Self-help

Holiday Survival Guide: For the Person With the Political Extremist Family

If you have a political extremist family whose views differ from yours, then you know just how heated family gatherings can get. You may face awkward, uncomfortable challenges during the holidays as you attend get-togethers with people who have intense ideological differences. The holiday season should be a time for family unity, but of course, […]

jocelyn moyet grow therapy By Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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If you have a political extremist family whose views differ from yours, then you know just how heated family gatherings can get. You may face awkward, uncomfortable challenges during the holidays as you attend get-togethers with people who have intense ideological differences.

The holiday season should be a time for family unity, but of course, this isn’t always the case when extremist relatives are involved. Tension may build due to heated discussions, conflicting views, and the polarized nature of today’s politics. You might feel compelled to suppress your own beliefs to keep the peace or, on the other hand, compelled to confront family members in emotionally charged situations to stand up for what you think is right. Either way, this is no fun.

Here are six tips for dealing with this tricky situation:

1. Set boundaries ahead of time

In a perfect world, you can stop conflict before it starts. “Ideally, it would be helpful to set boundaries ahead of time, and all agree not to talk politics during family holiday gatherings,” says Marcia LeBeau, a licensed mental health counselor with Grow Therapy. 

This could look like sending out a group text or speaking individually to the people who tend to instigate and stir the pot at family functions before the gathering. They may not always be receptive, but it’s worth trying.

2. Know where to draw the line

If the plan to set boundaries ahead of time doesn’t work out and political debates break out, it’s important to practice your boundary-setting skills. 

Sometimes, even with people who are incredible communicators, conversations can still become hostile or heated with people who have very extreme beliefs,” says Sean Abraham, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy. “In these situations, we have no control over how the other person will act or speak to us. To maintain our own emotional and sometimes physical safety, we may set boundaries.”

Setting boundaries involves informing others how you will respond to certain actions and where you draw the line, to speak. For example, Abraham says you may tell your family that you intend to leave the event if political topics arise. “Even if the topic is brought up, you have clearly explained that you will not engage with it and can leave the situation knowing you set a reasonable and healthy boundary,” he says.

3. Know that changing their mind is not your responsibility

As much as you’d probably like to sway your family members over to your side or even just get them to see things from your point of view, this is not your responsibility. 

In heated debates, people are typically not coming from a place of wanting to be open-minded or understanding, explains Marti Moron, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy. More likely, they’re just trying to get their opinion out – and chances are, your voice is probably not going to overpower their deep-seated beliefs and all the media they ingest, she says. 

“You are not in charge of having to teach them or get them to come to a different side,” Moron says. “Protect your peace. Ask yourself, is it worth your energy?” 

You are not in charge of having to teach them or get them to come to a different side.

- Marti Moron, LCSW

4. Remember that it’s OK to leave if you need to

Once again, boundaries. If you are feeling super triggered, upset, or angry, pulling yourself out of this situation is OK. “Just as a reminder, needing to leave an uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situation is NOT a moral failing or indicative of you being a bad person, friend, or family member,” Abraham says. “The holiday season can be incredibly strenuous for anyone for many different reasons, and it is completely valid and reasonable to leave a situation – even if it’s a family holiday event – if you need to.” 

5. Step away and self-regulate

If you’ve decided your best move is to remove yourself from the situation, use this time to self-regulate and calm down healthily. Moron suggests the following ideas:

6. Seek therapy for extra support

For mental health support during the holidays, therapy is a great option. It can teach you the tools you need to navigate emotionally fraught situations such as this. Grow Therapy can help you find a therapist in your area who accepts your insurance and you can see virtually.

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About the author
jocelyn moyet grow therapy Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC

Jocelyn Moyet is a licensed mental health counselor with over 13 years of clinical experience. She specializes in mood disorders, coping skills, relationships, and self-esteem.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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