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Sex, Relationships, Stress & Politics

Dr. Lisa Lawless

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

Finger Puppets Arguing, Sex, Relationships, Stress & Politics

How To Have A Civil Discourse

If you find yourself disagreeing with your partner or someone close to you, one of the best things you can do is invite them to share the underlying reason why something is important to them.

Instead of discussing a specific political situation, start with what values you have that makes that important to you. For example, you can say that you are concerned about a particular group of people you want to make sure that they are not discriminated against. You can delve in even more by saying that you value equality and fairness. That is why you feel passionate about something.

By expressing your values, it allows someone to understand your motives better. It connects us because most of us can empathize with core values. Once you can identify and appreciate those values in one another, it can help you listen better and hear people. You may not agree on the specifics of politics, but you can agree on the underlying values you each hold. 

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. It is harmful to speak without thought and verifiable facts and mistake it for telling it like it is. 

  • Moderate your tone of voice or the words you choose not to sound aggressive or condescending. Speak as you would like to be spoken to.

  • Be attentive to your facial expressions and body language. If writing, avoid all caps and other forms of accentuated text to keep things conducive to an open, non-defensive discussion.

  • Be considerate of what your partner or friend is saying by mirroring back to them that you have heard them. Clarify things by saying, so what I hear you saying is... and respectfully repeat back to them what they have said so that they feel listened to even if you disagree with them.

  • You can end disagreements by letting someone know that you understand their underlying values while you disagree with them. It lets them know that you appreciate them but not the side of a topic that they have chosen.

  • Remember that you can only control your behavior. If you cannot get the respect and empathy you deserve despite giving it, you should let the person know that you will not be engaging in such conversations with them further until that is met.

When Tempers Rise

To avoid causing emotional damage to one another when you feel angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed, you may want to temporarily disengage from the conversation. However, storming out of a conversation can be hurtful and cause the very emotional damage you wish to avoid.

A helpful way to communicate that you need a break is to let the person you are talking to know that you are emotionally elevated to the point that is outside of your normal ability to communicate effectively and need a 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 because you are the one that left.

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.

  • Trying to get other people to like or dislike who you like.

  • Teasing and jokes that put someone down.

  • Forming social connections with people that exclude or isolate people.

  • Sharing other people's secrets.

  • Intentionally embarrassing someone.

  • Spreading gossip and rumors to hurt someone.

  • 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.

Interrupting People

It is always best not to interrupt people and allow them to speak. This is not the same as asking for clarification or politely asking someone to wrap things up if they are going on for an excessively long time. Interruptions are when someone talks over another person and does not listen to what they say. It can be a sign of disrespect.

However, keeping interruptions in perspective is also essential. There are many reasons that people interrupt. For example, it can simply be when someone is passionate about their ideas. It is also a very common behavior of those with ADHD because they worry they will forget what they want to say and feel compelled to communicate it. Thus, try to remain calm and thoughtful, and when someone interrupts you, say something such as, "Let me finish my thought here, and then I will hear you speak about your thoughts."

If you feel that someone continues to disrupt you and is doing so to try and control the discussion, disrespect you, or be aggressive, it is perfectly fine to establish a boundary. You can say that if they want to continue to speak with you, they will need to fairly take turns speaking and give you the time to speak without being interrupted. If they cannot do that, you can let them know that you will have to end the conversation.

Avoid Phrases That Trigger People

Using language that triggers people is a sure way to shut down to possibility of having a civil debate. Here are 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

When someone has an agenda to be argumentative or play the victim, they may partake in a straw man argument. This is when someone misrepresents something intentionally. Examples of how to identify a strawman argument are:

  • 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 is a form of narcissistic behavior. Healthy people have empathy and enable others to express themselves respectfully. If you express yourself respectfully, yet you are being shut down, look to see if what they are doing is a form of gaslighting.

When someone is gaslighting you, they will deny, attack, and reverse the role of victim and offender (DARVO). An abuser will:

  • 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.

This is what is meant by reversing the victim and offender. 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 even bigger target.

They may use phrases such as "You are too sensitive," which often translates into "You will not let me 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 have an increased awareness of subtleties in the environment, so they are easily overstimulated. Thus, their sensitivity can be a heightened ability to address things that are not healthy.

Why It Does Not Matter If You Are Sensitive

People want their emotions validated, whether they are sensitive or not. To have integrity and show empathy, we must respectfully acknowledge another person's feelings even if they disagree. This means that it does not matter if someone is sensitive; showing respect is the critical point. If you cannot have integrity in how you treat people, that is the problem, not someone's sensitivity levels.

What To Say If Someone Says You Are Being Too Sensitive

If someone says this to you, a good response may be to validate yourself and ask for intimacy with them, such as "Please don't say that to me. Perhaps I am sensitive about this, but that is because it is important to me. When you say things like this, and in that tone, it makes me want to pull away from you. I want to feel closer to you, and I would like you to help me do that by addressing these issues with me in a respectful manner without belittling my feelings."

