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Stress & Politics: Respectful Conversations For Personal Growth

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

Finger Puppets Arguing, Sex, Relationships, Stress & Politics

Let's Dive In!

This comprehensive guide is designed to help you have more respectful and constructive conversations, particularly when disagreements arise.

Key points that will be covered:

  • Understanding Underlying Values
  • Maintaining Civil Communication
  • Recognizing and Responding to Gaslighting
  • Understanding and Countering Biases
  • Critical Thinking and Fact-Checking
  • Appreciating Diversity and Experience

How To Have A Civil Discourse

When you and your partner or a loved one have a disagreement, consider it an opportunity for courage and growth. Disagreements, while challenging, can be a doorway to better understanding one another. That's because when you peek below the surface, it's an opportunity to learn more about each other's perspectives, values, and needs.

When I suggest that you approach conflicts with an open mind, I am not suggesting that you do so to be persuaded to change your beliefs. Rather, it is to understand the core reasons why something matters so much to the other person.

This understanding is crucial because it taps into the fundamental beliefs and values that drive their thoughts and actions. Remember, it's not about winning an argument but about growing closer through understanding and compassion.

Focusing on the core values driving your concerns is more constructive than specific political situations when discussing heated political issues that are causing conflicts.

For instance, if you're worried about a particular group of people, it might be because you deeply value equality and fairness. By highlighting these fundamental beliefs, you can better explain why these issues matter to you. This approach fosters a more meaningful dialogue focusing on shared human values rather than specific political stances.

When we share our values, it helps others grasp what drives us. It connects us because most of us can empathize with such core principles. Once you can identify and appreciate those values in one another, you can enhance your listening skills and truly hear what others say. While we might disagree on the details of political views, you can agree on your underlying values.

An excellent quote when you speak to people to keep in mind is: 

"Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath."
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

Civil Discourse Tips

  • Focus on factual, verified information from reputable sources. Speaking impulsively without ensuring the information is accurate and verified can be damaging. It's a common misconception that speaking frankly or "telling it like it is" always equates to honesty. Responsible communication requires truthfulness and consideration of the source.

  • Use a tone and choose words that aren't aggressive or condescending. Speak as you would want them to talk to you. 

  • Be mindful of how your facial expressions and body language might be perceived. Non-verbal cues can significantly influence how your message is received. Similarly, avoid all caps or overly emphasized text in written communication to keep things conducive to an open, non-defensive discussion.

  • Consider what your partner or friend is saying by reflecting their words to them. Try phrases like, "So, what I'm hearing is..." and then respectfully summarize what they've shared. This approach demonstrates that you are actively listening and makes the other person feel understood and valued, even if you disagree with them.

  • You can end disagreements by letting someone know you understand their underlying values, even when disagreeing with their stance on a particular issue. It lets them know that you appreciate them while still maintaining your differing viewpoint. 

  • It's important to understand that you can only control your behavior. If you're in a situation where you're showing respect but not receiving it in return, it's okay to set boundaries. Let the other person know that you will only continue these discussions if they treat you with the same respect and understanding you offer. 

When Tempers Rise

To avoid causing emotional damage to one another when you feel angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed, you may want to disengage from the conversation temporarily. However, storming out of a conversation can be hurtful and cause the very emotional damage you wish to avoid. Finding a way to pause the discussion without escalating the situation is crucial.

When you're feeling overwhelmed in a conversation and need a break, it's important to communicate this clearly. Let the other person know that your emotions are running high, making it hard for you to communicate effectively, and you need a small break.

Make sure to indicate how long you will be gone so that they know when to expect your return, and then when you return to the conversation, you should re-initiate the conversation since you were the one who stepped away. This approach helps maintain open and respectful communication.

Behaviors that are emotionally aggressive that you should avoid:

  • Giving the silent treatment. Being ignored via 'the silent treatment' causes the same chemical reaction in the brain as experiencing a physical injury. This is because both situations can activate the same neurological pathways, causing emotional distress.

  • Trying to get other people to like or dislike who you prefer is a form of social persuasion. Differences should be respected, so encouraging acceptance of diverse perspectives can lead to more authentic relationships.

