Politics, Friendship, and Anxiety - Oh My!
January 3, 2017 5:41 AM   Subscribe

I have social anxiety and had recent e-drama with a friend over our respective politics. How do I stand up for myself and my beliefs under pressure more effectively?

I will refer to my friend in this question as "D". D and I have been friends for three years. We met through several shared social media platforms - I had first encountered them through their artwork online and deeply respected them as an artist long before we contacted each other. We hit it off largely because we had shared interests and were mutually supportive of each other's work.

For the sake of background, I have social anxiety. Because of it, I have a difficult time dealing with confrontation, am constantly afraid of upsetting people, and have a bad habit of telling people who are angry with me that I will get back to them later and then never getting back in touch out of fear. It took me a long time to even start standing up for my beliefs out of concern over causing trouble. I still struggle with the feeling that I am a coward who enables bad behavior through inaction.

When I first met D, they were liberal, but a year or so later as we got to know each other better their politics began to shift to the right. This was largely the result of bullying on the social media platform we both use - D associated the left as a whole with the people who attacked them and became very anti-SJW. At first they limited their political posts to criticizing the website and its users, which I thought was fair enough given that I had my share of bad encounters there and had accidentally gotten involved in a shipping war which left me more than a little bitter. However, D began to dabble more and more in questionable memes and right-wing apologism to a degree which made me uncomfortable, and in hindsight my relative silence on politics probably led to them thinking I was more sympathetic to their views than I really was.

D thinks modern feminism is anti-male, the left has become authoritarian and pro-censorship, disapproves of spoon theory, and believes it is possible to be racist against white people, none of which I agree with them on. However, I didn't want to turn my back on what was otherwise a strong friendship solely because of politics, especially since they were sincerely kind to me and offered help during bad times, so I deflected or tried to talk around the things they said which made me uncomfortable in favor of the things we both enjoyed. While I began to find many of their views unpleasant and thought they became increasingly judgmental, I am not naive to bullying on social media, sympathized with what happened even if I thought their reaction was very misguided, and was reluctant to argue with them. I realize now that I was also not brave enough to openly disagree.

Then D began openly defending and sympathizing with people like Julian Assange and Milo Yiannopoulos. For me this went past criticizing the negative side of Internet social justice or privately expressing views I disagreed with and moved into openly siding with people who cause active harm. I didn't confront them- I knew them well enough to guess that they would probably take the kind of criticism I would give as an attack, and I wasn't emotionally up for an argument - but decided to quietly distance myself from them.

At the same time the election happened, and I was very bitter and angry over the results, deciding I couldn't stay quiet anymore in good conscience. At roughly the same time I was dragged into a callout post aimed at D without my initial knowledge, so I wanted to make it very clear to observers that I didn't agree with D. So I started making political posts on my own blog.

D contacted me a couple days later and told me that my posts made them uncomfortable. I felt that they were being hypocritical because they made political posts themselves, and pointed out that they could unfollow me if my posts upset them. They accused me of seeing them as less human for their beliefs and of being immature and cowardly for being unable to handle opposing views on my feed. I lost my courage at this point and pulled an "I'll get back to you later", which I know is far from a permanent fix and is something I'm ashamed of.

We're still mutuals, although we haven't spoken since the fight. D has made it clear, though, that if we talk again the drama will come up, and while I want to be able to stand up to them next time I'm still afraid that I won't. Meanwhile I'm still making political posts because I feel I'm within my rights to, and I frankly feel uncomfortable that they pressured me about what I chose to post on my blog.

While I still am sorry they were bullied, I know that's not an excuse for siding with people who hurt others. I could just unfollow them without looking back, but I'm concerned that it would come off as a provocation and I'm still afraid of confronting them. However, I know that a friendship with so much unspoken tension and anger behind it or a feeling where I'm sorry I made friends with them in the first place is not a healthy one, and neither of us are the people we were when we first met.

Should I try and repair the friendship with D or would it be better to cut ties? If I do, what would be the best way to break up? What are some good ways I could do a better job of standing up for myself and my beliefs during the inevitable confrontation while being understanding of her history?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you can't agree to disagree, then it's a personal, or personality problem, not a political one.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:54 AM on January 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you can't agree to disagree, then it's a personal, or personality problem, not a political one.

Disagree. Or rather, disagree with the notion that there's something wrong with being unable to "agree to disagree" about certain fundamental moral and ethical issues.

