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Trump Trauma Is Real. Here’s How To Fight Back

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Trump Trauma Is Real. Here’s How To Fight Back

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Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The day after the 2016 presidential election, therapists around the country reported a surge in clients emotionally devastated by the shock and disgust of Donald Trump’s win. Several psychologists recounted meeting with patients who compared the jarring effect of the election to the psychological blow of 9/11.

Tracey Rubenstein, a Florida-based social worker, told JTA that in the months following Trump’s victory, “80 percent of her clients would cite the election and its aftermath as a new source of fear, sadness or anxiety in their lives.” Psychotherapist Enrico Gnaulati wrote that he was “inundated with clients using therapy time to process their shock, disbelief, dismay, and outrage.” This June, the New York Times spoke with psychologist Robert Duff, who said the political climate is “a topic of conversation and a source of anxiety in nearly every clinical case that I have worked with since the presidential election.” Four decades of practice didn’t prepare psychologist Sam Menahem for the outpouring of grief he saw following Trump’s triumph, which affected patients more extremely than any other election he recalled. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Menahem told JTA, “never.”

In an attempt to succinctly describe the constellation of signs and symptoms patients have presented with, therapists have created an collection of unofficial diagnoses, including Trump traumatic stress disorder, Trump anxiety disorder, post-Trump election trauma, Trump trauma and post-Trump stress disorder (PTSD). This isn’t about self-pitying sore losers, but genuine physical and mental manifestations of fear and anxiety confirmed by clinicians. Symptoms vary from person to person, but can include insomnia, panic attacks, irritability, malaise, anti-social feelings and depression. The Trump 15 refers to weight gain resulting from excessive “eating and drinking undertaken to blunt the pain” of the election, and relatedly, some have reported numbing themselves with drugs and alcohol. Suicide hotlines, among them those that serve LGBTQ populations, reported a steep rise in calls far exceeding those in other elections.

“I have people who’ve told me they’re in mourning, that they’ve lost their libido,” Nancy Molitor, a Chicago psychologist, told Kaiser Health News. “I have people saying the anxiety is causing them to be so distracted that they’re blowing through stop signs or getting into fender benders.”’

Trump’s ugly rhetoric about racial and religious minorities compounded with the daily emotional consequences of marginalization and institutional racism has led to “race-based trauma,” a form of PTSD suffered by people of color, most acutely African Americans. The enduring national trauma of 9/11 and 15 years of war is exacerbated in black and brown communities by the collective trauma of local police violence, distressing images of black death on a viral loop and cops who literally get away with murder—a constant reminder of America’s devaluation of black life. The specter of the 2008 financial collapse hovers over all Americans, but black and Hispanic communities were hardest hit and still haven’t recovered. Unemployment among blue-collar workers of color is the highest in this country, pushing working nonwhites even closer to the edge of the economic cliff.

Trump also exploited trauma among his base. Though his mostly middle– and upper-middle-class supporters were more economically secure than other voters, they perceived themselves as underdogs after years of watching the issues that plague their communities go unaddressed. At a moment when they were desperately trying to make sense of why the American dream seems frustratingly out of reach, candidate Trump offered a bevy of scapegoats—immigrants, blacks, Muslims, ambitious women—as an answer. In towns where jobs have dried up, hopelessness and pessimism are tied to fatalistic behaviors such as alcoholism, opioid abuse and increased rates of suicide. A Nation post-election analysis found that Trump won big “in counties heavily burdened by opioid overdoses and other ‘deaths of despair.’” Trump “saw” the frustrations of people who feel increasingly invisible, “heard” their anger, and above all, exploited their pain and rage.

Trump’s tenure in the executive office has continued to worry millions of observers. The president behaves erratically and unpredictably, and the only reliable pattern in this White House has been scandal and chaos. The resulting breakneck speed of the news cycle has yielded Trump fatigue syndrome, which Vox describes as the “exhaustion you feel from trying to stay on top of the nonstop scandals and absurdities emanating from the Trump administration.” The president denies having uttered things that are easily discoverable with a Google search, taking gaslighting—a form of mental abuse that makes people doubt their reality—to levels previously unseen in an American political leader. At hours when most of us are sleeping, the president is awake and rage-tweeting insults at the media and any other imagined enemies.