  • Teasing and jokes that put someone down. Even when done in jest, this kind of humor can hurt and damage self-esteem.

  • Forming social connections with people that exclude or isolate people. This is often seen in groups that embrace bigotry, in cults, and in other harmful groups that have damaging impacts on individuals and communities.

  • Sharing other people's secrets can profoundly affect trust in relationships. 

  • Intentionally embarrassing someone is an act of deliberately undermining one's dignity. This behavior is often about exerting control or power over someone else and can be quite damaging to a relationship. 

  • Spreading gossip and rumors to cause harm to another person.

  • Pressuring people to do things they do not want to do.

  • Ending a friendship or shifting alliances to achieve social status.

  • Playing devil's advocate as it often causes arguments and stops us from really listening to each other.

Interrupting People

It is always best to refrain from interrupting people and allowing them to speak. However, this doesn't mean you can't ask for clarification or gently steer the conversation if it's dragging on.

Interruptions are when someone talks over another person and does not listen to what they say, which can come off as disrespectful. It's all about finding a balance in communication.

When dealing with interruptions, it's essential to stay understanding and composed. People interrupt for various reasons, like being excited about their ideas. This is especially true for individuals with ADHD who might interrupt because they're afraid of forgetting their thoughts.

So, when someone cuts you off, try to remain calm and thoughtfully say, "Let me finish my thought here, and then I will hear you speak about your thoughts." This approach helps keep the conversation respectful and inclusive.

When someone repeatedly interrupts you in a way that feels controlling, disrespectful, or aggressive, it's perfectly fine to set clear boundaries. Let them know that to continue the conversation, you both need to take turns speaking and listen to each other without interruptions.

If they cannot respect this, inform them you'll have to stop the discussion. This approach ensures that your need for respectful communication is met.

Avoid Phrases That Trigger People

Choosing language that triggers people is a sure way to shut down the possibility of having a civil debate. Consider these negative examples:

  • Shut up.
  • Stop taking it personally.
  • You are too sensitive.
  • Calm down.
  • I am sorry you feel this way or other false apologies.
  • I told you so.
  • Everything happens for a reason.

Avoid Strawman Arguments

In the world of communication, when someone has an agenda to be argumentative or play the victim, they may partake in a straw man argument. It's a way of misrepresenting what someone else is saying on purpose. To recognize a straw man argument, look out for signs like:

  • Oversimplifying or extreme generalization.
  • Focusing only on small aspects of a subject.
  • Taking something out of context.
  • Opposing extreme opinions which were never argued in the first place.

Narcissistic Gaslighting & DARVO

If you are in a relationship where someone is verbally abusing you and does not allow you to express yourself, this behavior may be a sign of narcissism.

In a healthy relationship, both partners show empathy and provide space for each other to communicate their feelings and thoughts respectfully. However, if you find that even when you express yourself calmly and respectfully, you're still being dismissed, it's worth considering whether this could be a form of gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where a person tries to make you doubt your own experiences or feelings. It's crucial to be aware of these patterns for your emotional well-being.

If you suspect your partner is narcissistic, please see our helpful guide: The Heartbreak Of Narcissistic Abuse In Relationships.

How Someone Gaslights

When you're being gaslighted, the person doing it often uses a tactic called DARVO. This stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.

Essentially, the person gaslighting you will refuse to acknowledge the truth, and then they'll turn the tables and attack you. This makes you feel like you're the one in the wrong and they're the victim. It's a common method used in abusive situations and looks like this:

  • Deny that the abuse took place.
  • Attack the victim for attempting to hold them accountable.
  • Lie by claiming that they are real victims in the situation.

Simply put, it is victim-blaming. When confronted about their bad behavior, people who gaslight and respond with a DARVO response will feed on your self-doubt. The more you allow yourself to be mistreated, the more mentally and emotionally malleable you will become, making you an easier target for manipulation.

They may use phrases such as "You are too sensitive," which often translates into "You're not allowing me to disrespect you." Other examples include:

  • "You're so dramatic."
  • "I can't say anything to you."
  • "You can't take a joke."
  • "You make too big of a deal out of things."
  • "You're overreacting."

