all modern communication technology. I unplug phones, computers, intercoms and fax machines, risking opprobrium, because I know that if I don't lose touch with some of the people who are trying to reach me, I'll lose touch with myself.

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The overconnected me is a cranky, tired fussbudget. Silence is golden if it keeps me from broadcasting that fretful self into my network of treasured relationships.

3. Play favorites -- Your ability to connect is a resource much more precious than money, so manage it well. Make a list of everyone to whom you feel bonded, then consider what kind of return you're getting on your investment.

It may sound cold-blooded to say you must divest yourself of the relationships that give you consistent losses, but unless you do this, you'll soon run out of capital, and you'll have no connection energy left to invest in anybody. So, please, decide now to deliberately limit the time and attention you spend on "low-yield" relationships. Above all...

4. Get rid of squid -- Squid is my word for people who seem to be missing their backbones but possess myriad sucking tentacles of emotional need. Like many invertebrates, squid appear limp and squishy -- but once they get a grip on you, they're incredibly powerful. Masters at catalyzing guilt and obligation, they operate by squeezing pity from everyone they meet.

Getting a squid out of your life is never pretty. Tell them straightforwardly that you want them, yes them, to leave now, yes, now. This will be unpleasant. There will be lasting hurt feelings. Don't worry. Squid love hurt feelings. They hoard them, trading them in for pity points when they find another victim -- er, friend. Let them go, their coffers bulging. How to deal with difficult people

5. Be insensitive -- This is a very compassionate way to use your own psychological instincts. Instead of connecting with every person's problems, let yourself feel whether someone really needs your attention or whether the best gift you can give might be a little abruptness.

6. Rehearse escape lines -- When I'm overextended, I paradoxically become worse at setting boundaries. I end up resorting to rehearsed exit lines. Take the time to rehearse several reliable alternatives. Because, when you're exhausted, a practiced excuse can keep you from wading deeper into relationships you don't need and can't handle.

7. Be shallow -- Even staying in touch with a reasonably small number of high-quality people can be overwhelming if you tend toward emotional intensity. In such cases, shallowness can be a delightful alternative. E-mail a stupid joke. Gather your friends to watch TV shows in which strangers paint one another's rooms the color of phlegm and then feign mutual delight. Once you know you can swim in the deep end of human connection, it's fun to splash around in the shallows.

I hope you find these disconnection strategies as useful as I do. By striking a balance between the imperative to "only connect" and the need for individuation, you really will relax your psyche and your relationships, making your life as a whole more joyful, more loving. Martha Beck's 5 rules to live by

By Martha Beck from "O, The Oprah Magazine" © 2008

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