If you’re suffering in these dark times.

ladyliberty

“Ever since he was elected, I can’t sleep, I can’t function, I cry all the time.  I can barely work. I want to ignore the news, but it’s always there, HE’s always there, always sucking me in like a black hole, and it’s destroying me.”

“Trump is destroying and dismantling everything near and dear to me.  I don’t know how much longer I can go on.  I’m back to smoking and drinking heavily because I don’t know what else I can do.  It just seems hopeless.  He has destroyed the future.” 

“Whenever I hear the stories and see the pictures of those poor migrant kids and their heartbroken families, I just want to scream.  What kind of society separates families?  What kind of society imprisons children who have done nothing wrong?   What kind of society makes it a FELONY to leave food and water for hungry, exhausted, and thirsty women and children who have walked thousands of miles to escape from certain death in their home countries?  A cruel, heartless, psychopathic society, that’s what.  I wish I could leave.” 

“I feel like I’m living in a nightmare that I can’t wake up from.”

“This isn’t my country anymore.  Women are being treated as second class citizens, or chattel.  I feel like my daughters have no future here.  We are seriously considering leaving for a country that respects women and girls instead of treating them like the Taliban treats their women.”

“I’m scared every day.  The anxiety and grief is relentless.” 

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m ashamed to be an American. 

*****

These are actual quotes from people reacting to what’s happening in America under Dictator Trump.   What struck me about these comments is how eerily reminiscent they are of the sort of comments people who grew up with narcissistic parents or are in abusive relationships make.  The dynamics are identical;  what America is experiencing is simply narcissistic abuse on a very large scale.  The main difference is, it’s a lot easier to go “No Contact” with an abusive family.  Unless we are pretty well off financially or have family or close friends in other countries to help us get resettled, most of us can’t just up and leave.

In normal, civilized, democratic societies, politics doesn’t dominate people’s everyday lives.  Before Trump, I could ignore the news.  It usually bored me.  I had other, happier, interests.  People in functioning democracies have that luxury, and can focus on their families, friends, jobs, hobbies, educations, and other interests.

In failing states, and in dictatorships, politics dominates peoples’ lives because their very survival hangs on the day to day whims of their often cruel rulers, rulers who rarely make policies that benefit them and are very likely to make policies that outright hurt them.

There are four main ways people normally react to a formerly benign government being taken over by cruel dictatorship or other malevolent regime.  I have taken the liberty of borrowing Pete Walker’s “Four F’s” of C-PTSD, because what is happening to Americans is very much akin to C-PTSD and PTSD.   Even people who support Trump and his inhumane policies are analogous to the flying monkeys in a narcissistic family.  They cope by identifying with the abuser.  Some may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.  Trump’s confidantes and high level enablers, of course, are also flying monkeys (and Trump’s “golden children”) and are probably on the narcissistic or psychopathic spectrum themselves.   The rest of us are the scapegoats or “forgotten children.”

So, without further ado, here are the four primary ways people in failing states and impending dictatorships (and abusive families) react to the trauma (and make no mistake, it is trauma):

1.  Sell out to the political system (abusive family) and meekly succumb to whatever new laws and restrictions, no matter how draconian and cruel, are forced on them (the Fawn or Fear reaction);  

2.  Flee to another country (No Contact) if they are able (the Flight reaction);

3.  Numb the soul and mind through alcohol or drugs (there’s a reason, besides their highly addictive properties, why the opiates are a huge crisis right now: people are trying to numb their psychic pain).  It’s also why alcoholism is so high in certain failed states and dictatorships, such as Russia, Belarus, and Hungary.   Some people don’t turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, but are able to just turn off their emotions and feel nothing anymore (Freeze/dissociative reaction)

4.  Refuse to normalize what is happening, even though not doing so makes one extremely vulnerable to great suffering, and an overwhelming sense of sadness, existential grief, stark terror, and other unpleasant emotions that are part and parcel of a serious existential threat.  However, this painful awareness also leaves one open to righteous anger, a galvanizing force which can be the catalyst to changing a dangerous and toxic political system.  (the Fight reaction).

