How To Survive Holidays With Family Holding Opposite Political Views

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man and woman toasting at holidays
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A friend of mine, Zoe, called last night, devastated. Her son and daughter-in-law had just left, and she didn’t know if she’d ever speak to them again because of the disagreement in politics.

Zoe and her husband, Oleg, are passionate supporters of one political party and have their candidate’s banner proudly displayed on their front lawn. Their son, Chris, hates this guy’s guts.

The conflict at dinner over whose party is the “right” party resulted in the slamming of doors followed by the slamming of brakes.

As Zoe was telling me about how one word tripped over another, leading to the ultimate catastrophic explosion and a nasty fight, her pain was palpable.

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Beneath the politics lay the soul of a mother, vulnerable to the harsh treatment by her own son.

“She’s out of her mind!” her son may say. “A relic of an older generation; an illiterate foreigner whose views are irrelevant and obsolete.”

Maybe. But my question is: How does he know she's wrong and he's right?

Who's right and who's wrong?

I remember, years ago, when I attended a self-improvement workshop and the teacher held a cup up in front of us. He kept asking what we saw written on the cup.

To us, there was nothing — just a plain, ceramic mug. He kept on insisting that there was a phrase written on it in bright red letters.

It seemed crazy, as none of us saw what he saw. Finally, he turned the side of the cup facing him toward us.

“Your opinion is not my reality,” it read.

At that moment, something in my mind clicked. Each of us has a right to think our own thoughts and form our own views, and those views become the lens of perception through which we experience life.

So then why, when we see things differently, do we get nasty with the people closest to us — our family and dear friends?

Our right to our own opinion is key.

Could it be that the real fight is not over politics, but over our right to have an opinion and politics is just a symptom of deep and unresolved childhood issues?

For some people, as kids, no one really cared about what you had to say or what was important to them. Maybe grown-ups rarely listened or took you seriously. For the most part, you were told to keep quiet and do what you were told, or you would face the consequences.

This type of authoritarian parenting — where a child feels out of control and disrespected — is very disempowering, and in time, leads to a feeling of unworthiness.

Years later, as adults, this inner-insecurity you’ve harbored for years can suddenly erupt, and in your arguing with one another, what you're actually screaming is: “Listen to me! I'm worthy and important, and my opinion matters!”

We seek validation and self-worth through boasting our opinions.

No matter what the subject, you're justifying your painful need to be right or feel validated and worthy.

But what if you don’t need to do that? What if worthiness is your birthright, your innate state, constant and unconditional?

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Give yourself unconditional love.

It sucks that perhaps your parents couldn’t always see you this way, but how could they? Chances are that no one saw them this way, either.

But you can now, in this moment, accept yourself as messed-up, conflicted-yet-worthy human, and give yourself what you were deprived of in childhood: unconditional love and approval.

Geez, that sounds cheesy, and I hate cheesy. And yet, according to many wise spiritual gurus, it’s true.

I believe that you really can give yourself the approval you may have been denied as a child, and that in your heart, you can feel the harmonious resonance with this truth.

Judment and defense. 

Last weekend, my family went to the mountains for a weekend gateway, and my parents went with us.

During a festive Friday night dinner, politics came up, and after several glasses of wine, my dad launched into a passionate discussion of taxes, immigration, and global warming with my husband.

Sipping bold and strong Merlot, I listened. My brain frantically shuffling the topics into two piles: "agree" and "disagree."

Being in nature, deep in the woods, and stupefied by grilled cheese, mashed potatoes, and fish, topped off by a significant amount of lime pie and wine, somehow my defensiveness was diffused.

Looking at my dad, I found myself judging his views, without having an unbearable need to defend my own.

Somehow, my inner cry for worthiness was soothed, and as a result, I simply experienced my dad sharing his opinion. That was a first, and it felt liberating.

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Empower yourself before getting into heated family political debates this holiday season.

So, here is what I realized and would like to recommend before you gather around (six feet apart for social distancing) your holiday dinners and gatherings: Empower yourself with these thoughts.

"I don’t have to agree with my family and friends in order to feel worthy and validated: I already am."

"I'm allowed and permitted to express my views and preferences without the need for people’s approval: As an adult, I approve of myself."

"It’s OK to have different political views in a family, and to exchange opinions without agreeing with one another: We all have the freedom and right to choose what we believe."

"It’s OK not to discuss 'hot' topics: I can steer the conversation to talk about pets, gardening, cars, and travel. Or I can leave the room and do something else. As an adult, I am in control and have options; I am never stuck in an unwanted situation."

Remember what's truly important to you this holiday season.

So often, in our pursuit of personal righteousness, we lose sight of what is fundamentally important to us — our family and close friends.

And yet, it’s never too late to mend what once was smashed by wounded egos and start anew. When you know better, you’ve got to do better.

Besides, how can you demonstrate tolerance in the world without practicing tolerance in your own family?

So, here comes another cheesy truth: What’s in the one is in the whole. 

This means that if you want to resolve the conflicts in the world you're quarreling so passionately about, you’ve got to start with creating peace in your own hearts and lives, and practicing respect and acceptance for the people closest to us.

This does not mean that if someone is attacking you, you have to put up with it. Politics and morals are two entirely different arguments.

As Mother Theresa said: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” And this holiday season, like no other, is the perfect time to practice the love which is us.

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Katherine Agranovich, Ph.D., is a medical hypnotherapist, holistic consultant, and author of Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family. As the founder of the Achieve Health Center, she helps people attain mental-emotional alignment and close the gap between where they are and where they want to be.