Sunday, March 12, 3:00pm – 5:00pm, Live Oak Unitarian Universalist, Goleta, CA
Contributed by J.S. and M.V. – IndivisibleSB
Few people would disagree that the last few months have been filled with stress, anxiety and uncertainty. To help us cope, IndivisibleSB and Michael Vilkin (EVENTS Coordinator for IndivisibleSB) organized and hosted a session on Sunday afternoon at the lovely Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Goleta, which was attended by over 100 people. The main speakers were Dr. Michael Seabaugh, a local psychotherapist and psychologist, and Dr. Jennifer Freed, psychotherapist, author, and director of the teen program AHA!.
Dr. Seabaugh’s initial points:
- We can’t be our own islands of support – It’s important to be part of a collective (this point came up repeatedly). People are talking twice as much about politics, according to a recent report, and 69% of people find the discussions very stressful. He recalled the Women’s March in Los Angeles in January with 750,000 people, likening it to “group therapy.” Why is this post-election era more stressful than other times? It is, according to Seabaugh’s explanation, an existential reality: we’re living in an uncertain world, and it’s more important than ever to find anchors (people, places, activities) where our values are mirrored.
- Because Trump presents such an obvious depiction of narcissism (in his case, “sociopathic narcissism”), those who have been negatively impacted by an important relationship with a narcissist— i.e. spouse, parent, boss— can end up feeling unsettled, emotionally triggered, or even re-traumatized.
- We are living in chaotic times, which is especially troubling for anyone who grew up in a chaotic environment. He asked whether this is just Trump’s “way”, or is it a destabilizing strategy. He thinks it is actually both. He recommended reading Tim Wu’s recent article in the New York Times, “How Donald Trump Wins by Losing.” (see link at end of the notes.)
He asked whether we should limit our exposure to media, meaning does following news keep us informed or make us “Trump dupes”? He explains that Trump doesn’t mean to win anything but to wear us down. By using a variable reward schedule with the public by occasionally being normal he impels us to focus on him. He concluded his opening comments by emphasizing that we should not retreat to our own “tribe” but rather keep constructive dialog going, watch humorous takes on the news such as “The Colbert Report” or Samantha Bee.
Dr. Freed began by giving us all a couple of minutes to speak to the person next to us, naming three feelings we were experiencing. Her initial points:
- The only way to break down prejudices is to share personal stories.
- She mentioned Gloria Steinem’s comment about the value of “talking circles” – we need safe spaces to allow us to explore and voice our fears. Trump plays hard on building fear.
- Remember who your allies are, and that minor slights don’t matter.
- There’s no winning in arguing facts (especially alternative ones). Facts don’t “win” anything. We were told to find compassion in ourselves for those with whom we disagree. She asked us all to share with the person next to what one thing we recall having learned from someone with whom we disagree.
- Don’t tell people what to think – appeal through personal experience. See the humanity in every person, and keep compassion for even those with whom you disagree.
- As a society we’re reverting to our “reptilian brains” (the amygdala), where we are reduced to reactions of Fear, Fight, and Flight. Trump is capitalizing on our collective fears.
Dr. S. noted that fear works on both sides of the spectrum, and cited the recent Middlebury College incident. He says that while the Right is generally more fear-based the left has become so under the current administration and that we have to refocus on liberal views which are to listen to and understand all points of view.
Dr. Tania Israel, Chair of the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology at UCSB, shared some materials she and some students developed in one of her courses – a “Self-Exploration Checklist: Readiness for Engaging in Dialogue Across Political Lines” which included a very useful flowchart (click on image for bigger view)
- Is there a way to follow the news without breaking the TV or resorting to drinking?
Express your anger – don’t hold it in – but be aware of your reactions. Always try to keep discussion open – no one is inspired by people who are righteous or condescending.
Long-term anxiety can lead to depression, so it’s important to be watchful of our reactions and moods. If we’re drunk or stoned we’re inactive (and it was debated whether this might be a Trump strategy, to keep us all complacent).
- How do you deal with feeling like the country is being abused?
You can’t be co-dependent. Pick your battle – not all issues are BIG things, and it’s the small acts which will add up. But do select a battle and wage it.
- I’ve tried meditation, medication, liquor, exercise and civic involvement – what am I missing?
On a singular level you can do something kind for someone you don’t know. A random compliment or holding a door can elevate you mood as you are helping society work.Don’t bypass grief. We (this privileged, dominant culture) have a collective burden of grief (the bombing of Hiroshima, Vietnam, Japanese internment camps, the genocide of Native Americans, etc.) which is important to acknowledge. We need to also feel permission to at times be sad. We’re one of the most medicated and physically unhealthy (e.g. obesity) countries in the world. “Tragic sadness” reminds of sadness in our childhoods when we had fewer ways to cope. This can lead to rage. It is important to recognize the difference between rage and anger. Rage is reactive while anger can fuel action.The speakers directed us to tell our neighbors something about which we are angry and about which we are going to take some action. They reiterate that the opposite of depression is human connection. Cry or be sad with others as a way of expressing the grief in a validating forum, and find your ability to take some action to address the cause.A later question also touched on our collective guilt (slavery, mass imprisonment, deportations). It’s important to focus on repairing – move away from the paradigm of punishment to repair. However we need to recognize these harmful acts, and the damage done, to restore integrity to both those harmed and ourselves. This can start in our personal lives – recognize a hurt you’ve caused and repair it.
