How do we sit with the aftermath (and for some, the grief) of knowing some of our friends and family members voted/think/believe differently than us? This question keeps popping up in groups on social media, and I thought it was worth addressing from the point of view of a couples therapist and healer.
My work tends to focus on helping couples and families learn how to still connect and get along when they don’t see eye to eye on key values and issues that are important to them. Often, when a value system difference is being kicked up it leads to deadlock. Neither give in, nor do they need to, and neither step back to understand the other. They start over explaining, attacking, and then stonewalling…sounds familiar, right? It’s what we are seeing happening in the comment sections of social media, blogs, and major news focused websites.
Let’s talk about perspective first:
We argue our thoughts and beliefs from our perspectives or our “truths,” as I explain it to couples. It makes total sense why we do this, but it also causes a lot of issues. I can’t see your perspective fully because I am not you. I didn’t grow up like you did with the same baggage of challenges and strengths, belief systems, and mindset. Nor will I ever fully get it even if you tell me your life story. You didn’t grow up like I did, so we are left at a standstill, like the picture above. Now as a counselor, I would say when we show empathy and step outside of ourselves to see why another may see life from a different perspective we take one step closer to understanding them better. Real talk, though, this isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to hot button topics!
How do I interact with you, then, if you see the world so differently from me? By fully embodying and understanding what it means to respect. I respect that you have a different perspective based on your history and background that I will never get and vice versa. Your truth is your truth and trying to change it so you see my truth is me focusing on being right versus effective in my communication. I hear you: “How can I respect someone who thinks _____ is ok?!?” This is a tough conundrum. How can they show you respect when they think how you think or what you believe is wrong? Again, it goes back to respecting that they are allowed to choose and think differently from you because of their perspective. This is a battle you have to decide, though, if it’s worth it to fight in yourself.
Holiday dinners around the world are awkward because of this. Respect is so easily demanded but not so often given.
Second thing to think about:
The second area to address is what you believe the purpose of people is here on earth. Yep, I am addressing a religious, spiritual, and moral topic here (not something you would normally read from a counselor), but it needs to be talked about. The view point of why we are all here drives so much of why we react to other’s decisions the way that we do. It leads us to feel disappointment when we don’t see them living up to our standards or beliefs on how they “should” be living their lives.
Do you believe everyone was put on this earth to create and do good things? How do you even define “good”? Could people have agreed to be here on earth to create challenges that others needed to overcome? Is there only one “perfect” or “right” way to live and all other ways keep us from living our purpose?
Huge existential questions that we all need to reflect on at some point, but here is the reason why it’s important right now: This adds to our perspective of “how dare they!” when it comes to how a person votes/thinks/believes. It adds to our emotional reactivity. “You are not living the same I believe you should which makes me uncomfortable!”
Here’s my personal perspective on this topic (and remember what I said in the first section, this is from my own background and belief system so you are allowed to disagree):
I love and respect people as being created and put on this earth for a purpose, understanding that not everyone’s purpose is to build. There are those here to destroy as well. This isn’t a purely religious view, though you see this throughout religious texts, but more spiritual in nature. We are not all here to do “good” things in the eyes of everyone but to create change and growth. This means we will make choices and support people that others will not understand. Change rarely occurs without a negative catalyst. People have to be behind that negative catalyst many times for others to step up and create the change.
I can grieve that these people I care about would vote against so many rights that seem obvious to me to support, but I also know that there are rights they are afraid to lose because of the party I support. I respect this difference, though, I don’t fully understand it. I choose not to ridicule them for it.
My perspective is also that I am not here to help and change everyone. In fact, I don’t go into conversations with this mentality at all. I want to learn and understand. I don’t take personal offense too often when attacked for my point of view. It has taken me a long time to get here though!
After 12 years of working with people, I have come to realize we are all wounded in our own way and react from this place when upset. It doesn’t make it ok what they say or do when they try to tear me down, but I don’t take it so personally because of my perspective. I have been witness to people saying horrible things to each other in my sessions. Later, they realize they were hurting so much or so scared because of past trauma and issues that they didn’t know how to respond differently.
You witness this enough and you start to learn most reactions that are extreme are not really about you!
I have seen two sides stop focusing on what is important: healing. Part of healing is love and boundaries. Maybe you create some distance between you and the person/people you disagree with, but you still treat them with love and respect because they are here for a purpose too. Make a mutual decision not to talk about certain topics if it’s easier for both of you, but if one of you feels that they must address the elephant in the room, request respect. It’s not your job to change everyone’s mind on a particular issue, and that needs to be agreed upon by both of you.
My dad and I once got into a major discussion years ago about a political topic that was very important to both of us, but we looked at it from different perspectives. My father was eventually able to say “I know that you see this from your experiences, but I see my perspective from mine.” HUGE! We really differ in our thoughts and beliefs on many topics, so the fact that we could come to the point to say neither of us can convince the other of something different was big. He and I realized, like the pictures above, our stance on the subject was truth to each of us though different for the other.
What about those family members or friends who don’t respect the boundaries you put in place? Or what about when you find yourself struggling to follow through with the boundaries you once agreed to?
There are different types of boundaries: physical and emotional/mental. It may be that you start with the “Let’s agree not to talk about this subject together” (emotional/mental boundary) but then move into a physical boundary when the agreement cannot be met. You then decrease interactions with them for a period of time to let the dust settle and both of you get a more clear perspective on what is going on. Some people, however, are not healthy enough to think clearly later on, so you can decide to cut off all communication if need be. I just encourage you to make sure that the cut off isn’t an emotional response but a clear emotional AND logical response to the situation. (A balance of both emotions and logic are important in these types of situations.)
So how do we grieve and cope with the people in our lives that don’t value what we value?
My challenge to you is to not push them away like others are. Don’t ridicule them. Check in on them with care. Maybe they are worried or scared of what will be next. They may lash out in anger or aggression. They may say things that attack you directly. Scared and disappointed people do this, even to the people they love. What we all need is empathy and respect right now to promote healing…no matter what your truth is.