For months, people have been enduring an onslaught of news coverage surrounding the election, as well as many strong differing viewpoints. It can be exhausting to take in all this information and fight for your voice to be heard. Likely, people reading this share a heavy sigh that the election and the holidays must be so close together.
Some get-togethers have family members split down the middle with differing hopes for the election result, leading to potentially awkward or downright confrontational moments. Being mindful of your needs and approaching this time is essential for your wellness and perhaps your relationships.
The atmosphere between pre-and post-election has felt tense and almost irreparable. However, remaining in the relationships we care dearly about is essential, as is not walking around with an “elephant in the room” for the entirety of the holidays. If you would like to hold some dialogue with your friends and family about your view, consider these tips for difficult conversations throughout the holidays.
Know Your Goal
Before entering any political conversation, identify what you are hoping to gain or learn from the exchange. When talking to someone with a different viewpoint, know that it is doubtful you will change their mind with one conversation. Maybe you seek to be understood or to understand them better, or you may enjoy a respectful debate.
If your goal is to “win” the argument or prove that you are right, it is likely that the conversation elements will be very triggering to you and will not ultimately help you feel more connected to others. Proceed cautiously, both with yours and others’ intentions for the conversation in mind. Consider abstaining from discussions with others that you know will not stay respectful and divide you further.
Remember that you are not in control of what someone else says, but how you react to them. Notice your tone, volume, body posture, and how you are feeling internally. Our nonverbal communication makes up a considerable portion of how others perceive your message, so check in to make sure it lines up with what you are trying to communicate.
Also, make sure to check in with your physical body. If you feel your heart rate rising or muscles clenching, that could be a sign to take a step back to cool off. Stay present with yourself and excuse yourself from the conversation if or when it gets to be too much. You might want to try some grounding techniques before excusing yourself from the conversation entirely.
Avoid Tactics That Build Defensiveness
Be careful about labeling, using sarcasm, name-calling, or dismissing someone. When a person feels attacked, their defense mechanisms will likely flare up, and having a genuine conversation will be almost impossible. These types of interactions also do not feel good on either side.
A good rule of thumb for conversations where you disagree is to try to understand the very best parts of their viewpoint, rather than taking demeaning shots at policies that they may not even agree with. Remember that you are talking to a person, not taking down a political party.
It is not helpful to the conversation when you regurgitate the talking points fed to you by media sources on either side. The person in front of you likely has a more detailed understanding of their political beliefs that is not helpful when you paint them into a corner based on party lines.
Instead of crafting your perfect argument in your head when the other person speaks, take the time to listen and make sure you are understanding the point that they are trying to make. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that you already know what they are going to say. You are still free to disagree after, but this helps slow down the conversation and makes it less about people shouting facts or talking points at one another.
The golden rule of communication applies here, too: you need to listen before you speak. Before you move into trying to disprove their points, if you can stay curious about why they believe what they do, this helps set the conversation up for success and avoids creating defensiveness that comes from feeling misunderstood on either side.
Consider Your Limits
You may have found yourself in a conversation that feels out of hand, whether you started it or maybe discovered your way into it by mistake. Know when to end a conversation to keep yourself and your emotional health safe. See the boundaries section below for ways to help with this.
Notice the Triggers
The holidays often can be a significant trigger to drink. For one, there is usually easily accessible wine, beer, or other alcohol at gatherings. Often, drinking is normalized because we celebrate the season or the end of the year (especially this one). This time of year, there is also excellent potential for others to offer drinks unknowingly or knowingly to people working towards recovery.
In 2020, although in-person gatherings are much smaller, the temptation to drink is still very present. This is also a time when people tend to regress to a more childlike dynamic with their family. Some coping mechanisms from childhood could be to dissociate, take risks, or become combative. All of these can bring down the inhibitions and raise the temptation to drink or use drugs.
With the added factor of family members sharing views that are often emotionally triggering, this can create the perfect storm for relapse. Going into events with this in mind can help to prevent slip-ups and keep you on track towards your goals. Consider if being around or speaking to a specific person is a good idea for you and set boundaries where needed.
Suppose you will be in a potentially triggering situation; set up sober support to call at a particular time to check-in. Also, practicing saying “no” could help people who may offer you drinks. It can also be useful to have a non-alcoholic drink in hand to avoid these conversations. Taking care of yourself and working on recovery skills before these interactions can also make a huge difference!
Plan Your Boundaries
Depending on your household, you could be going into a very challenging holiday season this election year. Consider whether you do not want politics to be brought up at all and whether this is a boundary your family would respect. Having this conversation before the event could help lessen potential unwanted conflict. You may talk about this by saying something like:
“While we’re together, I want to focus on all the things we have in common rather than to get stuck in the places where we disagree.”
“I think it might be best if we save political conversations for behind closed doors, as I know this is an area of potential conflict for us as a family.”
This may not be a possibility depending on your family. Consider these boundary options to ensure that you care for yourself in the holidays instead of disappearing inside yourself or saying things you might regret. Use this boundary checklist as a guide.
1. Find a Teammate
Is there someone at the gathering or on-call which your values align with? Talk to this person to see if you can make a game plan. If you are stuck in an uncomfortable conversation with Uncle Bob, can they pull you away? They could touch your shoulder if they see you getting elevated. Discuss ways you could support each other over the holidays.
2. Consider Who You are Talking To
Some people are in a place to have difficult conversations, and others may start in attack mode. Watch out for people who may be trying to bait you into an argument with a mean or outlandish statement. If the person you are talking to is not receptive or is lost in their opinion, think of ways to shut it down instead of engaging.
3. Create a Phrase
Practice a statement to say to end conversations for situations when you do not want to discuss politics or would like to stop a conversation you are in. Creating a blanket statement that you have said before can help when you feel overwhelmed to get out quickly. If the other person continues the conversation, it is okay to be a broken record. Your phrase might be something like, “I’m not sure this conversation is helpful to our relationship,” or anything that conveys a similar message in a respectful but firm way.
4. Have an Escape Plan
Potentially there could be statements said that are very much against your values. In some situations, you may even feel attacked despite your best efforts. If you have tried to set boundaries and continue to be crossed, have a plan to leave, take a break, or be in a private room.
If you need support with the emotional toll of the holidays this season, Villa Kali Ma is here to help. Reach out today to talk about how we can support you or your loved ones during the holidays and beyond.