For many clients, the holiday season is a time to get together with friends and family.
But when relationships are strained by ideological differences, these reunions can quickly turn into stressful situations.
So in the video below, Stephen Porges, PhD shares one way to help clients connect with people who hold strong opposing views.
Have a look.
I will tell you the story I had.We were moving from North Carolina to Indiana, and a moving truck came to our house in North Carolina. My wife, Sue, was already in Indiana. The driver walks into the house and says, “You look like an academic.” In general, to me, that used to be a positive statement, “You look like an academic.” And he says, “No, I don’t like academics. They have these very biased views in the world.” Initially, I started to get into a dialogue, and then I realized there was no dialogue to be had, that he had a whole set of views. This was during the primary, the 2016 primary. He said that his person was Ted Cruz and he started talking about that he wasn’t even… I thought we had a common ground if I talked about minimum wage. No, not even that. He didn’t want his kids going to college because they’d be exposed to liberal views. I just started to listen to him go on and on and on. He then left and he went to Indiana and he saw my wife. He said, “Great conversation with your husband,” is what he said.
Now, what it was was an important point. That was one of the first times in my life that I realized that discussing or arguing was a waste of time, but it didn’t mean the person was an evil person. And what I did was I was an effective witness. I listened to that person. I didn’t try to change the person’s mind. I respected his viewpoints, and I think that’s part of what’s going on. I think people want to be heard and they don’t want to be humiliated by being told they’re wrong, but they want to be heard. I think if we go back to the concept of a trauma survivor, what does a trauma survivor really want? A trauma survivor wants to be witnessed, wants to have a voice. And so much of the reaction to trauma has been to take the voice away from the survivor.
In a sense, we want to know the events, the judicial consequences of what may have happened to the person. We’re not focusing on how that person is feeling. We need to become good witnesses. I’m really saying that we may not agree, in most cases or in many cases, we don’t agree on these things. But we certainly have to have a degree of understanding that we can witness the other person’s statements. It may be difficult to even witness their perspective, but they want to express their feelings. They want that space to say, “This is how I feel.” It’s a powerful thing if we can do it. In a sense, if we’re not interpreting the words and we’re not getting mad.
I frequently talk about people who are super coregulators and they walk into a room and it doesn’t matter what someone is saying or what dialogue’s going on and, suddenly, everyone feels just comfortable and safe in their presence. When people say, “Are you a super coregulator?” I say, “Absolutely not, but I’m a good enough coregulator Most of the time.” The point is that I am vulnerable like most people or many people, but there are some super coregulators out there and we learn a lot from them. That is that ability to allow the other person to say their part, not to step on their words, not to tell them they’re wrong, not to evaluate them, but to, in a sense, witness them.
I appreciated the connection Stephen made between this approach and how you might work with trauma.
So now I’d like to hear your thoughts. How might you use this in your work with clients? What are some other ways you’re helping clients navigate strained relationships? Leave a comment below to let us know.
(We can’t wait to hear how you’ll use these ideas with your clients. But keep in mind that this is a learning community for practitioners. Please do NOT seek advice for personal problems, ask for referrals, or post links to advertisements.)
If you found this helpful, here are a few more resources you might be interested in:
When Political Differences Hurt Relationships – an Exercise for Your Clients
How Trauma Affects Relationships
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