Election Reflection

It’s so hard to make sense of what we, as a collective country, went through during this presidential election cycle. It is now over, and I can not help but write about my experience as a therapist and what I was met with over the course of the last week.

All of my clients live in the New York City area. As a result, many were grieving the results of the election, and the loss of a candidate they supported. I do not want this piece to be an endorsement of any of the candidates, but rather my experience based on my client’s endorsements, and subsequent reactions.

And for most of them, especially those who wanted to process with me, this was a deep and personal loss. Personal, it seems, because of the rhetoric of the election and how they may have felt targeted by some of the words that were used, and therefore a fear as to what the results might mean for their individual rights as citizens. Or loss of rights, as many also fear.

Whatever we might think of the candidate’s loss, we would do ourselves a favor to look at it like any loss that we’ve experienced, and grieve in much the same way. Kubler-Ross’s book, On Death And Dying, wrote about the loss of a loved one, but the stages are universal such that I use them in my everyday practice in areas as far-reaching as the loss of functioning; for example, if you are a competitive athlete and you injure yourself, the loss of the ability to compete can have a great emotional impact.

In looking at this election, if we felt like our side lost, we probably have already experienced a combination of some of the stages of grief that accompany. Tuesday night we probably were in a bit of shock and denial, as no political pundit or poll predicted this sort of outcome, and it was impossible to fathom because such an outsider — with certain beliefs — was elected (and many of us have never experienced such an election in our lives.) What came next, and the next stage of grief, would be anger. And wow, have we seen anger, in the form of verbal or physical protesting, sadly not all of which have been peaceful. But, that is anger, and an emotion that exists amongst so many. Following anger, some people have turned to bargaining to process their loss. They have posted online petitions to sway the electoral college to vote by way of the nation’s popular vote, or the protests themselves could be seen as a form of bargaining: if we protest enough, things might change in our favor (the elected president might change his rhetoric and we can feel more assured, for example). Depression is the fourth stage of grieving, a stage I believe is when we begin to touch the deeper feelings, and really start coming to terms with our sadness and our experience of the loss.

Probably only a select few people a week later can say they have reached the final stage of grieving: acceptance. Coming to terms and being “okay” with what has happened. One does not need to be optimistic or happy that the loss has taken place, but instead that they can work with the loss as a part of their lives, as it becomes “woven into their emotional fabric.” Generally speaking, in the first four stages, we will go back and forth, oscillating from stage one to four and maybe back to one. It’s not a straight shot. But, by the time we get to acceptance, we can stay there (at least until there is another loss.) If we find we go back to an earlier stage, it’s a good indicator we haven’t accepted. It’s best, in my opinion, to know that wherever you are in your stage of grief is absolutely okay, and whatever your experience should be acknowledged, hopefully embraced, and even heard by another as well. Loss is an incredibly painful process, no matter the subject matter. And grieving is your process, no matter how long and winding it might be. Try not to go it alone, either.

**Please remember this post is not an endorsement of a political viewpoint, but instead a look at loss and the grieving process through a political lens.