Stretching for empathy

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This most recent presidential election has really taken a toll on my relationship with my parents. Although I have never agreed with their political beliefs and have voted differently from them ever since I could vote, the tension has reached a new level this past year. I feel stuck and don’t know how to have conversations with them without it leading to a heated argument. How can I get past the anger and confusion I feel toward them in order to preserve our relationship?

In our lives there is a time to sit back and listen and a time to speak loud and clear.

And in this case, there is a time for completely avoiding politics with your parents altogether.

You have taken the route in which you’ve let your opinions be known, resulting in discord. This is typically what happens when we feel threatened or misunderstood; our nervous system goes on high alert and we get reactive. After all, the political is personal, and humans are reactive creatures by nature.

I believe that with certain issues to be complacent and not speak up is the equivalent of actively doing harm. So I understand the urge to try to convince your parents that their viewpoints are problematic for you and the greater good.

If you proceed with option A, begin by slowing down, breathing and asking questions to your parents as a way to listen and understand what guides them. With option B, stop, breathe and try to make your statements based on facts versus feelings. Try to find any common ground and shared values. Do not surrender your beliefs, but do let go of trying to change your parents’. Recognize that there are some things so deeply engrained in the other person that no amount of persuasion can make a difference.

The expression to “not talk about religion or politics” exists for a reason. That may be true now more than ever. Our current president is an archetype — a concept created by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung that explains a representative model or prototype of our collective unconscious. For example, there is the mother archetype (Clair Huxtable), the hero archetype (Luke Skywalker) as well as the jester, the explorer, the rebel, the ruler, the sage, the innocent, the mentor and the villain, among others. Depending on your political stance, Trump may be the villain or the hero archetype.

Jung also talked about our inner “shadow,” that often unknown darker part of our personality: “Aggressive impulses, taboo mental images, shameful experiences, immoral urges, fears, irrational wishes, unacceptable sexual desires — these are a few examples of shadow aspects, things people contain but do not admit to themselves that they contain.” As if from central casting, Trump is our collective shadow, that public figure who acts on these urges without a filter. But the truth is we all have our inner shadow, our inner Trump, that part of us who is the reactive child, prone to pout, stomp our foot or be a bully.

This can be an opportunity to learn about your parents and stretch yourself to find greater empathy and tolerance amidst different ideologies. There is a type of meditation called metta, meaning “loving kindness,” which you can practice to help let go of your triggers and see your parents as humans, operating from their own shadow at times, and you from yours.

If there is ever a time for deep reflection and taming the reactive mind it is now. This moment in politics is calling us to our edge, to stand up for what is fair and fight against what is unjust. It is also calling upon us to practice new levels of tolerance and peace toward those we do not understand.

You will not be able to change opinions through anger or polemics. Lead by example as you set the intention to live each day with kindness and compassion for all; choose that when others go low, you stay high.

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