Posttraumatic Election Disorder

Anxiety, depression, obsession, sleeplessness, flashbacks, fear; all reactions to traumatic stress.  Very interestingly, this past week, my email box, phone messages and actual face to face interactions with loved ones and clients have been full of stories about people’s stress reactions.  It doesn’t necessarily matter what side of the political divide someone falls on, although people of color, those who are part of the LGBT community, immigrants and women seem to be faring worse, almost everyone is reactive in some way to the events brought about by the long and contentious political season and the subsequent election.  I have spent a good deal of my career treating people who are adult children of narcissistic parents.  These people have been particularly effected by the election of a man who voters on both sides of the divide, can agree is a narcissist.  It has brought up old fears and memories.  A good president is like a good father (or perhaps someday a mother).  They provide for our safety, reassure us, give us courage, keep us from fighting too much with our siblings and make us feel that we are deeply cared for.  We trust that they know what they are doing and ultimately will act in our best interests.  A narcissistic parent does none of these things.  A narcissistic parent is self-referential and primarily self-interested. Narcissistic parents tend to make their own reality and expect their children to live in it.  Millions of Americans have been retraumatized these past months.  Even before the election, what we had being playing out on the national stage was a family at war.  Two parents who clearly hated each other so much that the family was literally breaking apart around them. We, the kids, were being asked to choose one.  Live with them for the next four years.  But the fighting, name calling, incivility and rancor became so acute and frustrating, that we didn’t want to live with either of them.  We just wanted it to STOP.  It reached a point that whoever we chose, at least half of the family was going to be really upset.   This is where we find ourselves now.

How do we deal with Post Traumatic Election Disorder?  The same way we deal with most trauma.  We speak our truth to people who can receive it even if they don’t agree with it or share the same truth.  We make sure that our words and feelings will be met with compassion, civility and respect and we deliver our words using these same rules. This may mean that we don’t post rants on Facebook or Twitter.  Inevitably those missives will offend someone who will then find it necessary to offend you.  It’s far too easy to type up a nasty response and send it off into cyberspace, not thinking about the hurtful consequences.  We are all very vulnerable now.  Try not to make yourself even more vulnerable.  I am not suggesting that we remain silent about our points of view.  I am simply stating that we express those views appropriately, respectfully, mindfully and preferably face to face.

When someone has PTSD, it’s best to remove them from the disaster site.  This is hard to do in our current situation with 24/7 news and constant internet feeds.  Some of my friends, and I include myself in this group, have subscribed to “media blackouts.”  This is OK to do.  The world will keep turning and the news will keep happening whether or not we are constantly vigilant to it.  If you find yourself overwhelmed by the demonstrations, the activities of the transition team, the opinions of news commentators, shock jocks, pundits, or your uncle Ralph, turn it off!!  Listen to Mozart, take a walk, play with your dog, watch children play, make love.  The bigger message here is to treat yourself with loving kindness.  It is, after all, love and kindness that will get us through this difficult time and all difficult times.

Veterans, victims of abuse, disaster survivors the world over have often found it helpful for their own recovery to help others.  Our current situation is no different.  If you are fearful about racism, examine your own covert racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia or homophobia and do something about it.  Start within yourself and then reach out to others.  Take action, be it political, social or intellectual, and make change happen.  Don’t allow yourself to be victim and don’t allow the victimization of others.

Lastly, don’t succumb to complete negativity.  The world has been turning for quite a long time and things do right themselves eventually. In the end “all will be well”.  This is a dream we are dreaming.  If we don’t like it, let’s dream another dream.  Make it one of peace and justice and love and let’s all AWAKE in a better world.

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