By Jonathan TranPham, reflect founder
Earlier in the week, I wrote a post with advice on how to deal with the anxiety caused by this long and tense presidential election. I assumed if we could just make it through, there would be light at the end of this Shawshank-esque tunnel of crap.
Boy, was I wrong. Instead of electing our first female President, America made history in an entirely unexpected way. Our nation got hit by a bus on Tuesday night, a bus that Donald Trump drove all the way to the White House.
Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. Even as I type those words, I can’t muster the strength to say them outloud. Is this real life?
Given our reader demographic and location, I assume most of you were with me in being #withher. And you were probably with me this week in asking yourself these questions:
How did a man whose most notable foreign policy stance was a wall become President?
How did someone endorsed by the KKK and Putin rise to our highest office?
How did a man who’s unapologetically sexist and racist become the Leader of the Free World?
Then it hit me. Amidst my shock, I realized something: I was grieving.
WHAT IS GRIEF?
While we think of grief as being associated with the loss of a person, it’s much more than that. Grief can be caused by the loss of a lot of things: a job, a friendship, a romantic relationship, a personal dream. Or in this case, a collective dream.
For some, Trump’s victory represents the death of what it means to be American: one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
For others, it feels like the loss of faith in our fellow man (and woman) to stand up for their neighbor and maybe even the loss of our personal safety.
And for many, it embodies the loss of the dream of finally shattering the highest glass ceiling -- a dream we shared with generations of women (and men) before us. And this defeat can make it feel like we’re losing them all over again.
It feels like something very dear to us has been taken away.
HOW GRIEF MANIFESTS
Regardless of your political party, each of us has experienced the loss of an election before. We usually chalk it up to the will of the people and move on. I volunteered for Al Gore in 2000 and found losing by 537 votes in Florida a very bitter pill to swallow. But I did, and I moved on.
This one feels different. This election is deeply personal -- for those on both sides of the ticket.
I’ve never seen the reactions we’ve witnessed this week. San Francisco feels hushed. I’ve seen people dressed in black and even crying publicly. Some walk around numb, while others filled with anger protest across the country. My Canadian friend visiting Boston likened the mood to a collective hangover. We are mourning.
Joan Didion in her book The Year of Magical Thinking said, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” In many ways that’s exactly how we feel, even if we don’t exactly know how or why we are feeling it. For many, including myself, this was an unexpected loss and therefore an unexpected grief.
FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying described the stages of grief and mourning that are universally experienced by people all over the world. She didn’t have a national election in mind when writing, but her findings are surprisingly applicable.
These five stages don’t always occur in a linear order, and the pace with which we go through them varies. We may find ourselves moving from one stage to the next and even back to a previous one, until we ultimately to come to terms with our new reality. Processing happens most healthily if we can acknowledge and understand the meaning of those feelings.
Mourning is completely natural and necessary, but you can also take small steps to deal with grief -- whether about the death of a loved one, a breakup, or a national election.
Dr. Sadie Phillips, reflect’s head of therapy, has compiled some useful advice to help you move through the stages of grief in a healthy way:
Ultimately, grief leads us to a place of healing where we’re able to internalize the loss and move on. As much as we’re hurting now, I know we, as a nation, will endure. The American spirit is resilient and strong -- even in the face of hate. We overcame a Civil War and two World Wars. I am sure we will find a way to learn from this hard chapter in our history and improve America for everyone.
WHAT IF WE CAN’T MOVE ON QUITE YET?
Grief -- whether about a death or an election -- can linger unexpected and start to hinder other aspects of our life. This can manifest in loss of appetite or sleep or social isolation and can have a major impact on our health and wellbeing. If you feel like you’re having trouble moving through grief despite these tactics, talking it out with someone can help you understand and process your feelings in a healthy way.
If you’re interested in starting the conversation about the election, other grief you may be experiencing, or any other changes in your life, click below to get matched to one of our experienced practitioners and try three for free.
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