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5 Ways to Survive the 2020 US Elections as a Trauma Survivor

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Editor's Note

This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

Author’s Note: This article is written in a spirit of nonpartisanship. Considering the topic of the article, I ask that any commentary be kept civil. Thoughts and ideas are welcome, bullying is not. Also please note, I’m not American.

As a person who has experienced trauma, I find election season and politics, in general, to be a difficult topic at the best of times. In my part of the world, we’ve just gone through multiple provincial elections. We are all very aware; the USA is about to have a big presidential election day. I know this is not a struggle I am alone in.

I’ve contemplated why this mixture is so difficult and had several realizations. I’d like to share them with you in the hope that if you find yourself feeling something similar, you may understand what you’re going through better.

Trauma comes in many forms.

It can be personal, generational, societal or any combination. It may involve physical, sexual, mental or other forms of abuse. It can involve violence, a sudden or shocking change or loss, racism, religious persecution, an attack on your sexual or gender identity, medical maltreatment, exploitation, and the list could go on. The point is it’s a varied and complex issue.

Trauma often involves a loss of power and autonomy. It’s common to experience the removal of rights and dignity. It has the potential to negatively impact one’s ability to cope and function as compared to similar healthy peers the same community.

It’s important to note that folks who experience trauma are more likely to have higher rates of:

All of these topics are almost always highly debated in politics.

The truth is that while some political topics may be relatively inconsequential, most are not. For survivors, it may be that the pedantic issues aren’t that important but the ones that say “your life has value” (or not) sure do.

What I’m trying to say is that for folks who have experienced trauma, how any political party chooses to address and fund things in society can have seriously effect not only quality of life, but actual survival. The size of highway lanes is not the end of the world. Accessible health care might mean continued existence.

There are also big picture issues at play within this as well:

  • The government itself can be a source of trauma.
  • Political leaders can often have a history of being abusive, either currently or in the past.
  • Politics in general continues to be dominated by white/cis/het/able-bodied/advantaged males.
  • Political gaslighting and bullying are common practices that can be retraumatizing.

This all brings me to the conclusion that when a large portion of society chooses to support a party or candidate that a survivor feels is unacceptable, this can be highly triggering. It may instigate:

  • Feelings that the community and world, in general, are unsafe.
  • Negative internal and external messages to become amplified and self-worth to decrease.
  • The system may actively seek to disenfranchise dissenting voices.

So for all those reasons, and no doubt more, trauma and politics can be a particularly difficult jumble. Of course, this can also be a struggle for folks who perhaps haven’t been through trauma themselves but who love or work with those who have.

So, what can we do to protect ourselves?

Unless we haul off to some island and set up a self-sustaining yurt, it’s pretty well impossible to avoid politics. Even then, it would most certainly creep in.

As I outlined above, avoidance may be a risky choice as political results can have high stakes in the lives of those who experience trauma. Some folks may have some legitimate reasons to avoid the system altogether, yet for others, participating in the civic process is highly important.

I often find electoral discourse and it’s outcomes very trying. Therefore, I’ve had to come up with ways of staying healthy through these time periods. As I disclosed prior, I myself have experienced trauma, and I share this info for those also impacted in that way. I think though, these tips are likely fairly universal. Let’s get started.

1. Attend therapy.

Find a good therapist who can hold space for both your trauma and difficult political time periods. They don’t necessarily have to have the same political beliefs as you, but it helps! At the very least they should be professional enough to not move the conversation toward trying to influence your principles.

When you do find a good therapist, schedule extra appointments during difficult times. This may be for when things are hot on the campaign trail, election day or after a particularly bothersome decision is made or a problem occurs.

2. Volunteer.

As the saying goes, “be the change.” This absolutely does not mean you have to volunteer for a political party, though you certainly can if that’s up your alley. I find that giving back to the community in ways that are meaningful to me and hopefully others is a huge way I stay “sane.” Tailor your volunteering to impact the world in areas you feel politics are ignoring or harming.

Worried about food security? Volunteer at a food bank. Concerned about the availability of mental health support? Volunteer at a crisis hotline. Unhappy with a government’s decision? Start a petition and write letters. In my case, a huge part of why I write here on The Mighty is to hopefully put useful information out into the world about mental health. I also give presentations in the community on the same topic, which is so important to me.

3. Grieve.

You are allowed to feel the pain you feel. If you need to take a bed day or eat lots of ice cream, do it. These emotions are genuine and valid and deserve to be given space. Fight the system by refusing to burn yourself out. Take naps. Resisting the urge to battle your “negative” emotions can be a form of healing. Things are wrong, and it’s OK to acknowledge it.

4. Make art.

This one is pretty well self-explanatory. In every era, there has been something to protest, and right beside it has been excellent artists doing just that. Art is both powerful and healing. Some folks sing, write music, dance, paint, write, make videos, and more. If you don’t feel you are overly artistic, you can also take solace in other people’s art. Personally, I write, draw and paint, and I’m particularly thankful for the protest music of the 60s and 70s.

5. Be selective.

We aren’t meant to be bombarded with information 24/7, but that’s the world we now live in. Take back your time. Decide how much time spent watching the news or reading stuff online is acceptable to you. Make the choice to not click on divisive clickbait and ignore the comment section trolls. Put things on mute if something comes up unexpectedly that you weren’t planning to engage with. Stop doom scrolling. This doesn’t mean you have to be willfully ignorant or avoid the topic at all costs, but instead that you get to decide how to interact with information. Especially considering there seems to be an endless supply.

These are all thoughts I’ve collected and which I’m now sharing because this is an issue that is difficult for many. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and crying about it. It’s hard, but it’s also something I can work through. So can you. Understanding what might be going on in the background of our minds can be a way to feel more in control and helps us regulate the emotions that come up. So, I hope that by reading this, you’ve learned something that will be useful to you.

Have you noticed that having a history of trauma makes politics more difficult for you? How have you dealt with that? Any tips or suggestions? Prior to reading this, did you recognize that trauma might be impacting your ability to engage in civic discourse? How have you found your voice? Other thoughts or ideas? Please share!

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.

For more on the 2020 U.S. Elections, check out The Mighty’s politics contributor stories.

Image via contributor.

Originally published: October 28, 2020
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