This last group are the survivors.   They are the ones who, by facing the reality of the trauma inflicted on them by their government, are most likely to create positive change starting in their communities, and finally in their state, and even on the national or world scale.   They tend to be the young, the people whose future matters the most, and whose leaders have so callously failed them in favor of their own self interest.

emmarodriguez

Emma Rodriguez, a victim of the Parkland school shooting, stands in silence for six and a half minutes, with tears rolling down her face, to protest gun violence at last year’s March for Our Lives event.  It was an extremely powerful few moments for everyone who watched.

One only need to look at the Parkland school shooting survivors (especially Emma Rodriguez) to see how great suffering can lead to great courage and eventually to change.   The same can be said about 16 year old Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg  (please watch this video), who has parlayed her terror about her own and her peers’ future into worldwide activism that has galvanized young people all over Europe to demand an end to the use of fossil fuels.  Not only that, the adult lawmakers are actually listening.

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So, if you are feeling a lot of emotional or mental pain right now, if you are grieving the America you knew when you were young, if you find yourself feeling terrified or close to tears, or angry much of the time, please know that these reactions don’t mean there’s something wrong with you.  On the contrary, they mean something’s very right with you, and you actually have an intact soul that is uncompromised by evil.    Once you begin to normalize the “new normal,” and accept it, that’s when your soul has begun to die.

Use mindfulness techniques, visualization, prayer, or seek counseling to deal with the unpleasant and painful emotions.  Mental health professionals say their caseload is WAY up since Trump became president.  Many of them, who tend to be politically liberal, are as upset and alarmed by this regime as their clients are, so they will be able to empathize and assure you that you are not the one with the problem, but reacting in a normal way to something that is abnormal.

Every time you feel the depression, fear, or rage crop up, remind yourself this isn’t bad: it just means you have an intact soul.  You just need to know what to do with those feelings.

Write about your feelings, like I do.  Write a protest song.  Sing!  Scream!  If you’re good at organizing and are fairly social, use your rage to plan a demonstration or a march in your community.   Write letters to your representatives.  Register people to vote, or volunteer to work on the campaign of a political candidate you admire.

Don’t forget you will need to replenish every so often and do unrelated things to take your mind off the political situation.  Balance is important.   If you need a day to rest, or go to a movie, or the beach, or just sleep in, don’t feel guilty.  Your body and mind needs these breaks to replenish so you can be more effective as someone who helps bring about change.

I also recommend reading Pete Walker’s helpful and easy to read book about C-PTSD, Complex C-PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.   Because that’s what we’re dealing with under Trump and the sycophantic GOP.

*****

Further reading:

The Four F’s of C-PTSD

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving (book review)

12 Ways to Resist Without Losing Your Mind

Why write about politics and religion?

never-discuss-religion-or-politics

When I started this blog, I remember saying I would never write about politics or religion.

Four years later, I’m writing about both politics and religion.   Though not every one of my posts covers these two divisive subjects, a good percentage of them do.    Sometimes I remember the promise I made when this blog was new, and feel like a bit of a hypocrite.

But then when I realize how closely our political situation (and religion too, since in America, right wing evangelical Christianity has become VERY political) ties in with narcissistic abuse and sociopathy, which was this blog’s original focus —  I realize I made the right decision in tossing aside my original vow to steer clear of religion and politics.

In 2019, narcissistic abuse is no longer a matter that only affects individuals, relationships, and families.   It’s the modus operandi of a criminal political organization or perhaps group of criminal political organizations that is affecting everyone under their rule on a nationwide, or even a worldwide, scale.    What is happening in the Republican Party — no longer your father’s, brother’s, or even your own conservative, small government, ‘family values’ party, but a treasonous terrorist organization of white supremacists and religiofascists that serves only the wealthy, white, straight, and male — is narcissistic abuse writ large.  Like it or not, all of us, to one degree or another, are affected by it.

Those of us who are horrified by what has become of America and the cruel way some vulnerable groups of people are being treated, and terrified by what Trump and his sociopathic regime may do to us next are most likely suffering some form of PTSD.    If we already were victims of narcissistic abuse, we are likely suffering a relapse of Complex PTSD (C-PTSD).  I know I sure as hell am.   Most days I feel like I’m just barely hanging on.   It’s hard to think or to function.   I feel constant anxiety, and sometimes depression.  When I’m not anxious or depressed, I’m in a white hot rage.   Peace of mind is a thing of the past, since I never know what fresh hell each new day will bring.    I know I’m far from alone.

