On Moving Forward After Trump’s Election
It has taken a full week before I could ground myself enough to address the monumental loss many of us experienced with Trump’s election: loss of our identity as a country with decency and compassion; loss of progress; loss of our chance to make history by electing our first female president; and perhaps most pressingly, loss of our sense of safety—particularly for those who are not cis, straight, white men.
I am proud of those in my community and in the media that are wise enough to name the necessity of grieving. The human impulse to band together for support and guidance is powerful, and evidence of how our species continues to survive through unfathomable pain and fear.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one can. As a therapist, I understand the primal force of fear, and the power it has to drive us into catastrophic thinking or reckless (re)action. And if you are an educated, intelligent or curious person, your mind, fueled by fear, will spin elaborate tales of the future. If you’re not wise about the interplay of your mind and nervous system, you may create a feedback loop, or fall into apathy or despair.
As I’ve sat with clients, read, reflected, meditated and spent time with my community, I have developed the following guidelines for navigating the coming days and weeks:
(1) Feel your feelings.
The stages of grief are powerful, cyclical, and unpredictable. Expect to feel shock, denial, fear, rage, sadness, despair, numbness, acceptance—not necessarily in that order. Any of those states can come and go randomly, and the grieving period will last for some time.
Acting out one of these emotional states—and by acting out I mean making major life decisions—before the experience has been fully metabolized is not the same as taking mindful action toward change, nor is it protecting yourself. Acting out perpetuates the supremacy of fear and chronic reactivity that characterizes our collective psyche.
Alternatively, you may be inclined to numb your feelings with your psychological defenses, and this is equally counterproductive. Psychological defenses are ways we numb ourselves to painful feelings; they include denial, minimizing, rationalizing, compartmentalizing, dissociation, regression, projection, and intellectualization.
Getting through grief requires staying present, finding support, and self-care.
(2) Be careful about where, when, how, and why your get your information.
The media has profited enormously from this election—and could be fairly blamed for its outcome—by manipulating the emotions and addicting us to outrage, disgust, hope and fear. And it is still at it.
In order to stay present with reality and act wisely, we need to know what’s happening. But we also need to claim our feeling selves as our own, not puppets for media manipulation. Be wary of articles that are trying to make you feel something, as opposed to giving you information.
Social media is a clearinghouse for information and also a breeding ground for panic and misinformation. Foreign press tends to be more measured, as it has more distance from events.
Wherever you seek knowledge, ask yourself: Is this serving me? Why am I checking [the news, or my Facebook feed, or _________] right now – is it because I have a specific question in mind or because I checked five minutes ago and I’m still feeling anxious? Is it because I want reassurance?
You may want to consider limiting your media time for a half hour a day or twice a day. Be intentional about it. Your energies are better spent healing your own pain and serving your community.
(3) Find your community and meet in person, regularly.
Social media is a poor substitute for in-person, regular gatherings. We are highly social and tribalistic beings, and in a time of crisis we need to band together in an embodied way. Answers and healing flow from these gatherings organically.
In a time of crisis, it is important to find some sense of agency or power. For many right now, this is just getting up and going to work in the midst of tremendous grief and fear. For others, it is protesting. Or organizing. Or signing petitions, calling your local representatives, running for local office, donating to organizations that fight for your values, talking to loved ones who supported Trump, speaking up when you otherwise wouldn’t, intervening in xenophobic acts, rearranging your priorities, volunteering your time, or becoming more politically involved in preparation for the midterm elections. There are so many ways to make a difference, and if each of us just did one thing, it would add up to a lot.
But there is one very important caveat: do not try to take everything on. Do not become a warrior for every progressive cause that you feel is now under threat. Pick something that you feel passionately about, and take one step in that direction. If you have room for another step after that, great! But there is a real danger in getting overcommitted and then not following through.
What the world needs is sustained consciousness and action, and that is best served by having a realistic view of yourself and what you have space for. The action doesn’t need to be perfect or address large-scale problems. It doesn’t require special knowledge or skill. As my Dharma teacher said, “you don’t have to know how to cook to volunteer at a soup kitchen. You just have to show up a little.”