Updated: November 6, 2020
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.
When I originally wrote this article, I wrote it from my own partisan view due to some anger, but following the election and some conversations online with those who voted opposite myself, I decided to update this post to reflect a more non-partisan look into our relationships in light of this tense and stressful election.
Because, let’s face it:
Some people do employ divisive tactics, use fallacies, practice emotional invalidation, and spew hatred on both sides of the political spectrum.
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.
We, as Americans, faced a monumental decision. As I update this post, a winner of the election has NOT been called. When it happens, some will like the outcome and others will not.
When considering whether to cut someone out of your life based on how they voted, consider a few things:
- Have you sat down and had a conversation with this person? Or are you cutting them off solely on how they voted?
- Do their views impede on the rights of others?
- After talking with them, have they been able to have an actual discussion with you?
- Do they cite facts?
- Do they employ tactics like gaslighting or red herrings?
And if you’ve recently had someone cut you out of their life, take a close look at these things to get a closer look.
These 4 steps below will attempt to guide you through those questions above and assist you with 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?
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.Embed from Getty Images
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?
Or do this person’s view impede on the rights of others?
Do they try to assert their religious views on others? Do they believe that certain ethnic groups are “faking” their trauma? Do they over-generalize their opinion about the other side or call people “stupid”?
(You may argue that this is not a non-partisan issue, but as a site that is aimed primarily at positivity, health, self-care, acceptance, and love, I cannot condone any opinion that devalues other human lives as not as important as their own.)
If you find that any of these are true, you may have a more difficult time talking to this person.
Go into a conversation with them with this knowledge, but it is absolutely imperative that, before severing a relationship from your life, that you have that conversation with them.
2. Have the Difficult Conversation
Decide How to Talk to Them
For me, I feel most comfortable expressing my thoughts in writing, so I chose to text my family member that I was conflicting with.
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.
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
Please, if you’re going to have a mature conversation with someone, bring real resources with data to support your point of view.
Start with the chart below. Make sure to select items from the green section of the media bias chart (and then share the chart with them as well.)
You’ll notice that there are sources on both the left and right that are fact-based reporting media sources.
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? Mention it.
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 ____?
- What do you think about “__________”?
- What do you say about “______”? (And present them with resources you’ve prepared from above.)
Have resources prepared to counter arguments with logic and increased awareness.
This applies to both sides! You’ll note that in the chart, there are divisive and toxic media sources on BOTH sides.
3. Assess the conversation as it’s happening
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.
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 X to happen, 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 (*insert something personal*) 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.
For me, it was.
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.
Until then, I’ll be leaning on the people in my life who share my values and beliefs.