Simply anecdotally speaking, politics have become more front and center and more heated since the 2016 election. It has become very challenging for many people to navigate differences of opinion in their families and it can cause a lot of heartache and stress to hear family members express such divergent views from your own. This can lead people to feel as if their relatives don’t care about them or feel like they don’t know their relatives anymore. In an ideal world, family members would be able to have an open conversation in which everyone shares their feelings and listens to others. Unfortunately, with political tensions running high in our country already and with the added stress of the holiday gathering, this becomes much more challenging.
What I know as a psychologist with training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that the thoughts and meaning people assign to others’ actions can have a massive impact on their feelings and relationships. I also have helped my clients learn skills to better understand their emotions, be more effective in relationships, and learn how to lessen the impact of stressful stimuli such as a hurtful comment or challenging situation on one’s thoughts and feelings.
12 Tips to Help You Navigate Political Discussion Around The Holiday Table.
1. Take some time to think about the specifics of what these conversations might look like and what obstacles you may face. For example, if you and your brother have completely divergent views about politics, go into the holiday expecting that he will say things that may rub you the wrong way. That way, when he says something hurtful, your initial reaction can be closer to expectation than outrage.
2. Make a plan for navigating the meal and have a goal for your relationships. It’s helpful to keep in mind your overall goals when trying to be effective in relationships. Think about relationships with each family member or the key player(s) in advance and what your objective is for the day with regard to maintaining your self respect, maintaining the relationship and keeping peace, and accomplishing your goal whether it be to calmly let them know how you feel or avoiding saying anything at all to your 90 year old grandfather
3. Remind yourself that everyone is entitled to their opinion and that just because someone’s opinion differs from yours doesn’t mean they wish you harm or don’t care about you. These are important ways to reframe your reaction to differences of opinion.
4. If need be, make a rule to not have further political discussions or make a family agreement not to discuss politics at all.
5. Have some conversation topics in mind that are benign and will engage many members of your family like holiday travel, how school is going for the younger members and work for the older, sports, etc.
6. If there is a conversation that goes awry, gently try to redirect away from it and see your pre-written list of conversation topics.
7. Express that you would really like to enjoy your family time together and not argue. Prompt others to keep that in mind as well.
8. Count to ten and breathe. Practice mindfulness and count flowers in the wallpaper or rolls in a basket. Focus on the taste of food. Count how many times you are chewing each bite. Count your breath.
9. Limit alcohol use and be mindful of its impact on your behavior and thinking. If you have had something to drink, remind yourself that your reaction to whatever your family member is saying may be intensified by the alcohol. Similarly, if you have other stressors in your life right now remind yourself that they may be also intensifying your emotional reactions.
10. Physiology directly impacts emotions just as emotions impact physiology, so keep an open posture, unclench your firsts, try not to scowl all of these things can help minimize anger you feel and help you remain calm. Body language is a major form of communication of your emotions to others. Following the above tips will lead to you communicating to others that you are calm and receptive rather than hostile and defensive.
11. Remind yourself that this is just one day to get through and the holidays and such intense family time is temporary.
12. Above all else, have a safe and happy holiday!