Psychological impact of the election

Several people have recently asked me about my take on the psychological impact of this election, so I thought I would write something about it. 

I believe the psychological impact of this election, regardless of the outcome, is trauma through the legitimization of aggression as a response to fear.

In my psychotherapy practice I work with helpers, healers and innovators, to help them manage fear and anxiety, so they can distinguish danger from perceived danger, and practice not taking out their fears on themselves or others, so they can feel safe, happy and fulfilled in the world.

The problem with this election is that it teaches people that a possible solution to fear, is to take out your aggression on others. This idea flies in the face of one of the core principles of how I try to work and live.

The problem with this election is not that Trump could win.

This possibility is only a symptom of a much larger problem that has been brewing for a very long time. Trump's candidacy by itself suggests the terrifying reality that over time anxiety and fear of many different kinds have gone unaddressed for way too long, and finally have joined forces with hatred, racism, rage, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and misogyny.

As a result we are now so far gone as a society that a very large contingent of Americans have endorsed that aggression and violence against women, people of color, and every marginalized group, is an appropriate answer to fear and anxiety.

No matter the outcome of the election, the fact that unchecked aggression hangs out there as a validated solution in America, is absolutely terrifying.

The psychological impact of this election is that people are being traumatized and retraumatized by the legitimization of aggression as a response to fear.

What does that mean? It means that people throughout this country are now scared every single day that their basic human rights will be taken away. And they are not scared by a perceived threat. They are scared by an actual threat. They are going to sleep, waking up, and living their lives in a state of fear. It may be mild for some.  But for others it is far from mild. 

I believe there is a way out.

It is very hard. And we need a lot of help to get there.

We need to get underneath the hatred to the roots of the original human fears and anxieties. In order to do this we need help making sure that the fears and anxieties of all are heard, acknowledged and addressed. Van Jones is someone who is very good at this. Watch him and listen to him speak. He has a unique ability to bring people together across many different divides.

Also, people's fears, whatever they happen to be, must be heard in a context where aggression is never condoned. Until we do this the trauma will continue and we will remain a traumatized nation.

Rachel Goodman, MFT works with helpers, healers and innovators, in Berkeley, California. You can find her at www.rachelgoodmanmft.com

A problem with the quest for work/life balance

Our culture is of at least two minds about work/life balance. On the one hand we praise the notion of a balanced life, with time for hard work and time for relaxation and play. And yet it is also the American way to believe that one should never stop working. Even in California, where the image is that for those privileged enough, one can lead a "good" life, still many people feel quite imbalanced when it comes to the equation of work and relaxation.

I have been thinking about this and realizing that maybe a pursuit other than work/life balance is in order.

Imagine for a moment that we have achieved this mysterious balance of "work" and "life", but also imagine that when we think we are taking a break from work we are actually not taking a break at all?

What if we are merely switching our frenetic energy from work to other things, that also keep our minds active, jumping from thought to thought?

If this is true, it would seem unfortunate to work fewer hours, potentially for less pay, in order to not really relax at all. Doesn't this create a double incentive to keep working longer and harder?

Instead of asking how do we create work/life balance, why not ask how do we create an individualized plan for the best version of rejuvinative time?

For our doctors

I am deeply saddened to hear of the record numbers of physician suicides. As a psychotherapist with a practice focusing on helpers, I feel a responsibility to reach out.

I have been aware for some time that doctors are under extreme amounts of pressure to perform with precision in a system that does not value their well being. Anyone who has been to the doctor's office knows that a doctor's schedule is far from leisurely. But I only recently learned more about just how bad things are.

I read these two articles:

The Hidden Epidemic of Doctor Suicides

Silence is the Enemy for Doctors Who Have Depression

In training to work in the helping professions, it is highly recommended that we psychotherapists pursue our own psychotherapy. One of the main reasons for this is that when you are spending your days helping others, it is essential to seek your own support. This is a bedrock principle of the field.

Also, in my lifetime I have seen dramatic change around the destigmatization of psychological support, such that it is now commonplace for people to seek psychological support in recognition that the job of living is, on it's own, hard, and warrants support. 

I am deeply saddened and gravely concerned that this change has not yet reached the culture in which our doctor's operate. Not only do doctors deserve support around living, but much more than that is clearly needed. 

If you train doctors, are yourself a medical student, a doctor, or know and care about doctors, please know that we are here. 

I specialize in working with people who often put the needs of others before their own. 

I am happy to help out. And if I cannot help, I can assist with finding someone who can. 

My very best. 

 

 

 

Ode to Anger

Anger naturally conjures up negative images of violence and road rage, but there is more complexity to this emotion.  After seeing "Inside Out" and marveling at the nuanced portrayal of sadness, I left feeling frustrated that anger did not get enough positive regard. I was inspired to write something for anger.

Ode to Anger
By Rachel Goodman, MFT

Anger, thank you for waking me up! 
I was surprised by your grand disruptive entrance.
Although it was uncomfortable when you made my
heart beat fast and my toes tingle,
I am glad you jolted me into my body
where I could feel my way
to my needs with new clarity and purpose.
Some say I should go looking underneath you
and ultimately release you.
Maybe eventually.
For now I am grateful for your company.
It is because of your clamoring that I can hear the sound of my own voice.
As a baby cries her needs to her parents, trying to get them met,
I tell myself my needs in order to take care of myself.
Thank you, anger, for your wake up call.
I am now listening.

 

 

Reflections on "The Giving Tree"

Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s story, The Giving Tree, is idealized by many as a perfect picture of unconditional love, and reviled by many others as the epitome of an unhealthy relationship. It is easy to take sides. As a psychotherapist I find myself more drawn to something else. I am curious about what drives the tree to invite the boy to chop her down and take all of her leaves, apples, branches and trunk, in the name of love.

Is the tree really happy?

We are given a mixed message about this. The narrator says several times that the tree is happy. In fact the story ends with the line “and the tree was happy.” But there is also a palpable sadness that grows in intensity throughout the story. And at the end, with the delivery of that last line, all that remains of the tree is a stump.

I am left thinking that the tree never had the opportunity to pause and explore her feelings on the subject. Nor did she have the opportunity to explore alternative notions of giving and love that do not require a giving away.

I wonder what might happen if the tree were offered space for this kind of exploration. And furthermore what might happen if the tree were encouraged to experiment first with giving herself much of what she wants to give away to the boy. 

What kind of tree would she be?