As shocked, heartbroken and horrified as I was last Wednesday morning at hearing the news that Donald Trump was to be our next president, I also had to quickly find a way to talk about it with my children, my students and my clients.
As the week wore on and I sat with many others who were equally as saddened and stunned by the news, an understanding of how to make sense of it all began to emerge. Sitting on the desk at the front of the classroom where I teach Gender to undergraduate Brooklyn College students, looking into the faces of these young women and men, many of whom are black, brown, gay, Muslim, and immigrants, I remembered something important.
I remembered, if you can’t see it, you can’t change it.
This is a basic tenet of the clinical work I do with my clients at Citron Hennessey Private Therapy.
So many of us struggle with aspects of ourselves that we wish weren’t there. It is often painful and disturbing to look at our darker, shadowy selves, so we choose instead to deny, bury, or project those demons. Often we’re in conflict with ourselves, hating what we perceive as unacceptable, only to discover that no amount of self-judgment is enough to get rid of what’s unwanted.
What we resist, persists.
We can’t get rid of the undesirable stuff no matter how hard we try because it’s all a part of who we are. What we can do is learn to relate to our selves and our histories in a new way by accepting and coming to terms with who we are – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But isn’t acceptance of that which we condemn the same as condoning, you might ask?
It turns out, no. Learning to see, accept and then relate to our inner demons with curiosity and compassion, is a tremendously healing process. When we see with new eyes that which previously frightened us, and we become willing to feel the pain of grief that such darkness resides within us, we change. We grow.
When we allow our hearts to break, rather than engage in denial, self-hatred, or projection, we’re no longer pushed around by the disavowed forces that kept us fragmented and at war with ourselves and each other. Through acceptance of our shadow selves, we bridge dark and light, good and bad. We become whole. We heal.
I think the election of Donald Trump is giving us the same healing opportunity as a nation to look at the darker and disturbing side of our country with new eyes. Never before has an American nominee for president so openly expressed misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and racist comments and behaviors without apology. Donald Trump brought to light this incredibly difficult-to-see ideology and gave permission to all to join him. And millions did.
I think the election of Donald Trump shows us how in denial we as a country have been to the unresolved wounds of our past that have percolated for too long under the surface. Just as we deny or ineffectively fight against our inner demons, so have we as a nation been ineffectively fighting against the undercurrent of racism, sexism, and homophobia that we are now being shown all too clearly exists in the fabric of our nation. It’s a part of who we all are as Americans.
It is painful to look at what we don’t want to see. It is painful to grieve.
But if you can’t see it, you can’t change it. And grieve we must. We can learn to approach that which scares us with curiosity and compassion, not fight it with derision and fear. As Albert Einstein noted, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
When we as individuals see our dark and disturbing thoughts and no longer fight them, we no longer strengthen them. We can choose to say, “thanks, but no thanks.” We become free to respond with love and compassion and to make effective life choices, rather than blindly reacting in fear or anger, perpetuating the very disturbance we wish to abolish.
It’s time to address the needs and unresolved wounds of our country in this new way.
Being willing to see and make friends with your own shadow self is the first step towards knowing how to approach with care our collective historical wounding.
Let’s see it and let’s change it so America really can become the great country it wants to be.