The confluence of political events over the past few years, from the international to the municipal, is eating away not just at the fabric of our society, but at our humanity and emotional wellness. That is to say, the current political climate has been good for the therapy business, though I don’t know a single therapist who is happy about this. I mean, there’s so much normal human tragedy to address that the need for therapeutic support isn’t going away any time soon.
My clients are hurting. I’m hurting. We’re all trying to figure out what “better” looks like when we have so little control over world events. This means that when clients come to me, expressing fear and vulnerability, I have to be brave enough to match their fear and vulnerability with my own while providing safety and comfort.
The scariest part is that I don’t have a cool, therapist-y bag of tricks to make any of this better. I don’t have evidence-based intervention strategies for politicians who challenge personhood and the basic rights of existence, let alone safety and equality. I’m terrified, too. Really fucking scared. But my job in these situations is to hold hope for both of us, which is some of the hardest therapeutic work I have ever done in my entire life. We’re fighting a raging dumpster fire, after all. But as we continue to face these challenges, I have distilled down a few things that seem to help the most.
Call It by Its Name
Brené Brown calls it "speaking truth to bullshit." Bullshit, in this case, means the use of language to alter our perception of reality. There is no ignoring reality; in the end, we are far better served to face it head on. There is no power in sugar-coating the truth, but it’s also unhelpful to amplify the dangers we face. This means we must use language for its most sacred intention, to communicate and facilitate understanding
Healing begins with the truth. And the truth is grounded in a language of reality. If it’s an assault, don’t call it misconduct. And if it’s rape, don’t call it assault. Children who have been targeted by their peers for their differences to the point of suicidality are not being teased or picked on, they are being abused.
On the flip side, it is important that we hold ourselves accountable to not overstate our experiences to prove a point. We need to not use the word triggered
to express a feeling of discomfort. And someone disagreeing with our stance is not necessarily bullying us. Someone in our orbit who is being a dick should not be labeled with the same words that we use to point out those who exert control and power for the specific purpose of destroying others.
Behave Your Values
You don’t have to have a religious bone in your body to have a strong moral center. And even if you have a higher authority you speak with and answer to, your values are even deeper than that authority. Our inner core of who we are is tethered not to fear of damnation, but an alignment of who we know our best selves to be.
This means using our power to affect change when we can, mitigate damage where we can, and to align ourselves with those who need our help the most. That may be a group under attack by the political system. It may be our own selves.
The essential question I ask my clients on a regular basis is this one: Five years from now, when you look back on this period of time, will you be proud of your actions or embarrassed?
Distance Yourself From Distractions
Not everything going on is part of the dumpster fire. There are forces at play in our individual lives and in the greater world around us that conspire to distract us from the truth. Just like we can immerse ourselves in our careers to avoid a disintegrating family life, we can immerse ourselves in outrage over what some ridiculous TV pundit with no political power says. And our outrage and outcry become, then, an effective smokescreen that allows those with true power to continue to inflict their damage. This is how we wake up in a real-life Handmaid’s Tale
When the Alex Jones types spew craziness, call it by its name, then recenter your focus on the things most important to pay attention to: The places where you can affect change. Social media allows us the ability to spread awareness. If we get wrapped up in the semantics of the bullshit, we are just feeding the bullshit while the dumpster fire rages on.
Prioritize Your Self-Care
experienced her own dumpster fires in her day. And she remarked that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” And I am not talking about the insta-worthy type of self-care. I’m all for bubble baths and pedicures. I’m talking about the hard, uncomfortable, painful struggle of authentic, in-it-for-the-long-haul self-care.
Tina Fey’s “sheetcaking” skit quickly went viral after the 2016 elections. And to be fair, it made for a far funnier narrative arc than the difficult work of staying alive in a world that doesn’t much give a fuck about you doing so. This means getting quality sleep. Eating fresh fruit instead of the damn sheetcake. Making a budget and attending to your obligations. Caring for your life as if it’s a precious thing with a beautiful future ahead of it. Valuing yourself even if you are the only one to do so. I’m in this with every intent of making it all the way through, and I want you to be there with me.
I write books about mental health and being the best human you can be in fucked-up circumstances by applying what we know about the human brain to real-life situations. Of course, dumpster fire management theory
is not an established, evidence-based practice. I don’t have anything in that regard. But I do know that continuing to hold our center despite the chaos that surrounds us gives us the best chance for survival. I’ll meet you on the other side.
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Faith G. Harper
, PhD, LPC-S, ACS, ACN is a badass funny lady with a PhD. She’s a licensed professional counselor, board supervisor, certified sexologist, and applied clinical nutritionist with a private practice and consulting business in San Antonio, TX. She has been an adjunct professor and a TEDx presenter, and proudly identifies as a woman of color and uppity intersectional feminist. She is the author of the book Unf*ck Your Brain
and many other popular zines and books on subjects such as anxiety, depression, and grief. She is available as a public speaker and for corporate and clinical trainings. Her most recent book is This Is Your Brain on Depression.