Therapists often refer to the "presenting issue" when pinpointing the primary reason individuals seek therapy. Traditionally, therapists are accustomed to addressing common concerns like marital problems, anxiety, depression, and grief. However, a new challenge has emerged as a prevalent topic in counseling sessions—families fighting about politics.
As therapists encounter clients grappling with the fallout of intense political discord within their households, a novel phenomenon has taken shape. In professional chat rooms, counselors are exchanging insights, asking one another, "How are you supporting clients navigating family conflicts about politics?"
The mental health toll resulting from political strife, especially within familial bonds, is a relatively recent and pressing issue for many therapists. Beyond the confines of family, friendships are also bearing the brunt of political discord. The strain on interpersonal connections exacerbates feelings of isolation, invisibility, and loneliness, intensifying these emotions.
If you find that your relationships are deteriorating due to political disagreements, understanding your reactions and employing the right actions and efforts can play a crucial role in restoring balance and enhancing your overall well-being.
Understand Your Emotional Response - Is Is Related To Your Trauma?
If you have been a victim of, or witnessed acts of violence such as sexual assault, bullying or racial discrimination, re-exposure to a similar threat can trigger responses associated with the fight/flight/freeze response such as fear, anger, or sadness. For example, the sexual predatory language used by politicians can trigger a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder flavored reaction for women who have been sexually assaulted. The same is true for victims of racial discrimination and bulling. The exposure to the recent racially charged acts of violence can trigger a fight/flight/freeze response in those who have been a victim or or witnessed this type of violence.
Empowerment and Healing
If you have felt emotional upset by recent current affairs, this does not make you weak or thin-skinned. Don’t buy into this perspective which only re-victimizes the victim.
Although you may have been victimized, you are still responsible for your own actions, thinking processes and how you regulate your emotions.
Rise above the worse thing that has happened to you.
You can! I have. Many of my clients have. But, I will tell you, you better be committed. Rising above victimhood is no easy task.
Try to understand and take care of the part of themselves that is wounded. See how it influences, well, almost everything.
See how the recent and contentious political climate is related to your past but influencing your thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, and impulses in the present.
Why is this so important? Because when you are attemping to share your wisdom about how your direct experience is related to the current political climate, you need to be calm. You need to be articulate. If you are angry or overly emotional, that is what will be heard.
How To Navigate Fighting About Family Politics.
Put On Your Conflict Resolution Skills Hat. We need to try and find some common ground and learn some basic conflict resolutions skills. I am summarizing a great article by Belinda Luscombe presented in Time Magazine which offers simple but effective conflict resolutions skills.
Learn to paraphrase.
Don't overestimate your listening skills. Trust me, what you are hearing is being impacted by your individual thoughts, feelings and perceptions. When fighting about politics it is crucial for the parties involved to gain a deep understanding of the root of their differences. When faced with a differing opinion from a loved one, a highly effective approach is to paraphrase the perceived message accurately. The goal is to summarize the viewpoint so precisely that you have reached a commong ground. You begin to hear feedback that validates understanding such as "I could not have said that better myself". To find common ground you need a mindset of curiosity over anger. Juding the other person before the conversation begins stops progress. Resist the temptation to distort the other person's words to make them appear unreasonable or malevolent. Don't exaggerate what you think are the most "ridiculous" aspects of their arguements.
Mitigating conflicts often involves meeting each other half way.
Agreement doesn't have to be extensive. Finding even a small area of commonality is valuable. For instance, if confronted with the perception that liberals consistently advocate for expansive government intervention, acknowledge that many liberals value targeted government initiatives while respecting individual freedoms. Similarly, when faced with the assumption that all conservatives oppose social welfare programs, recognize the perspective of supporting responsible and efficient resource allocation to address societal needs.
When disagreements persist, you may have to relie on "I agree this is a complex issue" or highlight shared values and goals or simply appreciating the person as a wonderful and loving individual. By incorporating these strategies, conflicts can be approached with an understanding mindset, fostering constructive dialogue amidst political differences.
Find Common Ground - If you and your loved one manage to find common ground, opening up to opposing viewpoints becomes more feasible. Consider, for instance, the shared understanding that both of you love and care deeply for your country, desiring effective and responsible government. Once this common ground is acknowledged, you
can then proceed to what the Braver Angels team terms as "pivoting" – a deliberate shift signaling your intent to introduce a different perspective. Crucially, it is essential that the other person is genuinely interested in hearing your viewpoint, just as you are eager to listen to theirs. Make a sincere effort to adopt the perspective that your loved one's opinion holds significance for your understanding.
Share Personal Perspective - When a topic of conversation is emotionally charged, it's challenging to remain calm. However, it's crucial to recognize that allowing emotions to take over might makes your perspective easier to dismiss. Whenever possible, draw on personal experiences. For instance, as someone who has experienced foster care, people usually listen when I share my perspective on the significance of effective foster care systems and oversight. It took numerous hours of therapy and in meditation before I could discuss the importance of foster care without getting emotional, but eventually, I reached that point. Presenting a personal, heartfelt perspective is a powerful way to establish common ground
Be in peace - diane