This week we talk about the aftermath of the national Presidential Election, about our country trying to heal from a period that has been collectively and personally traumatic. Jackie describes our nation as a dysfunctional family with so many of us opposed and protesting the other.
Much of what we consume on politics is through the lens of political history and culture. Jackie offers a different lens to see these issues, a professional mental health viewpoint, as someone who sees particular behavioral patterns:
Jackie talks about how it’s common for people to go through life with blindspots. Therapists will often see clients come into their offices asking for help but ask that they not discuss specific topics. This tendency to avoid painful issues is common and affects our ability to think accurately about ourselves and the world around us. Jackie relates our political thinking to Johari Window, a psychological method for better understanding ourselves.
In the wake of such a divisive political season, we should take the time to assess our blind spots, taking time to set more healthy patterns of self-discovery and healing.
TRANSCRIPT: Politics and Mental Health | Haunting & Healing of a Nation
Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host, Jackie Pack. So it’s been a couple of weeks since the United States held their presidential election, and I’ve had some thoughts. I talk about politics on my podcast. When I was recording the last podcast with Michelle Mays, after we finished recording, we were just chatting, talking to each other, and she said, “I’ve been listening to your podcast episodes that are political.” And I said, “Oh yeah?” And she’s like, “You’re a brave woman. That’s all I can say. I am not tackling politics.”
I hope I’m n ot just a brave woman, and I hope I’m not annoying to the listeners because I talk about it, but I also really do believe, I’ve said this before on different podcast episodes, I really do believe that politics is part of life, and at its very core, politics is boiled down to how we live with each other and how we live with diversity. I think that’s the basis of politics, and there are some things that go wrong about politics obviously, but I think when it comes down to it, a lot of people roll their eyes about politics.
They don’t want to talk about what’s going on in the country because politics are so divisive, and especially currently they are extremely divisive and extremely polarizing, and yet I think we make a mistake when we don’t talk about politics because we’re not talking about us. We’re not talking about our neighbor. We’re not talking about the person across the street from us or our colleague at work who’s different than us, and I think we do a great disservice to ourselves and others, as well as the country as a whole by not talking about politics.
There used to be that social etiquette rule, Miss Manners or I don’t know whose it was. Emily Post? I don’t really know where they would talk about like two things that were just not polite conversation were politics and religion, and from the perspective of 2020, when I look back at that advice, again I think we’ve done a disservice by not talking about it, by not having dialogue, and we’re not having dialogue. We’re screaming at each other. We’re throwing insults on social media, and that is not productive, and that gets us nowhere.
So I’ve had some thoughts. I was talking to my sister. I talked to her the Monday before the election. We had a pretty lengthy phone call, and then I talked to her after the election, a couple of days after the election, and I was sharing with her some thoughts that I was having, and I said, “I’m thinking I might do a podcast episode about these thoughts.” And she was like, “Oh please do it!” Even though she was hearing some of the stuff on the phone with me, she was like, “I totally want to hear you talk about that.”
So here’s some of my thoughts about politics and about what is currently taking place in our country regardless of which way it goes. So I’ve said before that we all have blind spots, and one of the reasons that as human beings we have blind spots is because our head does not rotate 360 degrees, so there’s going to be parts of certain things, if it’s in our blind spot, we just can’t see it. This is something they teach you in driver’s ed. If you haven’t learned this or had it taught to you before you turn 16 or 15 and you’re starting to learn how to drive and you have your permit and you’re racking up the hours in order to drive and get your license, they talk about this is one of the reasons why you’ve got to look over your shoulder. You’ve got to be watching.
Now they’re getting better and better at making cars that help us think and that help us bring in information and help us know what’s in our blind spot. The car that I’ve been driving for the past six years, anytime somebody was in my blind spot, there was a little car light that would light up on either my passenger side rearview mirror or on the driver’s side rearview mirror, and so I could see that something was there. Now if I decided that I wanted to change lanes and I signaled, I’m pretty good at signaling, this wouldn’t be so good if you don’t signal, but if I were to turn on my blinker and somebody’s in my blind spot, my car just gives a friendly little beep-beep and lets me know like hey, don’t change lanes right now. Somebody’s in your blind spot.
So again I’m really grateful for cars that also help make me aware and give me data that without me turning around or something like that, I wouldn’t have because it’s in my blind spot. This has helped with you know when you have the rear camera and you’re reversing and it shows that, again these great safety features that car manufacturers are starting to add to cars to help us be more safe when we’re driving, more safe when we’re pulling our car out of our driveway or out of our garage and we’re in reverse.
