Our country has never been so divided in so many areas in modern times. This division has expanded even beyond what we have experienced pre and post election. It is no longer just about which political party is right or wrong for us. There is also infighting within each party itself. These, and other issues, have also arisen beyond the political arena, which have further divided us. This division has gone beyond the media and the office and has now entered our homes. During the holidays there naturally tends to be more stress than other times of the year, thus adding political tension has a real impact on family gatherings and the enjoyment of the holidays.
Volatile Political Views
People have always had varying views on political issues. What seems to currently be different is the intensity in which people are feeling around what is happening in the world and their beliefs surrounding things such as:
- What is considered sexual harassment and what is not?
- What is racial profiling and what is not?
- What is acceptable behavior and what is not?
- What is acceptable, and appropriate, to say to someone, and what is not?
The calm, productive, and sometimes passionate, interactions around these kinds of conversations seem to be something of the past. The old adage, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” seems to have almost disappeared. Many of us who have strong feelings and beliefs seem to have lost our filter and just spew out whatever we think and believe without making space for, or having respect for, the other person’s point of view. This lack of respect and care can become destructive to our family and personal relationships.
Previously people might have been able to have healthy discussions, but now people are so passionate about their views that it has become problematic. Arguing erupts between spouses and partners, brothers and sisters, parents and their adult children, and yes, friends. A hostile division can arise between family members because of conflicting viewpoints, which can affect what were once healthy relationships. People who experience anxiety often suffer by these issues further exacerbating their symptoms, and those who don’t generally experience ongoing anxiety are starting to develop symptoms around this division.
Conflicting opinions abound on issues such as:
- What we need to do about North Korea
- How to address terrorism
- Division around gun control and sale of guns
Here at Nassau Guidance and Counseling, and the therapy world in general, we have seen a significant increase in individuals, couples, and families seeking to help resolve the conflicts and to heal the wounds made by this division, which is wearing away our relationships.
Just Add Holiday Stress
It seems that many of us have less desire to make space for someone else’s view, even during the holiday season. The holidays are often stressful with sometimes unreasonable expectations of our busy schedule and this passionate division in viewpoints may further exacerbate this stress.
I was recently in a mall where two parents were arguing over whose child was next in line to sit on Santa Claus’s lap. This argument quickly became a political one. One parent accused the other of being, “Just like that bully, Donald Trump.” You can only imagine where this interaction went next. This is just one example of how what is happening in the world impacts how we experience the holidays. If we do not make an effort to curtail volatile political discussions, it can take away some of the joy and peace we might have felt for the holidays.
Divisions lie at the heart of suffering in this post-election season. Connection is the only antidote.Dr. Patricia Harney, faculty at Harvard Medical School
Create a Controversial Free Zone
A collection of varying generations, educational levels and personal political opinions can be a recipe for disaster at the holiday dinner table. When there is already the preexisting potential stress of a family gathering and we add this additional element it can be problematic. What may initially start out as what appears to be a normal discussion could turn into something affecting the joy of the whole holiday experience. When the topic of politics is introduced in the discussion, disagreements can turn to insulting the person as a whole, rather than just their opinion. The kind of thing one wants to avoid at any time.
Consider setting guidelines for a family gathering or a holiday celebration around not talking about controversial subjects. Ask that everyone leave his or her differences at the doorstop. Some may view this as feeling as if it is an attempt to be controlling and may not be receptive to this kind of a guideline or boundary. However, if it is done in a caring, loving way by the host of the gathering ahead of time, then people might be a little more receptive. Introduce the topic by saying something such as:
- “We really are looking forward to spending some quality time and want this occasion to be fun, enjoyable and peaceful.”
- “I’m requesting that there be no controversial topics so we can reconnect with family in a positive way.”
- “We may have had great political conversations in the past, but this year I would rather that we avoid the topic.”
Focus On The Positive
The holidays offer us the chance to experience the joy of reconnecting with friends and family. Try to keep the focus on what brings everyone together, rather than what drives people apart. Approaching an anticipated gathering with the realization that we cannot change people, even the ones we love, might enable us to avoid a negative confrontation. Different ways to curtail damaging conversations and embrace the opportunity to be together in a loving way include to:
- Gently redirect or change the subject to a personal or positive topic in their life
- Consider a few positive talking points prior to the gathering
- Make it known if you are uncomfortable with the conversation
- Try to listen to their concerns without judgment
- Breathe, walk away and take a break
- Remind yourself that your feelings are toward the issue and not the person
- Ask if the topic can be continued at another time
- Request that the discussion continue privately, rather than at the table
Find Your Holiday Happiness
If you struggle with how to find and maintain the happiness in holiday gatherings, rather than worrying about a potential family feud, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance and Counseling located on Long Island can help. Our licensed therapists have helped many people rediscover the joy and comfort familiar holiday rituals can bring and how to embrace a peaceful, restful holiday season.