I’ll admit, I’m feeling a bit torn about writing anything about the US elections here on the blog.
But I also feel like I can’t just ignore it.
I know that many readers of this blog are not Americans. But a number of you are. And I am. And both Americans and non-Americans alike have been impacted by this and are likely to continue to be impacted for some time.
I’ve been hearing the reactions from many of my clients. I’ve been hearing from my friends on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ve been feeling the impact myself.
In my training as a psychotherapist, I learned that my own political beliefs had no place in my work — or, if they did, then only behind the scenes, in the form of advocating for changes in mental healthcare or protections for vulnerable groups.
And normally, I completely agree. But, unfortunately, this election has been anything but normal.
I certainly don’t want to alienate anyone or make anyone feel unwelcome here. I recognize that thoughtful, caring people can arrive at dramatically different conclusions for what is best for their country and government, and I respect everyone’s rights to hold and express differing views. For many Americans, this election was about love and mutual respect vs. hatred and bigotry. For others, it was about the economy. For still others, it was about a system of government they feel has failed them. (And that just scratches the surface.)
I certainly have my own views, and this isn’t the space for many of them. But the ways in which this election have impacted people emotionally is relevant here — as is my commitment to social justice and encouraging compassion for ourselves and others.
Some people are grieving. Some are more hopeful. Others were already disillusioned with the political process and tuned out a long time ago.
Some Americans are experiencing a crisis of national identity, feeling like they woke up last week to learn that their country wasn’t what they thought it was — an especially complicated feeling to grapple with when you’re living abroad and already not quite sure where “home” is anymore.
Many people of color, women, trauma survivors, and LGBTQ people have been experiencing the results of this election as a visceral threat. They’re feeling unsafe. And they have reason. Across the US, reports of hateful speech and violence have increased over the past week.
And while we may be removed from some of this while living abroad, we can’t avoid it entirely, even if we wanted to — people here in France are worried about what this may mean for the upcoming elections here as well.
What’s more, while Americans living abroad may be at a distance from these events, that distance isn’t necessarily helpful. Many of us feel far away and isolated. Some have been concerned of how people here in France will respond to us. Will they lump us all in a group? Expect us to speak for and explain a result many of us still don’t fully understand ourselves? Write us off entirely? Lecture us on their opinions about our flawed political process?
And so, because I recognize that many of us have been struggling with this, I feel like it would be negligent of me not to acknowledge what happened last week — and that I have some feelings about it.
So here are some things I’ve been trying to focus on in the past week in terms of self-care. I hope you find them helpful too.
1. Remember that your feelings are valid.
Whatever you’re feeling right now, those feelings are valid. Give yourself permission to feel them, even as you also recognize that they may shift and evolve over time. If someone else tells you to “settle down,” or “get over it,” or suggests that you’re “overreacting,” that’s their problem. They’re entitled to their own reactions too, but they don’t know your experience.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a dialogue about why you see or feel things differently. However, it’s helpful to acknowledge and work to understand your own emotions first so you can approach these conversations in a more grounded way.
Remember, as always, your current emotions have important things to tell you about your needs. Listen to them. While the initial impulse for how to react (e.g., to blame or attack someone else) may not always be the most useful, the need that lies beneath that impulse is still real. We have to understand those needs before we can figure out the best way to respond.
If you’re struggling to offer yourself some self-compassion around your feelings right now, these (free) audio-guided self-compassion meditations may help.
2. Look around for inspiration.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” –Fred Rogers
Part of the struggle for many people I talk to has been coming to terms with the fact that so many Americans supported a candidate who has so openly expressed bigotry, misogyny, and hatred toward so many marginalized groups.
It can be easy to feel that these sentiments are suddenly mainstream and normalized.
However, as Mr. Rogers (staple of my childhood) said, when bad things happen or you’re feeling overwhelmed with negativity, “look for the helpers.”
