How Trump Supporters Can Help Unite America

For weeks, I’ve listened as client after client plopped on my couch, riddled with anxiety over the long list of human rights that Trump’s presidency will put in jeopardy. Many of their fears are predictable: Losing health care benefits, undocumented friends or family members being deported, a resurgence of stop-and-frisk, Muslim brothers and sisters being placed on a list for God knows what, the planet’s health, racism and bigotry rising, and losing federal rights as married spouses, for starters. But there’s also been some surprising common denominators to their angst…

It seems that well-meaning colleagues, friends and family members are handling my clients’ fears in much the same way that people everywhere and under most circumstances respond to an emotional individual: By minimizing their concerns. By telling them that the very things they fear won’t happen. It turns out it’s just jacking people up more.

Today’s post is for the people least likely to read a lesbian’s advice blog - the victors of this election. If you truly want to calm your loved ones, if you have a desire to heal this country’s wounds and quiet the imaginations of your progressive neighbors who envision unthinkable horrors occurring during the next 4 years, listen up:

DON’T tell us that our reproductive rights (or any other rights) won’t be taken away. It makes us want to jump on our soapbox and double down on our position. It escalates us because it puts us in a defensive position. It’s bad enough we’re frightened – we don’t want to be told that we’re also wrong.  

DO tell us that, in the unlikely event that our greatest fears materialize, you’ll advocate for us. Reassure your family members and friends that you’ll fight the good fight with us. (Many of) you say you voted for the economy, and that you don’t really believe that human rights are in jeopardy. Promise your loved ones that you’ll donate to fight for their rights. Offer to volunteer for organizations that support their human rights. Tell them that you’re willing to attend a protest with them. Show that you’re prepared to take action on our behalf. Our biggest problem isn't the large number of people in this country with bad intentions. It's the large number of people with good intentions who don't take action.  

DON’T tell us why Obama has sucked. Or why Hillary would have been worse. Don’t reference political talking points. Stay away from facts and stats, which will only put us in adversarial positions. Don’t try to change our minds.

DO validate our feelings. Tell us that you hear how frightened, concerned, enraged, or [insert emotion here] we are. Remind us that we’re not alone. That you’re here for us. And that you’ll help to protect us.

DON’T surround yourself exclusively with like-minded people or immerse yourself in media that only echoes your political beliefs. It creates the illusion that your perspective is the only perspective.  It creates an us verses them mentality. It polarizes us. And it doesn’t give you the information you need to initiate productive dialogues with us.  

DO watch the BBC and listen to NPR. There are media outlets that express opposing views – the whole story – whose mission is to keep the electorate informed. Or, bypass the news altogether, and follow organizations on Twitter (the names of which I've listed below for you) to receive updates in real time. Exposing yourself to the issues that many of us contend with on a daily basis is the only way you’ll be able to relate, sincerely and compassionately, to your progressive counterparts.

DON’T tell us that we’re being poor losers. When you do that, you sound like ungracious winners.

DO remember that ours is the only party that’s won the popular vote twice while managing to lose the election. We fucking lose when we win. We’ve got big problems.

ONE MORE THING: You can ask your progressive neighbors to tell you what you can do to support them during this time. As a therapist, I love to problem solve, and I’m often surprised that what appears to be a clear solution to me isn’t actually what my client wants. I only know this because I ask. And you can too.  

REALLY, ONE MORE THING: If you want to be an UpStander and not a bystander over the next four years, here is an incomplete list of orgs to follow:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jealousy Is A Choice

You’ve been misled. You’ve been told that jealousy is an emotion. That it’s something beyond your control. That it happens to you. I’m here to tell you that jealousy is not a feeling. It results from meaning that you assign to an external event.  

It’s important to understand this before we go deeper: Jealousy is a choice. And if you change the way you think, jealousy goes away.

In order for jealousy to breathe and thrive, you have to decide that an outside force poses a threat to your relationship (see the diagram below). This is a conclusion. It’s a hypothesis that you formulate. A bottom line at which you arrive. How do I know? Because, although I’ve got a ton of problems, jealousy isn’t one of them.

I’d never hold myself out as the poster child for mental health. But I am a mental health provider, and as someone who’s been in this field for 20 years, I’ve paid attention to the differences between people who are handicapped by jealousy versus people like me who appear to be immune to it. And while I’d love to outline for you a complex analytical explanation for those differences, it all boils down to just one thing: I’m not jealous because I never give myself permission to be jealous.

Some of it’s my personal philosophy: I grew up in a family where mostly everyone cheated. Then I was cheated on. People generally walk away from this type of experience either maniacally trying to control their next partner(s) from cheating, or resigned to the belief that if someone wants to cheat, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them. My philosophy falls into the latter group.

