Losing Family Over Politics…. Is It Worth It?
This has been one of the most strained seasons of life I have ever experienced in my 35 years. Tensions are already high with the ongoing pandemic, Black Lives Matter, riots, protests… now the election.
Politics in the age of Trump have certainly changed, and the USA is more polarized and extreme than ever.
If you’re like me, you may be struggling with family members that you love and care about who are voting for Trump and you might be questioning if they’re still the good people you once thought. You might be swimming in doubt and confusion. I am. You have my deepest sympathy. I send you all the strength I can.
I recently severed all contact with some family members over politics, although it was much more complicated than just who is voting for who. I do not expect it to last forever, however, it’s a huge chasm in already strained relationships.
Losing family over politics is never easy. It can be painful, and you might be wondering if it’s worth it.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE.
These 4 steps will attempt to guide you through your own rocky relationship and help you decide if it’s worth it to lose family members over politics in the 2020 election season.
1. Are the differences with your family just normal politics? Or are they more?
When my parents were in town a few weeks ago, my mother and I briefly discussed politics, opting to just touch outside of the real issues. My mom stated she didn’t think politics should come between family members.
And I still do…. to an extent.
We, as Americans, face a monumental decision in less than a month.
Normal political differences include should we put more money into education, military, or universal health care? Should allow companies to exclude health care based on their own religious affiliations?
Normal political differences do NOT include topics like:
- Should black people and gay people have the same rights as straight, white Christians?
- Is is okay to let a President do whatever he wants without checks and balances?
- Should the church have a say in our constitution?
- Should a President benefit financially from his position?
(Trump wave/salutes after gassing innocent people for a photo op outside St. John’s Episcopal Church)
I wrote this on my facebook page a week ago:
This election is not about Republicans versus Democrats. People are allowed to have a different opinion than me.
But if you think I’m okay with people I know and love voting for a narcissistic, racist, sexist lunatic, you’re wrong. I’m not okay with that.
And if there ever comes a time when a liberal president is acting the way Trump has been the last 4 years, I would happily vote for a George Bush, a Mitt Romney, or a John McCain. Because those were/are good decent men who happened to have different opinions than me who wanted to serve their country, not themselves.
That’s why this election is about decency, respect, and humanity over greed, hatred, and selfishness.
There is only one path forward.
The facebook post was plagued with anger and negativity that I try to keep out of this site, which is aimed primarily at positivity, health, self-care, acceptance, and love.
But there comes a point when we can no longer stand by while our country and family members get swept up in the lure of fascism. Making a stand is essential to our own mental health, our empowerment, and our futures.
A few weeks ago, I realized that this election had passed the point of “normal politics” and I knew that to remain silent would be to give power to the bully. I was willing to put myself out there and potentially lose family over politics.
I needed to step up and SAY SOMETHING to these family members.
2: SAY SOMETHING.
Once you decide if you share the opinion that this election season has passed the point of no return for “normal politics”, and perhaps even if you think it’s just normal politics, you will probably want to talk to your family members over politics and differences.
Decide How to Talk to Them
For me, I feel most comfortable expressing my thoughts in writing, so I chose to text her.
You might want to:
- speak face to face
This is up to you.
Your choice may be influenced by the kind of response you think you will receive. I knew there could be serious backlash, because people in America get extremely defensive when talking about politics. In fact, many people are taught that it’s not “polite” to ask people their political affiliation.
Knowing what the repercussions could be, I prepared a huge, written confrontation to my family members.
Prep What You’re Going to Say to Your Family
Step 1: Appeal to this person’s priorities.
You know this person. What are their priorities in life? What are their political priorities?
One of my family members is a nurse and takes care of others for a living.
I attempted to appeal to her nurturing side. I talked about a few of Trump’s faults, his insulting, his sexism.
Step 2: Use resources to show your point of view
I turned to some articles about other republicans who are not voting for Trump. Here are a few resources for you, in case you’d like to use them as well.
- All the Republicans Who Won’t Support Trump
The Election Is a Test of Faith. White Christian Voters Should Ask Themselves a Familiar Question: What Would Jesus Do?
- I’m Billy Graham’s granddaughter. Evangelical support for Donald Trump insults his legacy. (By supporting Donald Trump, evangelical leaders are failing us and failing the Gospel. Christian women must step up where our church leaders won’t.)
- We Are Evangelical Christians Not Voting for Donald Trump This Time
Make sure to select items from the green section of the media bias chart (and then share the chart with them as well.)
Step 3: Make them feel listened to
When writing or preparing a speech as a confrontation to someone’s opinion, it’s easy to talk ONLY about what you want to talk about.
