The Boston Globe and USA Today have described the post election anxiety that so many are experiencing since Trump won the presidential election as "a new kind of grief." Others have coined the term "trumpitized" a uniquely painful and nebulous form of traumatic stress. Even for some of those who voted for Trump, they are experiencing a uniquely challenging experience: many are afraid to speak of their support for fear others will judge them. It has been said that we as a nation have never been more polarized or divisive. The recent record numbers of protest marches across the country and world are another reminder of this. Clients have shared with me that they feel helpless and outraged and are unsure what to do in order to move forward and decrease their fear and disillusionment.
First, we have to allow ourselves to feel what we feel without judgment and to know we are all in this together. This is what self-compassion is all about---recognizing and allowing our reactions to life without judgment or resistance. A central tenet of eastern practices is to simply notice and allow our emotional experiences without judgment, analysis, or extrapolation. Trump anxiety is not about finding a quick fix or perfectly constructed way to view this outcome in a bright light. Or that we will reach a point of understanding that will set us up to be impervious to what could be a long four years of his presidency. In fact, the more we try to "figure it out" or make sense of what has happened, the more pain we can sometimes find ourselves in. We have a right to feel sadness, confusion, and bewilderment and the more we resist what we feel the more it takes over. Notice the feeling your having, name it, breathe gently and kindly for as long as feels right and move on to an action or experience that is in line with your goals and what you value in your life.
As much as processing and grieving are a critical part of this process, we also have to know when it's no longer constructive. Trust your intuition, is conversing with everyone who is willing to engage in commiserating really helping you feel supported and relieved? Or, is it simply washing the pain and anger over you once again and hoping for that perfect answer or explanation that will allow you to not feel this pain? Is social media helping you or is it simply fueling the fire of helplessness and rage? Make clear choices about what to pay attention to and don't apologize for it. We all grieve and manage the pain of disappointment and loss differently, you are permitted to develop and maintain your authentic approach. Pay particular attention to your mind, noticing when you engage in thinking practices that augment and distort your perspective. Be on the lookout for catastrophizing, maintaining a reality check with what has happened and not believing the monstrous and mammoth fears the mind generates about the future of American under the Trump administration. Ask yourself, does that thought help me or weaken me?
An antidote to fear is action. For some, this is far more important than anything else in managing grief and trauma. For these people, they convert their pain into constructive action (e.g. building stronger communities, fighting discriminatory practices and legislation, and working to protect Obama's executive actions). Connected with like-minded allies allows them to feel supported, energized, and productive. For many of us, if we work through the raw emotions of grief we are more likely to begin an external process of transformation. For others, action comes first which then helps them get unstuck from the dense and layered post election despair. And again, we need not judge our response, if our best friend is comforted by attending rallies and political events but we feel more comfortable employing other types of self care, we need to respect this.
Focus on what you can change and try to let go of the rest, the Serenity Prayer is incredibly powerful and needed during a time like this. When faced with fear of the future, focus on all that is unchanged and will remain unchanged, regardless of who is in office. Recognize the actions you can take today in your day-to-day life that bring meaning, joy, and purpose in your life. You have much to offer and no one can take that away if you keep yourself in the driver's seat of your life. Together, we will thrive and grow, we need to remember that hardship and loss can be transformative and growth oriented. As Thomas Moore states, "if the dark night is indeed a rite of passage, your job is to let the transformation take place. Be sculpted, renewed, change. You are the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Your task is to let the change happen. Do what you can to participate in and cautiously and artfully further the process. Discover the very point of personhood: the process of constant renewal."
Justin Less, LICSW
Psychotherapy Networker, January 2017
The Dark Nights of the Soul, Thomas Moore