making a political statement. Let me be clear about my intention here. As a
therapist, I am working with clients who are experiencing very intense reactions
to the recent election results. I have already seen people, even well meaning
people and mental health professionals, saying things that invalidate and
minimize these feelings. My goal in this post is to share, from a mental health perspective, the reasons for some of these feelings in an effort to help us all
understand each other, be more compassionate towards each other, and to
examine our own privilege. However we choose to move forward, I hope that
compassion and understanding guide our responses to other people, as well as
what actions we choose to take in our world.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of groups of people or individual experiences that may lead to challenging emotions around the election. These are ones that I see
and hear about a lot, and want to draw some attention to. If you have more to
add to the list, please comment below. This is an important discussion, and the
more we know about each other, the more we are able to extend compassion.
Triggering Past Trauma
Quick definition of trauma: According to the DSM (the big purple book that
therapists use to diagnose) trauma occurs when a person experiences exposure
to actual death, sexual violation, or serious injury. An individual may personally
experience this, witness it, learn of it happening to a close friend or family
member, or repeatedly have first hand and/or extreme exposure to these types
of events. Many people in the mental health field acknowledge that people can
experience symptoms of trauma even if they don’t meet all the criteria exactly
as lined out in the DSM. A major component is feeling intense fear and being out of control. Other types of trauma will be touched on below, but this gives us a
starting point for the discussion.
Survivors of Physical and Sexual Assault
“Domestic violence survivors have a unique experience when it comes to Trump
because we’ve fallen victim to men like him.”
Kate Ranta- Domestic violence survivor
President-elect Donald Trump has demonstrated behavior that is very similar to
that of an abuser. Some of them include gas lighting, failure to take personal
responsibility, denying objective truths (especially regarding his own categorically abusive behavior), justification of this behavior, joking about violence against
women (specifically, Secretary Clinton), minimization, and rationalization. There are many examples of these behaviors. I will not take the time to outline them all
right now, but have some links to articles below if you would like to explore these further.
Not only does witnessing these behaviors trigger memories of traumatic situations experienced by domestic violence/sexual assault survivors, but someone who publicly engages in this behavior is not being held responsible for them, either for things in the campaign , or for past instances of self-described sexual assault. Instead, he has been granted the highest office in the nation. This mirrors many survivors’ experiences of their stories not being believed and not mattering. The idea of sexual assault is normalized, without any rights being given to the survivors.
Many people of color, women, religious minorities, LGBTQI individuals, and
people with disabilities have histories of trauma specifically due to their
marginalization. Some of these include microaggression, experiencing
harassment, institutionalized racism, ethnoviolence, sexism, physical and sexual
assault, and witnessing oppression and harassment.
Not only has Trump mocked, blamed, scapegoated, and threatened individuals in these populations, but there has been no accountability for these actions. In fact, he has been celebrated for them by many of his followers.
This is where that traumatic element of feeling out of control comes in. It is
having a great impact on those who fear they could end up re-living some of the worst experiences of their lives.
Fear about the Future
On a political level, many fear laws being changed that have existed to protect
minority groups. Some of these include issues around marriage equality,
immigration status, religious freedom, and healthcare. Other political issues of
concern are for the environment, and the dismantling of the Environmental
Protection Agency. These concerns are based directly on statements and
campaign promises made by Trump and members of his administration.
Some will and have argued that Trump is just one man, that there are many
checks and balances in the government system, and that these fears are
irrational. Even if this were true, the lives of many have already been impacted by extremist individuals who claim to support Trump and are using his appointment as President to justify their actions.
There has been a significant increase in hate speech, threats of sexual assault,
harassment, violence, hate crimes, and suicidal ideation and attempts in some of these groups since the election several days ago.
Even individuals that come from a place of greater privilege are experiencing fear and anger. They have family and friends that fit into minority and oppressed
populations. They feel misrepresented, and sometimes grouped into categories
that don’t fit their beliefs. Many of them also feel out of control, and worried
about how the world around them will change.
There are many feelings going around that haven’t been listed or explored here,
both by people who received the election result that they were hoping for, and
those who did not. My plea is that we take time to understand each other, to
value each other’s feelings, and to continue to act with kindness towards each
other. People deserve to feel safe, and to have their feelings validated. If you
witness someone experiencing harassment, please speak up. Listen to their
stories. Don’t be a bystander and allow this activity to continue, whether on the
bus, or in larger systems. Find ways to take action. If you are hurting, discouraged, overwhelmed, traumatized, or just needing extra support, please call a friend, a
therapist, or even a crisis line (numbers listed below). And know that your feelings are valid, and that I, and many others, honor your truth.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741
Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860
The Trevor Project (LBGTQ+ youth): 1-866-488-7386
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
To report a hate crime: 1-800-VICTIMS