But has this family member expressed worry about a particular issue?
Is there something about this person’s opinion that you happen to understand and maybe even agree with?
Mention it. Make them feel listened to.
Step 4: Ask them questions
Ask this family member direct questions about things like:
- What are your reasons for voting for Trump?
- What are your reasons for disliking Biden?
- What do you think about “__________”?
- (For example, you could ask “What do you think about Trump ‘grabbing them by the pussy?'”)
Have resources prepared to counter arguments with logic and increased awareness.
3. Is this conversation (and other conversations you have) healthy, or toxic?
Here’s where things can get a little more interesting.
If this family member is able to hold an honest and healthy discussion with you, then that’s a huge first step! When you can sit down and discuss politics in a healthy manner, even if you disagree, you might be more likely to continue a relationship with them, even if you’re questioning their morals.
But if the conversation is not healthy, and may be bordering on toxic, losing that relationship over politics might be more likely.
Be aware of psychological tactics
When you speak to this person, do you feel that they are listening to your opinions, or are they just waiting to respond?
When having conversations with this family member, are they employing divisive tactics?
Are they answering your questions, or avoiding the answer?
Are they employing emotionally manipulative techniques like gaslighting?
If you say that you’re scared for Trump to be re-elected and explain why, they might say something like, “You’re just trying to emotionally manipulate me!”
This is called emotional invalidation.
Are they blaming you for other things unrelated to the political discussion you’re trying to have? “Maybe you should be more considerate about X before you try talking to me about politics.”
This is called a red herring fallacy.
Here are some other logical fallacies you should be aware of before confronting a family member about politics.
All of these things are examples of poor emotional regulation, poor coping skills, and divisive techniques that are meant to hide the truth from you and confuse you.
This family member is likely a victim of trauma and emotional abuse, and they may not be able to have a true conversation with you until they face up to their own trauma.
THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT, and YOU CANNOT HEAL THEIR TRAUMA.
(They must heal themselves.)
Look at other conversations with that person. Do they do similar things when discussing other subjects?
If they do, you might feel as if you have no choice but to lose this family member from your life over politics. It may just be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
4. Make a plan going forward
This idea of losing family over politics isn’t just two points (a relationship or NO relationship at all). It’s an entire spectrum that you get to decide where that person should fall.
It could mean only seeing them for holidays. It could mean immediately ending a conversation in which you feel invalidated or judged.
Here is one fantastic tip from Psych Central to decide what kind of boundaries you need to set with that person:
Gionta has observed two key feelings in others that are red flags or cues that we’re letting go of our boundaries: discomfort and resentment. …. Gionta suggested asking yourself, what is causing that? What is it about this interaction, or the person’s expectation that is bothering me?
Resentment usually “comes from being taken advantage of or not appreciated.” It’s often a sign that we’re pushing ourselves either beyond our own limits because we feel guilty (and want to be a good daughter or wife, for instance), or someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values on us, she said.
“When someone acts in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s a cue to us they may be violating or crossing a boundary,” Gionta said.
And it makes absolute sense that questioning a person’s morals could make you feel uncomfortable.
When you create a boundary with this person, think about using “I statements”.
“I feel ____ when _____ because ____________________________.
What I need is ___________________________.”
Once you set that boundary, stick to it!
Losing family over politics doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Consider all options before cutting that person out of your life, especially if you love and care about them.
For me, I felt the healthiest thing for myself was cutting off contact with my family members for the time being, at least until the election is over.
They always knew that my views were different from theirs. However, I am, for the first time in 35 years, standing up for my views by challenging theirs.
I did not feel listened to, and so the best thing for myself was to let them know their behavior and morals were not okay to me by stopping communication with them.
They’re likely upset, and they likely don’t understand. But when I confronted them, I gave them all the information they needed to understand my point of view… it’s now in their hands to open their minds and attempt to understand.
You may reach a completely different conclusion than me, and that’s okay.
Do what’s healthiest for you in your relationships with your family.
But in case you need to hear it:
You deserve to be heard.
You deserve to have people that will support you.
You deserve to have people in your life that you can count on as moral, decent people.
You do not need to justify what you feel is healthiest for you to anyone.
If losing family over politics is the healthiest thing for you right now based on the need for boundaries, then that is okay.
I imagine that things will change drastically after the election is over. So consider revisiting these boundaries after the collective tension has been relieved.
I’m hopeful that Biden will be elected and that America’s infatuation with Trump will fade.
Until then, I’ll be leaning on the people in my life who share my values and beliefs.
And you bet your ass I’m getting out there to vote.