I am a master’s level social worker trained in psychodynamic theory, after reading this article I was enlightened to what is taking place politically in our country and how I could help people to begin to heal psychologically from its effects.
As clinicians we are quite familiar with the concept of identifying with the aggressor as a means of coping. The classic example is when a child watches his or her parents in an abusive relationship and identifies with the abusive parent in an attempt to avoid identifying with the victimized parent.
This dynamic is one that seems to have played out during this presidential election. By October 2016, Donald J. Trump already reportedly had insulted more than 280 people, places, and things on Twitter.3 Despite the evidence that Mr. Trump verbally bullied not only his opponents, but also the media, Latinos, women, the LGBTQ community, the Republican Party (his claimed party), and Muslims, people came out in numbers high enough to make him America’s president-elect. In the classic process of bullying his perceived enemies, those considered “the other,” he assigned names such as “crooked Hillary,” “little Marco,” and “lyin’ Ted” – just as a bully at school assigns names to the kid he’s decided does not have enough worth to be called by his given name.
He depicted women who accused him of sexual assault as either not being pretty enough to be worthy of assault or self-serving in their public accusations. Mexicans entering this country were referred to as “rapists and thugs.” African Americans were told that their lives are so bad that they “have nothing to lose” if they voted for a candidate who talked about erecting a wall to block out other people of color, and changing immigration laws that would banish an entire religion from entering our country.
So … this happened. And, in our consulting rooms, we are seeing a stark increase in the numbers of individuals, couples, and families reporting overwhelming anxiety, sadness, and a sense of de-realization (“it’s surreal”). At the core of their anxiety is concern for self, family, and friends as well as concern for the country as a whole.
The post-election notions that families would be immediately broken up, parents deported, the Affordable Care Act immediately dismantled, and countries bombed immediately after Election Day did not become realities. However, there is valid reason to be concerned. The Southern Poverty Law Center has noted a significant increase in post-election hate crimes throughout the nation.4
Trump supporters are feeling victorious because their “underdog” candidate ran an unconventional presidential campaign and won. However, some who voted for Mr. Trump will at some point experience anxiety when the excitement of “winning” wears off. Psychoanalyst Justin Frank speaks to this and more in his Nov. 9, 2016, blog in which he concludes: “While we mourn and blame others and ourselves for our American tragedy, Trump voters must eventually look at themselves in the mirror and exclaim, ‘what have we done?’ ”
We’re already on to reality acceptance. The reality that so many African Americans and people of color have been living is now known and experienced by many who had felt immune to being marginalized. They now understand the loss of security that accompanies overwhelming fear of being the object of verbal, emotional, and physical aggression and violence.
The goal here is to accept the past, be hopeful about the future, and be vigilant in the present.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors, and are not meant to represent the views of the American Psychiatric Association, Novant Health, Clinical Psychiatry News, or any other organization.