As a therapist who specializes in working with adults who experienced childhood trauma, much of my work involves uncovering or naming narcissism and power abuse. In fact, that may be the heart of my work. In this unprecedented election season, that work in relation to the Republican nominee is deeply and consistently on my mind. It is also on my clients’ minds as we share real fears regarding this election.
Nearly more than half of my clients seek help in managing their anxiety about this election, and I haven’t experienced this before about a national event. Clients usually need help in their relationships, jobs, reactions, beliefs and most importantly, feelings. Initially I was not prepared as I was working on getting my own emotional house in order in sorting out my feelings and fear about this election.
That’s different. Things are different. Elections in the past while heated, don’t activate us like this one has. I believe it’s due to that in elections past, for the most part, we conclude that there won’t be immense direct impact in our day-to-day lives. Until now. The candidate promises a ban on Muslims, mass deportations of undocumented Mexicans, a trade war with China and a large wall. He embraces misogyny, racism, and deems the marginalized as weak. One cannot dismiss the current tone to match eerily 1930s Germany, where a demagogue rallied a populous via scapegoating an entire religion and multiple ethnicities all while promising the economy would thrive from taking things back from those persecuting and exploiting the nation. It’s a cheap way to rally and the last time the world saw this, it led to complete devastation.
My clients worry about this hatefull ideology and ask me for specific help with their feelings about it. They specifically want to know how to both take action and manage the at times overwhelming and consistent fear. The anxiety about what will happen in a month is based upon many valid things but most importantly, the fear is also valid and not only that, it’s a good thing to have such fear. More on that later.
Here is the situation that causes anxiety as I and others see it. Were Donald Trump to become elected, we would have a deeply impulsive and erratic narcissist leading the free world. We don’t have to further expand on why that’s bad. We already feel it and how he behaves is self evident for what is to come if he were elected. Yes, I have diagnosed an individual from afar without knowing him personally and normally clinicians avoid that. However, the Republican nominee’s symptoms and diagnostic criteria are extremely evident and public. You also do not need to be a licensed clinician to know that the candidate exhibits a deep and dangerous narcissism. The diagnostic criteria for the American Psychology Association definitive manual of diagnosis – the DSM-V for narcissitic personality disorder can be found here. Find the Narcissistic Personality Disorder heading and read both the DSM IV and DSM V criteria for reference.
In my own clinical training on the personality-disordered individual, the general pathology is regarding the individual’s lack of a personal monitoring system. Most of us for better or worse question our thoughts, behaviors, and actions. “Did I have to say that joke right then? It might have offended Joe. I’ll check it out with him.” This personal surveillance mechanism in our psyche doesn’t exist in the Narcissist therefore there is no awareness of the impact of actions. The narcissist’s focus is on: power goals, adulation from others, beating opponents, and doing real talk which is seen as lying to others. To the Narcissist, falsehoods are simply advocating for one’s good personhood and character. The Narcissist grandiose character negates data and facts. In addition to this, the personality-disordered individual cannot see people other than as objects or obstacles. People serve a purpose only.
Prior behavior is a good indicator of future behavior and for those of us opposed to the Republican nominee we have a just and healthy fear in this election. Our healthy fear comes from what our personal values, which can include things like: accountability, kindness, self-ownership, and operating from a place of understanding rather than blame.
As a trauma therapist, I see a pervasive pattern. Those who can disregard the toxic behavior of others and maintain a bond with an abuser has already been subject to an individual like Donald Trump. For his supporters, there often seems to be a choice made between ethics and results. Why get bogged down with morals when a straight talker can make big things happen? There is something dangerous and powerful in the attraction to the Narcissist and I believe it can be traced to childhood. That may require another article but my thinking finds it way to children growing up with: authoritarianism, toxic loyalties, chasing promises of rescue, magical thinking, abuse disguised as tough love, perception distortions, and simply the familiarity of the self righteous stance, “we’re good, and they’re bad.”
Here are five ideas that I have been discussing with my clients in session about how to manage the anxiety around this elections.
- Limit all media. I have been guilty of this myself in daily checking of polls and looking for positive changes in the election. In August I was very much uplifted but the rollercoaster of September was rough. Take a week off or take a break till November 8 would even be better. We stay in fear and anxiety by constantly checking and engaging. This keeps us from being present and grounded.
- Take Action. Put the upset and fear into action by writing elected officials, donating funds (even a little), volunteer for a campaign. I believe that when we are triggered (a little more than upset) action often gets us out of the stuckness of it. We can also move on or sense some movement in the matter.
- Validate. If you are outraged and indignant, good. Your values have been challenged. You have the right to be upset and use that energy for positive direction. We can often feel powerless in the face of lowly racism, demagogue worship, hate and general sleaze but our aversion and disgust are correct. We need to be empathic in feeling what we do. If we accept and validate our emotions we can get out of an energy drain.
- Self Care. Another very healthy level of being present is taking direct action and coming home to our bodies-away from our worried minds. Whether you are inclined to meditation or pray or have another practice, return to it and you’ll have an easier time of letting go of outcomes. If you feel the tendency to check social media and possibly sabotage going to the gym because things are too dire, embracing the idea that we have little control over the outcomes would actually help. Going to the gym or engaging in another form of self-care will give us reprise from the worry loop.
- Connect with others and talk about it. Share your feelings and they will run you less. In connecting with others about it, include how you are or can manage the fear better. There is also healthy empowerment in feeling unified in the upset and action. It may cause upset in the present but leaving a good real conversation always makes us feel better.
Lastly, since September, I have set a positive intention of who I want to be our president several times a day. It goes beyond wishful thinking, as it is a brief meditation about feeling intense gratitude for something we want to manifest in the future confidently. It is a practice that is used in many places but I have found it in the work of Dr. Joe Dispensa who does fascinating and effective work around synchronicity and serendipity. This idea really helps me exit the worry loop and be present. I also feel that I am building a reserve of hope that keeps me sane. Will it work? It’s working right now for me. My daily mantra is “Hillary Clinton will win this election.”
Let’s maintain some hope and hang in there. We do not have control over the outcome of November 8, 2016, but in the meantime we can be grounded and present.