Living in Trump’s America without being part of his cultish base feels a lot like waiting for your abusive husband to get home and not knowing whether he’ll beat you up again or mercifully just ignore you tonight.   It feels like being a scapegoated child in a family of narcissists, who blame you for everything that goes wrong, even though you don’t understand what you did wrong (and probably didn’t do anything).   You’re always anxious and on edge, always waiting for the “other shoe to drop.”  Narcissists like to keep you off balance, and Trump and his sycophants like to create the sort of chaos and say the kinds of things that keep us all off balance and constantly on edge.   What he’s doing isn’t any different than what your narcissistic mother did to you, and it has the same deleterious effect on your mental health.

Since 2016, mental health professionals say their caseloads are increasing, and most new caseloads are people suffering PTSD because of the trauma Trump is causing them.  Even if his cruel and hate filled policies don’t affect you or your loved ones directly, the threat of violence, the taking away of benefits and freedoms, and the mocking hatred is always there, like a black heaviness in the room.  The toxic rhetoric he and his base use against anyone who doesn’t act, believe and look the way they do never goes away, and it’s getting worse.  Now he’s goading his base (through his Twitter account) to actual violence against anyone who dares to criticize him or his policies.   I have no doubt he’s trying to rile up the police, the biker gangs, the gun nuts, and others to form a militia against liberals and progressives (and even moderates), truthtellers, and the lovers of democracy.    Make no mistake:  he’s gathering an army of brownshirts to terrorize, attack, and even kill anyone who isn’t on his side.

My point is that politics and religion in 2019 is very much tied up with narcissistic abuse and sociopathy, and to not address the fact this problem is now happening on a nationwide or even worldwide scale (and perhaps has been for a long time) is to deny that it is happening at all.  To not write about current events in light of narcissism and sociopathy would be irresponsible.

My first goal in writing about these issues is to educate and make those who might not have connected this presidency with the problem of narcissistic abuse more aware that it is happening.  With awareness and education, people are more equipped to see what is happening, when it’s happening, the various “tricks” they use (gaslighting, lying, blame shifting, demonization of groups, black and white thinking, employing “flying monkeys”, etc.) and take appropriate action or defense measures to guard against it.

Since most of us can’t go “no contact” with Trump (unless we have the means to emigrate to another country), we must stay vigilant and aware of the myriad ways he and his “flying monkeys” abuse us (he abuses his own base too, but they are in denial, like the cult members they are).  At the same time, we can’t forget about our families, our friends, and try to enjoy our lives as best we can.   The little things in life matter too.   We can (and must) take breaks from the news, and focus on more positive things, and try to find joy wherever we can.

Remember that even in the most depressing and darkest of circumstances, it is possible to find joy.     Read The Diary of Anne Frank for inspiration and strength.    If you believe in God, pray.   If you don’t, do positive things for yourself and others.    Give (and get) lots of hugs.  Volunteer.  Adopt an animal.   Do good things in your community.   Everything you do makes a difference.

Don’t put on horse blinders and pretend what’s happening isn’t, but in the midst of all the black chaos, take time out for joy and friendship.  Also remember that Trump is an angry, lost soul who has neither joy or true friends and never will.   You are better than that and that’s why he hates us.

The other reason I write about politics and religion is because it’s a way to personally cope with what’s happening.   Just as I wrote about my own abuse as a survivor of a narcissistic family and emotionally abusive marriage in order to heal, it’s also necessary for me to write about the ways I feel abused by Trump and his regime in order to keep my sanity.   Otherwise I might completely give up hope and put a bullet in my head.

*****

Further reading:

Narcissistic Abuse in Trumpistan

We Need a Lot More Awareness About Narcissism and Sociopathy

Guest Post #8 : Abusers break you–and then HATE you for being broken.

Linda Lee’s wonderful guest post about Complex PTSD is definitely worth another day in the sun.

