Working as an individual, couples, and family therapist gives me a unique front seat to conflicts of all forms. I have witnessed politics play a part in much disagreement throughout immediate and extended families in my career. Still, I have never seen the degree of political division that has infected American culture over the past several years. Although this issue has always existed, the concerns facing America today are personal, painful, and more disturbing than most of us have ever witnessed. I hope that we one day emerge from this with relationships remaining intact. Here are some suggestions as to how you may be able to make that happen.
- Consider your efforts to change family members’ opinions: Notice I said, consider, not stop entirely. Although stopping political arguments would probably be my preference, it’s not a preference for some individuals. Many families thrive with a healthy political banter. I also see individuals feeling that they need to educate loved ones on the error of their beliefs. I recommend that people stop to ask themselves if they need to, or whether it is possible to “educate” relatives? People then tell me, “But Marin, I have a responsibility to inform people, to stand up against what I see and stand up for what is right.” For these people, I say:
- Make a societal difference at another level. Over the past several years, many individuals have come to me struggling with depression and anxiety due to the state of today’s world. I understand this. I also fully support activism and volunteerism as a means of depression prevention as well as civic contribution. Find a way to give back or volunteer to see the change you want in the world. Find a way to settle that feeling of helplessness and disruption you feel without creating conflict with someone you otherwise enjoy having as a part of your life. That gets me to the next concern I hear. ‘But Marin, if this person believes in these terrible ideas, I don’t’ know if I even want them in my life anyway”. For these people, I say:
- Consider the value of your relationship. It may be that as a result of the last several years, you determine that there are individuals in your life who hold core beliefs that you cannot tolerate. If you feel this is true, ask yourself some questions about the person. Will I miss this person if they weren’t around? Does this person provide any benefit to my life and that of my family? Is it possible that this person’s beliefs are stemming from the fear or pain they hold inside? Is it possible for me to understand why they think the way they do, other than the conclusion that their opinions directly result from them being terrible people? And once people decide they want the person to remain in their lives, they ask me, “But Marin, I can’t stand to discuss anything political with this person. What should I do?”
- Keep the discussions out of larger family gatherings. Most people today consume plenty of news and alerts about the state of the country. You can choose to leave this out of your socializing. Keep a boundary around your relationships if you know that the issue of politics has the potential to get into your relationship and create toxicity. You can tell people that you prefer not to discuss the issue and change the topic. You can also choose to have a current events discussion and stop it when emotions hit a certain level. This one is a little trickier to handle, but it is possible. At this, people say to me, ‘But Marin, they keep emailing and texting me political messages I don’t know what to do.” And to these people, say:
- Maintain some control over how much information you take in and from whom. You can tell your uncle who you love that you would like to be removed from the family chat group because you love him so much. If someone particularly triggering on Facebook, snooze the person for 30 days. Stop following them on Twitter. You are allowed.
These tumultuous times pose an enormous challenge for our mental health. While many need to be able to vent their frustrations about the world, it is essential to join conversations in ways that do not reduce one’s support, which is crucial for optimal mental health. I believe this will someday get better. And when it does, I would like to emerge from the struggle with my loved ones standing beside me.
Posted by Marin Rieger