Upon Hillary Clinton losing the election, a distinct grim tone to people’s sharing immediately cropped up in my therapy practice. Expressions of overt sadness, anger, disbelief and fear were par for the course during the first couple of weeks after the results. Although, interestingly, these feelings were not just about Donald Trump and the onslaught of poor choices to come politically. Many people expressed a variety of increased negative emotions related to their personal lives as well as their overall outlook on being a human being in ways that would not have been typical just a few weeks prior.
The election results quickly cast a gloominess across liberal America, one that generalized to seemingly everything. Yet, just as my concerns for the well-being of my clients (and all liberal Americans) reached an all-time high, a clear shift became apparent. Almost everyone started to work past the doom and gloom of the results with almost the same sharpness with which it all hit.
While there are exceptions to every rule, I attribute the shift largely to the fact that people just want to feel good. When things are difficult, we want to feel better. We unconsciously seek out ways to make that possible.
This was true even in the initial week following the election. I heard a lot about too much drinking, too much eating and too much sleeping, to name a few indulgences. These were the first attempts at feeling better. Now, one month since we learned that our country is to be run by an underqualified, self-serving egomaniac, people’s attempts to feel better look not just different, but more efficient. People want to organize for action, they want to implement programs within their workplaces geared towards protecting minorities, they want to engage in community building. The way to feel better has become realizing that we are not powerless.
I share this with you because I think it is incredibly important in this moment that we look for signs of hope wherever we can find it. One distinct sign of hope presently is realizing the resilient nature of most people.
Psychological resilience is defined as the ability to adapt to life tasks in the face of social disadvantage or highly adverse conditions. Everyone’s level of resilience is unique depending on genetic factors as well as environmental ones like how our childhoods went, the way our parents treated us and what types of coping skills were modeled for us in the home. In the last several decades, researchers’ understanding of human resilience has changed substantially. It was once believed that various traumatic and stressful events would cause distinct and potentially permanent disruption to one’s ability to have positive and enjoyable experiences. Now, it is more commonly believed that humans possess an ability to recover from a whole variety of difficult events and are not largely obstructed from future fulfilling experiences. In short, we now know that human beings have bounced back: a yo-yo effect, if you will.
In many ways, a national event as unprecedented as a man like Donald Trump taking the highest position in our country is a trauma-inducing event. Especially for minorities — with the threat of rights being taken away and physical, mental and emotional safety being called into question — it is not going too far to suggest that real damage has been and likely will continue to be done to people’s mental state. As such, we must rely on our inherent resilient qualities to help us continue to experience positive emotional states and to not become overly bogged down by the hits that are sure to come.
A couple of key ways to hone resilience is to practice good self-care (whatever that means for you) and to build and rely on community initiatives and a strong support system. As members of the LGBT community, we are superiorly positioned to come together as a community both for support and for activism.
The next four years are going to be uncertain and tumultuous; however, as resilient human beings and as members of a truly impactful community, we are inherently equipped with the wherewithall to come out on top.