OP, I'd just unfollow. Dealing with this person is causing you distress and stress, they want concessions from you that they are unwilling to give themselves. What are you getting from these interactions or this friendship that is positive?
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:00 AM on January 3, 2017 [23 favorites]

If you can still like and respect a person with whom you disagree on very important things, and if you do like and respect this person still, then say something like: "Look, it turns out that we disagree on some very important things. I'm not trying to tell you to shut up about those things, and I don't want you to try to tell me to shut up about those things. Let's talk about other things." If they say "yes," then you move forward, talking about other things. If they say "no," then you separate.

If you don't still like and respect this person because of their views, then say that to yourself and perhaps (but not necessarily) to them, and be done with it.
posted by sheldman at 6:13 AM on January 3, 2017 [12 favorites]

This person has a double standard: they get to post political stuff that makes you uncomfortable, but you don't get to post anything that makes them uncomfortable. That's not fair and it's not friendly. The same goes for accusing you of seeing them as less human for their beliefs (unless you have explicitly stated as much).

I'd unfollow and not look back. You just seem to have grown apart, it happens all the time. If this former friend confronts you, you might say something like 'Your posts are making me uncomfortable, and my posts are doing the same for you. That's no fun for either of us. I don't see any good coming from us reading each other's posts' and repeat as needed.
I don't think you need to get hostile, go into her history or your beliefs, or explain more than this.

In any case, have a script ready so you'll know what you're going to say; that way, if a confrontation happens, you're not caught emptyhanded.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:13 AM on January 3, 2017 [18 favorites]

Y'know, 2017 is my year of saying NOPE and this would be a clear-cut case for me. I'd NOPE so hard as I unfollowed them, that my windows would rattle.

I could just unfollow them without looking back, but I'm concerned that it would come off as a provocation and I'm still afraid of confronting them.

Your feed is your feed and nobody has the right to appear in your feed if you don't want them there. It is not a provocation not to have them in your feed. It is your feed, not anybody else's. If you are confronted by "why did you unfollow", you can either ignore the interaction (you don't owe anybody your attention) or you can point out that you don't feel their content is right for your personal feed. Rise, repeat.

NOPE is a powerful word and it is all about protecting your own boundaries. Own it.
posted by kariebookish at 6:20 AM on January 3, 2017 [17 favorites]

Use the grain of truth method. While what he believes in is not objectively true, there are individual instances in his life where it has been true, causing him to adopt this world view. Find those small grains of truth, agree with him on those specific instances and then find a way to point out that these are isolated instances and not an accurate picture of the whole thing.

This method is taken from Feeling Good, by Dr. David Burns, one of the best books out there.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:20 AM on January 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Have you tried to agree to disagree? Have you told them you value your friendship and don't want politics to come between you? I think their reaction will tell you whether this friendship is salvageable or not. If you haven't tried before, I think it would be worth it. Who knows, maybe your friendship will eventually, in the long run, make them realize liberal people aren't that bad. But it's also okay to cut the friendship, or maybe dial down a bit, if that is needed. You need to do what you feel comfortable with.

This unfortunately is a common problem, especially now. When I really do value the friendship and respect the person, my strategy is to change the subject or agree to not talk (well, in effect, argue) about politics anymore. But I know even this, which seems soo simple, can sometimes be so hard!

(I'm assuming you still want to salvage the friendship. If you don't, or you've already tried the above and it didn't work, I'd say, feel free to unfollow and disengage. I agree with the first poster, in that case it's not their political views, they're not being a friend to you anymore.)
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 6:20 AM on January 3, 2017

If d is insisting they are basically the only one pf you two friends allowed to voice their political opinions and arent willing to agree to disagree, they don't dont so much want friends as an echo chamber. Honestly this doesn't sound like a situation where standing for yourself would achieve anything anyway, they would simply see it as bullying instead of a difference of opinions because that way they justify not listening.

They were bullied so they've become the bully, doesn't make anything right. I would move on without confrontation, and I'm big on confrontation, but really there is no point in doing that here they don't and won't hear other opinions at this point in their journey. Give them a few years.
posted by wwax at 6:46 AM on January 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think given the timing and reasons of your political posts (post callout, so that you can separate yourself from d), it's probably hard for d to understand that these are your actual views and not just an attempt to throw her under the bus.

I would maybe give it a month and then check in again.
posted by corb at 7:15 AM on January 3, 2017

For my FB feed, I have made it a rule not to comment on political posts, and hide posts that I find offensive. I have maybe 2 FB friends that make posts, but due to them being part of a larger circle of friends, I simply do not comment and hide the offensive posts. I only comment on maybe one friend's posts, as that person has deleted anyone who is not liberal and keeps their posts to friends only. I will not comment on someone's posts if they are public.