- Why does our current situation feel so destabilizing?
It stirs up chaos from our childhoods – assumptions of safety that are taken away, bullying, etc. Anger fuels action but rage can deactivate it. Validate the ‘useful’ anger and use it, but don’t let it overtake you.
- How do we deal daily with anger and not slip into depression?
Don’t isolate. Do activities. Cry/release. Share/connect. Be creative – express sadness and anger through writing, art, etc. Find validation for your sadness and anger.
- Is there something more sinister than Trump and the Republican Party at play here, e.g. the Koch Brothers, Russia, or other larger powers?
Be cautious of thinking in that direction. It is hard to deal with fact-less fears.
(Note by Michael Vilkin: I recommend a book by Jane Mayer called “Dark Money” on this subject.)
- Part of my alarm is, why isn’t everyone alarmed? Is this like Germans in Nazi Germany who were in denial about what was happening?
Some people are highly sensitive and can’t cope as easily (“I can’t bear to watch the news” or “He’s not MY President”). Invite them to participate in ways they can – write letters, or attend a march.
We need to be aware, be vigilant, and keep perspective. Stay in the conversation, don’t turn away. We’ve survived Nixon, Bush, several wars and invasions – believe in the system.
- Checks and balances seem to be absent from the current administration. Critical thinking has become completely de-valued. This makes me feel helpless – what can I do?
The hard part is that we have so little control over these changes that are galloping along. We are only a couple of months into this administration. There is a huge resistance and civic engagement. Populism can cut both ways. We, the people can make a difference. The Republicans are using our engagement to their advantage, calling us paid insurgents. However when the Republicans go home and are faced with their angry constituents it will perhaps change their minds, nor for core reasons but for the survival of their careers. But this is democracy in action. When they go low, we go high, but we don’t go dumb. We get smart and do something active not reactive. Vehement “no’s” to awful positions.
- The pushback from the left makes the Republicans act for self-aggrandizement rather than for change/the right reasons.
Does it matter if change is accomplished for the ‘right reason’, or that it happens anyway?Focus on what we have control over. Don’t get frustrated with our ‘little efforts’ – they’re not little, especially when all added together.
- Is it a waste of time to talk with someone we can’t “convert”? Or have a conversation we can’t win?
Forget defending a point of view – be genuinely curious about someone’s own point of view. Listening will help in both directions. Use empathy. Don’t get defensive – get curious – it changes the dynamic.
- What is now the correct place for civility – the so-called “higher ground”? Is it getting us anywhere? When we feel threatened and denigrated, how do we stay civil?
Use your outrage wisely. Don’t be dumb – stand up and resist. Don’t be violent or reactive – take smart action.
- We have friends who voted for Trump for financial reasons. Can we continue to be friends?
Relationships work best with shared values. Do you and your friends or relatives still have these? Know your limit. Can your relationship hold that amount of friction?
- My 89 year-old father was a long term Democrat, but voted for Trump. How can I deal with that? The way to handle this is to get curious. Find out why they think they way they do. It disarms the hostility and may lead to common ground, and at the least lets people see how well they can support their viewpoints.
- I fear that more rural areas are not getting progressive media such as NPR.
The Koch Brothers and others are buying up media so there is more control from the right. But – young people rarely get their news from radio, or even TV. They are able to access a wide variety of media online.
A woman in attendance recommended a documentary available on Amazon called “The Brainwashing of My Dad”, about the effects of Fox news.
- Do an act of kindness for a stranger. Get out of your self-interest
- Anger and anxiety can both be great fuel for meaningful action.
- Get cardio and aerobic exercise.
- Try to be around babies and pets.
- Try self-hypnosis and/or meditation (many podcasts are useful, e.g. “Headspace”)
- Gain and maintain perspective
- Filter your news through humor for balance, e.g. Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, John Oliver. Also Stephanie Miller (available through FreeSpeech TV).
- Keep historical perspective, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King)
- Try a technique such as the Butterfly Technique to restore your mind to calm. Cross your arms so that your hands rest on the opposing upper arm. Think of a positive scenario and pat each arm in an alternating fashion for 15 seconds. Whenever you feel stressed, tap on your arms and bring back that memory or sensation.
- Listen to Bach – the compositional structure is very reassuring.
- You can’t change reality – accept it, and act.
In closing, Ann Brode CST of Santa Barbara Health Space led a short meditation.
“How Trump Wins by Losing,” by Tim Wu, New York Times, 03/02/17r: https://nyti.ms/2lCIjpa
“Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” by Masha Gessen. The New York Review of Books, Nov. 10, 2016: http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/11/10/trump-election-autocracy-rules-for-survival/
“Dark Money” by Jane Mayer (there is a good review in the NYTimes and an interview by Steve Inskeep on NPR. This is an excellent book on the rise of the Right in America as fueled by the Koch Brothers).
“Peace Q: Increasing Your Capacity for Peaceful Living Within and Peace Around You,” by Jennifer Freed – reminds us how to increase our ability to find an inner calm.
“Brainwashing of My Dad” is a documentary film available on Amazon and other platforms.