Holiday Survival Guide: Politics / Therapy in Philadelphia, Ocean City, Mechanicsville & Santa Fe
The holidays are an interesting time. The holidays can bring joy, grief, loneliness, thankfulness, and pretty much every other emotion. For some of us, the holidays also includes spending time with family and friends. While the holidays can be a joyous and fun occasion, the holidays can also make us feel like we fall back to old or unfavorable dynamics. The holidays can also remind us of differences that we may have. Sometimes, the holidays can also feel like conversations with family can get more heated because we feel more comfortable being more blunt with them, or maybe because their beliefs or behaviors hit closer to home. Regardless, spending time with family around the holidays can be difficult, so we’ve created a holiday survival guide to help you get through the holidays.
This holiday survival guide, which was developed by therapists in Philadelphia, Ocean City, Mechanicsville and Santa Fe, and is focused on the politics and what you can do to survive. It can feel like politics comes up often at family gatherings, especially at holidays. This may have been heightened by the midterm elections that occurred only a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, and will likely still be a subject of conversation through the New Year. Therefore, this holiday survival guide is focused on tips on how to survive and deal with political conversations.
Although it is said that politics, religion, money, or sex should never be brought up at the dinner table, they often do. It feels like the topic of politics has gotten supercharged, and the political polarization and the COVID pandemic has brought to light the differences of opinions we may have with friends and family. It also has seemingly made it more difficult for people to find common ground. With many events like the overturning of Roe v. Wade, mass shootings, an economic downturn, and near constant reports of police brutality and racial oppression, discrimination, and violence, it can also feel like politics are that much more personal. It can feel so foreign and unfathomable that people don’t see things the way you do and support things that you may find so fundamental. However, everyone has different opinions and you can’t directly control what your family believes. So, without actively avoiding family that may have different political opinions or having a buzzer on the table to shut down any political conversations, how can you survive the holidays when it comes to discussing politics or other issues that could potentially cause tension at the holiday table? Listed below are specific suggestions as part of your holiday survival guide: politics.
Set up your own boundaries. Decide what you want to discuss and what you feel comfortable with. This is one of the most important guidelines in this holiday survival guide. Your physical and emotional safety comes first and you have the right to decide what is best for yourself. This can include not attending certain events, not traveling in certain ways (like on a plane or with people you know will stress you out), or not speaking to certain people. Do you know that a certain topic or issue hits close to home that family members disagree with or are very rude about it? How about certain topics, attitudes, or behaviors that certain family members exhibit that make you feel emotionally unsafe? Don’t engage with them. For example, do you know that someone is unvaccinated for COVID and works where they interact with crowds a lot and you don’t feel comfortable with that? It’s okay to make that clear and do what you need to protect yourself. We can often feel an obligation to do something, be somewhere, or engage with someone who makes us feel unsafe solely because we are related or have history. However, at the end of the day, you need to do what is right for you and protect yourself emotionally and physically.
Establish boundaries. This is important before and during your time with family and friends. If you know there are certain things you don’t want to talk about or engage in, you can make that clear at the start. Once you set that boundary, people may feel the need to push it. When this happens, you can simply remind them of this boundary. If they try to bring up politics, you can just say “I understand that this is something you may want to discuss, but I want to remind you that I said before that I didn’t want to discuss politics,” over and over until they get the message or say it and then leave the room and say you’ll come back when they are done. Going forward, you can also establish boundaries about things you don’t want to engage in and also ways you don’t want to be treated. Being proactive about this can help mitigate any stress down the road.
Communication. Use “I statements” and come from a place of emotion, while remaining assertive and putting the focus on yourself. This is important when setting boundaries or when in a discussion. Speak from your own experience. This could mean saying something like “I would really like to enjoy this time we have together. I know we disagree on this and we won’t change each other’s opinions, so let’s not address it.” When in a political discussion you can also use this. “I feel really upset that many people are losing jobs and it feels like politicians don’t care about that. This is why I feel or support X. I understand you may feel differently, but that is where I am coming from and that is my priority when voting,” or “I feel passionately that women have the right to decide what happens with their bodies and they shouldn’t be forced to have a baby. I understand you may think differently, but this is how I feel and what I prioritize when voting.” If a relative isn’t respecting your boundaries you can also use this concept. You can say something like “I’m feeling attacked and like my comfort and boundaries aren’t being respected. I can see you feel passionately about this topic, but I am not going to engage in this conversation.”
Explore the roots and differences. Go into a conversation open to hearing other perspectives, curious about why someone may feel that way, and be open to calmly share why you feel the way you do.
