4. When you don't know what to say, try the truth.
I won't lie: Investing in resting can cause social awkwardness. For example, an acquaintance I'll call Jill recently asked me to drive an hour (each way) to meet her for dinner. I was exhausted, and though I like Jill, I've learned the hard way that when I put politeness over basic needs, I end up feeling resentful, which damages the relationship.
When I suggested that Jill and I take a rain check, she frostily asked what could possibly be more important than a chance to connect with her. I tried to invent a fictional business trip or convincing symptoms of bird flu, but my perfidious mouth blurted the truth: "I want to lie down."
I felt Jill's outrage as she absorbed the fact that on my priority list, getting some rest outranked dining with her. Truth often has this effect, but despite the initial sting, it makes for stronger relationships. If I'd lied, I'd have misled Jill and angered myself. I want friends who want what's best for me, and Jill can either accept that or find someone who's willing to dine under duress.
No matter what your truth may be—about political views, movie preferences, the desire to live "off the grid" eating roadkill—calmly expressing it cuts a clear path through the jungle of social connection.
5. Free yourself from dysfunctional people by refusing to try to control them.
You don't even need to say it—I can already hear you thinking: If I tell the truth in every awkward situation, there will be hell to pay with my mother/husband/sister/coworker/book club! I get it: There are people in your life who, for various reasons, don't want your truth. You may think you have to change those people to live in total authenticity. Don't even try.
I labored for decades to make sad people happy, rigid people flexible, aggressive people empathetic, and so on, before finally noticing that (1) this never worked, and (2) it drove me insane. Then I read codependency expert Melody Beattie's advice on how to deal with dysfunctional people: "Unhook from their system by refusing to try to change or influence them." This felt totally alien and absolutely right, and it works. The key, I've found, is to stay the heck away from the idea of "making" someone do, feel, or think anything. This is not your job. Your job is to maximize your own happiness, kindness, and health. Let others choose whether to follow.
At this point, I should note that Alice in Wonderland did take some of her own advice. She remembered, for example, that "if you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later."
You've already had enough life experience to notice when a situation, a person, or a task is marked "poison." Remember how much that situation hurt the last time, and choose one that feels better now. Take small steps, lying down often along the way. Tell the truth and stay in your own business. Anything else is poison. And if you actually use this seldom-followed advice, you may one day wake up and realize that your life has become a wonderland.
Martha Beck's latest book is Finding Your Way in a Wild World (Free Press).
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