NOTE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Spencer Nineberg, LICSW
Something very big is happening in our country right now and whether you are a Trump supporter or resister it is affecting all of our clients, our work and us. Here I would like to take a very brief look at what is happening through a trauma lens. I appreciate that my views may not be shared by all readers and part of me hesitates to say anything, while another part feels that speaking up is important.
To borrow from Attachment Theory, when we have a basically secure attachment to our President, we are free to be ourselves, there is a basic sense of safety, and we don’t need to be pre-occupied with what the President is up to. When we are in an insecure, disorganized attachment relationship with our President, as many of us are now, something very different happens. We are faced with a frightening, impulsive, unpredictable and possibly dangerous person upon whom we are dependent. We feel vulnerable, helpless, frightened. Then various protective measures kick in including those stemming from the nervous system which protect us through fight, flight, freeze and collapse. What does this look like? On election night and in the days following, many reported being in a freeze state. They felt numb, unable to think, unable to believe what was happening. Since then there has been a lot of movement between fight (joining listserves, calling members of congress, marching) and flight in the form of distraction and denial. Always in the background is the specter of collapse, e.g. adapting to the new situation in a way that involves giving up. The Inauguration and Trump’s first weeks in office have brought an intensification of symptoms as his authoritarian style has quickly become evident. Even more horrifying for many is his blatant disregard for truth and reason. A great many clients and colleagues have been deeply affected and dysregulated. Those who have been abused and bullied in the past have been especially triggered and terrified but so are people whose histories are less traumatic. There is talk of fleeing to Canada and New Zealand, wanting to ignore what is happening, and above all, a kind of desperate search for the most effective way to fight back. And sitting with clients while reeling from the same triggers is something new for most of us. Unlike dealing with a one-time event like 9/11, this situation is ongoing, the future scary and unknown.
And what about the Trump supporters? How do we understand their position through a trauma lens? Why do they seem to care so little about Trump’s bragging, contempt and crudeness?
In some cases there seems to be an embracing of Trump’s qualities, which are associated with power, control and revenge. For others these qualities seem to be dissociated, denied, or minimized, as he is welcomed as a savior. Behind these and other protective measures lie wounds and traumas that many of us are just beginning to appreciate. While many Americans were enjoying a basically secure attachment with the past President, a great number of our fellow countrymen were feeling alienated, forgotten, and helpless. Their sense of safety and security had disappeared along with jobs and with the increase of terrorism in the West.
What now? How do we live our values of basic respect for the truth, for differences, for inclusion while not feeling contempt and disrespect for others who do not seem to share them? How do we not feed into polarization? How do we move forward? Here are a few thoughts that come from looking through a “trauma lens”:
*** Borrowing from IFS, we need to respect and collaborate with our protective parts while we take care of our terrified, disgusted, angry and contemptuous parts rather than acting from them. As much as we can, we need to work hard to access our core Self attributes of compassion, calm and curiosity and move forward from there.
*** As Polyvagal Theory suggests and as the Women’s March showed, we need to stay connected. In the ventral vagal state of social connection we can feel hopeful, resourceful and safer. When we feel safer we can creatively explore options and seek out solutions.
***We need to regulate our nervous systems with serious self-care alternating with action and adaptive mobilization. Make phone calls, march, speak out but think about pacing yourself and also remember to make time to play with the dog, laugh with friends, dance, whatever it is you do to recharge. And don’t ingest a steady diet of news sources designed to alarm your amygdala especially before bed.
I invite you to share your own thoughts and observations back channel at email@example.com or to start a conversation on the NESTTD listserv at NESTTD@yahoogroups.com.