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I am not known for being someone easily accessible through messages. I tend to leave my cell phone in silence because the sharp tone every time a message arrives causes me to smoke through my ears.
I wish I could silence all notifications from my contacts (sorry mom, dad and all the people that matter to me, but communicating with you gives me a lot of anxiety). Obviously, that is not possible.
However, silence the message chains with more than three people and completely avoid family groups . It’s a small gesture, but withdrawing from these group conversations reassures me , even though sometimes I feel excluded and alone, not to mention the feeling of guilt for making my family feel they are a nuisance.
I have found that ignoring my family for my own mental health can be therapeutic . Smartphones seem to be causing more problems than benefits: these devices have opened a universe of new options for people (and not just our family) to bother us.
A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) of 2017 revealed that constantly checking emails and text messages contributes significantly to our stress levels.
Nancy Cheever , professor of communication at California State University Dominguez Hills, USA, investigates how cell phones affect our mood and says that being “constantly connected” through emails, texts and social networks is a guarantee to experience anxiety.
The distraction also affects our work life.
As Scott Bea , a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA, explained to the British newspaper The Daily Mail last year, constantly checking notifications can reduce productivity by 40 percent.
Sometimes it is possible to ignore messages from work, but you can not take the license to take a break at the time of writing with your family.
In an article for Psychology Today in 2014, social psychologist Theresa DiDonato , of Loyola University, Maryland, USA, wrote that constantly sending messages can create “a mobile relationship maintenance cycle,” according to which “individuals feel excessive dependence “that may violate your sense ofprivacy and autonomy .
The innocuous act of sending text messages can, therefore, tighten the close ties between loved ones and even create feelings of resentment toward probably well-intentioned people, but who are unaware of the cost that excessive communication can have on your psychology.
If sending messages “starts to be frustrating or stressful, or if you feel saturated or trapped by it, it is a good indicator that you need to set limits, ” said Dana Gionta, a clinical psychologist in Connecticut, USA, together to Dan Guerra of from stressed to centered (2015), which could be translated into Spanish as “stressed out focused.”
For most people, she says, a barrage of text messages leads to an inopportune – and even annoying – distraction .
That would apply to the messages of anyone, but those of the family are especially annoying because they are linked to a sense of obligation. The pressure to respond to a family member may weigh on you as you try to perform other tasks.
If you receive a series of messages (not urgent) from your loved ones (from topics that range from, for example, from family gossip to plans for a visit or movie reviews) you will probably feel that you should read each of the messages to update yourself with the conversation.
The result is what Mark Dombeck , a California psychologist who has written extensively about assertive (rather than aggressive) boundaries and behaviors, calls a “cognitive burden” that can be difficult to take on in the midst of other responsibilities.
However, your responsibility towards the family is, inevitably, seen as more urgent and will weigh you more than any other.
“Family relationships are important for most people and are a motivation to follow social protocols and respond when required, which creates a sense of pressure that may not exist in a relationship with a stranger,” he says.
There are nice ways to approach the subject of text messages without offending your family. You may be right to feel irritated if you use the chat as if it were an invitation to constant communication, but it is vital that you do not react or respond when you are upset or angry.
“When people enter our territory and are disrespectful, you have the right to defend yourself,” Dombeck explains. “Not to attack them, but to defend you . “
What you should do, he explains, is an assertive statement. The assertion is “the cornerstone, the point of equilibrium” between aggression and passivity. But unlike aggression, the assertion does not come from a hostile place.
When it comes to asking your family to stop sending you messages, that means being direct and firm. “Please, write me only for emergencies,” is the kind of language he suggests.
Gionta, on the other hand, recommends a softer approach. No need to share that you feel overwhelmed or frustrated by text messages, says the specialist, and you should make it clear that writing less does not mean you want less to that person in question.
It provides an imprecise reason – “I find it difficult to keep up with all the text messages and emails I receive” – and then negotiates a period of time to respond that works for both parties.
Try something like, “I’d love it if we were closer, but writing to us every day does not work for me. Can we try a couple of times a week? ”
Deal with guilt
Confronting the problem is probably the simplest part of this scenario. It is the reaction and the blame that affect us the most emotionally.
In fact, the idea of dealing with your family’s response may be enough to address this frustrating problem.
“The reality is that most people only know aggression and passivity, and think that anything that is not passive is aggressive, ” says Dombeck.
“By doing this you are making a decision: are you doing what is necessary to maintain your peace of mind, which could mean distancing yourself from some people in the family? All you are doing is saying that you refuse to be abused. See that way, but you have to be willing to defend your position . ”
Although we can not control or predict how others will react to our actions, says Gionta, we can control “how we express ourselves and the level of consideration and respect we use.”
While you expose your part with calm and kindness, you should not feel indebted to someone who makes you feel guilty or forces you to participate in chains of messages that cause you stress.
You should also feel able to completely ignore the toxic responses .
Dombeck says that in families where some people feel power over others, “any invasion of that power is aggressive.” These people can demand that you justify your actions or submit to the so-called “flying monkeys” : other members of the family are sent to test you.
So, why invite the drama? Would not it be better to simply ignore the messages without ever talking about how they make you feel on the edge of panic?
Dombeck believes that this is a topic that is worth addressing because the excessive amount of text messages probably points to a pattern between you and your family members .
“If this is happening in a text message, it also happened in all forms of communication, it’s not about isolated behavior, when you ask yourself ‘is this battle worth fighting?’ You have to understand that it is not limited to text messages, but to the entire communication history. “