Hi Dr. B,
This problem is very personal (and confidential) and I hope you will be able to offer some guidance.
Here’s the issue: I have a good friend who doesn’t like who I supported in the election. That, in and of itself, isn’t a problem. I embrace differing opinions. However, she says horrible things on Facebook about people who didn’t vote for her candidate. So far, I have been ignoring it because I don’t want to cause a rift between us and I’m trying to take the high road. But, I must admit, the anger and bitter words have taken me by surprise and the daily onslaught of insults is wearing me down. It’s been very painful. I try to separate the person from the hateful words and just move forward.
Any advice on how to handle this?
~ Caught in the Election Fallout
Dear Caught in the Election Fallout,
Thanks so much for writing and for presenting this issue. It's pretty common, unfortunately. This election was very emotional on a lot of levels for a lot of people and it's straining relationships long term. In this case, this conflict is pretty common, unfortunately. This election was very emotional on a lot of levels for a lot of people and it's straining relationships long term.
I can feel your exhaustion and hurt coming through your note and I hope my response softens your experience a bit. When someone you love is hurting you it’s hard to move through and past that. In any conflict, I always recommend starting with some self-care, validating your own experience so that you can feel some compassion. The election is over and you want to move forward, with your friend. You’re feeling attacked by her and that feels crappy, to say the least.
In order to attempt to solve this dilemma, let’s start looking at this from her point of view.
This election was particularly divisive for a lot of reasons and has left a residue of emotion in its wake. Unlike a sports team win, which is typically only celebrated temporarily, the winning and losing sides of this election will live through it for four years. When you’re feeling passionately either for or against a certain candidate, it’s very difficult to let go of those emotions, especially if that person wins and will have some influence over your life in the coming years. Your friend is most likely stuck in that space.
One of the things I reflected on after this election was that most voters were motivated by fear. Fear of their rights being compromised, fear of their resources being diminished, fear of their livelihood being threatened, fear of their way of life being changed. When you are motivated by fear and then all of those things appear to be truly threatened because the person who you were fearful of (their policies and/or their person) is now in a position of power to make those things a reality.
That’s a very scary place to be.
When animals are scared, they are inclined to lash out. Fear does that to the nervous system, pushing a reaction in equal measure. Your friend is fearful and is lashing out. I know the attacks seem personal, and perhaps they are in some form. She may feel deceived by those she trusted to protect her against these things she fears. Now she’s turning that fear into its sister emotion: Anger. Anger can be immensely useful in pushing us to respond to a situation in a passionate manner. It can also blind us to the damage that we may be causing in that pursuit.
Our nation is divided on so many levels in so many ways. We can do small and large things to affect the journey that awaits. For many of us, the healing is going to have to take place within our own little corners of the world first.
How can you facilitate the healing? Reach out to your friend, not via text or email: in person, the old-fashioned way. Tell her you care about her and value her friendship and you can see that she’s angry. Hear her out. Probe for the pain that she’s feeling. Anger comes from fear and pain, remember? Find out how to help her channel her fears into something useful, something that she feels like she can control.
I honestly don’t know if your friendship can survive this election as it’s taken many casualties the world over already. But if it has any chance of persisting, compassion will need to be the foundation.
Offer some and maybe, just maybe, you’ll experience a shift.