How to Navigate Political #RealTalk During the Holidays
How to not kill everyone you know the second they bring up something political
It's no secret that this was a heated election-from the debates between the candidates themselves to the debates happening on your Facebook newsfeed, nothing could more quickly polarize people than announcing your political candidate of choice. Many people, exhausted by the longest campaign in history, said they just couldn't wait for the election to finally be over. What many people didn't expect, however, is that once the election was complete, the real shitstorm of fighting would start.
The icing on top of the presidential cake, of course, is the fact that the holiday season is coming up. Translation: You and alllll your relatives are days away from sitting around a big family dinner table pretending everything is OK, even though you know Uncle Tom marked a different bubble on his ballot, and your cousin didn't vote at all. Sure, your family can survive some drama (um, Aunt Martha got way too drunk at Grandma's birthday), but once you add heated political discussions? Stuffing is about to hit the fan.
That's why we created this go-to guide for getting through the holiday season without letting political convos turn into World War III. (And while these tips are especially relevant right now, you can actually use them to get through any downward-spiraling conversation where you feel like you might explode-from "Why are you still single?" to "How's that communications degree working out for you?")
And if this is already too much, pause and take a look at these 25 things that are guaranteed to make everyone happy.
1. Know where your values stand
The thing is, whether serious convos are about religion, politics, or other important life choices, it's never actually about the topic at hand-it's about your personal values.
This starts with acknowledging your emotions; we live in a culture that's so focused on staying positive and forging ahead that many people are out-of-practice when it comes to dealing with negative or difficult emotions, says Susan David, psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of Emotional Agility.
"It's important for people to allow themselves to feel what they're feeling rather than just trying to push through it, and recognize that these emotions are often signals of things that we care about," she says. "They can help us become much more clear about our values, intentions, and how we want to be in the world." (Really-expressing emotions actually makes you healthier overall.)
For example, if you were completely against voting for Clinton due to reports of dishonesty and secrecy, that might mean that you value trust very highly. If you felt strongly about not voting for Trump because of his statements about women or minorities, maybe it's that you value equality and diversity. Seeing your parents, friends, or coworkers vote for the opposite candidate can feel like a personal attack; if they voted for the other person, it feels like they must not have the same values as you.
The antidote: Nail down your values, and be specific. "Research shows that being clear on what you value helps your resilience a lot," says David. "Knowing who you are and what you stand for becomes a compass to guide us in these situations." Having concrete reasons why you feel a certain way helps prevent your emotions from calling the shots.
2. Write it out
Feeling particularly anxious about the election results and what it might mean for your family dinner (or that reunion with old friends, or your work holiday party)? Try writing about it for 20 minutes a day. Studies show that it will help you gain better perspective of your own feelings and the logic behind other people's actions, says David.
"You start to develop the very important capacity to see another perspective, which is very important as human beings to be able to empathize," she says. "Especially since this election was so focused on 'other-ing.' It was us vs. them. So more than anything at this point, taking perspective is so critical." (Here are some other healthy ways to deal with anger.)
3. Do some "If... Then..." planning
You've been around your family for a few decades, so you know how it rolls. You know who's going to push your buttons in specific ways-so prep for exactly that. Spend your flight, drive, or train ride home for the holidays thinking about what types of conversation may arise and how you'd like to react to them.
"You can never control what other people say or do," says David. "But thinking through 'if, then' statements can enable you to be far more prepared, strategic, and connected with yourself in the situation rather than just acting out in ways that will often be unhelpful."
4. Establish boundaries ahead of time
"If you're hosting an event, I think it's totally acceptable for you to say: 'No politics today,' says Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Ph.D., L.C.S.W. "Because of the volatility and the intensity of the election, as a host, I think you have every right to set that ground rule."
But guess what? If you're particularly upset, but planning to shut your mouth and ignore the elephant in the room, it will probably backfire, says David. That's called bottling (holding in or shutting out those negative emotions), and the funny thing is, the one thing you're trying hardest not to acknowledge will probably come boomeranging back around. It's called emotional leaking and it's the emotional equivalent of binge eating an entire pizza at 2 a.m. Friday night because you've been trying so hard to stick to your diet all week.
The Main Event
1. Recognize that it's not necessarily about politics
Instead of going on the defensive, acknowledge what you think the other person is really getting at. "We all think we're being really rational about things, but no one is," says Hanks. "There's so much emotion driving a lot of these intense responses. I like to think that every criticism is an emotional plea... Hear the emotional piece that they're wanting you to hear. Because, really, at our core, we all want the same things: to be respected, heard, valued, understood, we want to know that we matter to someone." Once you can tap into that and acknowledge it, the situation becomes totally diffused, she says. (About to blow? Try these calming, confident steps to calm down when you're about to freak out.)
2. Know when to exit
If someone starts a conversation leading down a road you know will be bumpy, feel free to duck out-just acknowledge their comment first, says Hanks. "No one can engage you in an intense political discussion without your willingness to enter that discussion," she says. "You can be really respectful and validate or hear them and then change the subject."
Because you know what your values are, you can decide when a conversation has gone to a point where you no longer want to be a part of it. "Ask yourself: Where do I draw a line between the kind of conversation I will sit quietly and listen to, versus when I need to leave," says David.
If you start to feel the heat building in your chest or a knot in your throat, it can help to press pause and recognize exactly what is happening. If you can realize that you're feeling angry, hurt, overwhelmed, betrayed, etc., it can help put space between you and that emotion, says David. This keeps you in control, rather than letting the emotion control you. (P.S. science says there's a chance you're just hungry, not actually angry.)
From there, consider how your next action reflects your values and who you want to be as a person. Do you want to be the person who angrily storms out of the room, or the person who calmly comes up with a rebuttal about the value of honesty, diversity, etc.?
Remember: We're all human
"Now that the election is over, this is a chance to focus on the connection and commonality, even if we disagree on the issues or the candidates," says Hanks. In the end, everyone has the same wants, needs, and fears; people are afraid of the future, they want to take care of their families, have good relationships, feel safe, feel respected, validated, and understood.
In the end, the holidays are a time to celebrate and be together-so maybe just stick to talking about cats on the Internet and how amazing the turkey tastes, and save the politics talk for Presidents' Day. (And if you're still fuming, channel your frustration into this anger-management workout.)