- Use fair fighting rules. This is another valuable holiday survival guide principle. You can make this agreement with yourself or set out the rules ahead of time.
Before you begin fighting, ask yourself why you feel upset/angry. Are you upset/angry because a topic is really important to you? Are you upset/angry because you want to have a nice family dinner and this is ruining it? Are you upset/angry because you traveled and made an effort to see family and it is not fun for you? Regardless of the reason, it is important to think about your own feelings and motivations for those feelings.
Try to discuss one topic at a time, and don’t bring other issues you may have with a person into this. Try not to bring in a fight you may have had with a cousin years ago or another disagreement you have had into this. When this happens, it tends to elevate tensions and feel more personal. For example, focus on the issue at hand and don’t say something like “of course you think X, all you do is watch TV and don’t help with the holiday dinner.”
Don’t use degrading language. You may not agree with a family member, but that doesn’t mean you should call them names or use any put-downs. Using this language is an attempt to express negative feelings while making sure the other person feels just as bad. It may also be an attempt to express anger or try to get the other person to change. However, it leads to the person on the receiving end feeling like their character is attacked. Although you may feel like a family member is stupid, ignorant, entitled, or anything else for having an opinion that is different than your own, try to think of them as having different experiences, not being exposed to the same information or people as you, and having different priorities. These things don’t excuse some behavior, but it may be true. Everyone has different experiences and priorities, and not everyone has the same exposure. However, I believe that everyone is able to learn from diverse experiences. And if someone seems unwilling to it is likely because they feel threatened. Again, this does not excuse bad behavior or bigoted views, but it helps to understand where their point of view better.. At the end of the day, using degrading language only reinforces walls and defenses people put up because they feel attacked.
Try to take turns speaking. Don’t speak over each other.
No yelling. Raising your voice will actually make it harder for your message to get through. When people hear yelling, it can cause them to shut down or want to fight back because they feel threatened.
Take a time-out if things get too heated. It is really hard, and maybe even impossible to follow all these rules. However, it is important to realize when things have gotten too heated and when you need to take a break.
Attempt to come to an understanding, even if it is just agreeing not to agree. It is really unlikely that you will change the political opinion of a family member or anyone else. However, it is important to have a fight come to a close. This can be accepting that someone has a different view or opinion and celebrating that we live in a place where everyone can openly share their opinions.
Think about what is in your power to control and what is not. You have the right, and perhaps the responsibility to correct things like racist behavior and comments when you feel safe to do so. You also have the right to express your views and correct inaccurate information. However, it is important to think about the level of stress and energy you put into something and whether it has an impact. Obviously if something is dangerous or someone is in danger, that is one situation, but if you know that a family member won’t change their mind about a topic and you are putting all your energy into fighting it and stressing out over this, it may not be worth it. This can be a sad and frustrating experience. However, put yourself first. This also doesn’t mean that you should sit there and listen to it. You can excuse yourself, you can say “it seems like this is going nowhere and we are not changing each other’s minds, so let’s drop it,” or you can join a different conversation. You don’t have the power to change other people’s thoughts and opinions, you just have control over yourself, how you act, and how you respond.
Practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, then breathe out with your mouth in an “o” shape for a count of 8 while making a “whoosh” sound. Repeat a few times. If those counts feel too long, you can cut it in half. Even if you implement all the other holiday survival guide tips, you may still have times when you feel activated. Breathing exercises will help to ground and calm you down. It is also something that you can do at any point or place in time relatively unnoticed.
Ride the wave. Emotions come and go. They intensify and weaken. Identify when a feeling may be arising. Allow yourself to feel this feeling and know that you don’t have to act on a feeling. It is just a feeling. Acknowledge that the feeling will rise, intensify to a peak, and then it will go down. Observe the feeling. Maybe explore where it is coming from and how it appears in your body. And again, acknowledge that it is just a feeling and you don’t have to act on the feeling. The feeling is a passenger in your car, it is not the one in the driver’s seat.
The holidays can be a tough time for everyone. They can come with a flood of different and sometimes conflicting emotions. Often, we can be harshest on people who are closest to us or our family because we feel secure and attached in those relationships. I hope this holiday survival guide: politics was helpful. However, if you are struggling with anything the holidays or family may bring up, therapy may be a good option for you. The Center for Growth is here to help. Schedule an appointment with one of the skilled Center for Growth therapists. You can self schedule an in-person or virtual therapy session or by calling the Center for Growth at (215) 922-5683 x 100.
Holiday Survival Guide: Politics : Therapy in Philadelphia, Ocean City, Santa Fe, Mechanicsville
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