Antidote for Post-Election Stress
You can build walls all the way to the sky and I will find a way to fly above them.
You can try to pin me down with a hundred thousand arms, but I will find a way to resist.
And there are many of us out there, more than you think.
People who refuse to stop believing.
People who refuse to come to earth.
People who love in a world without walls,
people who love into hate, into refusal, against hope, and without fear.
― Lauren Oliver, Delirium
The "surprise" election results ( as well as the many months of pre-election stress and overwhelm) have strongly impacted many people. Clients, student therapists and interns that I supervise, friends, family, and myself have all had strong reactions including disbelief, anger, sadness, fear, despair, anxiety and grief. Many people wish they could leave this country.
Many immigrants are afraid both of how they will now be treated for being "other" and about whether they will be able to stay in this country.
The impact of this election feels to many on a magnitude of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco or of 9/11. Many rights and ways of life we have worked for and come to count on may be threatened, including the environment and the earth itself.
In the face of great uncertainty, how do we cope? How do we not live paralyzed by fear or anger? How do we go about our lives and at the same time take some action that will help us feel like we have a voice and an impact?
The silver lining from this election result is that many people are feeling compelled to do something, to speak up, to protest, to volunteer. It is a time of coming together. I read an interesting fact recently: when we are under stress, in addition to stress hormones, the brain releases oxytocin ( the love hormone). It's the brain's way of making sure we seek out social connection and spend time with loved ones which is a natural stress-reducer.
This is a time to focus on both self-care ( meditation, massage, eating well, sleep, exercise, yoga,etc) and joining with others in whatever way feels right. It is not only good for the planet and our country, but also for your sense of well-being and purpose.
I think we also have the difficult but important task, of holding, as Carl Jung called it, the tension of the opposites; the future feels foreboding and at the same time, life goes on, as it has throughout history. Despite immense suffering, the sun and moon continue to shine, people fall in love, babies are born and there is laughter. Can you hold that both things, the yin and the yang, are true?
If these events make you feel that you need extra support at this time, please contact me for a free phone consultation!
Giving and Receiving
Until we can receive
with an open heart,
we are never really giving
with an open heart.
~ Brené Brown
Giving and receiving are integral parts of life. We engage in them both all the time, in small and large ways. When we are in the flow of life, giving and receiving are natural, easy and mutual. There is no keeping score, withholding or over-giving. There is no resentment or feeling of deprivation. This is a great ideal!
There are many people who live from a place of entitlement and take all the time, giving only grudgingly. Underneath this greedy desire for more is often a feeling of emotional lack that they are unconsciously trying to fill with whatever anyone is willing to give them, emotionally or materially. Their hearts are certainly not open, as they live in a place of constriction, fear and need.
There are probably many more people who are more comfortable giving than receiving. An emphasis on giving and discomfort with receiving can have many root causes. Often there is an underlying sense of lack of deservability. It may be difficult to accept that someone cares about you enough to give you something, be it verbal, emotional or material. This is especially true if deep inside, you question your own value. Someone else valuing you can throw you into a place of discomfort.
Truly receiving (and not just taking) also invites a certain vulnerability; an open heart is required to truly accept what is offered and allow it to impact you. If you have many years of protecting your heart, of defending yourself from feeling vulnerable, this will be difficult and perhaps may feel unwelcome.
Another reason why giving may be easier than receiving is that it may allow you to feel in control, or in a relative position of power. If receiving is difficult, then it is a relief to give more than receive, as it keeps those feelings of vulnerability at bay. However, this may ultimately cultivate resentment or exhaustion, as your heart is not being fed either by giving or receiving.
I encourage you to take note of how you feel when you are either giving or receiving this week. Is one more comfortable than the other? Is this experience reversed with certain people or situations? How do you understand this based on your life and history? Can you allow yourself to practice doing both with an open heart, remaining mindful of how you feel?
A Sense of Belonging
To be rooted
is perhaps the most important
and least recognized need
of the human soul.
~ Simone Weil
The need to be rooted and to belong, is perhaps the most primordial need we have. In many cultures, (extended) family is the most essential part of life; indispensable and unimaginable to exist or live in its absence. In early times, this was necessary for physical survival; this is still the case in many parts of the developing world.
In the developed world where physical survival is no longer dependent on belonging, the need still exists, although it's not always consciously acknowledged. And its absence leads to all kinds of emotional and psychological problems such as alienation, a sense of meaninglessness, depression, despair, anxiety, addictions to name just a few. A feeling of not belonging or being rooted, or an inability to connect is one of the major reasons people seek therapy.
Many people no longer live near their families for a variety of reasons; yet wherever people go, they form ( and need to form) groups of like-minded people. This takes many forms: it may be a group of friends, a school or career identity, or a lifestyle, cultural or gender identity. It may be based on political or regional affiliation, shared taste in music or the arts or the same sport or sport teams.
Even in this technological, digital era we still have a deep need for family or tribe; it has simply adapted to technology. Being on the grid isn't always isolative or strictly about research, reading or work; it also includes a lot of contact with others through email, text, IM, video chat, social media, online games and chatrooms, to name a few.
What is clear is that consciously or unconsciously, people consistently seek out a sense of belonging or rootedness. It is an essential need, as necessary to the soul as air is to the body.This sense of belonging gives us comfort and a sense of meaning and connection that is essential to a life well lived.
Friendship as Medicine
a wildly underrated medication.
~ Anna Deavere Smith
Though a bit tongue in cheek, the quote highlights the healing nature of friendship. There is nothing like being with a friend, connecting with someone we love and trust to get us through times of sadness, grief, sorrow, uncertainty, pain, depression.... the list can go on. And there is nothing like friendship to share moments of joy and happiness, accomplishments, success, excitement and anticipation.
I often say we are more like dogs than cats. We are social beings who need to connect and to share with others. We don't do well in isolation. We thrive by sharing with others ( and neuroscience has proven this through the idea of "mirror neurons."), by encouraging each other and sharing in our joys and sorrows. Our brains release endorphins, the feel-good hormones, when we are connecting with others.
We are interdependent by nature; often people think they are "codependent" when they are simply depending on others in a healthy, normal way. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you still need friends: People to celebrate with, commiserate with, people you can count on, relationships that let you know in a deep, even visceral way, that you are not alone.
Living Side by Side
Once the realization is accepted that even between
the closest human beings infinite distances continue,
a wonderful living side by side can grow,
if they succeed in loving the distance between them
which makes it possible for each to see the other
whole against the sky.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
This beautiful quote from Rilke speaks to the way we can never wholly know another person. No matter how well we know each other, there is always some distance, always some mystery, always something Other and unknowable. This "infinite distance" may make some people insecure or may drive others to try to possess or control another; it may feel threatening that there is always an unknowable aspect of any other Being, no matter how close we may be, no matter how well we "know" them. There is always something wild and as such unpredictable about another, in their Otherness.
Can we learn to "love the distance" between us, to embrace and welcome the space between, so full of mystery and the unknown? Can we not fear what we don't know and can't possess?
Can we appreciate the whole landscape of who they are, even if not all the details are clear? Can the distance give us perspective and allow us, paradoxically to see them more fully, framed magnificently "whole against the sky," be it a sunset, sunrise, or a sky full of lightning and rain?
Can we live side by side with another, both deeply known and still full of mystery and "infinite distance?" Can we love the mystery and distance as much as the known and loved qualities?
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley