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Coping after Election 2016: Anger, Fear, Betrayal  

Coping after Election 2016: Anger, Fear, Betrayal  


How do we process our emotions and feeling of betrayal at last week's election result? A noted therapist offers tools to cope.

I woke up on the morning after the election feeling pretty much the same as you may have felt. First complete disbelief, followed by all kinds of emotions. And I certainly wasn’t alone. I had lots of messages from clients asking to come in and talk. 

Here are some examples of what I heard: 

“My sister voted for Trump. After bragging on Facebook, she called me Wednesday morning and asked me how I was doing. How was I doing? Seriously? I told her how betrayed I felt. That she had thrown me under the bus. I don’t think our relationship will ever be the same.” 

“I’m self-employed and living with HIV. The Affordable Care Act has literally been a lifesaver for me. What’s going to happen to my healthcare if it’s abolished? I haven’t been this scared in a long time.”    

“I’m struggling to stay in this country and not get deported. I’m struggling to get the medical care I need to manage my HIV. I’m struggling for my rights as a trans person. I’m really scared.” 

I am sure you are reading articles and editorials from people who know a whole lot more about politics and what this election will mean than I do. So my purpose here is to give my perspective as a mental health professional who works with individuals from the LGBT community as well as individuals living with HIV. To talk about the emotional impact of the election. And to offer any suggestions I can to help you to cope in the days ahead. 

Let me just say that this has been a hard week for me. And I have to say that being an objective listener for my clients wasn’t easy. Actually, I kind of threw objectivity out of the window and commiserated right along with them. The results of this election were not good news for many groups of people in our country, there’s no way to spin it otherwise. 

I can summarize the theme of the week in two words. The first word is betrayal. My LGBT and HIV+ clients have repeatedly described feeling betrayed by relatives, friends, co-workers, their communities, their states, their country. Again, there’s no way to put a positive spin on this. I am quite honestly terrified for the LGBT community, for people who cannot afford adequate healthcare, for members of communities of color, for immigrants… all the groups who were repeatedly singled out for abuse during this campaign with the promise that their rights would be trampled on. 

And the second word is uncertainty. The truth of the matter is that we have no idea what this new era we are entering in is going to mean. Will common decency prevail? Will the words of hate turn out to have been vote-getting bluster? Will the programs we have in place, including those providing healthcare, not be completely destroyed? We don’t know. And human beings sure don’t do well with uncertainty. 

So where does that leave us? I am going to give you the same advice that I have given my clients. Let me just say that I am fully aware that my words may feel inadequate at best, cold comfort. But I am hoping you will find something helpful here: 

Let yourself feel how much it just plain sucks. Don’t turn yourself inside out trying to find a silver lining. Not yet. And don’t feel like you have to listen to anyone who wants to shove a silver lining in your face. This is no time to listen to the positive thinking police. Feelings are feelings. Don’t deny yours. 

Gather your support network around you. One of the lessons of uncertain times is to build a solid support system. Who are the people in your life who help you to bring out your best self, and who rely on you to do the same for them? Make sure you keep them close. Spending some time with the people you care about the most is a good way to help you cope. That may mean getting closer to the family you chose and not the one you were born into. 

Vent! Sit down with like-minded friends and talk about your reactions to the election, your anger, your fear, your disappointment. Let it out! And be a listener, too. Sure, you can’t change the outcome. Venting keeps you from keeping all those bottle up emotions inside to do more damage to your wellness. 

Just choose carefully where you vent. Caution: Getting into political arguments with your family over the holidays, or around the water cooler at work, places you at risk for feeling worse. We can’t change how other people choose to believe and, chances are, you won’t raise their consciousness by arguing with them. Ask yourself: Is this conversation going to be a positive experience for me? Can I express myself without feeling further disrespected and marginalized by someone who refuses to understand my viewpoint? If not, refuse to engage. You have been through enough already. 

Remind yourself how you have met challenges in the past. You have faced at least one life-altering challenge – your HIV diagnosis – and moved forward with your life. So you know you have what it takes to harness your inner resources to meet the next challenge. Do an inventory of your strengths. 

Pay attention to your physical and emotional wellness. I lost five pounds this past week due to a stomach ache that still hasn’t gone away. I suspect I am not alone on that. But don’t let your feelings about this election cause you to fall apart. Stay healthy. Do things you enjoy with people you enjoy doing them with. 

Stay informed. Mobilize. While you’re at it, get involved in a cause. Agitate! There’s a lot in life you don’t have control over, like the results of the election. But you do have control over taking action in your corner of the world. Be ready to stand up for your rights to live and to love and to have adequate healthcare!   

Be proactive. I don’t want to sound an alarm but I suspect you are already aware that we don’t know what’s going to happen to the Affordable Care Act as well as other sources of healthcare funding. So start looking for alternative sources for your HIV meds. Can you get a larger supply, like 90 days, if you need to? Are there other programs in your community that might help you get your meds if you have a problem with your healthcare coverage? This is another reason why it’s really important to stay informed. Pay close attention to updates from Plus!   

Wait, but watch closely. I know you don’t want to hear this, but we won’t know what the future looks like until we’re in it. And keep in mind, there is a difference between bluster on the podium and doing the real job. There are still lots of open-minded, progressive people in our country. And we have a Constitution that protects all of us. So try not to add more stress to your life by creating catastrophies that haven’t happened yet. How about trying to hold on to some hope in the midst of all this despair?   

Decide to make a difference in your corner of the world. If we allow ourselves to fall into bitterness and hate and despair, then the other side wins. Instead, look for ways to make a difference where you can. Be extra kind to the important people in your life. Give of yourself. Volunteer. Be there when somebody needs some support. 

You’ve said it before and so have I. #lovetrumpshate. We’re all in this together. So let’s be there for each other. And as the saying goes, don’t let the bastards wear you down. 

Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. He runs

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