Now I could get offended if my car is saying hey, I don’t think you should change lanes yet. I could get super annoyed when my car alerts me to something that’s in my blind spot. I can even override and turn off those notifications and turn off those alerts. But I happen to love getting them. I love having this. I love having my car and the cameras on my car looking out for me and my best interest and helping to keep me safe.
Now I don’t usually get in a lot of accidents. I mean, there was a year when I was in my early 20s that I had like six accidents. None of them were my fault, but since then I really don’t get in too many accidents. I’ve had many two or three accidents since my early 20s, and so again it’s not like I get in a lot of accidents, but I really appreciate this additional information being given to me to help me be safe.
I think some of what is happening currently in our country is we’ve got stuff in our blind spots, and we get offended if somebody points that out to us. We don’t know how to have a productive dialogue about what is indeed in our blind spot, and I think we would rather look at other theories or maybe other things that haunt us instead of actually looking at and facing what’s in our blind spot.
Now I’ve also said before that part of therapy is bringing in information from that unknown quadrant, when we’ve talked about Johari’s window, bringing in information from the unknown and trying to make that information known. Part of the Johari’s window also includes a spot where other people can see things that we can’t see, or other people have knowledge that we don’t have, so again a lot of the goal of therapy is to bring the unknown into the known and to bring information that other people have into our quadrant that we also have conscious awareness of.
This is hard, and it’s painful, and often we are facing truths or facing realities that don’t look good and that make us sick to our stomach or make us queasy, and that’s part of therapy. Sometimes… I was talking with my staff… sometimes we get these clients who come in, all of us have had this experience where they’ll come in and say this is why I’m coming in, and I don’t want to work on this, or I want to work on A, but I don’t want to have to look at D in order to work on A.
You know, sometimes if you have enough rapport in that session because again, this is usually early on you may say, well I don’t make guarantees about what that looks like. I’m willing and I’m able to help you on your journey and to look at what you’re coming in with to look at. I also know, and I’ve been doing therapy long enough to know that there’s usually things that we’re not aware of. We come in thinking the problem is this, and we find out it’s so much bigger than that, and so I usually will just let clients know, I don’t know what that’s going to look like for you, and I don’t make those decisions for you, but I will help you, and I will be with you as a fair witness and as a guide as we do this work.
Other times I may try to say that and they reassure me that no-no, those things are off limits, and I just say okay. Usually at some point, maybe three months in, maybe six months in, maybe nine months in, and they say, I think this is a piece of this, and we start to put that on the table. We start to examine that. We start to explore that, and I’ve been through this process myself where I had to look at a reality that I didn’t have, but was true about my family, about me, about how I do relationships, about different things like that, and it was painful to have to look at some of those things and understand how certain experiences that I had in my life contribute to ways that I act or things that I do or things that I don’t do, but if I wanted to change, and if I wanted to create a life for me that was satisfying and that was meaningful, then I needed to look at those things.
Now again, we can refuse to do those things. I could have quit therapy at any time along the way, and there were times I took breaks from therapy or my life got busy and therapy just wasn’t necessarily a part of my life at that phase, but I kept going back, and I knew that therapy was something that I could return to and have a fair witness and have somebody to help guide me through whatever was coming up.
Now I said back in 2016 when President Trump was elected President, and I don’t think that I’m prophetic in any way, but I do think this was somewhat prophetic. Maybe not prophetic, but after 27 years of studying human behavior and seeing patterns and being able to predict some things in the future based on certain patterns that were happening in the past and the present, I’m pretty good at doing some of those things. I’m pretty good at noticing patterns and being able to connect certain dots based on the patterns that I observe.
I’ve said this before on this podcast, and I think I even said it… maybe I didn’t say it on the podcast in 2016, but I have said it this past summer, and what I said was given current events, so this was back in 2016, I just said, given current events, my recommendation as a mental health therapist would be to get to your nearest 12-step meeting and start working the steps. I said if you don’t have an identified addiction that you would resonate with, then my recommendation would be the ACOA 12-step fellowship, which focuses on the disease of family dysfunction. I said because the United States is a dysfunctional family, and we have secrets, and we have buried bodies, and we are about to see the underbelly of our dysfunctional family, and we need to be prepared for that. We need to be able to work through what we will find in the next four years. Again, my recommendation would be if you don’t have an identified addiction, get into ACOA.
I truly meant that, and I mean I’m not going to surprise anybody who listens to my podcast by saying that I am not a Trump supporter, and I really have a hard time understanding those who are ardent supports of President Trump. Now I’ve had clients talk to me over the past four years, and they’ve talked to me about the fact that they voted for Trump in 2016, and it’s not like it disrupts our therapeutic relationship. It’s not like I can’t see them as a person and understand their vote and be able to still have a respectful, trustful relationship with them. I don’t feel like any of those clients have felt judged, but we have talked about politics because it’s part of our world, and what’s happening in our world impacts us, and it impacts what happens in the therapy sessions.
