Last week my American friends and I watched the results come in for the presidential election. One of my friends was crying even before Donald Trump was declared the winner. All of us are in shock, not expecting this outcome at all. I feel like I could get depressed, like a dark cloud hangs over our future and that so many problems will come from this election. He is a man I don’t respect or trust and I don’t see how so many people could have chosen him. Do I need counselling? I haven’t been able to concentrate at work. How can I make sense of this and feel better? I am so disappointed.
Whenever we experience loss, particularly a sudden or shocking loss, we go into a process of grief. This election result is a loss for you and your friends…the loss of a vision for the future, the loss of leaders you believe in, the loss of the hope that comes from mistrust, and the loss of the ideals that governed your choice. We also can feel confused when our perception of reality, the way we see things, is challenged by those who see the world quite differently. This election challenges us to answer: “How can others see things so differently?”
The process I am talking about is how we move towards acceptance and find an equilibrium where our emotions are not interfering with our ability to function. It is more difficult to accept something we do not approve of, than a change that is in line with what we desire. Acceptance and approval are not the same thing. Acceptance is what it means to be in reality, how things are, rather than resisting reality because it does not fit what we want it to be. Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. Sometimes it helps to think of that process as integrating new truth into our old ways of seeing things.
It is also important to realize how we have a tendency to live in the future. The election was about two people telling us what they would do, if elected, in the future. We all start creating images and ideas about what that future could be or will look like, but if we pause for a moment; we can realize that the future cannot be accurately anticipated.
So it is important to be careful now, not to start creating hypothetical scenarios about what will happen. There are too many variables to consider which are outside our control. What is more important to do is to look more closely at what is inside our control; to see how we might respond to the new information that we are integrating into our reality. We can choose a healthy response based on frustration, fear and anger, if we use those to guide our choices rather than to react by letting our intense emotions override our thought process. Fear plus imagination is a dangerous combination if it leads us to react to what we think will happen in a hypothetical reality. It is always important to come down to earth and to find a way to ground ourselves in day-to-day, here-and-now living. We can feel feelings, but not when our feelings become too intense that they distort our reality.
Lastly, we can realise that strong emotional reactions have a tendency to pull things out of perspective. We become focused on the feelings and the thoughts they generate. When we deflate those feelings, but not ignore them, we can find more room inside us to factor in considerations, to put it into perspective. Sometimes it helps to identify what we feel, rather than simply following our thoughts. Just naming that you are disappointed, angry, frustrated, fearful, and so on is a way to reduce the intensity of those feelings. Remember… this takes time and is not so easy to do.
I hope this is helpful and might help you understand a process. People can get stuck in a process like this. Righteous indignation (a form of anger) can be a trap for people because it is anger that is easy to hold on to because it is justifiable. It may be helpful to work with a therapist if this process is one that leads to depression, disillusionment or influences one’ ability to function.
It is a challenge.