“In addition to the normal chaos of being a human being, there is what almost feels like weaponized uncertainty thrown at us on a daily basis,” Kat Kinsman, the author of Hi, Anxiety told the New York Times. “It’s coming so quickly and messily, some of it straight from the president’s own fingers.”

Many are now trying to comprehend a U.S. that defies their understanding of what their country should be. Politicians have always lied or manipulated the truth, but Trump has taken even the worst kind of politics-as-usual to a new level. The inability to bridge that mental gap results in moral injury, which psychologist Noel Hunter describes as the “emotional distress” and “damage done to a person’s sense of justice in the world resulting from violations of fairness, the value of life, and ethics.” Essentially, moral injury occurs when we witness violations of the social contract as we understand it.

“It’s the first time that I’ve really questioned the values of Americans as a group,” one 25-year-old therapy patient told JTA. “I’ve never felt that the core fundamental values which I believe our country is built on were in jeopardy the way I did after this election.”

Another said that the election had “shattered my faith in the essential goodness of the world.”

“In psychotherapy you often discuss scary dreams, but with the implicit understanding that they’re just dreams,” Gary Shteyngart, an author and therapy patient, added. “What happens when the nightmares come true? It’s a whole different fifty minutes.”

Black Americans and other visible minorities have long had to deal with the longstanding gaslighting of a country that professes to lead the world in human rights, freedom and liberty, while denying those virtues to so many of its nonwhite citizens. For many minorities, the election confirmed their worst fears about America. As Jesse Washington notes at the Undefeated, “One sentiment rang loudest in many African-American hearts and minds: The election shows where we really stand. Now the truth is plain to see, many said—the truth about how an uncomfortable percentage of white people view the concerns and lives of their black fellow citizens.”

That did not make the Trump pill any easier to swallow. In fact, minorities reported higher levels of post-election stress than their white counterparts. The precipitous rise in hate crimes after the election, and the president’s silence about them, has only further contributed to an increasingly inhospitable environment for people of color. A Harvard study released in early June found that “minorities (69% of blacks, 57% of Asians, 56% of Hispanics) [are] more likely than non-Hispanic whites (42%) to report that the outcome of the 2016 presidential election was a significant source of stress.” Recent studies find Trump’s deportation escalation has caused many undocumented immigrants to avoid all contact with the police, even when their own safety is at risk. Another survey of groups dedicated to issues around domestic violence found significant percentages of immigrant abuse survivors are now afraid to contact police, or have dropped court cases against their abusers, due to fears of deportation.

Trauma is one reaction to Trump’s politics of fear, violence and confusion, but it’s not the only one. The response to Trump’s presidency won’t be universal, even among those who largely oppose his agenda. Not everyone is traumatized, though it’s critical to recognize and validate the experience of those who are. Denying the existence of trauma can be as damaging as the original traumatizing issue itself. Though trauma can trigger a sense of loneliness, it’s helpful to remember that millions of people are experiencing the similar feelings.

There’s no single way to deal with Trump trauma, but there are many different options that may work for different people. Talking to a therapist or counselor, and medications that treat anxiety and depression, can be extremely helpful, though the prohibitive cost of mental health care makes those choices inaccessible for some folks. Social media can be great for connecting to others, but it can also be the source of anxiety, so it’s good to occasionally unplug and log off. Exercise, good nutrition and spending time with pets or in nature can be big de-stressors. Nearly every single therapist recommends engaging in activities that offer a sense of control in a moment of chaos and counter feelings of hopelessness with feelings of agency. That can mean becoming politically active, creating art and connecting with likeminded people. Psychologist Jeremy Clyman, writing at Psychology Today, recommends “joining peaceful groups and organizations, dispassionate debates with others, and assertions of personal political power (e.g. vote, and blow up your congressman’s cell phone and email, etc.).” Do what works for you.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the Trump years won’t be easy, and this presidency has helped stoke some of the ugliest aspects of this country. But there are voices of sanity and vision who can help in this moment. Just remember they’re out there.

