Now more than ever, tension between those with differing political opinions is at an all time high. Challenges with the economy, a global pandemic, racial inequality, gun violence, and more-all of these issues have many looking toward a greater entity like our government help find a solution. Frustration, hopelessness, despair, and fear are prevalent, which has contributed to the intensity of the current political discord. What do you do when some of the strongest differences of beliefs and opinions are with your family and friends? Here are some strategies on how to handle political disagreements with the ones we love while respecting and preserving your mental health.
There is no shame in knowing your triggers and doing your best to avoid them. Oftentimes, it is necessary to separate yourself until you are able to learn and incorporate the coping skills to manage your emotions when confronted with these troubling situations. This may not be a permanent solution; however, it can be a very valuable gift of self-compassion to know your emotional limitations. For some individuals you come across, it may never be a good idea to engage with them on this topic. Be brave enough to take a step back and avoid putting yourself in the line of fire to be hurt emotionally.
Some of you may scoff at this suggestion, stating to yourself, “ME be open minded? THEY need to be open minded!” This is where the expression, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” comes into play. Try to understand why the person thinks the way they do before dismissing their believes as outlandish or illogical. Suspend your judgements, and instead embody an attitude of curiosity and understanding. This will decrease defensiveness in the conversation and increase the likelihood that the other person will listen to what you have to say.
As stated earlier, there are a number important issues at stake in the political sphere, which in turn can result in individuals being very passionate about their beliefs. This passion can easily turn to anger when not harnessed properly, or you come across someone with beliefs that you think are “part of the problem.” Anger clouds rational thought, and no productive discussion will occur when anger arises. Take deep breathes in and out through the nose. Do your best to keep your voice volume low and free of anger or sarcasm. Maintain non-confrontational body language through relaxed gestures, posture, and body movement. Even if the other person begins to escalate, if you remain calm it will most likely prevent the conversation from turning into an argument. Remind yourself, “This discussion is not worth my peace of mind.”
It is easy to focus on all of the ways that we are different from one another. In a political climate that pins one group against another, it can be challenging to avoid getting caught up in that line of thinking for ourselves. However, as a clinician who has extensive experience studying human behavior, one fact I know to be true is this: We are a lot more alike than we are different. Although the path to getting there may differ, most people are striving for happiness, safety, and connection. It may be helpful to try and find an issue you both can agree on in order to foster a mentality of togetherness rather than division. Look for even the smallest of opportunities to point out beliefs/values/desires that are similar. Doing so can be helpful in fostering the dynamic and of understanding, which will lead to a much more productive conversation.
Learning how to handle political disagreements with the ones we love, involves learning when to walk away. Oftentimes, political conversations have a tendency of continuing in circles until one person gives up, stating, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” Although this statement may seem harmless, it can leave both parties feeling unheard and as if the conversation was a waste of time. Instead, try to end the conversation before it gets either too repetitive, argumentative, emotional, or unproductive. End the conversation by stating something like, “I appreciate the information you’ve given me. It has given me a lot to think about. Let’s revisit this at another time.” This ends the conversation respectfully, as well as validating the other person’s time and energy put forth into speaking with you.
I hope you find these strategies helpful in maintaining peace of mind amongst what can be a triggering topic. Always remember to prioritize your mental health, reach out for support, and practice self-care before and after each interaction. You’ve got this!