If you’re anything like me, you woke up this morning with puffy eyes and an emotional hangover. Although President Donald Trump falsely declared victory around 2:30 a.m. EST, the election isn’t over. With tens of thousands of votes left to be counted, all that’s clear right now is that this is a close race. Several key states are neck-and-neck. This year, every vote is critically important.
As such, maybe your mind has been drifting to a place you’ve been willing it to avoid: a corner of your brain where high-intensity emotions, including resentment, live. Maybe you've started to think about friends and family members who either didn’t vote, or who voted for a candidate you disagree with. And maybe it's making you feel — how do we put it delicately? — pretty freakin’ pissed off.
This feeling is normal, says Alfiee Breland-Noble, PhD, a psychologist, author, and founder of mental health nonprofit the AAKOMA Project. “Votes feel personal because the policies tied to candidates and parties are actually personal; they result in real changes to our lives,” she says. “This makes our own votes and the votes of others feel deeply personal and signals how we vote our values.”
Dr. Breland-Noble adds, “For those of us from BIPOC communities, we know that our ancestors literally died for us to have the right to simply cast a ballot. These ideas are foundational to why we take our own voting — as well as others’ voting behaviors — so seriously and so personally.”
You may have already been feeling hurt, uncomfortable, or angry at your loved ones for how they voted — and now, with the results teetering on a razor’s edge, those emotions are being exacerbated. But Dr. Breland-Noble, who’s also the host of the podcast Couched In Color with Dr. Alfiee, says that carrying around resentment about something that’s largely out of your control is only going to add to your stress during an already draining and scary time. We asked her and other experts for advice on how to cope with anger at a loved one over how they cast (or didn’t cast) their vote.
Ask yourself: "What am I feeling?"
Self-awareness is key, Dr. Breland-Noble explains. If your family member or friend voted in a way that surprised or upset you, take a moment to name your emotions and figure out exactly what aspects of their decision are triggering or troubling you.
It's easy to brush past this step, but taking a few minutes to actually label these emotions — anger, fear, grief — can help you process the feelings, and it can inform how you ultimately work through them. If you don’t acknowledge to yourself why you’re upset, you may be more likely to act passive-aggressively toward the person in question, write them off entirely, or get into an unproductive argument. Dr. Breland-Noble says doing this exercise with a therapist can be hugely helpful, but it can be done solo, too.
Having fake arguments with people in the shower helps no one — and actively hurts you. So if you find yourself stewing over the idea that someone you care about voted against your interests (and perhaps their own, in your opinion), you should also consider it a sign that you may need to prioritize self-care, says Dr. Breland-Noble.
She says self-care activities offer a “reset” that can help clear your head. “You can’t allow people to control your emotions like that,” she notes. Focus on actions that ground you in yourself and relax you, helping you shift your focus to what you can control — which is not other people’s actions.
Go for a jog or a walk. Get an extra hour of sleep. Work on a puzzle. Take a bath. Or take a deep breath. Soak in some fresh air and call people you love, who you can commiserate with. Dr. Breland-Noble also suggests booking an extra therapy appointment for this week or next.
Set clear boundaries
Think ahead about what you’ll need to do to protect yourself during your next interaction with your loved ones. Create clear, specific boundaries: If they say X, you'll do Y. “[Setting boundaries is] also about identifying the hurt that you carry with you related to other things the loved ones may have said in the past that you’ve never forgiven them for,” Dr. Breland-Noble says. Setting boundaries will help you manage your reactions when your resentful feelings start to crop up, and hopefully it will help you avoid triggering interactions altogether.
Boundaries are personal. You may decide to not see a certain friend at all until after we have a new president elect. If you see them, you may tell them that you will not be discussing politics with them. If they won’t stop bringing up the election, you might decide to exit the conversation or speak up. Dr. Breland-Noble suggests saying: “You can’t say that stuff in front of me. I’m not asking you to change your opinions, so please don’t try to change mine."
While Dr. Breland-Noble notes that while many friends abide by "unspoken rules" and just know to steer clear of certain topics, at times it can be helpful to communicate your boundaries. “We also owe that other person an opportunity to tell them what we need from them, so that they can make a choice as to whether or not they want to dive into this,” Dr. Breland-Noble says. If you feel comfortable, you can even come up with a “safe word” either party can use to end a conversation that they feel has crossed the line from “spirited” to “heated.” And if you're going to ask your loved ones to respect your boundaries, make sure to respect theirs, too.
Of course, sometimes boundaries can feel harsh, and they might require cutting someone out of your life entirely. Weigh your decision to draw this line carefully. “I always let people know that I don’t believe in throwing away your family,” explains Candice Nicole Hargons, PhD, a psychologist, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, and the founding director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma. “Has this person overwhelmingly demonstrated that they care about you, but their decision-making process is based on something outside of the way they treat you on an individual and interpersonal level?” If that’s the case, it might be best to agree to disagree, and not bring up how you both marked your ballots.
But there are exceptions. “If the family member has always engaged with you in ways that are toxic or dehumanizing or harmful, maybe you need to step away and be outside of that relationship,” says Dr. Hargons. If you're facing harm, racism, homophobia, constant microaggressions, or something similar, you're within your rights to reconsider whether you're going to continue this relationship at all.
Think twice about having “the talk”
You may feel compelled to call out a friend for not voting or for voting for a candidate you feel strongly opposed to. But Dr. Breland-Noble says that at this point, the conversation may be counter-productive. “[Since] they’ve already voted, I wouldn’t say something. It’s already done. There’s no crying over spilled milk, you've just got to clean it up," she says. "Yes, you have a right to be upset and you should honor those feelings, but I’m not sure you need to say something in the moment. What’s the benefit?" Instead, consider circling back with them in a month when the dust has settled and you can have more civil and productive discourse.
If you’re a person who has been marginalized, you don't owe anyone the emotional labor of trying to change their mind or explain why their vote is problematic, Hargons adds. For the most part, that work should be taken on by allies at a time like this.
If you can honestly say the goal of your conversation would be to clear the air in hopes of sustaining the relationship, though, a talk may be beneficial. Focus on calmly stating how you feel and why, and avoid going on the attack. (The classic "When you X, I feel Y..." statements work here.) “You have a right to articulate why you’re mad or to defend your decision. But if you use your words, use them effectively,” Dr. Breland-Noble says. If they seem defensive or argumentative, end the conversation quickly. “Say, ‘Okay, I hear you — but you know what my position is,” she suggests.
Focus on your actions
There are myriad reasons it can be upsetting to hear that someone you love voted in a way you disagree with, or that they didn’t vote at all. But, at the end of the day, other people’s actions are largely out of your control. All you can do is remind yourself — and celebrate the fact — that you voted, Dr. Breland-Noble says.
“Congratulate yourself. Say, ‘You know what, I voted’,” she suggests, before adding: “For all my ancestors who weren’t allowed to vote, me using my voice is respecting and honoring them, and that always makes me feel better.”