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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17 Comments

  1. TZToronto July 17, 2017

    I met a man on a Caribbean cruise last November, shortly after the election, who told me that he became clinically depressed following the election. He wasn’t totally incapacitated by the depression (he was on the cruise, after all), but he was physically affected by Trump’s “win” in November.

    Reply
    1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 18, 2017

      Any sane and sensitive person would be similarly affected by the Trump syndrome.

      Reply
  2. Phil Christensen July 17, 2017

    “80 percent of her clients would cite the election and its aftermath as a new source of fear, sadness or anxiety in their lives.”

    Left or Right – allowing elections to determine one’s state of mind indicates a puddle-depth character.

    Reply
    1. You think that Warren flipped foreclosed properties, but you’re unable to find a single example AND LIE ABOUT IT; who are you to call other people out for their lack of character?

      Reply
      1. Phil Christensen July 18, 2017

        I found plenty and so did you. Thanks for that, BTW :-).

        Reply
        1. No, you – being a moron – kept listing properties that were neither foreclosed nor flipped. You lied, and you’re super insecure about it.

          Reply
    2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2017

      Phil.your mental state is as bad as Trump’s. No wonder you have difficulty accepting the fact that you and Donald, among so many others, share the same abnormalities. Your callous reductionist view of Left versus Right as the source of real ailments people suffer from is one of several indicators of a satanic personae that defines you, as it also defines Trump.

      Phil, ever sense I had the dubious pleasure of encountering you in this forum, one of the things that stands out is your ungodly Pharoah-like disregard for others who don’t have the same complexion as you, an/or share the same demonic (non)values as you.

      You are about as far from nearness to God as Satan itself—that metaphorical entity referred to in all the Books, who in reality is the ego that is unrestrained and ignores its Creator.

      “O My friend in word! Ponder a while. Hast thou ever heard that Friend and foe should abide in one heart. Cast out the stranger that the Friend may enter His home.”

      In that epigram from Baha’u’llah’s “The Hidden Words”, as you may be able to figure out, the “Friend” is a reference to God, and the stranger is our ego when allowed to reside in the heart. Since God and the ego(Satan) can’t both reside in the same heart, one has to leave. So, it would appear that you’ve chosen to block God’s entry, and are quite comfy with all things Trumpian and other callous and earthly concepts to take up residence.

      That is the hidden meaning behind the allegory in the Old Testament where it is recorded that God cast Satan out of “heaven”. This is a metaphor symbolizing the dangers of letting our selfishness and disregard for our fellow humans tale precedence over godly characteristics, such as concern for the well-being of others. “Heaven”isn’t a physical place, but a metaphor about one’s state of being and degree of “closeness” to God. And “Hell” represents a separation, leading to all sorts of deleterious and tragic illnesses affecting our soul.

      I recommend strongly that you reflect on all of what I’ve written—written for your edification, and as a reminder to myself as to how I should fix my orientation, as you yours.

      Reply
    3. Thoughtopsy July 18, 2017

      Sure Phil.

      If you’re non-white and the new president just got elected on a platform of:
      – deporting you and your family
      – instigating violence from others against you by calling you rapists and murderers in public speeches
      – retweeting racist images and statements from prominent KKK members and alt-right leaders
      – and blaming your entire religion and all those who partake in it as terrorists…
      ….then its “puddle-depth character” to feel fear or anxiety.
      Sure.

      I guess that’s why, when Obama was on the ticket and the Right Wing Media moron machine was screaming about him coming to “take all your guns”… you and your gun-humping second amendment buddies didn’t feel any fear or anxiety at all…
      Did you, Phil?

      I bet if we look back we won’t find any instances of ignorant white knuckle-dragger pundits or redneck AR-15 fondlers expressing that Obama’s election was a source of fear or anxiety about their safety… their guns… or their rights…
      Because that would mean you had “puddle-depth character”.
      Wouldn’t it, Phil?
      /sarcasm

      Congratulations.
      Your post is truly a statement that could only be made by a racist white ignorant redneck who has never experienced casual racism or noticed the advantages being white and male automatically bestows on him….
      Nor had to fear being ignored by the police, or falsely accused by them…
      Nor had to fear physically walking the street, getting on a bus, or taking a subway after a racist orange pig in the highest office in the land has just incited ignorant morons like you and your friends to yell at 5th generation American Citizens to “Go back home to your own country”, or beat them up, because they have Asian, Arab, Indian or African heritage.

