It's been one month since the country was upended by the presidential election. Though some of the immediate panic has subsided, many of us are still chewing our fingernails, wondering what's next. We’ve lived through many elections. We have been on the winning or losing side of every one. But this one...this one feels personal. Many of us still feel scared, deeply disappointed, and really, really angry.
As a therapist, I encourage people to pay attention to strong emotion. It is our body’s internal warning system. Anger, for instance, is both clarifying and activating. It tells us where our personal boundaries/values are and compels us to protect them. The strength of our post-election emotion suggests something powerful is occurring. Here are a few observations that may provide context for your feelings:
1. Disconnection: The election illuminated how deeply disconnected we have become from one another. We’ve been so busy sorting our fellow citizens—friends and family included—into factions of “us” and “them,” that we have forsaken compassion and understanding. We may think we know why people voted for Trump, but have we taken the time to ask? If so, have we really listened to the answer? I think most of us are shocked by the outcome because we have not been paying attention to the nation’s growing dissent with the status quo.
2. The system needs to be broken. The word "politics" is derived from the greek word "politicos," meaning "citizen." Historically, we have elected "politicians" because rules and guidelines (aka policies) were needed to organize our shared lives together. We need clean water, roads, bridges, and public spaces to enjoy. Without politics, none of these things would exist.
Elected officials were originally intended to be the mouthpieces through which citizens’ voices were expressed; instruments for the common good. Over decades, the sanctity of high office has been highjacked by wealth, corruption, and theatrics. Laws are no longer written and enforced for the vast majority but for a handful of individuals who can afford to buy influence. And who is entrusted to regulate this system? The very people who benefit from it. If that seems messed up to you, that’s because it is. It is normal to feel sad, disappointed, scared, or angry when things are messed up.
American citizens are tired of leaders who are motivated by personal and corporate greed. Regardless of whether it’s true (facts seemed to have mattered little this election—a sign that the Trump brand reached beyond logic or reason), Trump marketed himself as the sledgehammer who would break apart an old, outdated system and reform it to resemble its original intent: the organization of our shared lives together.
3. Better choices: I recently filled out a demographic form that had FIVE gender categories yet we have two (viable) choices on a presidential ballot, a vote for either of which usually requires us to ignore or abandon a significant subset of our core values. Why is it that only democrats care about human rights and climate change? Why is it that only republicans care about the health of our businesses? Why isn’t there a fiscally conservative, morally liberal choice for the American people? We need more choices. We need better choices.
4. Clarification: The deeper we go, the clearer things become. This election has exposed our core. American people seem surer than ever of who they are and the values by which they choose to live. After the election was announced, there was a reported surge in volunteerism and donations to human rights and women’s health organizations. People are putting their money and time where their hearts are. When this happens, we all benefit.
5. Healing: Any time we are broken open, old wounds get triggered. Every suitcase we carry gets reopened: every slight, judgment, rejection, discrimination, every sexual impropriety. Ruptures in our social and familial bonds reappear anew. It can sometimes be hard to recall the loving connection that predated the election. Ask yourself what personal or familial hot button may be getting activated right now. Talk about your feelings with people you trust. Fabric cannot be mended until it is torn. Pain is often the necessary precursor for deeper healing.
None of us knows how the next four years will go, which only adds to our discomfort. When faced with uncertainty, many of us feel compelled to “do” something. Start with noticing your own strong emotion. Remind yourself that your body is trying to tell you that something significant is occurring. Perhaps your feelings are guiding you toward an acceptable course of action: a committee to join, a charity to support, an organization that could use your skills. If action is needed, trust that you will take it. Unless or until that happens, let yourself feel your feelings until they pass.
If you notice yourself heading down the road of fear (which is usually signified by lots of “what if” questions), try to remember that this moment is one line in a chapter of a story that is still being written. The purpose of any life chapter is usually revealed in retrospect. Remember that only good can come from this: either Trump delivers on his promise to reform government or he paves the way for a more qualified visionary to take his place in four years. Win-win.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.