Even though there are many people who either share these hateful views or don’t see them as a serious problem, there are millions of others taking to the streets in protest, donating to or volunteering for charitable organizations, advocating and standing up for each other.
Look for them. Let them inspire you.
The former may make you feel hopeless, but the latter should give you hope. (Maybe enough to even join them.)
3. Connect, Communicate, & Set Healthy Boundaries
Reach out to those around you who you know will be supportive — even if it’s just over social media.
Hug your loved ones.
Let your friends and family know that you appreciate them and support them in all their diversity.
If you have friends or family who may have been especially triggered by recent events, let them know you’re there for them. If they’re upset, try not to dismiss their feelings. See if you can try understand. (If you can’t understand their logic, see if you can just empathize with the feeling.)
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need in the way of support — and don’t forget to ask others what they need from you. It doesn’t always have to involve long conversations about politics. Sometimes just a hand squeeze does the trick.
Once you’ve gotten the support you need, you can challenge yourself to having the difficult conversations with those who see things very differently. But making sure that your own needs for care and support have been met first will help you enter these conversations in a more open and less reactive way, hopefully allowing them to be more productive.
If you have friends or family who aren’t being sensitive to your feelings and reactions, give yourself permission to set some healthy boundaries with them. That doesn’t mean writing them off forever. But it may mean letting them know that you’re hurting and that you need some space.
4. Recommit to your own values.
If you feel like your values are under attack, recommit to them yourself wholeheartedly.
Take some time and space to really reflect on what is important to you, what you believe in, what you want your life to stand for.
Consider ways you can promote these values in your family and community — through volunteering, through speaking up, through sharing your thoughts with others.
5. When you’re ready, look for ways to channel your feelings into productive action.
Many people I talk to have been feeling helpless. After a period of simply allowing yourself to feel whatever it is you feel about this current situation, see if you can find some ways — even small ways — to take action.
Never underestimate the difference you can make — even as an individual.
You can donate money or volunteer your time to organizations working to protect values you hold dear. (For some ideas of organizations you might consider supporting, see here.) You can call your elected officials to let them know what’s important to you.
Action doesn’t have to be grand-scale to be meaningful.
You can commit to speaking out against hatred and bigotry when you witness it. You can take the time to make sure that the people in your life know that they are valued and appreciated. You can listen and provide support to a friend who is feeling afraid, resisting the urge to dismiss his feelings. You can commit to raising your children with the values you believe in. You can challenge yourself to try to have compassion for those who are different from you.
You may not be able to change the whole world all by yourself, but you might make a huge difference in someone’s life. And don’t underestimate the power of collective action. You can’t do it alone, but millions of people are activated right now, so let’s harness our collective energy for good.
6. Remember: The story isn’t over yet.
For those who share my commitment to fighting for human rights and social justice, this is undoubtedly a setback.
But the story doesn’t end here.
This is a huge wake-up call that we cannot be complacent. We are clearly not living in a post-civil-rights-era world, as many people had come to believe.
However, we don’t have to sit here passively while someone else writes our story.
We are the writers of our own stories — individually, nationally, and internationally — so let’s get out there.
We have work to do.
Never underestimate the difference you can make.
p.s. I know that many British people are still feeling the impacts of the Brexit and its ever-evolving aftermath. I’m also very aware that people coming from many other countries around the world have been experiencing struggles that may make the current challenges in the US pale by comparison. In no way do I mean to suggest these issues are less significant than what is now playing out in the US. However, as an American myself, I am naturally a bit more tuned-in to what is going on in the US, so I fully acknowledge that.
p.p.s. As always, I would love to hear from you — your thoughts, reactions, or questions about this post. However, if you choose to share your thoughts below, please keep in mind that these comments are visible to anyone who visits the blog. Therefore, I would encourage you to use a pseudonym (not use your real name) to protect your own privacy. If you would like to get in touch but would prefer to contact me privately, you can do so here.