So I had some serious concerns after President Trump was elected, and I did think that we would start to see the ugliness of America. Now this wouldn’t be the first president, nor would it be the first time in our history when this underbelly has flipped over and started to expose ourselves or expose itself, and I think sometimes we’ve made some progress when that dark underbelly exposes itself, but I don’t know that we’ve actually done the work that we need to do. We make some progress, and then we kind of flip it back over so that we can live with the reality that’s comfortable for us.
What’s going on currently reminds me of pretty much every script, plotline from Scooby Doo. I mean you remember Scooby Doo, right? My kids loved Scooby Doo growing up. It scared them, but at the end it was all okay and they weren’t scared anymore, so it’s a classic Scooby Doo script line where something is haunting us, and it’s scary, and it might be a ghost, it might be the ghost of a certain person connected with the business or whatever was going on, and again it’s haunting us, and it scares us, and so we call in the gang, we have them and we watch them investigate and move from clue to clue, and they’re scared, and they’re haunted by the same things that haunt us, and they keep moving forward, and they don’t run away, and they don’t stop exploring and investigating, and at the end of 30 minutes, they unmask the villain, and it’s not a ghost. It’s not a scary monster. It all makes sense. It’s somebody who is trying to get ahead financially. It’s somebody who was only looking out for their best interest. It’s somebody who has a certain agenda that they’re running, and they were haunting people to make that happen.
So again, I think we don’t necessarily know what our agendas are or what’s driving our behavior if we haven’t followed the clues, kept exploring, not running away, not getting in the van and driving away and never coming back, but turning and facing the things that haunt us. I think it’s easier sometimes to believe that there’s this deep state conspiracy, that there’s this ugly side and it’s them. It’s not me. It’s them, and that’s what brings us into this us-versus-you mentality, and we fight each other, and we see evilness in each other, and we’re haunted by the ideology of the other instead of turning inward and looking at what actually scares me, what actually haunts me from my own past and from my family’s past, these secrets that have been buried, these dysfunctions that have been buried. They’re there, and they haunt us until we uncover them, and they can’t get uncovered if we’re pointing the finger and blaming somebody else who’s just enough different than me that I can make them into my enemy.
So that concerns me. I think that’s part of what’s going on in our country right now. I think there needs to be a reckoning, and a reckoning at the level that we’ve never really seen a reckoning before. I think during this time period, it’s important for us to focus on our wellness, whether that’s our physical health, whether that’s our emotional health, whether that’s our boundaries, whether that’s speaking out.
One of the things that this podcast helps me with is using my voice and speaking my voice. A lot of people may think that I have no problem speaking my voice or no problem advocating for what I want, and I mean I might be better than the average person. I don’t know how I stack up against others, but I know within me that has never been easy for me. I grew up in a religion that was highly patriarchal and that did not believe that women knew best for themselves, or that as a girl I might know what is best for me or another person because of the patriarchal system. That was something that the men knew, and I think from a fairly early age and combined with the fact that my father was not a man that I trusted or felt safe with or respected, it made me start to question the system that I was growing up in and the institution that was giving me the messages about how life worked.
Again, that was not an easy thing. That process of uncovering truths about my father, uncovering truths about my family, I mean that’s lasted the better part of five decades, and just when I think, okay, I have overturned every stone that could possibly be there that needs to be looked under, I find another one, and I don’t know that it shakes me the way that it used to. I don’t know that it surprises me the same way that it used to, but I feel it, and it’s heavy, and it’s hard, and I think there are things for us to look into. to overturn, to unmask, to discover that are really close to home for each of us. It’s not our enemy. It’s not the Democrats. It’s not the Republicans. It’s not the Independents. It’s us. It’s our family. It’s things that we’ve been running from for generations, and we need to stand, and we need to start to face those things and unmask those things for real healing to happen and for the truth to come to light.
I do believe there is healing that happens when truth surfaces. I don’t know that that’s an easy process. For me it has not been an easy process, and one of the quotes that I’ve been focused on this month… so I started, the election was November 3, and so November 1, I do this not all the time, I’ve done this before, every year I find a new quote and I make it my screensaver on my phone, and it’s just a good reminder for me to focus on the whole month. I haven’t done that this year for each month, but there have been months where I’ve pulled a quote that speaks to me that I need to focus on for the month.
