For many of us, the morning of November 9, 2016 brought an unexpected surprise. We woke up and saw the reports of who our nation had elected as its next president and waves of emotions washed over us.
Some of us were elated that the candidate we had chosen unexpectedly won. For that lucky constituency, this is your time to feel good — but also, I highly recommend, to proceed with a willingness to evaluate the actual outcomes of the new President’s influence and actions.
For those of us who are disappointed and shocked, the experience was different. Many emotions wash over us. They swell up when you read something or when someone threw their own anxieties into your pond. They come in waves: surprise, shock, dismay, anger, hopelessness, escape.
These are all normal responses. We had a dream — a hope that we invested in, perhaps more than we realized — and it has been dashed. After such a loss, grief is natural. Because our culture doesn’t do a very good job of teaching us how to recognize, acknowledge, and accept grief, the energy of a loss, even the loss of a dream, can drive lots of nasty or self-defeating feelings and behavior.
Here’s some steps that can help you work through the waves of dashed dreams:
1. Honor the dream.
Remember the future you hoped for. Recognize that it is a good dream. Recognize the feelings and worries that come up and acknowledge that your feelings are a real experience. They hurt.
Be brave: face your feelings. Both the wisdom of meditation masters and modern research indicates that emotions are fleeting. If you recognize that they exist, they will also pass. But if you push negative feelings aside or minimize they will linger in your half-conscious mind, casting a negative fog over your world.
It’s okay to find nondestructive ways to express negative feelings: write in a journal, bitch to an understanding friend, find something nobody cares about to smash, go somewhere isolated and scream, or attend a vigil.
2. Find hope.
Remember times in your own life when you’ve weathered adversity. Tell yourself you learned to be strong from that experience. List all the friends and contacts you have that will support you or give you emotional strength. List every strength you have and everything you’re grateful for. Review a few items from those lists every night before going to sleep.
3. Maintain contact with the dream.
Don’t give up on the dream. Dreams give us a guiding light that help us navigate toward a better life. Sure it hurts to think about a dream that seems to have been torn away, but as you practice hope, you can turn that pain into energy to get you moving again.
4. Take practical action.
If you accept your painful feelings, stave off despair, and keep the dream in sight you can harness your anger towards taking some constructive action. Review your finances, housing, and employement. Join a professional or personal development group. Become more involved in your local politics. Join a political group and speak up for your dream.
Be Kind and Seek to Understand
Throughout this, I encourage you to consider what your primary values are. For most of us, compassion and kindness are high on the list. Keep this in mind when you’re taking action: vilifying people that disagree with you will not, in the long run, make our world a better place, it will just widen the divide. Look for ways to understand their fears and dreams and make common cause.
Alan Barclay, LMFTA
Individual and Couples Counseling
Seattle and Federal Way