When I’m upset, it’s always physical. My heart actually aches. My stomach comes undone. I feel a knife stabbing my back or twisting into the base of my neck. I’ve always been that way.
So it was no surprise that when Jerry and I arrived home on the evening of November 8th, 2016 after having witnessed the devastating, disorienting election results at the house of close friends, I climbed the stairs, brushed my teeth, walked towards my bed, fell to the floor and moaned. This went on. Apparently, I made a lot of noise.
My good hearted and loving partner was barely conscious himself. But from the deep recesses of his own zombie state he noticed my distress. Asked if I was ok, if I needed anything, if there was something he could do. But the tone in his voice wasn’t quite right. Did I hear condescension? Annoyance? Wasn’t it obvious—of course I wasn’t ok, and there was nothing he could do. The deplorable Donald Trump had just been elected president—what did he expect me to feel? And by the way how come he wasn't moaning? Why hasn't he shed a single tear? How could he be so internal and quiet and gone? What’s wrong with him? I didn’t say those things, thank god, but I thought them. Which, of course, left me with a sense of total alienation.
Finally I got in bed. Turned away. Curled up into myself. Couldn’t even reach for the dog.
In the coming days, I discovered we weren’t alone. As post-election tension mounted, others were fighting as well. And they were people on the same side.
And we’re supposed to understand the “real” other.
This election has split apart couples, friends and families. People feel deep disdain, contempt even, for the other side. There was plenty of media coverage prior to the election about how family members are coping with their differing political beliefs. Since the results, and coming up to Thanksgiving, it has only gotten worse.
Last week, a NY Times article, cited many examples of such divides. A social worker from Spokane had this conversation with her brother who is a fire fighter: “’I told him I was trying to explain to my children ‘why hate wins,”’ she said. “His response back was, ‘I get to explain to my children why their opinion matters.’”
She asked him to stop texting her. At the time of the article they hadn’t talked since and I bet they won’t be sharing holidays any time soon. I’ve heard similar stories from neighbors on the street. Families are calling off Thanksgiving, not because it is a holiday that celebrates the genocide of Native peoples, but because they can’t stomach eating with relatives from the other side. This hasn’t surprised me.
What I didn’t expect, was that friends and family on the same side would be fighting quite so much. These fights are about how they respond—how they relate to each other, deal with grief, process strong emotions, consume information and whether they take action and what kind, or not.
Imagine any of the following, and see yourself in these scenarios:
· The final straw. One partner in a young couple wants to leave the country. For the other it’s the final straw; he wants to stay and fight, and judges her for jumping ship when her efforts are needed. Because of this difference in values, a decision that’s been brewing comes to a head. They will separate.
· I told you so. A woman is pissed, really pissed-off at her husband for dismissing her nervousness in the weeks coming up to the election. She was not convinced Hillary would win and she was angry that he didn’t take her seriously during many discussions in which she was the only female in the room. Trust me baby, it won’t happen. On election night she views his previous dismissal as sexist, and his optimism as a piece of his male privilege.
· Frozen states. One woman emotes freely. Her partner goes numb and becomes distant. Not because she is mean or uncaring, but because she feels shame for not being able to feel. As a child, she went numb to deal with trauma. So here she is: numb again. And hating herself. And hating her partner for highlighting it.
· Power and privilege. A Jewish woman is terrified, panicked, freaked out, furious—and freely expressing it. Her friend, a woman of color takes a philosophical, intellectual approach—may even see a glimmer of hope, the possibility of a paradigm shift. Theorizing turns out to be a form of self-protection; she can’t afford to feel right now. Pre-existing relationship conflicts around their different backgrounds rear up.
· Bullies and trauma. On election night, a kind, aware, usually sensitive man drinks too much and turns into a bully with the person he loves the most. All the times he was beaten as a kid—at home, on the street, by grown men, by his classmates—it all comes rushing back. And now, with a bully in the White House, it’s way too much to handle.
· Abandonment. Gripped by activism, one runs out the door at the crack of dawn to meet with community, plan protests and draft petitions. A heart broken partner is left at home, unable to muster the will to get out of bed.
I could go on and on.
On the morning of Nov 9th, I opened my eyes, looked at my phone, saw Trump Triumphs, and moaned and writhed in pain. But I could also muster words—three small ones. We kissed and made up. I brushed my teeth and went to work, and then again the next day, and the day after that.
For many reasons, not the least of which is that it gives me a momentary break from my own grief, fear and outrage, I am lucky to have a job that allows me to support other people to work through their strong reactions. I can help them discover strategies, their right ones, for moving forward. Because how we respond to events is very individual, deeply personal and based on many seen and unseen factors, including one’s history of personal and social trauma, one’s individual dreaming process and one’s life purpose and path.
As we settle in for the long haul, every one of us has to find the right way—our right way—to move forward. Whether you are despondent or scared shitless, glad the system cracked or pissed off that it is so badly broken, whether you blame Hillary or Breitbart or Facebook or Russia or the failure of the liberal elite, you are right, in some way—you have one piece of the puzzle. Whether you are moved to attend rallies, incite riots, wear a safety pin, sign petitions, call congress, consume masses of information, post copious status updates, work on the other within yourself, paint, sing, stand up in the theatre, or simply hug the people near you a bit more tightly than usual, thank you for doing something.
Because I believe all of your reactions and perspectives are needed. For those on the left, it’s another opportunity to walk your talk, and value diversity. And if you are able to feel into the other side and connect with someone who is really truly different, thank you extra.
Let’s try not to turn on each other. But if you do, remember it’s not just you. It’s also a result of the polarized field we are in.
Jan Dworkin, PhD. Facilitator, Coach, Therapist, Multi-cultural educator, Awareness Cultivator, Art Dabbler. If you like my blog, please share or subscribe here.