Thursday, November 10, 2016

Focusing on the 2016 US Election Results

Entry for 10 November 2016

Ann Weiser Cornell's latest piece (, which my friend and former student Catherine Cowie has also picked up and commented on, has moved me to try to put into words my experience of this week's US election:

When it finally became clear early yesterday morning (UK time) that Donald Trump was going to be the next US president, against all apparent reason or sense, it took a while to even begin to process my feelings.  Over the next few hours I was able to mostly distract myself as I attended graduation for the recent cohort of our counselling students, proudly applauding them as they walked across the stage in front of me and later posing for photos (me in my garish American academic cap and gown) with the happy graduates.  I welcomed the distraction because it left a part of me free to continue processing what had happened.  What gradually emerged was in Focusing terms a bodily sense of physical injury, as if I had been punched in the middle of my chest. Then, as I stayed with the feeling and talked about it with supportive colleagues, who were also struggling but still able to give me space, I was able to really feel the anger in the blow that had left me feeling wounded. 

Immediately, I recognised this as the same feeling that 9/11 had left me with, and the whole thing began to open up for me:  I felt the anger in this vote, and then I was able to contact the sense of hurt, despair, and longing to be understood behind that anger.  As a therapist I have often accompanied my clients as they explored past their secondary reactive anger to the primary pain and sadness underneath it, and learned from them that even urge to strike out, to gain revenge, hides a longing for empathy: “I am going to hurt you, even if it injures me in the process, because that’s the only way you will ever understand how bad I hurt.”

So I am in mourning this week, like many of us in the privileged, educated elite, because Donald Trump has won and we have lost.  Nevertheless, as much as it pains me to write this, he has earned it, for better or worse: I could even go so far as to say that he deserved to win, because he was the only one who most understand the sense of hurt, brokenness, anger, and, yes, even longing for true understanding that is the core pain of the new minority of poor, struggling, working class people (especially older white males but not just them).  They recognised in him their own sense of injury and anger, understood and reflected back to them, and, grateful, they rewarded him by electing him President. 

Facing this reality is going to require a lot of us: Saying hello to and accepting the parts of us that are scared of what will happen next; supporting each other in honest, positive ways that move us beyond outrage and simply disparaging those with whom we disagree; accessing our hope, creativity and resilience in facing new challenges; and most of all listening to and offering empathy to our hurt, angry brothers and sisters.

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