However, typically, most people are not overly sensitive; they are merely perceptive, and an abuser will not like these observations about their behavior.

Research shows that sensitive people pick up on environmental subtleties more easily. This heightened awareness can sometimes lead to overstimulation. This sensitivity is often a powerful tool for identifying unhealthy behaviors, something that can be challenging for someone exhibiting these behaviors to acknowledge.

Why It Does Not Matter If You Are Sensitive

People want their emotions validated, regardless of how sensitive they may be. Demonstrating integrity and empathy involves respectfully acknowledging the feelings of others, even when there's a difference of opinion. The key here is respect, irrespective of a person's sensitivity. If we fail to treat people with integrity, that's the real concern, not the degree of one's sensitivity.

What To Say If Someone Says You Are Being Too Sensitive

When you hear someone say something that upsets you, it's beneficial to acknowledge your feelings and express a desire for a deeper connection.

You might say, "I find what you just said hurtful. It's possible I'm more sensitive about this topic, but it matters to me. The way you're speaking to me right now is pushing me away, and what I really want is to feel more connected to you. Can we discuss this in a way that respects my feelings and helps us understand each other better?" This approach encourages mutual respect in the relationship.

Bias & Manipulation

I am going to go down a bit of a rabbit hole in examining bias in the media because it impacts our personal relationships, self-perception, and overall life satisfaction more than we realize.

It's vital to understand these underlying issues so that when political topics arise in conversation, we're more aware of the challenges in distinguishing between factual news and biased information.

If you feel frustrated by so much political division, you are not alone; it's common to feel overwhelmed or frustrated. But there's a practical step you can take to address this issue, which is being educated from reputable sources.

The Problem With Fake News

In today's world, we're witnessing an alarming rise in political division and stress, affecting public discourse and our relationships with family and friends.

One of the key drivers behind this tension is the targeted use of personality profiles by various media sources. These profiles often bombard us with specific ads, articles, and other media content and are designed to influence and manipulate our thoughts and emotions.

The most troubling aspect is the proliferation of disinformation and politicized content that often stir up fear and hatred. We must recognize this and strive for greater civility and respect.

This kind of mental trickery really hurts your overall health, the way you get along with others and your quality of life. So, what can you do to mend the political splits that lead to so much anger, false information, rudeness, disagreements, and tension? Let's dive in.

You Are Being Psychologically Profiled

Let's get the most significant thing out of the way by saying that you need to understand that you are psychologically profiled and manipulated every day, and you may not even realize it.

The data collected on you is done through your purchases, Internet searches, social media participation, and more. This profile isn't just for advertising products and services; it's also employed to sway our political views and motivate our activism.

Psychological manipulation and even psychological warfare are huge industries more than ever before. Our personal data is now our most valuable asset, with significant financial and influential power.

If you think you are not being targeted by people who want you to be exposed to certain persuasive things, you would be mistaken. For those who doubt this, I recommend exploring fact-based resources or watching the documentary "The Great Hack" on Netflix. This film only scratches the surface of the issue, but it highlights the gravity of the situation.

One way to tell if what you are seeing is attempting to manipulate you is to think in terms of the easiest way to persuade you, which is through persuasive emotions, of which the two most powerful are: fear and anger.

These emotions can be triggered by various aspects of our lives, such as insecurities, grief, frustration, or desires. Companies and other entities constantly gather data about us, creating psychological profiles to predict and influence our behaviors.

This can range from influencing our purchasing decisions to swaying our voting choices. It’s important to stay mindful of this and think critically about the information we consume and how it might target us.

How Loaded Words Influence You

In the realm of persuasion, words with a strong emotional impact have long been used in persuasion tactics and are used in marketing, hypnosis, entertainment, news, and other influential areas.

These 'loaded words' become even more powerful when linked with the personal data that is continually gathered, shared, and sold about us. This combination of emotionally charged language and detailed psychological profiles makes it startlingly easy to influence us, perhaps more easily than we'd like to admit.

Even if you are careful, personal information, like credit card purchases, mortgage or rent details, credit reports, and even our affiliations with schools, churches, and groups, contributes to creating a psychological profile.