      If you’d like a clear look at the rotting heart of casually racist, deeply ignorant and fundamentally bigoted America, try your bathroom mirror.

      Many people have a lot of fear and anxiety that President Human Sewer won… and, judging purely by hate crimes, violence, and deportations so far… it’s entirely justified.

      Reply
      1. The lucky one July 18, 2017

        Well said but probably wasted on an imbecile like Phil.

        Reply
  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2017

    Since Trump has decided long ago, on his own, to adopt satanic qualities, it is no wonder that he and others like him and who support him, have such a negative impact on those of us who strive to behave in ways which reflect godly qualities. Trump’s demonic qualities are of such a nature that they have cast a pall not only over America, but stretching beyond our borders.

    Trump isn’t the “Anti-Christ” as spoken of in the Bible, but Trump DOES exhibit “anti-Christ” behavior. And the fact that certain Evangelicals, regrettably, feel obliged to show support for Trump, this is akin to showing affinity with “Anti-Christ” sentiments. As such, they are less impacted by Trumpian dark sentiments, because they share the same negative qualities. (“…for like seeketh like, and enjoys the companionship of its kind”).

    Those who aspire to loftier values, will by default feel trauma as a result of trump’s dark influences, which is why so many are negatively impacted—psychologically, spiritually, and physically.

    Which all suggests that the forces of darkness, as they’ve been in the past, will eventually be swept aside—in one way or another, in due time, and in a manner befitting a Wisdom inscrutable to all of us mortal and finite beings. This is one of the hidden meanings, I suspect, and from reading the Writings of Baha’u’llah, and the Interpretations of Abdu’l Baha and Shoghi Effendi.

    By the way—The “Anti-Christ” spoken of in Revelations, is a reference to a specific family(The Umayyads) in early Islam, who rose up and opposed Muhammad and all His male heirs—starting with Ali, then Hasan, Husayn, and others down the line. This same family would be instrumental in introducing forces which eventually would result in the splitting Islam into two major factions—Sunni and Shi`ah.

    Reply
    1. Dapper Dan July 18, 2017

      Your comments regarding dark influences is on the mark. In February in the Washington Post they had an article about a pastor who decided to attend a victory rally Trump had. He said he literally felt darkness all around him. Even with the songs and prayers said there was something that he felt was very evil. After that he could no longer support Trump and if someone like this can dupe so many people that when the Anti-Christ does appear he truly will be able to deceive many more people across the globe.

      Reply
  4. Phil Christensen July 18, 2017

    Liberals are so easy. Only the raging milksops here can take a single sentence and project the vileness of their own hearts. Keep it up, fellas.

    Reply
    1. Thoughtopsy July 24, 2017

      Shhh racist. You’re starting to dig through the bottom of the barrel.

      Reply
      1. Phil Christensen July 25, 2017

        You shouldn’t use words unless you know their meaning.

        Reply
  5. dpaano July 18, 2017

    This president has caused a myriad of social problems from an upsurge in suicides to higher drug usage to fear and depression. Is this what makes America great again? It was great to begin with, but his actions to do away with even the simplistic regulations with NO thought of the consequences to this nat ion is unbearable to many. Something needs to be done. Most of us are being held hostage by a tyrant whom only a few voted for!

    Reply
  6. Dapper Dan July 18, 2017

    This Fake President is truly mental in every way and very dark. He is certainly someone to fear that while he does come across as a dolt and idiot he does have access to all our nations secrets. I’m certain he’s sharing that information with not only Russia but other countries that would like to bring our country down. People who are suffering anxiety and depression have good reason to be concerned with this abomination sitting in the WhiteHouse

    Reply
  7. Christoph Lauritz July 25, 2017

    If you feel like Trump has caused you trauma, there’re options to overcome this feeling. I mean, why not tear him to pieces in some online game like Electoral.io by Redwerk

    Reply

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