Our Shadow and Our Scars
George Geysen, Psy.D.
Americans love sport. They love competition, the heroes and the vanquished. This may have deep ancestral roots in our cultural DNA. The Roman gladiators and games at the Coliseum come to mind. So when it comes to the slog of the quadrennial interminable character assassination of our 2016 presidential election, I am willing to chalk up our deep obsessive fascination with the Clinton/Trump spectacle to something coded in the double helix of our American being. I am willing to acknowledge there are many so caught up in the hardwiring of their cultural limbic system that it overrides the higher functioning aspects of their American left brain.
As a clinical psychologist, it is considered unethical to discuss our political views in psychotherapy with patients. However, this election season, to my mind, is like no other which I have witnessed. It seems nearly every person seeking my help has an extremely strong and even visceral reaction to what they have witnessed on cable television, in magazines and newspapers and, of course, the ubiquitous social media, e.g. Facebook and Twitter. Sadly, I have seen recently where family members have taken sides and elevated political biases to such a fevered point, that it damaged longstanding and loving family relationships, perhaps for a very long time.
So it was with these experiences in mind that I began to think: we Americans seem so enthralled, so captivated by the pre-game show, the half-time spectacular and the smash mouth nature of the fourth quarter push of our 2016 presidential campaign that no one seems to be asking the most important question: what comes after, what will next season look like? The deeply injurious (I believe) effect of this whole wretched process, regardless of who we vote for, has exposed our darkest, most hateful and malignant attitudes about race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and disability. This has never happened in our American political history. Sadly, I do not believe we, as Americans, can ever be the same after November 8th. We have been culturally traumatized and transfigured. We have been changed as a result of our trauma.
How, exactly, can we begin to try to heal with so much scar tissue now on our democracy? Who is to blame? The candidates? The media? How did this happen? Did we dissociate and, in a trance state, let the bizarre sideshow, the car madly careening through the crowd, injure countless spectators? Perhaps. And maybe also the deepest and darkest aspects of our collective human nature, the shadow side (as Carl Jung would posit) of who we are as a society were abducted by not only the candidates, but by the complete horror and ugliness of the reality television farce we now call our election cycle.
Our shadow and our scars. What will we learn about ourselves from this experience? Will Americans even get a chance to try to heal, to again -- in those immortal words -- recover the better angels of our nature? We have all been abused, victimized and traumatized by the shared tragedy of this this election. There is enough blame to go around. My only hope is that once this long American nightmare is over, we can set about the long arduous and painful process of forgiveness and learn again who it is that we believe we are to each other and learn to love and trust again.