Written By: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
The holidays are just around the corner, and we all know what that means: time for political discussions and arguments over turkey and stuffing. This year will be especially difficult after the results of the election. Our country is more divided than the majority of us realized, which may make for some stressful times ahead in regard to family gatherings. It is especially difficult to discuss political differences among family members since there is a deep and unconditional love among most families, and it can be hard to reconcile loving someone so much while having opposite political beliefs and values. This election also feels a lot more personal to most of us, which adds an extra layer of emotions around it. I have found that many of my clients (in individual and couples therapy) are discussing their apprehension and stress about the holidays due to fear of political arguments. While navigating the holidays can be difficult and stressful, here are some tips and tools to feel better prepared:
- Don’t drink too much. While it may be tempting to drown your sorrows in alcohol, it has the potential to be more harmful than useful. Drinking makes us less inhibited, and therefore more likely to say something disrespectful or below the belt. Avoiding getting too intoxicated will also allow you to communicate your point of view in a more thoughtful and articulate way. When you are more clear-headed, you are also more likely to be a better listener and engaged in an appropriate and effective dialogue.
- Use active listening skills. It is unbelievably difficult to hear someone you care about talk about an issue that you 100% disagree on. It is easy to get overwhelmed with anger and want to interrupt them to add your point of view and opinion. While that may be tempting, I encourage everyone to listen to the other side. You do not have to agree with it, but when you show someone respect and listen to them, they will be more likely to reciprocate that respect when you want your voice to be heard. If they have a difficult time not interrupting you, you can then point out that you allowed them to speak uninterrupted and you request the same respect.
- Talk about your emotions. I give couples who have difficulty communicating the same advice: talk about how a particular issue makes you feel. For example: I feel really scared because …. , I feel really frustrated because …. When we talk using “I statements” such as these, it shows that you are taking ownership of your feelings (which are always valid), which will therefore create a less defensive and volatile space.
- Discuss the impact issues have on you and your community. At this point, it is unlikely that anyone’s mind will be changed about who they voted for. However, what may hold more weight and value is to discuss how the election results directly impact you as well as people in communities you are in or care dearly about. Instead singling out individual people and bad-mouthing them, explain the potentially scary and unfair impact their agenda may have on you and the people you care about. Focus on issues and communities that you care about instead of directing your energy on a particular person.
- Remember that we cannot control how others respond, we can only control ourselves. At the end of the day, we must remember that we cannot force people to engage in a respectful and open dialogue. We can model how to communicate respectfully and effectively, and set boundaries when it is not being reciprocated. If you are doing your best to have an open-minded discussion, and you can sense that things are escalating, take a deep breath, and say that you will not engage in a discussion that is disrespectful and one-sided. Setting a boundary if things begin to escalate may prevent low blows from being thrown as well as people saying things they may regret.
Discussing politics with family members over holiday dinners is almost always a recipe for disaster, and combining that with the results of this year’s election, it has the potential to be a warzone. Navigating the holidays will be a difficult time for many of us, and remember you can always call a friend or your partner in the bathroom to vent about the latest comment.
If you, like many others around you, are having a difficult time coping with the stress of the election, reach out to Symmetry Counseling to set up an appointment with one of our therapists.