Understand The Importance Of Biases

If you feel frustrated by so much political division, you are not alone, and there is something fundamental that you can do about it. What I am about to write may sound like something far-fetched. Still, it is fact-based, verifiable and as someone who has spent a lifetime studying psychology as well as some internet marketing, let me assure you, it is true. There are entire fields dedicated to it.

The Problem With Fake News

The big question is, what is one of the biggest influences causing so much political division and stress? After all, you have seen it in your family, friends, and even strangers who are being impacted. The biggest offender when it comes to this issue, beyond just a need for being civil and respectful, is the ability of those who use your personality profile to target you for ads, articles, and other media to influence, distract and motivate. The most concerning of these are fake news or politicized articles, and other forms of media focused on fear and hate.

This type of psychological manipulation ultimately impacts your well-being, relationships, and your quality of life. How do you improve the political divisions that cause so much hate, misinformation, disrespect, discords, and stress?

Political Stress Linked To Intimacy & Sex

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, let me say that as a psychotherapist specializing in clinical psychology and sexual health, I have learned the importance of looking at someone from a holistic perspective and understanding that everything is interconnected. For example, when you're emotionally stressed, this impacts your physiology, affecting your sexual health, and so much more. Political stress does impact sex and relationships

This impact is evident even in my field where you can see a decline in people's libido and even sex toy sales when political issues get heated. That's right, believe it or not, you can see a decline in purchases of sex toys and an increase in alcohol and sugar purchases during stressful political periods. The ramifications are truly infinite, and even someone addressing things like sexual health can see that people are highly impacted by the increased divisions we have seen across the world.

You Are Being Psychologically Profiled

Let's get the most significant thing out of the way by saying that you need to get 'woke' to the fact 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. It is then used to market to you not just for products and services but also for your vote and activism.

Psychological manipulation and even psychological warfare are huge industries more than ever before. Personal data has become the most valuable asset we have, translating in terms of its financial and influential worth. If you think you are not being targeted by people who want you to be exposed to certain persuasive things, you would be mistaken. In that case, you can confirm this and check out fact-based resources and even watch a documentary called "The Great Hack" on Netflix as that is the tip of the iceberg and just how serious this gets.

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. Whether it be your insecurities, grief, frustration, and even your desires, mass data is being collected to create a psychological profile of you with regard to what your behavior will be and how it can be influenced based on everything you do, from purchases to how you will vote.

How Loaded Words Influence You

Loaded words have long been used in persuasion tactics and are used in marketing, hypnosis, entertainment, news, and other influential areas. When combined with your psychological profile collected from your data, which is shared and sold every day, the ability to manipulate you and those you know is easier than you may want to believe.

Even if you are careful, things such as your purchases through your credit card, your mortgage/rental information, credit report, high school and college reunions, church memberships, known affiliations with groups, shows you watch, channels you watch, websites you visit are all giving this psychological profile fuel so if you think you are immune; well, sadly you are not.

Trigger Words Elicit Emotional Responses

Loaded terms, also called emotive or ethical words, are essential for you to objectively think about when you read a story, see ads, read reviews, watch videos, review the news, etc.. Look for those influences that have certain words being used that are not just reporting facts but are using emotional trigger words, especially fear and anger based ones as that is a big tip-off that you are being manipulated. Go ahead and watch the news today and try watching for these loaded emotion-driven, fear, and anger based words. Be warned, you will most definitely hear them, especially on certain programs.


  • Loaded: DRASTIC Reduction
    Informative: PLANNED Reduction

  • Loaded: Benefits were SLASHED
    Informative: Benefits were REDUCED

  • Loaded: HORRIBLY Executed
    Informative: INEFFECTIVELY Executed

As you can see, these words that are loaded create a sense of an alarmist viewpoint and are there to try to work on your emotions to influence you. There are other tactics, such as repeating terms over and over to make them seem normalized. This goes along with derogatory nicknames of people, catchphrases, and different political branding types. Also, look for hype, meaning that they make something seem so great that it feels like a sales pitch. If something is good, it will stand on its own merit.

People that 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 must ask yourself if you want what they are selling, even if that conflicts with your ideals and integrity. Please make no mistake about these tactics; they are used on purpose. The question is, are you vulnerable to them?

Are You Too Smart To Be Manipulated?

Emotional intelligence and intelligence are two different things. The truth is that we are all vulnerable to some degree, no matter how smart you are or how much information you have. Let me assure you whether you want to believe you are impressionable or not; you are. This is simply part of being a human. What is humorous but also dangerous is that most people will get defensive and insist they are already informed and are so strong in their beliefs they can't be persuaded. Any psychologist, sociologist, or clever marketer in the world can tell you that with a lot of proof to back it up.

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? You are especially what they are targeting when it comes to political stories and ads because you are considered mutable and can be more easily swayed in either direction.

You are being targeted with things that will elicit emotional responses, which will create an alternate reality for you based on stories that may not be true or are so slanted that they challenge anything close to reality. I cannot tell you how many times I see smart people reposting posts that are not true. Myself included.

For example, not long ago, I saw a viral video of Bruce Lee doing some serious ping pong moves with a nunchaku, which proved to be a fake video. Fooled me, and I typically verify everything. So, even if something seems reasonable to believe, it may just be a flat out lie.

