It’s no secret that America and the world are in a state of political chaos, seemingly more so as of late. On the heels of a particularly vicious political cycle, you may be experiencing the same burnout or looming anxiety or depression that many people have personally expressed to me. And you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed, alone, and anxious. Politics has become an almost inescapable element to daily life, and with it comes interpersonal conflict. Thanks to social media, we know exactly who disagrees with us and exactly how passionately they disagree. We are feeling alienated and sometimes even attacked by friends, family members, and strangers alike. We also feel drawn towards those who agree with us, and the dichotomy of “us versus them” occurs. The following are some ideas and resources for coping with this sudden and distressing phenomenon.
Evaluate your use of social media.
As stated above, much of the conflict, polarization, and alienation take place virtually. Whether you are actively posting articles and opinions and commenting on others’, or just passively scrolling through and witnessing the strife second-hand, social media can begin to feel very unsafe and volatile. And it is, to a certain extent. Even if your Facebook friends are people you know in real life, it becomes very easy to forget their humanity and judge them based solely on whether or not they agree with you. If these social media discussions took place in real life, both parties would likely realize that they are not as opposite as they seem, and compromises might be possible. However, social media arguments usually only serve to further the divide between people, because without the nuances of face-to-face discussion it is so easy to make assumptions and read hostility and negative connotations into what may be intended as harmless. If you are experiencing anxiety, isolation, or anger as a result of any of these things, I would suggest that you withdraw from social media for a time and see how it affects the way you feel.
Talk to people you disagree with.
Because of the influence of social media, it can seem daunting or even dangerous to have a discussion with someone who disagrees with you. However, if you are able to listen to someone from the “other side” and start to really see and understand where they’re coming from, that dichotomy of “us versus them” slowly begins to fade. Now, a discussion like this must be prefaced with some agreement that both parties will listen to understand rather than to respond, and speak to inform rather than to convince. With these parameters in place, you could express how you see a certain issue without feeling the need to defend or attack. You would also give yourself an opportunity to get to know someone better, and learn that you can disagree with someone well, and still be friends.
Give yourself permission to exit conversations that aren’t productive.
This may seem contrary to the previous point, but the important distinction here is that this applies to conversations that don’t have the parameters stated above. This could look like a family member ranting about the rightness of their views and the wrongness of the other side, a friend confronting you about views you have that they see as wrong, or anything in between. Basically, any situation in which you are feeling attacked (whether actively or passively) and know that there is nothing you could say or add that would help deescalate or help anyone understand anyone else. At these moments, it is okay to gracefully excuse yourself. You may say something direct like “Can we change the subject?” or “I don’t want to fight with you, so I think it’s best we stop here,” but you may also simply leave quietly or give an excuse like needing to go elsewhere. Although they may not see it, you are actually taking steps to protect your relationship with the person as well as protecting yourself.
Turn opinions to actions!
All this talking and arguing can sometimes end in feeling powerless/hopeless. You are confronted with the weight of the world and its problems and have no idea what you can do to make anything better. The best way is to start small, picking one issue that you are passionate about and acting on it! Find an organization that advocates or serves in that area, and get involved! Serve the people you are passionate about! Write letters or make calls to lawmakers sharing your viewpoint and asking them to act where you want them to act! These things may feel small and insignificant but they DO make a difference. And whether or not someone else agrees with you becomes unimportant because you are acting on what you believe and no one can keep you from doing that! The best way to fight negativity is by being active in positivity and in contributing to the world!
Laura Lanier is an LPC Intern under supervision by Christy Graham, LPCS. Her work focuses on adolescents and adults. She has discounts for college students and a flexible schedule. Call her for an appointment. 940-222-8703 ext 705. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.