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Stronger Together: The Search for Ground and Truth in the Aftermath of the Election

I have felt many sickening emotions since discovering that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States: namely, shock, denial, despair, terror, panic, disgust, heartbreak, overwhelm.

As Tuesday night unfolded, in addition to the above, I began to feel utterly alone. Awakening to the images of state after state turning red, voting to elect someone who ran on a platform of hate…it felt like my world was crashing down.

I woke up Wednesday morning terrified to leave my house and face this new reality.

And I am a white, financially fortunate person, who has only faced discrimination as a woman. I could not stop imagining so many others in worse positions.

pexels-photo-65568As I emerged in fear and grief on Wednesday morning, I was quickly reminded of how many out there think and feel like me.

The “me against the world” attitude I briefly experienced transformed into a mantra of “us against hate”.

Many of us are shocked and terrified about the state of our country and what the future could hold. The panic is real. We are being slapped in the face with the selfishness, scarcity, and other-blaming that is still alive. It is ugly, and it is painful to face.

However, we are now aware that there is something here we must pay attention to…something that cannot be skipped over. A truth has emerged that many among us do not feel tolerant or accepting. As much as some might like to continue in the direction the Obama administration steered us, many in our country are pushing back. They feel unheard, misunderstood, and left behind. Our massive challenge now is to attempt to listen and hear them, rather than what we may reactively feel like doing – saying “fuck you” and hating them right back.

What we are seeing right now is a large-scale, collective version of splitting. Splitting is a defense mechanism in which someone (a person or a group) is seen as all good or all bad and no room is left to see the complexity of the other.

Children do this often to make sense of a very complicated and nuanced world—they see things as matter-of-fact, black-and-white. Adults split too, as a way of defending against anxiety or fear and maintaining self-esteem.

As Nancy McWilliams puts it in her book Psychoanalytic Diagnosis, “In everyday adult life, splitting remains a powerful and appealing way to make sense of complex experiences, especially when they are confusing or threatening. Political scientists can attest to how attractive it is for an unhappy group to develop a sense of a clearly evil enemy, against which the good insiders must struggle.”

Through this election, a group has emerged that is clearly enraged and terrified of not having enough of what they need (or believe they need). We see that some in our country are using splitting to fuel hate – ugly and vicious hate against other races, genders, sexual orientations, ideologies, origins, etc.

In response, I believe our job is to fight hard to stay conscious and not do the same—to seek to understand those we currently cannot and attempt to heal this massive bleeding tear through our divided states.

Many of us are in a process of collective grief – grieving the loss of the immediate future we had imagined and the shattering of a belief that Americans would not elect a person who embodies such blatant disrespect and hatred. As in any kind of grief, there is no “right way” to move through it. It is important that each of us individually move through our collective and personal responses to the current state of our country.

This week, I have found great solace in sharing with and hearing others who are also grieving. It has been profound to unpack together what we are facing. After a brief moment of aloneness, I have been reminded that we truly are Stronger Together. Barack, Bernie, and Hillary have paved the way for us to rise up together and tackle this next phase of fighting for equality and justice.

It is painfully challenging to love and be kind and vulnerable in the face of hate and anger. When we are ready, we are being asked to find a way. To continue to model the kind of living and relating we want everyone to be capable of. We are being called to love harder, to judge less, to open our minds more.

Many people are going to become or remain victims in the next chapter of our country, including many of those who supported Donald Trump. Our challenge is: how do we continue loving those who have hated us or others we care about? This will not be easy. This will take a collective metabolism and integration of the reality that is upon us.

With all that I felt as the election results were established, I did not imagine I would anytime soon feel what I feel now: hope.

We are not alone in this moment of collective grief. We have each other. We have love. We have an opportunity to address and mend the clear brokenness in our greater community.

It will not be easy. The pain is real and not to be ignored, subverted, or skipped over. But much like being together at funeral, we can share our pain, which lessens it and makes it more manageable.

We can continue to challenge our inner critics and speak to ourselves the way we hope we will one day ALL be able to speak to each other. We can love fiercely, extending hands and smiles to strangers, listening to those we struggle to understand, and keeping our hearts open.

As a therapist, I am remembering that I am human too. This is an opportunity to practice modeling feeling my feelings, being with my pain, and not knowing all the answers.

I have re-experienced this week the relief (and healing) that can happen for my clients when I acknowledge that I don’t know how to come out of this, either. We can be in the pain together and that is enough.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.



Rochelle Greenhagen

Rochelle Greenhagen

Rochelle Greenhagen is a San Francisco-based psychotherapist offering counseling to facilitate healing and growth. She specializes in working with eating disorders, relationship issues, and low self-esteem.

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