This also includes our entertainment choices, like the TV shows we watch and the websites we visit. Even if we are cautious, we are not entirely immune to this process; websites you visit all give this psychological profile fuel, so if you think you are immune, sadly, you are not.

Trigger Words Elicit Emotional Responses

It's crucial to be aware of loaded terms, also called emotive or ethical words. So when you read a story, see ads, read reviews, watch videos, review the news, or other online content with such words, they're often a sign that the content is trying to manipulate your feelings, steering you away from objective facts.

Try this exercise: watch a news program and pay attention to the use of fear or anger-inducing words. Be warned; you will definitely hear them, particularly in shows offering commentary. Understanding this can help you approach information more critically and thoughtfully.

Loaded Vs. Informative Word Examples:

  • Loaded: DRASTIC Reduction
    Informative: PLANNED Reduction

  • Loaded: Benefits were SLASHED
    Informative: Benefits were REDUCED

  • Loaded: HORRIBLY Executed
    Informative: INEFFECTIVELY Executed

Loaded Vs. Informative News Report Examples

News Report With Emotive Words

In a shocking display of negligence, the local government has woefully failed to address the spiraling crime rate. Citizens are outraged and terrified, as streets once considered safe havens are now plagued with unabated violence. The situation is a blatant testament to the incompetence and apathy of those in power.

News Report With Only Informative Words

The local government has not addressed the increase in crime rate. Recent statistics indicate a rise in criminal activities in areas previously known for safety. This development raises questions about the effectiveness of current administrative strategies.

What We Can Learn

As you can see, these loaded words create a sense of an alarmist viewpoint and are there to try to work on your emotions to influence you. This is often repeated as well to make them seem more ordinary so you do not notice it.

This strategy also includes using negative nicknames for people, catchy slogans, and distinct political labels. Additionally, be aware of over-exaggeration or 'hype,' where something is presented in such an extraordinary way that it resembles a sales pitch. Remember, if something truly has value, it should be able to stand on its own merits without these tactics.

People who have to tell you how great they or their ideas are in an exaggerated manner are trying to sell you on what they want you to believe. You must ask yourself if you believe what they are selling by reflecting on whether their pitch aligns with your values and integrity.

Please make no mistake about these tactics; they are used on purpose. Which leads us to the question of just how susceptible are you to these tactics?

You're Not Too Smart To Be Manipulated

The truth is that we are all vulnerable to some degree, no matter how smart you are or how much information you have. As human beings, being impressionable is a natural trait, so let me assure you whether you want to believe you are impressionable or not, you are.

What is dangerous is that most people, when wrong, will get defensive and insist they are well-informed. They are so strong in their beliefs they can't be persuaded. However, any psychologist, sociologist, or clever marketer in the world can tell you that people are easily manipulated.

If you are what the industry refers to as a 'persuadable,' you are especially vulnerable. For example, do you think you are a fair person and not party loyal or apathetic and don't care? Well, then, you're a prime target for persuasion.

You are especially what they target when it comes to political stories and ads because your views are more flexible. Essentially, you are who they are most often trying to influence.

Fake Videos

In today's world, it's common to encounter content designed to provoke strong emotions. This can lead to a skewed perception of reality, influenced by narratives that may not be entirely accurate.

Even the most intelligent among us, myself included, are sometimes drawn into sharing such misleading information. It's important to stay vigilant.

Not long ago, I came across a viral video online showing martial arts legend Bruce Lee playing ping pong using nunchakus. It was quite impressive and seemed believable.

However, before I shared it, I decided to check if it was authentic, and it turned out the video was digitally altered and fake. This surprised me and reminded me that sometimes, even things that appear credible can be completely untrue.

This kind of manipulation occurs on both sides politically, so please understand when I say we are vulnerable, I am talking about ALL of us.

Consider this analogy: remember how any discerning person knew the National Enquirer was fake news, and people would read the stories for sheer entertainment?

Nowadays, a similar trend has emerged, but with more concerning implications. People frequently encounter satirical or fictitious news stories and, without delving deeper, believe what they read. Sometimes, people are especially lazy and use just the headlines to validate their pre-existing beliefs. It's out of control.