Lucky Otters Haven

My dear friend and active participant on this site, Linda Lee, has written a wonderful and OMG SO TRUE post, which describes a lifetime of abuse, including incarceration in a state mental hospital, and being faced with unethical doctors and caregivers, including one who raped her. She was sent back home to a rejecting family–who had put her there in the first place! Linda Lee has Complex PTSD, a form of PTSD that’s often the result of chronic abuse during childhood, rather than an isolated traumatic incident later on in life. After describing the insane house of mirrors she had been thrusted into that seemed to have no way out, Linda lifts the reader out of the darkness with an uplifting message about Easter and the resurrection.

Linda Lee also has a blog about her Complex PTSD caused by prolonged, severe trauma called Surviving Trauma (formerly Heal My Complex PTSD)

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The awkwardness of being a Borderline ACON.

Thought I’d reblog this, as it shows where my head was at almost three years ago, and how I reacted to criticism from “pure” abuse survivors who didn’t believe it was possible to be both an abuse victim and also suffer from something as “evil” as Borderline Personality Disorder (whose symptoms are often mixed up with those of  Complex PTSD and may even be the same thing).

I’m a lot calmer and more centered today, but I was also in therapy at that time and learning a lot about myself, so it was a fruitful time for me, however difficult it could sometimes be.

Comments here are welcome, since the deadline for comments under the original post has expired.

Lucky Otters Haven

awkward-1

I won’t lie.  It’s incredibly awkward being a blogger who blogs about two things that seem diametrically opposed to many people in the narcissistic abuse community:  being a victim of narcissists, and having a Cluster B disorder (BPD).   To those of you who aren’t familiar with the ACON (adult children of narcissists) blogosphere,  there are a few ACON bloggers (not too many on WordPress, fortunately) who seem to think if you have BPD then you can’t also be an abuse victim and certainly shouldn’t be blogging about it.  Because, you see, if you have BPD then you are one of the soulless abusers.  If you are any kind of “cluster B person” blogging about abuse, then of it follows that you must have an “agenda.”  What that agenda is is never specified though.

I have been accused of many things, none of which are pretty, and few of which are true…

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What is moral injury?

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Moral injury (also known as soul injury), is a serious mental condition similar to PTSD that many Americans are suffering from right now under Trump’s increasingly threatening and authoritarian administration.   This condition is also very common among soldiers who are forced to commit acts that go against their conscience or violate their understanding of right from wrong.

According to Wikipedia, moral injury

refers to an injury to an individual’s moral conscience resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression which produces profound emotional shame. The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma. Distinct from pathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event.  The concept is currently used in literature about the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs. Moral injury can also be experienced by those who have been transgressed against. For example, when one goes to war thinking that the purpose of the war is to eradicate weapons of mass destruction, but finds that not to be the case, the warrior can experience moral injury. Those who have seen and experienced death, mayhem, destruction, and violence have had their worldviews shattered – the sanctity of life, safety, love, health, peace, etc. – can suffer moral injury as well. This injury can also occur in the medical space – among physicians and other emergency or first responder care providers who engage in traumatic high impact work environments which can affect their mental health and well-being.

Moral injury or soul injury is quite common, and can affect entire populations.   It tends to separate people with a conscience and empathy from sociopaths, the latter of which are likely to be drawn to the very person or situation that is causing moral injury and PTSD to the normal population.

Since moral injury is closely related to PTSD, the symptoms are very similar.    Depression, sadness, and even suicidal ideation is common, especially if the victim sees no escape from the threatening situation or tyrannical leader/ government.

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It is under the spiritual perspective of moral injury that Lindsay Carey (Australia), John Swinton (UK) and Daniel Grossoehme (USA), provided a comprehensive holistic defintion of moral injury based on the systematic reviews of Jinkerson plus Hodgson and Carey. [30]

Moral injury is a trauma related syndrome caused by the lasting physical, psychological, social and spiritual impact of grievous moral transgressions or violations of an individual’s deeply held moral beliefs and/or ethical standards due to (i) the betrayal of what is right by trusted individuals who hold legitimate authority and/or (ii) by an individual perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about inhumane acts which result in the pain, suffering or death of others and which fundamentally challenges the moral integrity of an individual, organisation or community.

