This presidential election appears be traumatizing segments of the public in a way that is almost unprecedented. Our workplaces are not excluded from this. Yesterday, NPQ received a number of notes from its community, expressing both general despair and gratitude for our presence, our being present. This made us stop and think—are our readers taking a pause to work through these feelings? It’s apparent that’s something we need to do, but why?
For some, part of the discourse of this election has felt like a general assault on their identities and the identities of those they are close to. The result is a combination of deep fear, anger and sadness that takes a moment to process. Some can mobilize immediately to get on with their work, but maybe part of your work is to make sure that your colleagues have some observed space to recalibrate.
Time magazine reports that messages to the Crisis Text Line doubled over the past 24 hours to 2000, with the majority coming from LGBT teens or their friends. According to the organization’s chief data scientist, they mainly expressed the perfectly reasonable fear that the policies that protected their rights would be eliminated. Meanwhile, the same was going on at Trans Lifeline, a crisis line for transgender people, which said it received 426 calls in a single night, breaking a previous record of 250. Here, too, the calls were from those who worried their freedoms would be removed by policy change at the federal and state level. In Kings County, Washington, the hotline reports that callers expressed confusion and a jumble of feelings—that they felt isolated and alone.
At a nursery in New York, parents received an advice sheet compiled by the National Association of School Psychologists for families that experience trauma. It contains advice for parents on self-care. At the school my grandchildren attend, parents were invited into the “maker-space” for the day “just to hang out” and decompress.
MoveOn.org organized protests yesterday in cities across the U.S. The New York Times reports that last night, “In New York, where protesters walked in the streets, disrupting traffic, Brandon Ramos, 21, said the election result ‘feels like a nightmare.’…‘I’m Latino,’ he said. ‘My entire family and neighborhood are depressed. I still haven’t comprehended it.’”
Many who turned out said they were fearful that Trump would follow through with his pledge to deport undocumented immigrants.
“I just felt waking up today that I was waking up to a whole new world, to a nightmare for my parents and people I care about and love,” said Tony, a 23-year-old line cook who declined to give his last name as he marched in Chicago, carrying his 6-year-old daughter on his shoulders.
“There’s so much heartache,” he said. “It’s a bad time to be a Muslim or an illegal citizen in this country.”
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It is clearly more intense for some than for others. Perhaps one might be distraught imagining the results of years of human rights work disappearing, knowing and caring about the humans in question. But maybe instead you feel in immediate danger. The day before the election, Fast Company published an article by a staff member of RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network). She writes that Trump’s openly misogynistic rhetoric was already retraumatizing their constituents.
Before election season kicked into high gear, I would typically find between five to eight visitors waiting in the queue when I began my shifts. Lately, it’s not unusual to see queues of 15 women or more—women who are willing to wait an hour or longer for someone to talk to, someone to tell them they’re not alone. On the weekend after the release of Donald Trump’s infamous…tape, visitors to the hotline increased 33 percent and traffic to RAINN’s website skyrocketed 45 percent.
She writes that this has turned this period into something of a protracted nightmare for survivors and that the trauma was likely to last well beyond the election itself. But she wrote that before Tuesday. What will it mean to all of these people that the ultimate place of honor has been awarded by our political system to this serial purveyor of disdain?
In AlterNet, Adrienne White, vice-president of finance for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is quoted as saying, “When you ‘grab’ something, you tend to do it by force—you’re not asking for permission.”
I heard those words and then I started thinking about the woman he was talking about violating. Then that led me to [think about] my own violation…I started crying, and then I felt this helplessness. This man is just talking carelessly about grabbing somebody’s sexuality and it’s not right. I know it’s impacted me personally, deeply personally, and perhaps it’s impacting somebody else.
In the same article, Gail Wynn, a sex therapist and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA explains, “Symptoms of PTSD result when a person has been frightened to the degree where they frequently have no words…They have no behavior, no response that they know of that they can use to stop whatever is happening, that is frightening them and terrorizing them. This is the body’s way of registering to an individual that whatever they’re experiencing is really beyond what the body can process. The body frequently goes back to those same symptoms and those same kinds of reactions with other experiences that may be similar to what they went through, or even where the same language might be used,” as in the case of Trump’s vivid descriptions of sexual assault. But women need not have experienced sexual assault to be horrified into a deep sadness at the widespread support of an aggressive and unembarrassed misogynist. It is like we are being ushered back into a past from which we escaped only with effort and pain
What makes Trump’s presidency all the more traumatic for some is the very fact that he was able to gain surprising—even shocking—support across all regions of the country, with the exception of major urban centers and select other areas. For immigrants and their families and friends whose children are worried that they will be split up or deported to a place they don’t know and is likely very dangerous, for the Muslims about whom he attempts to spread fear and loathing, for those living in Black communities Trump blithely describes as hotbeds of criminality, and for people with disabilities whom he has openly mocked, Trump’s public approbation has quite simply been a shock to our systems—the kind of shock that comes from real or impending injury. For many people, it resembles the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (Lack of acceptance here may be an option.) Though we will move beyond that grief and into collective action if we handle ourselves properly, we may need to take a moment with our staffs and supporters to be there for them—to seethe, or sob, or rave in safety. Then, when we go out to act, a meeting of the eyes may be all it will take to recharge us.—Ruth McCambridge