So November 1, the quote that I decided was good for me to focus on was from Brené Brown. A lot of my quotes are from Brené Brown actually. But it was from Brené Brown, and it just is simple, and it just says, “Don’t puff up. Don’t shrink back. Just stand your sacred ground.” And like I said, there’s probably a lot of people, I’ve been told multiple times throughout my life that I’m outspoken. I don’t know that I’m really outspoken. I mean I don’t always have a problem speaking my mind or disagreeing with somebody or offering a different perspective, but there’s a lot of times, and maybe only I know that, that I hold my tongue or I just kind of get up and walk away instead of actually standing and holding my sacred ground that I do shrink back. There’s been sometimes when I probably do puff up, although I think more often my default setting is to shrink back. I knew with the election coming up that that was going to be an important thing for me to focus on—not puffing up, but not shrinking back and just standing my sacred ground.
There was a comment that somebody posted on my wall, something I had posted, I don’t recall what it was that I had posted, and somebody commented, and it was somebody, he’s not my age, but I grew up with him, I knew his family, he was friends with one of my brothers, and he did not have some nice things to say about me, and you know, I have a boundary with people, like if you don’t laugh at my funny memes, if you don’t like any pictures I post of my dogs or my kids or my family or anything like that, but you want to show up and call me both a socialist and a fascist, I’m just going to have to unfriend you because seriously, if you can’t show up and like pictures of my dogs, but you’re going to show up and call me both a socialist and a fascist, which doesn’t even make sense, then I just have to keep that sacred space, and so I did say… well I said quite a bit back to him after his comment, and that’s kind of where it ended. He didn’t reply, and I didn’t keep anything going, and it took me a couple of days to wonder, was that me puffing up? It was not me shrinking back, but was it me puffing up?
Sometimes when you stand your sacred ground, do you speak truth to the bullshit? I didn’t call him any names. I didn’t attack his integrity or who he is as a person or a husband or a father. I just said this doesn’t make sense to me, and I can’t be both extreme left and extreme right at the same time, so your accusations just don’t hold water, and again I don’t know because a lot of times for me, speaking up does sound like puffing up, and in some ways, I have to pick myself up from that small space in order to speak, but I don’t know that I’m puffing up. At least that’s not my intent that I feel, but there are just times I can’t not say something, and it just kind of comes out of me. I think that’s some of standing my sacred ground, and that’s something that I’m continuing to explore and continuing to refine.
I keep thinking as I keep aging that I’m really going to be able to dial in this wisdom and this being articulate. I’m really going to be able to dial it in and just hit the nail on the head going forward, and what I’ve learned is it didn’t happen magically at 50, but it’s something that I continue to work on. It’s something I continue to try to dial in and inventory after the fact, think about before I open my mouth, assess how it’s been going, and the world is getting pretty harsh out there. The world is not a friendly place. I’ve also been doing good at limiting my time on social media. My husband’s much better. He just hasn’t even been on social media in probably a month, and that’s great.
I’m finding myself, I have a coloring app that I just love. It relaxes me. I particularly what I’m learning is if there is a picture of a bird, that’s my go-to. I’m going to color a bird. I also really like to color scenery, which is a little bit harder than coloring a bird, but I am spending a lot more time coloring, which I think overall is helpful for me, and it’s helping me to manage the emotions that come up for me. It’s allowing me to respect the boundaries that I’ve put in place for myself and to hopefully move towards more of a solution and more of this reckoning than to add to the problem that exists.
So those have been my thoughts post-election, and talking to clients and hearing their thoughts and hearing their feelings, and I just don’t think anybody is happy with where we are right now as a country. I don’t think anybody feels good about how we are, and I know for me that there’s always been a truth. If I’m feeling uncomfortable, if I’m not okay with where I am or how I am, there’s something in my blind spot. There’s something that I need to see, and I consult with people who can point out what’s in my blind spot. I ask other people what they’re seeing in their blind spots, and I think those kinds of dialogues can be healing and can lead to a reckoning that we work through.
Now I will also say our staff meeting on Tuesday… so we were in staff meeting the day of the election, and we were just kind of chatting about the election and what our clients were coming in with and the feelings of the country, and we were just talking about things, and I just said, I want to believe in humankind. I want to believe that we move towards healing and reconciliation. I don’t know if we’re there yet. I don’t know if we’re taking another deep dive. I don’t know what this is going to look like, and one of my coworkers who I was kind of sitting by looked at me, and she said, “If you think we’re through this, you have not read enough science fiction.” And I said, “Well that’s true. I probably have not read enough science fiction, but I know that things can get worse.”
My prayer for all of us is that they don’t get worse because I know that while it can be painful and heavy and emotional to face the things that haunt us, unmasking what is haunting us is the only way we can move towards healing, so that’s my prayer for all of us.