Setting Political Boundaries

Politics can be messy and complicated. It involves people with thoughts and opinions different from our own. It involves solutions that make us frustrated and stuck with results we may not agree with. Information gets thrown around sometimes a little mixed up, mostly true with a little twist, or all twisted. It can be hard to untangle information, talk to people, ask questions, or know what to do. It’s especially challenging because politics impacts our lives personally, sometimes causing hurt on top of frustration. 

What can we do?

Boundaries is a tool used in many areas of relationships and emotional regulation to help us keep things straight and know what is within our control and what is not. Boundaries can help us not take on too much. Boundaries can also help us manage the emotions and behaviors we are responsible for — our own. 

What’s Yours is Yours, What’s Mine is Mine

While we want to work together and share the burdens of common goals, it’s important to know how to identify the owners of various emotions and behaviors. Sometimes we don’t even know how we feel about something because we’re surrounded by people who express their opinions so strongly, it’s hard not to let those reactions dominate.

Imagine you’re sitting with a group of friends and a certain political topic comes up. You have some ideas on the topic and offer some of your thoughts. One of your friends looks at you with a look of horror. She explains that your comments have caused her great pain. 

Her thoughts and feelings are valid and as a friend you will naturally do what you can to understand and help her resolve some of her feelings. But ultimately you are not responsible for her emotional reactions. Just as she is free to have her thoughts, feelings, emotions, and opinions, so are you. You don’t need to adjust and change how you think and feel just so that she can feel better. 

These interactions can cause us a lot of stress. We don’t like upsetting people, especially our friends and family. Their reactions, however, can sometimes push us out of the political discussion, allowing those with the strongest reactions to dominate. Politics needs us to be involved, so we need to set boundaries to help us separate their emotions from our responsibilities. 

How do we separate things out?

When someone reacts strongly to something, we can give them space to figure out how to deal with it. We are not responsible for the way someone else chooses to react, just as they aren’t responsible for our reactions. We can consider some of these phrases to help remind those involved that each person is responsible for their own reactions and emotions:

“I respect that’s how you feel. I don’t feel that way, and that’s okay too.”

“You know what, I didn’t realize how much this conversation would affect me. That’s on me. I think I might need to sort out some of my thoughts first so I can react better.”

“I think we can learn a lot from each other, but maybe we should take a step back since it seems we’re both struggling.”

Note that it rarely works to say out loud that someone needs to manage their own emotions. When someone is struggling to react well, saying stuff like that is likely to make things worse. In situations where you do have a long-term relationship with someone, you might find it necessary to kindly explain that each person should be responsible for their own emotions. This might not always come out right, either saying it or hearing it, but it can be an important step in clarifying that we are each responsible for our own behavior. Here are some examples:

“I feel responsible for your emotions. I would like to clarify that you are responsible for yours and I’m responsible for mine. You are certainly entitled to how you feel, but so am I.”

“I enjoy talking to you and learning from you, but your emotional reactions have a way of making me feel like I can’t say anything to contradict you. I think it’s okay to disagree and still talk things through. If you are only comfortable talking to people who agree with you, it’s up to you if you want to keep talking.”

If we feel strongly about something, we can ask for the space we need to sort things out. This is a boundary we set for yourselves and for others.