Political Brand Loyalty

Reflect on your favorite brands and consider why you're drawn to them. Was it an advertisement, a recommendation from a friend or family, or something you heard in the media that drew you to them in the first place?

While the result may be something that works out in your favor, understand that you ARE being influenced. Remember that we all have some level of being able to be persuaded; after all, the entire psychology of marketing is based on this.

Offline Social Media Tracking

Even when you're not actively using social media, these platforms often have policies to monitor your offline activities. Likewise, your online searches and interactions are tracked.

This information feeds into sophisticated algorithms used by advertisers and service providers. They analyze this data to tailor information and advertisements to align closely with your interests and emotional state. Consequently, the online content you witness is often shaped to affirm your beliefs, whether true, helpful, or not.

When you're only presented with information that aligns with your existing beliefs, you miss out on encountering differing viewpoints and the diversity of real life. This lack of exposure to contrasting information will shape your perception of the world, leading to you living in a bubble with little, if any, exposure to the realities of a diverse world. This will lower your ability to think critically.

You may find yourself believing more and more of what you want to believe rather than factual information that may contradict what you want to think. It's a natural human inclination to want to live in a comfortable world that fits our narratives, but ultimately, it blinds us.

To be healthy, we must engage in thoughtful questioning and seek out diverse, independent sources of information. This means going beyond merely browsing social media platforms or your favorite news source; it involves a more active, deliberate search for truth and understanding.

Powerful Algorithms That Target You

If you pay attention to how algorithms work, you can start to see them in action when you start looking at how they respond to you. Let's explore an example to see how they interact with us.

Go to Your Facebook settings and select Ads. This will show you "Your Ad Preferences." This section reveals various information gathered about you, extending beyond your Facebook activity. It includes data from your internet searches and even assumptions about your political views, education, income levels, and interests, like magazines and movies. This collection happens regardless of whether you've explicitly shared this information.

This doesn't require actively liking or commenting on content; mere viewing patterns are enough to influence what we're shown. It's essential to recognize that while some control over these settings is possible, the nature of using such platforms inherently involves some level of data collection.

Are You Arguing With A Bot?

There are some contrasting viewpoints that you will see, but more often, they will come in the form of bots (automated software programs) that infiltrate newsfeeds and social media and are posing as people with fake accounts.

So, that troll that you are arguing with that keeps saying similar things and linking to opposing things may not even be a real person. These programs are sometimes engineered to create an illusion that your views are in the minority, suggesting that the majority holds a different opinion. This is just one way to manipulate what you think.

This isn't about conspiracy theories; it's a matter of understanding common practices used on the internet. The world is somewhat limited by what's presented to us online.

Check Your Sources

Before you share information online, it's wise to cross-check it with several reliable sources to confirm it is accurate. Doing internet searches that contradict the details is also beneficial so that you can see if something refutes it.

Moreover, always pay attention to the credibility of the sources you consult, as many websites are insufficient at fact-checking their content. You may be quite surprised to learn that something that seems true is not.

Bottom line: if you're not inclined to verify information, don't share it.

I can't stress this enough because I keep seeing people post stuff that sounds true, but after taking 5 seconds to search for that topic, I often verify that it is invalid.

In these instances, I will sometimes share a link to a fact-checked resource showing that what they posted is false, hoping that in the future, it will be a little nudge to say, "Hey, maybe before you post something, look into it first."

You owe yourself to stay empowered and informed and not get lazy when allowing companies and even those with malintent to manipulate you and others. Plus, you let these scam artists make you look foolish when you share information that is not true.

How To Combat Psychological Manipulation

To combat this, it's crucial to distance yourself from external influences and internal biases, especially regarding politics and similar topics. Take a moment to realize that many of the trigger words you are using were put in your mind from things you have been exposed to, which have an agenda, whether you know it or not.

It is high time we all start seriously reflecting on how much we all contribute to harmful divisions by looking at how much of our power we give to toxic influencers. This self-awareness is a vital step in reclaiming our personal power and contributing to a more harmonious society.

