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Tips for Coping During Divisive Times

By Lisa Templeton, Ph.D.

This upcoming election along with a series of pandemics, from COVID, to race, to the economy, has brought about more divisiveness than we have seen in our society in a long time. The division has created a great deal of stress and anxiety for people. Many friends, families, and co-workers are struggling with different ideas, beliefs, and perspectives on what is happening, while also getting their information from very different sources. These differences are creating more and more strife. Here are a few tips for coping and engaging in civil and thoughtful discussions during divisive times:

Take a moment to step into another person’s shoes – whether it be a stranger, a friend, or a loved one. What are the circumstances of their life and why might they believe what they believe? We all base our beliefs from our upbringing, our experiences, trusted news sources, along with a desire to belong. Stay curious about the context of each person’s beliefs.

Consider that we all have similar experiences – each one of us cares about our family, wants to be loved, and longs to be a part of a community of like-minded people. Consider ways that each person is choosing their position based on these criteria. We have many more similarities as human beings than we do differences.

Don’t try to change someone’s mind – it can feel controlling and manipulative to be led in a different direction that you don’t currently believe. Do your best to accept another’s opposing beliefs and work to find opinions that you both agree on.

Calm your emotions and slow down – don’t react with anger, instead take a breath and work on developing a helicopter view to see all perspectives as important, even if you don’t agree. No one wants to be attacked and often defensiveness can be perceived as an attack.

Don’t take differing beliefs personally – a person’s beliefs are about themselves and the context of their own beliefs, not about others. Stay respectful and curious to the ways in which we are divided and why.

Step away from blaming, shaming, judging, and spreading guilt to others who don’t share your opinion. Consider how that feels when someone does that to you. If you find yourself falling into that looping pattern, take a mindful step back and choose to instead get curious.

Set boundaries – if you continue to disagree and feel tension with someone you are close with, consider an agreement to not talk about the issues that are at the root of the conflict. It’s okay to talk about other important aspects of life.

If you are going to engage, ask questions and listen – inquire about the information that is offered and open up to the bias that may be occurring on both sides. Stay curious with a critical mind, not with criticism of the person.

Dr. Lisa Templeton is a Licensed Psychologist and author in Broomfield, Colo. For more information about Dr. Templeton visit The Interpersonal Healing Center website.