Most of us to the left of center are clear that our moods and dispositions have been off since the election results of 2016. In the first days, leading into weeks, many of us and those in our communities where tearful, agitated, anxious, worried, enraged, grief-stricken, crest-fallen, rage-filled, shocked, angst-filled, … need I go on? At first, we could easily attribute it to our feelings about the elections and felt legitimized in our reactions. As the weeks wore on, many of us started to judge ourselves about still being so unbalanced, or even forget why we were so completely out of sorts.
While it is hard to track our general feelings about life over a multi-year period, I think many of us would agree that if we had taken a survey about our outlook on life before October 2016, and repeated it now, we would see a sharp decline in feelings of hopefulness and general well-being and a sharp increase in feelings of anxiousness, hopelessness and even panic.
Between moments of panic, despair and apathy, many on the left have found some solace in community, activism, and rigorous self-care. Certainly, as a psychotherapist, those would be in my top recommendations for how to deal with the crisis of our current political climate.
Another of my top recommendations would be psychotherapy. I suspect some would question how therapy could help, since therapy is directed towards change within the self, and if the political climate is a primary source of distress, individual psychotherapy certainly cannot change our political climate. I have two answers to that.
Psychotherapy is a Safe Space
The first answer is perhaps the most intuitive, Therapy can be a place of self-restoration to counter the debilitating effects of threats to our feelings of safety, the pull toward inertia, the exhaustion of relentless over-mobilization, guilt regarding how much we are or are not doing to promote political change, and the weariness and trauma of rage and disbelief. Whether your reaction has been immobilization or hyper-mobilization, psychotherapy can be a supported, contained, contemplative space where you can sit, in relationship to another, whose only investment is your wellbeing.
Many of us as therapists see our work as inherently political, both because of the impact the social, moral, political world has on the lives of our clients, but also because the internal freedom and clarity obtained through psychotherapy allows our clients to engage and shape the world without the distortions of fear, pain, and trauma. Citizens build a nation, and citizens connected to their truths – uncompromised by harsh super egos, distorted familial and societal narratives, and traumatic visceral responses – will inherently help build a kinder nation.
Grieving is the Path
So that brings me to the second reason psychotherapy can help in times of such political chaos, even though its immediate focus of change isn’t the external world. And this answer is one that clients often ask regarding other external situations they cannot change. For instance, clients will routinely ask, “why talk about the past when it can’t be changed”, “why talk about my family if they are never going to change”?
Here is an answer. Nothing is over until it is grieved. I mean really grieved.
When we have a friend whose partner just cheated on them and ended their marriage, the next many months will be filled with them crying on our shoulder re-living moment after moment of both the love they shared with their ex and the hurt and loss. They will repeat the same stories. They will shake their head and widen their eyes in disbelief. They will want to let it go and put in their past, but will be haunted with grief. If they have good enough friends to listen to them, and force themselves to re-live every one of the special moments and horrible moments, they will find themselves slowly moving on.
When a tragedy involves loss, and all tragedies do, the sufferer must review each tentacle that they have wrapped around that lost object, and slowly unfurl each one, suffering the loss of that connection each time they release each tentacle. The longer we have been “attached” to someone/something/the object, the more tentacles we have wrapped around it. Some of the tentacles are thin, and only need one of two times of grieving them to release their hold. Some tentacles are long and thick and must be reviewed many times before they lose their grip.
The tragedy of our last election and the resulting years of politics was different for all of us. What we lost is different. Some had horrible truths about the United States confirmed, some learned new truths. Some were directly put at greater physical/legal risk, some watched those they love get bigger targets on their backs. Some had dreams and hopes crushed, and some lost their innocence about the goodness of our country, or our democracy, or of people themselves. But many of us suffered great loss.
When we still open our eyes wide in disbelief, if is because we haven't faced yet what we know, what we lost. We haven’t mourned it. We haven't successfully come to understand it is gone.
Psychotherapy offers the most contained and safe place for this kind of deep grieving. And there is freedom born of deep grieving. Even if our past is still the same. Even if our families are still the same. Even if our government is still the same.
Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
If you are interested in therapy and live in Philadelphia or the Greater Philadelphia Area, please let Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice match you with a skilled, experienced psychotherapist based on your needs and issues as well as your and own therapists' personalities and styles. All of our therapists are available for telehealth conferencing by phone or video in response to our current need for social distancing.
For more or related topics in blog and video blog, follow the links below:
I Feel Crazy and it is Trump's Fault
Surviving Trump's America as it Turns Towards Hate
Should I Go To Psychotherapy?