The violation of deeply-held moral beliefs and ethical standards—irrespective of the actual context of trauma—can lead to considerable moral dissonance, which if unresolved, leads to the development of core and secondary symptoms that often occur concurrently.  The core symptoms commonly identifiable are: (a) shame, (b) guilt, (c) a loss of trust in self, others, and/or transcendental/ultimate beings, and (d) spiritual/existential conflict including an ontological loss of meaning in life.  These core symptomatic features, influence the development of secondary indicators such as (a) depression, (b) anxiety, (c) anger, (d) re-experiencing the moral conflict, (e) social problems (e.g., social alienation) and (f) relationship issues (e.g., collegial, spousal, family), and ultimately (g) self-harm (i.e., self-sabotage, substance abuse, suicidal ideation and death).

Moral injury can be treated with CBT and other psychotherapies, but not everyone has access to professional help.  Self care is of vital importance.  If the news is disturbing or upsetting to you, and is causing you PTSD-like symptoms, take breaks from it, or even ban it from your life altogether.   While it’s important to stay informed, if there’s a real emergency, you will find out about it.  Your mental health is more important than knowing every detail of what’s going on in the world or in the country.

Try to break the hypervigilance habit.  Many people feel more “in control” if they stay on top of current events, even following the slightest detail, but the reality is, outside of practical activities like voting, signing petitions, writing letters, or protesting, there isn’t much you can do to change things.   SItting around being depressed or worrying about what might happen in a week, or a few months, or a year can drive you crazy and make you miserable.   It will drain all the joy our of your life.  Keep in mind that even in the most undemocratic regimes, most people can still find moments of joy and love in the people and the world around them.  Anne Frank was such a person who remained hopeful even while interned in a concentration camp.   Obviously not everyone has the emotional makeup to remain that upbeat and brave, but her story has brought hope to millions.

Spend time with friends and family that you trust, obviously those who feel the same way as you do (things have become so polarized that you might have to avoid friends and family on the opposite side of the political spectrum, at least temporarily).   Be sure to spend time doing fun, nonpolitical things with your friends and family members, not just talking about politics and the news.   Of course there’s a place for that too.  If you want to feel like you’re making a difference, you can plan to attend protests as a group or have letter writing or phone call “parties.”

One way you can follow the news in a more lighthearted way is to watch the late night TV comedy shows, such as Saturday Night Live or Jimmy Kimmel, instead of cable or network news.     You will still get your news (in fact, these shows are often more accurate in reporting than actual news programs) but in a way that can make you laugh and see the lighter side of a very serious situation.    Gallows humor has its place, and can make an unpleasant or unbearable situation seem more tolerable.

Remember that if you are suffering from moral injury, there is nothing wrong with you.  In fact, it means you are functioning human being with a conscience, and you are merely reacting in a normal way to an abnormal situation.  Still, if the suffering becomes intolerable or you find it hard to function, it can’t hurt to seek counseling to learn coping skills.

Almost Sunrise is a documentary film about moral injury.  It focuses on returning soldiers, but should also be of interest to anyone suffering from this form of PTSD.    You can watch a short video and read an article about the film here:

Almost Sunrise / Moral Injury

According to their site, these are the most common symptoms of moral injury:

  • Overwhelming depression
  • Guilt or shame
  • Loss of meaning in life
  • Feelings of worthlessness, despair and remorse
  • Feeling like “I’ve lost a part of myself”
  • Feeling like “I do not know who I am anymore”
  • Feeling intense distrust

To the Young Men and Women of America: From the GOP

This is a very powerful and well written post from one of my favorite blogs, JohnPavlovitz.com.

Warning:  it may be triggering to survivors of abuse.

To The Young Men and Women of America, From the GOP

3 questions to ask yourself if you raised kids in a dysfunctional home.

I’m giving this post another day in the sun. This is for anyone with children at home who thinks their own issues might be negatively affecting the way they raise their kids. I hope this helps.

Lucky Otters Haven

Nobody’s perfect, and that goes for parents too.  There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. There’s something called a “good enough” parent though, which means that you are going to make mistakes raising your kids, no matter how much talent you have for the task or how well adjusted you are.  Children don’t come with instruction manuals, and some of the mistakes you make might even be pretty bad ones.    But overall, you’re “good enough” if your kids know you love them no matter what mistakes you made, and they turn out to be functioning, reasonably happy adults.

But for survivors of narcissistic abuse, things are a little more dire.   Because many of us suffer from mental disorders caused by abuse–C-PTSD, BPD, OCD, anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental maladies–we probably entered parenthood with less of a sense of ourselves and our place in the…

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The little books.