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.

Think about it this way; remember how any intelligent person knew the National Enquirer was fake news, and people would read the stories for sheer entertainment. Well, these days, people are taking fake news stories or even satire like that, reading the headline and presenting it as proof that whatever opinion they want to believe has been verified. It's out of control.

Political Brand Loyalty

Start by thinking about how brand loyal you are to certain products? Ask yourself how that happened, and you will see, in many cases, it started with an ad or a story shared by family/friend or a news source. 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 are not using social media services, they have user agreements that allow them to track your OFFLINE activity and when you are online. All of the social media and searches that you do on Google, etc. have data collected on you and your activity. It is used in powerful algorithms that tell advertisers and online service providers to provide information and ads that you may more receptive to hear and see. This means that everything you see will be skewed to your emotional state and preconceived notions of things.

It also means that you will not be given information that might conflict with your beliefs, so you will never be exposed to contrasting information. You will inadvertently begin to see the world in a very slanted way because there will be nothing to challenge you or make you have to work your brain through critical thinking.

You will find yourself just believing more and more what you WANT to believe rather than what is a fact that may contradict what you think. Sometimes what you want to believe is true, but sometimes it is not. Thus, you will need to start questioning some things, look at various sources for critical information through independent searches, not just scroll through Facebook, Twitter, or other social media forums for your information.

Powerful Algorithms That Target You

If you pay attention to how algorithms work, and you can start to see them in action when you start looking for how they respond to you.
Want to see a sample of what I mean?

Go to Your Facebook settings and select Ads. This will show you "Your Ad Preferences." It will show some of the information that has been collected on you, not just from the stories you like but also from your Google searches, etc. It may even have what political affiliation you are even if you have not selected one. It may also outline hints about your education level, income level, and other things you like from magazines, movies, etc. whether you entered them in or not. Some of these settings can be limited but understand that using things like Google and social media means that this will happen to some degree, whether you want it to or not.

Are You Arguing With A Bot?

There are some contrasting viewpoints that you will see, but more often, it 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.

You may be arguing or debating something with a software program designed to make it look like you are part of a minority, and that most people think another way than you to manipulate what you think.

This is not a conspiracy theory; this is basic internet manipulation that is going on all the time. Being aware of this will allow you to understand that you live in a bubble in what you think you see the world as being. It is not just the news you seek out but the posts and videos, etc. that you spend more than a few seconds watching. You do not even have to like or comment on something; they know how long you are watching or reading and how often you come back.

Sadly, I often see even like-minded friends posting things that feel like they are correct and support both of our viewpoints, but if you did, an independent search would find out is not valid.

Check Your Sources

BEFORE you post something, check a few different sources to make sure what you are posting is accurate. Sometimes you may even want to search for the contrasting viewpoint of what you want to learn about to see what opposing information there is about it. You may be quite surprised. Ensure you are noting the source you are looking at as many websites are just not very good about fact-checking. Too lazy to do this? Don't share stuff you have not verified.

I say this because I keep seeing friends post stuff that sounds true, but after taking 5 seconds to search for that topic, I often verify that it is not valid. I then link to that article for them, 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.

How To Combat Psychological Manipulation

If you want to combat this so that you can be more fact-based and make better, objective choices, the best thing you can do is take a step back from the things that you are being exposed to as well as as the preexisting thoughts going on in your head when you think or talk about politics and other 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 doing some serious reflection on how much we all contribute to harmful divisions that exist by looking at just how much of our own power we are giving away to influencers.

Start evaluating how headlines are written. Look for clickbait-style wording that triggers an emotional response from you. Start evaluating what is being told to you and ask yourself - why is a person presenting this by putting emotional words around information? Think about why that language is there, and you will realize they want you to feel a certain way about the story they are telling you.

A good reporter 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 flag to step back from what you are being told and start doing some independent research.

The Need For Better Critical Thinking

When we can break this spell of psychological manipulation and be better critical thinkers combined with using the 'golden rule' and act with respect and integrity toward others, then we have a shot at coming together, decreasing our stress levels, mending our relationships, and evolve. Simply put, you'll need to put some of that alcohol and sugar down and start carefully listening to and loving one another!

Until we make some serious changes in critical thinking and evaluation of what is being marketed to us via politics, we will continue to be a society full of hate and fear-based puppets that lash out at one another. We are often people who cannot even seem to manage to have a civil conversation about things that impact us all.

Understanding & Experience

To be aware of diversity requires one to have an enlightened mind. Being open-minded to those with different abilities, ethnicity, religious and spiritual beliefs, sexual orientation, and identity requires emotional and intellectual maturity.

Also, remember that it is far easier to have ideas about things in theory and far different to experience them. Whatever someone believes is only based on their limited experiences. Understanding that others have very different experiences allows us to appreciate different vantage points. Listening to one another to learn more from someone who has experienced something under their unique circumstances is the best place to start.

True Oppression

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. Keep in mind that being told that you cannot force your belief system on other people is not oppression.


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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