Have run into this issue on a private email list that I moderate. There is one person who has been sliding to the right for a while now and can't seem to help themselves from inserting these types of political beliefs and comments into everyday conversation. I finally had it out with them, and said that they don't get to dictate how I feel about the election, and I won't be engaging with them anymore on politics, and they might want to find a website or other email list for this particular arena.

I liken it to religious conversion: it is fanatical, with no room for discussion, and then the outcry that we just simply don't allow for other viewpoints. I have tried pointing out that certain things are not cool about the radical rightwing atmosphere, to be met with pouting and how I don't want to move on and make American great again. Some others piped in and said how much they hate Trump, and that helped quiet them down, but I expect more outbursts as time goes on, and I have deduced that this person lives in fear, and their life partner has been also influencing them a lot.

My stance is to just ignore it, now that they know how I and others feel. In the past, I have cut this person some slack, with their rude comments and lack of overall empathy, and now I don't respond to anything they say at all. I too do not like confrontation, and this person seem to get a real high from it. I've decided that I am going to focus on things that are under my control, as I don't need to add to my anxiety by worrying about someone who will never change their mind. In my head, I just say, "oh, this again," and ignore them.

In turn, I do not post anything political on my FB, because I don't need the hassle. In the old days, it was a given that you don't bring up politics or religion in polite company. Now we're in the Wild, Wild West of say anything and let it all hang out.

I prefer not to engage online on social media, because I've found it only draws more and more drama, and bile, and I don't need that in my life. Have found out the hard way that more than a few of my relatives hold conservative viewpoints that I find distressing.

Just because someone has talent, doesn't make them A-okay in my book, if they hold these types of viewpoints. I'd personally walk away, and say, "I kept silent before, due to not wanting to argue, but this is how I feel. Good luck with your life."

In short: I'd walk away and don't look back, and start engaging with people of like mind, because this isn't a normal political atmosphere, it's fanatical, and you can't win by arguing.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:46 AM on January 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

D began to dabble more and more in questionable memes and right-wing apologism [...]

For me this went past criticizing the negative side of Internet social justice or privately expressing views I disagreed with and moved into openly siding with people who cause active harm. [...]

So D seems to hold some pretty repugnant beliefs that get expressed with political action. Peoples political actions have direct effects on others. If those actions cause harm, it is not laudable.

They accused me of seeing them as less human for their beliefs and of being immature and cowardly for being unable to handle opposing views on my feed. [...]

Trump's Mirror much? The description that you provided of this person's politics suggests that they are the one with problems seeing the humanity of others. Much of Trumpism/MRAism is specifically based on hate, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, anti-LGBTQ sentiment, religiously-based prejudice, etc.

I didn't want to turn my back on what was otherwise a strong friendship solely because of politics.

Here's the thing about politics--it's not just about whether the inheritance tax should kick in at $5M or $10M. Politics, especially now, is really tied up in fundamental questions of morality and equality. Political actions are often an expression of one's fundamental values.. If you ditch this person, I would not characterize it as being a matter of ending a friendship over 'politics', so much as ending a toxic relationship with a person wrapped up in hate.

I'd suggest unfriending this person and moving on. You do not have to present an air tight case as to why you did, if they ask you. If they start accusing you of being "immature", you can respond with, "Okay, and I still don't want to hear your hateful postings." Repeat as needed.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 8:05 AM on January 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

Make a quiet departure. Do not confront this person on the way out. The people in that community are historically unopposed to starting witch hunts targeted at people who disagree with them, and if you don't like confronting one person about their bigotry, you probably won't like confronting a wave of strangers on theirs.
posted by theraflu at 8:37 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

They accused me of seeing them as less human for their beliefs and of being immature and cowardly for being unable to handle opposing views on my feed.

I think it's a tremendous failure of empathy to see anyone as less than human based on their beliefs. You should be able to see where people are coming from, or if you don't have the empathy to do that, then you should recognize that everyone has their own life experience that brings them to their viewpoint. This is why as people mature, they learn to agree to disagree.

That said, if other people's ideas are tiring or uninteresting, then there is no point in having them on your feed. So, just unfollow them, and explain that you don't want to engage with their viewpoint.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:57 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I feel like you should talk to some educated folks in their 50's or older because you and your friend are arguing about the ways in which various social programming has influenced you and put you at odds with each other.

You have a poor grasp of the much larger picture. I guess if you want to dump a friendship over that, go ahead? Since both of you are misinformed to a degree, this isn't about "standing up for yourself," this is about knowing when one or both of you are misinformed and not taking the bait.

You took the bait. If you can agree to disagree I advise you to let it go. Overall, this type of divineness you are experiencing is what the larger picture is about. We are a lot weaker when we all disagree with each other. Think on that for a while, and I hope you and your friend mend your relationship.
posted by jbenben at 9:03 AM on January 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Get your social anxiety treated.