Originally posted on August 30, 2015

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I remembered something today. Little by little my mind is pulling up ancient memories from dark and forgotten corners as I move further along in my recovery. This one almost knocked me over.

For years…decades, even…I couldn’t write. This past year and a half has been the first time in my life I haven’t in under the thrall of a high spectrum (malignant) narcissist, and it wasn’t until I freed myself from them that my words began to come back.

As a child I wrote all the time. I drew pictures too. I remember my father bringing home these little blank stapled booklets in different colors with lined paper in them. There were about 50 of them, tied up in rubber bands. I used to write little stories and illustrate them. I could spend hours doing this.

I always blame my mother for everything. I act as if my father (who was codependent, and probably either covert NPD or borderline) had nothing to do with my disorders. I always saw him as a victim too. But he colluded with my mother; both were abusers. I remember one day when I was 7 or 8, I came home from school, and as I did every day, I went to my desk and opened the drawer to start writing my little stories. I noticed some of my finished booklets were gone. Panicking, I looked everywhere for them, and couldn’t find them. They were very personal to me, like diaries. They were for my eyes only (my Avoidant traits had already set in) . I was very upset but couldn’t tell my parents because then they’d be looking for them and they’d KNOW.

I looked all over the house for them, and finally found them in my father’s filing cabinet in a folder with my name on it. I was horrified. He stole my private creations from me! I felt so violated. My boundaries had been viciously invaded. I remember stealing them back and destroying them. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at them anymore. There was too much shame.
It was as if I wanted to annihilate myself…my true self.

After that I seemed to lose interest in drawing, although I continued to write. But my passion for even that was gone. I didn’t say anything to my dad about him stealing those booklets because to do so would be to invite critique and shame. I knew instinctively he liked them (otherwise he wouldn’t have taken them from me), but I didn’t even want to hear anything good about them. The stuff in them was just too personal. I felt like I’d been raped.

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I wrote a novel in 2003. No one wanted to publish it. It sucked. I still have it but it’s embarrassing to read because of how bad it is. I know why though; at that time, still under the thrall of my ex, I was trying too hard to be “a writer,” to make an impression, instead of being authentic.

And now…I’ve done a 180 from when I’d hide my little illustrated books and was so horrified when they were discovered: deliberately posting the most personal stuff imaginable for total strangers all over the Internet to see (under an assumed name, of course). It’s like I’m trying to redeem my shame, somehow. It’s very hard to explain.

After being in my abusive marriage, I thought I’d lost all my ability to do anything at all. I’d sit down and try to write something, and….I couldn’t do it. I even thought I’d lost my intelligence. I was marking time until death. I felt stupid, dead. But I didn’t care either…or thought I didn’t care. I couldn’t feel anything at all. All my emotions were gone.

I was wrong, so wrong about all that.

Empathy burnout and the normalization of the unthinkable.

whatever

While I don’t hold Trump or his administration directly responsible for the increase in mass shootings and killings this year, there definitely seems to be a lot more of them than ever before.  I think the national mood where people have become so divided and where hatred and violence have become almost normalized have been a contributing factor to these killings. It seems that almost every week now, there is a news story about yet another mass shooting or terrorist attack (to me, this includes white nationalist domestic terrorism) here in America. I feel more and more like we are living in a third world country where these sort of things are commonplace.

When the news broke today about the shooting at a Texas church, where 25 worshipers were killed, my first thought was a detached, almost bored, “again?” This was followed by the cynical thought “I sure hope it was a white guy who did it, and preferably a Republican” (because a Muslim, black, Mexican, or liberal shooter would make my side “look bad” and contribute to even more Trumpian cracking down on people’s civil rights).

My reaction shocked me. I didn’t feel much grief or outrage for the people who lost their lives in the one place — a church — that’s supposed to be a sanctuary from the world and all its problems. I didn’t think about the families who would be grieving for their lost loved ones or about all the innocent injured people who would never be the same again even after they physically recovered. No, I automatically politicized the atrocious event. My only real concern was that the shooter had best be a white conservative or just someone who “snapped” under stress.

