We are in a new era of PTSD: Pre/Post Trump Stress Disorder
On the night that Donald Trump was elected I happened to be in the United States. The year preceding election night was a year of speculating, obsessing and fearing what life would be like if the hot headed, head of hair became the next President of the USA.
The morning after Trump declared victory, my American friends looked utterly defeated. Their eyes were bloated from tears. Their hope pulverized. They said they felt unsafe. Hillary, the person who was going to make it better and be their protector was cast out of the kingdom. Mom and Dad had been fighting for the past year but now Dad changed the locks and threw away the keys.
Although my friends are grown adults, they reverted back to terrified little girls.
After experiencing trauma, people are beyond stirred. They are shaken. Physically, emotionally and psychologically, the world feels unsafe. Like it has an irregular pulse. If you have experienced trauma in your life you will likely be feeling on guard and that you have to defend yourself from ghosts of the past that haven’t fully taken shape again.
Trauma used to be reserved for extreme events that threatened personal safety such as having a freak accident, being victim of a sexual assault or being a survivor of war. However as more research is being done, there’s a lot more to it.
Complex trauma comes about when someone has experienced ongoing mistreatment over the course of one’s development. This can look like an emotionally distant mother who neglected her child; the highly critical father who consistently found flaws with his son or daughter; the ongoing sexual abuse from a family member; a partner’s betrayal when they find about their spouse’s ongoing infidelity; emotional abuse from a boss. Someone could have experienced any one of these things – or each one of these things over the course of their life. The effects of trauma will be as unique as the trauma itself.
What we see now are people who are understandably having an intense reaction to a regime that seems to be blatantly raising its middle finger to the values that make people feel safe. For many, Donald Trump’s stance is like the rebellious teen who has assumed free reign of the household.
Sadly, one of the biggest casualties in the new PTSD (Pre/Post Trump Stress Disorder) is the degree to which many people seem to be losing a lot of their life force. They are preoccupied, arguing, and showing incredible intolerance to the reality that is Trump. By no means am I suggesting that people roll over and stay quiet. But there is a lot of misplaced energy.
Trauma Bonding describes relationships that are characterized by unhealthy attachments based on dynamics such as danger, exploitation or threat. From this perspective, society is trauma bonded to Trump. Will we symptoms of complex trauma in people 4 years from now?
Surviving the Unsurvivable
Viktor Frankl was one of the best known Holocaust Survivors. In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning he recounts his experiences in a Nazi death camp. Frankl survived, but his survival hinged on his outlook. He believed in the ability humans have to rise above circumstances, “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances..” His message is that humans have the ability to decide how they respond to suffering.
Recently, there have been great examples of choosing more adaptive reactions to Trump: using it as ammunition for sketch comedy, people marching in solidarity for their beliefs, making their voice heard and re-igniting values we may have taken for granted because they have seemed commonplace.
Frankl’s message mirrors what addicts in recovery all too well: Your point of power is to know what is and isn’t in your control.
As with treating trauma, there is always an opportunity for healing. Surviving and thriving in spite of a Trump administration might pose huge challenges. But who knows – this could be a catalyst for people to find strength, solidarity and an inner conviction that they wouldn’t have had if mom had been there to save the day.
Tanya Fruehauf specializes in addictive behaviour and partners affected by infidelity in Vancouver, BC.