Other people can consider anything they want offensive, there's nothing you can do about it. There's nothing you get to do about it, it's their right to be as awful as they want.

What you DO get to control is how much of it you'll engage with. You will survive a shitty garbage person not liking you, I promise. Walk away, and if they have a problem with you walking away...well, then they have a problem. You don't.

Life is too short to spend sucking up to assholes.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:04 AM on January 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

(I think enough other people have covered the DTFMA approach, so I'll give you hypotheticals going the other way. Feel free to not do what I suggest.)

If your preference is to give the relationship another chance, then an assertiveness script or phrase could be the way to go. (Something like "I don't agree and I won't lie to you.")

In addition to their shitty political views, I don't like the way your friend called you names when you hurt their feelings. You can maybe have worthwhile dialog with someone who argues respectfully, but name calling and emotional manipulation and prejudice all suck.

I get the impression from the history that you gave that your friend has an attitude like "you're either with me or your against me." I absolutely do not think you should hide your opinions just to unruffle the feathers of a person who is noisy about their obnoxious political beliefs.

I did have a superficially similar expericence of having person I otherwise like link to some Milo Y crap on social media. I growled under my breath and then posted a better source on the topic and an important fact that changed the framing of the issue. I did this politely and didn't even ever check back to see the reply. (I'm old and probably using FB wrong.) So my approach probably sounds chicken, but this is a thirty year familial relationship and I think bringing "light" rather than "heat" to the discussion meant I was more likely to nudge the needle of his thought processes.
posted by puddledork at 9:08 AM on January 3, 2017

OP, I think you used some buzzwords I didn't exactly understand because other commenters are calling D a bigot, saying D has shitty political views, and that D hurt others. I didn't get that emotional reading your narrative because the buzzwords didn't distract me as much.

D was attacked publicly, and then called you on the phone to discuss why you went along when they were called out, right? And then that conversation went badly, right? Laid out like this, I'm failing to see how D was doing anything unexpected, or at least D didn't start out upset with you - outside folks instigated between the two of you, and this created an argument between you and D. Politics aside, you admitted you were implicated in the public group humiliation exercise, I mean call out, of D. And you admitted you would not have supported this call out had you not been inserted into it, you would not have initiated a public humiliation of D, correct? Since you were dragged into a public call out, couldn't you have made a neutral public statement asking everyone to back off and engage in civil discourse? Instead, public actions other folks took resulted in the private break-up of your friendship with D.

You were friends, and when your friend got publicly humiliated, you kinda went along, maybe even joined? Beliefs aside, was that OK for you? Were you participating in civil discourse that pushes the conversation forward?

I'm asking you to strip off the labels and look at the pattern. If we are alive today, then there are facts we each believe that, sadly, are only "facts." We're all misinformed because that's the nature of information. My litmus test is that if whatever (or whoever) it is triggers folks (or me!) I want to take a second and third look because probably it's not as represented -OR- maybe it is as presented, but it's being used as part of a pattern for political or social influence -OR- it's false, and still being used to forward an agenda -OR MY FAVORITE- thing is a byproduct of different agendas and is usually only shades of true, but damn interesting because it's neat when anything goes off-script. Things don't often go off-script these days, that's why this phenomenon is my favorite...

Anyway, fighting within communities is very much within the script right now, so if you can mend this, that is the most politically moral and ethical thing to do. Start a trend of true civil discourse within your community. That's how you "get back to" your friend and tackle the personal issues this interaction has highlighted for you.

It might not be possible to get folks to play nice online, but maybe if you set the example? Maybe?? Anyway, I hope you try it, even if this particular effort (and friendship) fails. Divided we fall. We all get hurt, too, as you and D are finding out. It's not worth it, is it?
posted by jbenben at 10:10 AM on January 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Bowing out gracefully is fine - online political discussions really bring out the ugliness in people. I muted at least half my Facebook friends before quitting altogether, and at least 90% of them were people I agreed with politically!

If you DO feel like leaving with a jab, might I recommend replying with "sorry if my posts offended, but we're not slaves to political correctness." This is something I occasionally replied to Kaepernick critics with and the results were consistiently amusing even if I wasn't being particularly classy.
posted by yorick at 11:43 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Consider grabbing a book that (ironically) a lot of red pillers etc. like: When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. Provides good practical strategies for dealing with criticism without either arguing or capitulating.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:03 PM on January 3, 2017

« Older Where to rent a NYC-area studio/1BR for $1500 or...   |   Am I Doing Enough For My Elderly Parents? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.