Start evaluating how headlines are written. Look for clickbait-style wording that triggers an emotional response from you. Consider what is being told to you and ask yourself - why are these particular words being used? What is the intent behind framing the information in this way? By recognizing the emotional language used, you can start to see how it's designed to shape your perspective.

A skilled journalist doing an information piece does not have an agenda to make you feel sided about something; they are just presenting you with facts. Fake news, on the other hand, is inundated with fear and anger eliciting terminology. That will be your biggest red flag to step back from what you are being told and investigate further.

The Need For Better Critical Thinking

When we can break this spell of psychological manipulation and become better critical thinkers combined with using the 'golden rule,' we tend to act with more respect and integrity toward others.

By embracing critical thinking, treating others with respect and kindness, and focusing on our own well-being, we can reduce stress, heal our relationships, and grow as individuals.

Understanding & Experience

Understanding diversity means embracing an open-minded perspective. It involves recognizing and respecting the unique qualities of others, such as their abilities, ethnic backgrounds, religious and spiritual beliefs, sexual orientations, and identities. This recognition signifies emotional maturity.

Also, remember that it is far easier to have ideas about things in theory and far different to actually experience them. Understand that everyone's life journey is unique, and this diversity of experiences leads to various perspectives.

By acknowledging this, we open ourselves to appreciating the viewpoints of others. Listening to people share their experiences, particularly those that differ from our own, is a valuable starting point for broadening our understanding.

Addressing Oppression

Oppression is often the underlying basis of a political argument, so let's look at what oppression is and is not. Oppression is the unjust treatment of another human being.

It can take the form of inequality and inequity. Inequality is denying rights like equal access to healthcare, housing, and marriage. Inequity is having unfair and avoidable discrimination based on the exclusion of factors such as disabilities, race, gender, etc., making it impossible to access equal rights.

However, it's vital to understand that being asked not to impose your beliefs on others does not constitute oppression. You can't play the victim when you attempt to force your beliefs on someone else. You can also not claim they are trying to force their beliefs on you when they are just trying to exist and live their own truth when they are not expecting you to follow suit.

Political Stress Linked To Intimacy & Sex

As a psychotherapist with a focus on clinical psychology and sexual health, I've come to understand the vital importance of viewing each individual as a whole. It's crucial to recognize the interconnectedness of our experiences.

Emotional stress, for instance, isn't just a mental or emotional issue; it significantly affects our physical well-being, including aspects like sexual health. And this isn't limited to personal stressors - even political stress can have a profound impact on our intimate relationships and sexual lives.

My goal is to help people see and address these connections for a healthier, more fulfilling life because political stress impacts sex and relationships.

In the world of mental health, it's not just increased feelings of anxiety or stress that can be affected by turbulent political climates; they can even reach into aspects of our lives like sexual desire and habits.

During periods of intense political tension, there's a noticeable decline in people's libido, as well as a decrease in the sales of sex toys. Concurrently, there's an uptick in the consumption of substances like alcohol and sugary treats, which are often used as coping mechanisms.

This pattern highlights the profound and diverse effects that societal stressors can have on our well-being, touching even on areas like sexual health.

Strategies For Healthy Political Discussions

Understand Underlying Values

Reflect on the core values driving your concerns and discuss them.

Maintain Civil Communication

Use respectful language and tone.

Critical Thinking and Fact-Checking

Ensure that the information shared is verified and factual.

Appreciate Diversity and Experience

Acknowledge and respect different backgrounds and experiences.

Recognize & Respond To Gaslighting

Be aware of manipulative tactics and address them calmly.

Understand Biases

Identify and discuss any biases that might influence your views or arguments.

Take Timeouts

If overwhelmed, take a break and communicate the need for a pause.

Avoid Aggressive Behaviors

Refrain from yelling, giving the silent treatment, or manipulation.

Recognize Emotional Responses

Identify when you are reacting emotionally and pause to reflect.


By understanding how we are being influenced, the importance of fact-checking, and reminding ourselves to be respectful while also requiring others to show us respect, we can better navigate behavioral challenges in our relationships.

Having better communication and overcoming disagreements means the potential for feeling closer to one another, which positively impacts physical intimacy, including sex.

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