Why is it so emotional to argue about politics?
Politics represents our personal beliefs, morals, and ideals—which means we tend to view our ideologies as part of our identity.
When political views are challenged, areas of the brain associated with personal identity, threat response, and emotion become active. This can make people feel like the core of who they are as an individual is being attacked.
Issues and policies are often associated with the people who represent them. This means we don’t always “fight” fairly.
Politics is often conflated with those who are political leaders. So, you end up with circular arguments where no one can 'win' because you're no longer talking about actual policy.
In other words, we tend not to discuss ideas because we can’t see the figureheads proposing or implementing the policy—which means we tend to associate negatively with the policy if we don’t like the people behind it. The same goes for policies/issues.
That's where this back and forth, it becomes an attack on the other person - people can walk away with hurt feelings, feeling misunderstood, feeling attacked.
Partisanship makes us feel like we have to defend "our team"
Partisanship has been growing for some time. The Pew Research Center study found that Americans have had intense conflicts between political parties since 2012, with the controversy becoming more intense in the past two presidential election years.
Additionally, another study last year found that 35% of Republicans and 45% of Democrats said they would be disappointed if their children married someone of the opposite party—a percentage higher than any other in 1960. Both sides only have 4%.
Moreover, the current situation is particularly tense. In the face of hot-button issues such as Black Lives Matter, the politicization of the pandemic, and the upcoming election, we are more likely to stick with our “team.”
Politics does have the potential to create this "in-group" and "out-group" situation. Either you are on this side or you are on the opposite side, there is no in between. When we do this, when we see them as outsiders or not part of our 'in-group', then it's easy to dehumanize people.
When you start to believe that they know the “truth”—the only truth—it becomes harder to develop the empathy necessary for us to be good listeners and consider other people’s perspectives.
Politics can become more emotional when family members disagree
We think families should always get along – but that’s not reality.
Family is just like everyone else you meet. They just happen to have some common DNA. Otherwise, they are as unique as meeting a stranger on the street.
This means that sometimes family members disagree. In fact, it's normal to disagree, especially with your parents. This disagreement is just part of the changing parent-child dynamic as you grow up.
For a long time, the direction of learning has been top-down. Parents are one of the major influences on how you view the world and how you formulate arguments. But by adulthood, you start to question some of it and form your own thoughts and ideas around things, especially when you're in a kind of critical thinking position.
This critical thinking stance can come from higher education, but it can also come from other life events and experiences, social media, or even the news. These situations can make you question your beliefs and where they come from—sometimes, forming new perspectives that are different from the rest of your family.
This is a natural progression in your 20s and even 30s. This can be a challenge for both children and parents.
If your children don't subscribe to the ideals you instill in them, it may be internalized, making the parents feel like they're not 'doing a good job' in raising their children, or making them feel like they're a failure as a parent,'
Never be able to discuss politics with families who disagree with us?
of course not
We can and should have these conversations with those who disagree with us, especially given how divided our country has become.
But we need to have these conversations with an open mind, empathy, and effective communication.
If political debate can be conducted in a respectful manner and both sides can agree to disagree, it can have a healthy impact on mental health.
But if we just argue and stop having two-way conversations, it can do a lot of damage to our relationships and even our mental health.
Repeated conflict can make all parties feel like their thoughts, ideas, and opinions are invalid. It can lead to lowered self-esteem and ultimately affect family dynamics.
Ideological arguments within the family can lead to depression, anxiety, and self-doubt.
So, how do we have these conversations in a healthy way?
Think about your goal for the conversation—and know that you won’t change someone. If your goal is to change their mind, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Party affiliation makes us more likely to reject or criticize information that contradicts our beliefs, so you're less likely to change someone's mind, especially if the person you're talking to considers themselves highly political.
If your goal is to gain insight into why they see things differently than you do, then this opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, you can ask open-ended questions, you can really verify what they will even if you disagree with the content Share it with you.
This means conversations can be less defensive and therefore less likely to go off track.
Start the conversation with what you agree with
By discussing common points of view, areas of disagreement will feel less heated and stress may be reduced.
One way to avoid appearing aggressive is to avoid using "you" statements such as "you just don't understand," as they can put people on the defensive.
This is much less effective than me saying something like, "I really feel like we can't hear each other right now."
Using "I" statements will help you communicate in a healthier way, even if someone says something inappropriate or offensive to you.
For that matter, don't be abusive either.
Name-calling is not as effective as letting them know that what they said or did was inappropriate or offensive to you.
Try to stay calm when you feel like things are going off the rails If you find yourself reacting quickly during heated conversations, it might be beneficial for you to take a step back and remind yourself to stay calm.
When you find yourself getting emotional, try taking a deep breath or politely changing the subject of the conversation. Everyone has a responsibility to control their emotions, and being aware of them will help reduce tensions with others.
Preparing how you are likely to react before a conversation or family gathering may increase self-awareness and may give you more options if you want to defuse a tense situation.
In fact, listen more to what the other party has to say
We may disagree with someone, but instead of reacting strongly, we actively listen to the other person about what is important to them.
Listening can help you understand what the other person is thinking, even if you feel differently.
It’s about trying to connect with the emotions behind people’s ideologies.
For example, do they feel this way because they are afraid? sad? Being empathetic to their emotions can help maintain relationships.
Setting clear boundaries is the most important thing any family can do to keep the peace when there are opposing views.
Limiting the length of a conversation, listing prohibited words/phrases, or ending a conversation by acknowledging something positive about the person in the conversation are some examples of how to enforce boundaries.
Make time for self-reflection after an argument
If you find yourself in a pattern where you never resolve your differences, you may end up feeling rejected and alone.
So if you find yourself in frequent arguments, it might be helpful to do some self-reflection.
Journaling can help with this, and so can therapy. Both can help you discover your own patterns and perhaps help you identify areas you want to change.
take a break
Try to take a break from these political conversations and also take a break from all the stress in your life.
While it's really important to stay informed right now, you have to step away from your devices, you have to step away from the news, you have to step away from social media.
But sometimes, arguments about politics can be harmful or emotionally abusive—which doesn't serve either of you
You can do all the right things to be an effective communicator, but that doesn't mean you'll always be able to keep the peace. You both must want peace.
There is no obligation on anyone to continue a relationship with 'isms' towards you, whether they are racist, sexist or anything else. There is no reason why anyone should have to stay in this relationship.
If the relationship is so toxic that it's starting to interfere with your mental health, then you don't need to stay in the relationship.
If the relationship starts to seriously interfere with your functioning in any way—for example, you don't feel well physically, you can't sleep or eat, you no longer feel like you can work or go to school, or you withdraw from other people—then these are red flags , a sign that this person is not serving you in your life.
Of course, a break from someone doesn't have to be permanent or final.
Part of their role in relationships is to come and go.
If we think back on our lives, we will find that there are many people we knew that we no longer know. Sometimes people come back into our lives when they are in a better state.
If you do need to take a break, remember that it's okay to grieve the relationship
Allow yourself to feel your feelings without judging yourself.
Even if someone is really toxic and they're gone, they weren't a 'completely bad' person. Be very gentle with yourself and don't judge yourself based on how you feel.
It's important to remember that politics is inherently personal, and when someone criticizes your beliefs, you may feel like they are criticizing you and your entire identity, making these conversations emotional in nature.
While it’s worthwhile to hear perspectives that are different from our own—it makes us all more informed—it’s also important to remember that we must approach these conversations with empathy and understanding.
If both of you can't do that, maybe it's best for both of you not to talk politics -- or in the worst case scenario -- not to have a relationship.