If you’re in the first group, you don’t have an easy life. You see threats everywhere. Whether real or imagined, your response to those threats probably makes your life miserable, to say nothing of how it impacts your partner(s).

People who are vulnerable to jealousy tend to have a history of complex trauma/abandonment, they struggle with insecurity, have poor emotional management skills, and they tend to battle anxiety, depression, or both.  Engulfed in a wave of jealousy, they are incapable of self-soothing or positive self-talk. They literally feel as though their lives are being threatened.

Jealousy feeds on uncertainty, and the thing about relationships is, they’re uncertain by design. There are no guarantees.  Sure, we try to create guarantees by making commitments and/or getting married, but the divorce rate shows us just how unpredictable relationship outcomes are. So what’s a jelly Nellie to do?

Get into EMDR therapy and reprocess your first or your worst experience of jealousy, or your latest experience of it. EMDR will allow your body to organize the experience(s) so that your mind no longer takes you on a brutal roller coaster ride of obsession and painful imagination. It will give you the remote control to your thoughts. And it will free you up to be fully present in your current or next relationship. Because at the end of the day, you don’t get a guarantee, except the guarantee that you’re going to experience loss in your life. The key is to have the ability to navigate through it with resilience.     

 

 

 

Trumping the Trump Card: Surviving Political Differences During the Holidays

Thanksgiving is the second happiest day of the year in the US - outranked only by Christmas - according to a Gallup poll.  But Trump’s surprise victory has many Americans reeling in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and not surprisingly, many are dreading Thanksgiving as they anticipate enduring painful political debates at the dinner table.

Political differences are rarely in and of themselves the root of holiday conflict. People’s inability to listen respectfully to differing opinions and validate one another’s feelings, however, is.

 Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts to get you through this Thursday:              

Do Listen. Let your family members express themselves. Paraphrase back what you hear them say every couple of sentences. This will slow down the pace of the conversation and let them know that you’re listening to what they’re saying and actually hearing them.

Do NOT Interrupt. Bite your tongue. Excuse yourself for a bathroom break. Do whatever’s necessary to control the impulse to interject, talk over, or interrupt when others are speaking. It’s the first step in escalating emotions.

Do Validate. You don’t have to agree with an opposing view to validate that person’s perspective. As a woman, a Jew, a lesbian, a social worker, and a New Yorker, I’m a political Progressive. Still, I have Republican family members. They live in the suburbs, some of which are in southern states. They don’t see what I see as a New Yorker. They don’t necessarily understand why my wife and I are worried. They don’t live among Muslims, people of color, immigrants, LGBT’s. When you don’t live with it, it’s easy to view our fears as hyperbolic and unwarranted. I can understand and validate why, for them, there is no reason for anyone to be worried.  It doesn’t mean I agree with them. But it’s appropriate to let people know that their viewpoints make sense to you, that you can understand why they feel the way they feel. And that you can respectfully tolerate their differing views. The challenge is to stop there before you go down the rabbit hole below.     

 Do NOT Try to change opinions. The hallmark of being in a successful relationship is to prioritize what is in the best interest of the relationship over the individual needs of either member in the relationship. It’s fine to speak from your perspective and to share your own experience. It’s a recipe for disaster to try to sway the other person’s opinion.

First of all, very few are truly open to changing their political beliefs. And the surest way to provoke Uncle Andy to dig his heels in is by explaining to him why the way he sees the world is wrong.  It causes a power struggle. It has the unintended consequence of invalidating his perspective. And it’s inflammatory. Resist the urge.

Do Express Yourself. After you’ve appropriately listened to your family’s views, go ahead and share your own. Speak respectfully, keeping your tone even and your volume down. Know that if your audience has differing opinions, they’ll be inclined to read your body language, tone, and meaning as being aggressive and/or defensive. Compensate for that by slowing your roll.

Do NOT use inflammatory language. Avoid emotionally compelling language. It can flood your body with adrenalin which will jack up your nervous system causing your body to respond as though it’s under attack. Imagine you don’t have a stake in whether or not people agree with you or see things from your perspective. Don’t curse. Even if you normally do.  Keep it low and slow.  It’s only a few days.

Do Know When to Call Time Out. At a certain point (ideally after everyone has expressed her opinion and received validation), continuing the conversation becomes unproductive. It’s okay to agree to disagree. The point of sharing your view isn’t to garner agreement. It’s to speak your truth, hear your family members’ truth, and move on to lighter topics. Your family’s job is not to listen while you vent freely. That’s your shrink’s job.

Maybe You Have The Flu. Look, I know that the above-referenced tips are hard as hell to follow. I’ll be cozied up in New York City with a handful of friends this Thanksgiving, none of whom are likely to provoke me the way my family does. If you don’t think you’re able to control yourself, it’s better to bow out this year. Let the dust settle. Family relations is a long-term game. Sitting one year out is better than showing up and striking out.