How To Talk About Politics With Your Relatives Over The Holidays Without Fighting
The holidays are upon us and with them comes everything from accusations that our healthy boundaries are "ruining Christmas" to social media virtue signalers reminding you that not cutting off all contact with your 90-year-old racist grandma is the reason why Trump was elected. It's...a trying time, and finding ways to stay calm during a political debate with family members over the holidays behooves you.
Part of what makes political debates so painful when they take place with family is that so many of us have formative memories of feeling neglected at some point or another by our loved ones. So when we venture a political belief, supported by strong emotions, and that belief gets cast aside, judged, ignored, or criticized, it can feel like we as people are being cast aside, judged, ignored, or criticized. It's not about the politics as much as its about childhood feelings of abandonment floating very close to the surface during the holidays, ready to bubble over at the first mention of a caravan.
Remaining aware of the personal baggage you bring to your relationship with your mom or your sibling or your uncle is helpful in keeping a healthy emotional distance when it comes to political debates. Here are some other actionable tips to keep yourself calm this year.
1. Understand What Underlies Political Leanings
"Political opinions are really a representation of one’s expectations regarding change. Some are ‘conservative’ and some are ‘liberal,’ meaning some deal with change through maintaining and some manage change through making adjustments," Seon Kim, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "To have a productive discussion with family and keep your cool, you need to establish and monitor how you’ll talk to each other — the ‘process’ of the conversation — regardless of its contents."
2. Don't Bait People
So much online political frustration manifests in people professing the importance of confronting your relatives' casual -isms when they arise over the holidays. While that's true, also know when to pick your battles.
"Don’t bait people who you know do not agree with you into a debate," licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson tells Bustle. "It will only upset you. If you know before you get there that you are not on the same page, be conscious of not bringing it up."
3. You Don't Have To Agree
It's useful to remember that just because someone you care about disagrees with you doesn't mean they reject you wholesale as a person. If that's how it feels when someone in your family disagrees with your politics, it's worth figuring out the underlying issues.
"Remember that someone can love and care about you and still completely disagree with you on an issue," says Richardson. Yes, of course politics matter, but people see the world differently. That does not mean they cannot love and accept you as you are. If you want to be loved and accepted as you are, it is important to give that gift to others first."
4. Aim For Empathy
Per usual, empathy for a person who's hurting you can resolve a ton of internal strife via the simple shift in power that comes with along with it.
"The goal of a political discussion might be to understand without agreeing with one another. You're a different person than your family members, and so it's inevitable for people to have different ideas of what's 'right' or 'best' in politics and for our country. The reality is that there is no right," licensed marriage and family therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. "There are subjective perspectives and in order to keep from throwing a turkey leg across the room, it's necessary to understand why your family members believe what they believe. And you don't need to agree! Respecting another's opinions that are different than your own is not easy for people, but it is necessary for peace, especially during the holiday season."
5. Let People Think
If you do decide that the time and emotional investment of trying to persuade someone is worth it, then know that patience is key.
"If you want to change someone’s mind about something you feel passionately about, be patient and able to hear why they don’t see it the way you do," says Richardson. "Then, calmly and respectfully explain why you see it differently. Then, let them think. If they have an opposite viewpoint, one conversation is not going to get them to do a 180. But perhaps you can plant a seed."
6. Use 'I' Statements & Reflection To Foster A Safe Environment
You can deescalate a lot of people's feelings of being criticized by taking accountability for your own beliefs, values, and feelings.
"It’s crucial for your family to focus on fostering a loving and safe environment during the discussion," says Kim. "You can do this by using reflection and ‘I’ statements. Reflection is simply you reflecting back on what the person is saying in order to avoid any misunderstandings or misinterpretation of their messages. Speaking in ‘I’ statements is a communication method that focuses on expression of self rather than defining the other. This helps any unnecessary judgement on the other."
7. Know When To Walk Away
Ultimately, you have to know when to call time on an emotional beating if you're taking one. It's totally possible to use political arguments with your family as a tool for self-harm and removing yourself from that destructive cycle is powerful.
"Give yourself permission to take a break," says Richardson. "If you are the dissenter in the group and they are talking about things you feel strongly and differently about, give yourself permission to take a nap or go for a walk or run errands. You don’t have to sit and listen to it. You don’t have to make a show of [leaving] because that will likely bring you some heat. You can peacefully and quietly go find something else to do."