Navigating political discussions amongst family members this Thanksgiving
It’s almost inevitable – someone is bound to start talking about politics over Thanksgiving dinner. For some, it’s a stressful conversation, and it can even cause rifts in family relationships.
A Pew Research Center study found more Americans, especially Democrats, find it stressful and frustrating to have political conversations with people they disagree with.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Nicole Issa says it’s become very challenging for people to navigate the differences of opinion in their families, and it can even lead to heartache hearing close family members express wildly opposing views.
She shared some suggestions to make for a stress-free holiday:
- In an ideal world, you could have an open conversation and everyone can share their feelings. Explain your point of view calmly, with an even tone, and with a hope that others may pleasantly surprise you
- Remind yourself that everyone is entitled to their opinion and that just because someone’s opinion differs from yours doesn’t mean they wish you harm or don’t care about you. These are important ways to reframe your reaction to differences of opinion.
- If need be, make a rule to not have further political discussions or make a family agreement not to discuss politics at all
- If there is a conversation that goes awry, gently try to redirect away from it
- Have some other conversation topics in mind that are benign and will keep all occupied
- Say that you would really like to enjoy your family time together and not argue so prompt others to keep that in mind as well
- Count to ten and breathe. Practice mindfulness and count flowers in the wallpaper or rolls in a basket. Focus on the taste of food. Count how many times you are chewing each bite. Count your breath.
- Limit alcohol use and be mindful of its impact on your behavior and thinking. If you have had something to drink, remind yourself that your reaction to whatever your family member is saying may be intensified by the alcohol. Similarly, if you have other stressors in your life right now remind yourself that they may be also intensifying your emotional reactions.
- Physiology directly impacts emotions just as emotions impact physiology, so keep an open posture, unclench your firsts, try not to scowl... all of these things can help minimize anger you might feel and help you remain calm. Body language a major way to communicate your emotions to others. Following the above tips will lead to you communicating to others that you are calm and receptive rather than hostile and defensive
- Rehearse your reaction in advance with a mental exercise. Imagine the worst offender in your family saying the worst things you can imagine about politics. Write down the thoughts you have about that person and assumptions you make about what their views mean about their feelings about you. Work to reframe these thoughts by challenging them with evidence for and against the idea. Does your grandmother wish that your rights would be stripped away? Does she condone discrimination? Ask yourself what evidence aside from some comments that you have for her believing this. What evidence is there that she cares about you and your rights?
- Rehearse yourself counting to ten and keeping an open posture as mentioned. See how that brings the intensity of your emotions down. Doing this will help you understand that you have a say in how intensely you feel your emotions and whether they direct you or you can direct yourself
- Remind yourself that this is just one day to get through and the holidays and such intense family time is temporary
- Above all else, try to have a safe and happy holiday