Counseling Center

November 2, 2020

Elections & Boundaries

Posted by Andrew Pereira, M.S., Ph.D. Candidate, Psychology Intern, UWCC

 

I want to begin by sharing about my family: I come from a large family that has many value conflicts that often cause contention. Talking with any opinionated member of my family on the telephone is a struggle in emotion regulation and boundary setting. I have physical space between my parents and I, since I live independently, and frankly, have intentional space between myself and my family too. They all know my views, so the intentional space is welcome for both of us.

 

Something I have come across in my work with students, as well as in my personal life, is increased emotion and communication with family/friends about elections and politics during an election year. In light of the recent presidential election and the current US political climate, some of you may encounter any number of the following:

  • Living with family, since many programs are now remote.
  • Having a calm, centering, studious work environment at home may depend on you “keeping the peace” with loved ones.
  • You might have more phone and other digital communication with family.
  • Parents and friends may view you as “too young” to have a solid opinion, and they may try to influence you and your views more than they would an older adult.
  • You might be passionate about anti-racism, social justice, and advocacy, but feel unsure about when to take a stand for what you believe in.

This blog focuses on recognizing the signs for when breaks/time outs should be considered, recognizing what boundaries you need to create, when they need to be created, and how to create and maintain those boundaries. Being aware of when there is enough safety to engage in discussions is half the battle to protect yourself while you engage in anti-racism, social justice, and advocacy in your social circles.

You might be living with family since many programs are now remote.

 

 

We are not living in a “normal” time right now. Seattle just emerged from the haze of the smoke and fires burning throughout the PNW, and COVID-19 continues its rampage across our nation. We are not just cooped up at home, we are also likely experiencing existential anxiety, fear, and isolation. It’s important for you to consider whether you have emotional space to cope with a vastly different life experience on top of also engaging with loved ones at home, particularly if you cannot have physical space from them.

Having a calm, centering, studious work environment at home may depend on you ‘keeping the peace’ with loved ones.

 

How thin are the walls? How loud does your family get when conversations get heated? Do you have a lock on your door? Is your family boundaried enough to give you space when you have tasks ahead of you, or will they disrupt you? Take the time to sit down and think through the dynamics in your home, what your needs are, and how you can best set yourself up for doing well remotely. That might mean negotiating for “quiet time,” having a “do not disturb” sign outside your door, or asking for family meeting times to have a contained space to talk about these issues. You might also consider wearing earbud/headphones when listening to political podcasts, watching political YouTube videos, or talking with friends on the phone/discord/other social media.

You might have more phone and other digital communication with family.

For many people, isolation due to COVID-19 means we might be calling family more often. Whatever your reasons, if you have family with different views than you, increased communication means more vigilance about whatever boundaries you might have. It can also be a little bit confusing when you are not in person to recognize warning signs. My mother, for instance, starts to shake her head and make an angry face when I have just said something upsetting. Since audio/text communication lacks this information, it is much easier to cross boundaries unwittingly without realizing it has happened.

Because of this, it might be a good idea to ask before starting a sensitive conversation.

“Hey mom, I heard something on the news and want to check if we can talk about that right now. I know you have been stressed out lately, and if you can’t handle an upsetting conversation right now that is ok.”

It might seem a little unnatural at first but starting with this not only demonstrates that you are attentive to your loved one’s needs and emotional state, but also sets the stage for boundary setting in the future. If the conversation starts to get heated and feelings are starting to get hurt, you can always reference the earlier consent process for the conversation.

“You know what, I think we’re both starting to get upset about this. We started off checking on whether today is a good day to talk about this, and it seems like maybe we have reached our limit and need to put a pin in the conversation for now. We can always pick up on this some other time when we’re both feeling up to it.”

Having a conversation like this can help build trust and interpersonal safety. You both had some time to discuss something sensitive, and if the boundary setting goes well, the stage is set later to have a well-regulated conversation that is contained within healthy expectations about personal limits.

Parents and friends may view you as “too young” to have a solid opinion and may try to influence you and your views more than they would an older adult.

My memories of being a young adult lead me to believe this point is a tough one. Students often vary in how well they know themselves, and often enjoy college as a time where they can develop their own views, sense of self, explore their identity, and finally “get away” from their parent’s preconceived notions about who they are. Being at home more/talking with family may challenge this process, as parents grapple with the reality that their children may not share the same views as them any longer. Healthy boundary setting in adulthood means that if you are unsure about how you feel about a particular topic, preventing continuous intrusive opinions is important. Just a little taste of various viewpoints will give you plenty of room to form your own opinions. So, what do you do if you notice a loved one is giving you a full course meal, when all you asked for was an appetizer? They cooked the meal after all, and it would be rude to refuse, right? I would argue that your boundaries are never rude, especially when you have enough practice setting them in a calm, perhaps even connecting way. There is nothing wrong with thanking someone for their views then shifting the conversation, explaining that you’re full for now but will consider what they said.

When should we engage?

Deciding whether to engage or not needs to be broken down. First, is it really a decision, or is the conversation happening forcefully on the other party’s terms? Decisions can certainly take place quickly for some individuals. Others need more time to process and think through whether they want to engage. During this election season, it is so important that we engage others enough to vote, at the very least. There is a lot on the line politically.

My challenge to all our students is to consider whether the choice to engage is really a choice, or if the “decision” is just a reaction. The best decisions often come with intentional responses to a situation, not spur of the moment, instinctual reactions to a person’s provocations. Remember that the fight for social justice and progressive change relies on you taking care of yourself, your boundaries, and your peace of mind. We need you thriving, alive, and vibrant to continue this effort. We can’t do it without you.