A month ago, a man opened fire on 500 innocent country music lovers in Las Vegas and 58 of them died. I reacted more strongly to that event, and I don’t think it was just because more people were killed that time. I think it was because I still saw these kinds of events as abnormal; tragedies like that that just didn’t happen here in America. But even then, I had already begun to normalize such events in my mind. In June of 2016, when 49 people were shot in an Orlando nightclub, I cried. I doubt I would have cried had that happened anytime this year. In fact, I worry that if 9/11 happened today, it wouldn’t have anywhere near the gravity it did seventeen years ago, and after a few days of outrage and grief, I’d just forget it happened, like I have with all the terrible events this year.

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I know I’m not alone. I’ve talked to others about my growing indifference and cynicism and they have told me they feel the same way. I’ve also have noticed the way it seems to take a lot less time for us as a nation to recover from such events. The Las Vegas shooting has been all but forgotten and is barely mentioned in the news anymore, as the daily bombardment of other terrible or frightening news overwhelms us and eclipses that terrible event. Would we be so quick to forget something like that a year ago? Ten years ago? If 9/11 happened today, would we have already moved on with our lives? I’m afraid we might have. In fact, rather than bring us together in solidarity as a nation the way it did then, I’m afraid 9/11 would have divided us even further into opposing political camps, with some demanding martial law or even tossing Muslims into concentration camps.

I think America is experiencing a psychological phenomenon called empathy burnout or compassion fatigue. It’s a common condition among people who work in the helping professions. When you’re continually exposed to the hurting, the dying, the sick, and the victimized, people begin to unconsciously put up an emotional shield to protect themselves.   In other words, they lose their capacity to empathize, at least for the group of people they’re helping.  I’ve read this sometimes goes so far that some people even begin to resent or feel contempt for their vulnerable charges.  Compassion fatigue is the reason why there’s such high turnover in professions like social work, firefighting, police work, teaching, emergency services, and nursing.

When compassion fatigue begins to infect an entire country, and we all begin to psychologically wall ourselves off from the world and stop caring, such events become “normal” to that society, and we become less able to recover our national sanity at the one time we need it the most.

We can’t afford to lose our capacity to feel pain and empathize with the victims of atrocities like these mass killings.    But since we also need to emotionally protect ourselves, I think the only way to avoid compassion burnout is to take frequent breaks from the news, as addictive as it has become in these times.   Spend time with your friends, your family, and immerse yourself in non-news related interests and hobbies.   Spend time with animals or in nature, or engage in volunteer work (but not so much you get burned out).    Remind yourself that these are not normal times we live in, and these events are not normal.   It’s also important to remember that the emotional numbness we may be feeling when we hear of such events don’t mean we’ve become bad people or that we don’t care, but is a normal reaction to trauma, and these are are all trauma-inducing events, even though they may not directly affect us.

We also should be working toward tightening our gun laws, but that’s another topic which I won’t elaborate on for now.

The insanity of being a news junkie in the age of Trump.

wellinformed

Every day when I wake up, I check the news headlines. Maybe it’s just hypervigilance and wanting to reassure myself that Trump hasn’t started nuclear war yet.   This presidency makes me feel like I’m back in an abusive relationship and as a result I feel on guard all the time.

But at the same time, there’s a certain thrill I get from reading stories that seem like they would have been headlines from The Onion just a year ago.   It’s not a good kind of thrill, but the kind of thrill you get from doing something you know might kill you but feeling compelled to try it anyway — like, oh, maybe sky diving or trying methamphetamine.    Only the sick thrill is always accompanied by that awful, sinking, helpless feeling you get when you realize you are totally fucked and there’s not a thing you can do about it.    Maybe it’s a familiar feeling to me and somehow comforting, but I know people who didn’t come from narcissistic families or abusive relationships and report they feel exactly the same way about this presidency and the endless stream of unthinkable news that it’s unleashed.

I want my news to be boring again.

On the plus side, more people than ever before are getting an education in basic civics (now that civility is a thing of the past) and how government works (now that it doesn’t).

I think we’re also learning to be more discerning about which news is fake and which is not.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell, especially when the president is waging war on truth.

If you can get angry and stay angry instead of allowing the news to make you depressed or emotionally numb, then there is  hope.    Every revolution in history began because a lot of people were mad as hell and weren’t gonna take it anymore.