For some, the world ended the day a new President was elected. Not in my lifetime have I seen such fear and resistance towards a new leader of the free world. People are worried and not just in America. Nationalist movements seem to be cropping up everywhere after a long period of more liberal views. The UK has rejected Europe on the basis of mass immigration and taken a more insular stance. Next year, France and Germany may well follow. One might suggest that this swing from left to right is a natural process, the way politics generally works and especially in a democracy. We all have to accept the results of an election as an indication of what the people voted for, even if our candidate did not win. However, in these extraordinary times, we face at least four years of the yet unknown and in Europe the real threat of a segregated union.
Many of my patients in minority groups in the US have been especially affected by the election of what they see as a racist, sexist new President. Particularly amongst the LGBT community, there was a sense of foreboding about what was to come. Some reported that they had been subjected to verbal abuse the day after the election and feared that bigotry would gain an upper hand. Once the shock dies down, things might settle but one cannot doubt that people have real fear about what is to come.
If you look at such events on a global scale, you could easily become overwhelmed by the tidal wave of information. The media on both sides have their own agenda (and candidate) to push and this is not helped by celebrities attempting to move their fan base to fall in line with their own ideals. It seems to come from everywhere, it would be very easy to fall into the trap of ruminating about such events to the extent that reality is somewhat lost. Many have been doing this as they try to make sense of events taking place.
Interesting as it is to speculate about and discuss world events, I recommend my patients to return to a tried and tested method devised by Stephen Covey, best selling author of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. He depicts our concerns in the sense of two circles, one large, our circle of concern and one smaller, our circle of influence. He states quite rightly that we spend a lot of our mental energy in the larger circle, worrying about global events that we can do little or nothing about, such things as political events, global financial systems, the future and so on. This leaves less room for the more functional circle that we can influence which contains our thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and view of the world. This circle would also contain any functional action we might take in order to ease our fears. If we spend more time here realistically working on these concepts, this circle will grow.
<p style=”text-align:justify;”>So what does this mean in real terms and what can be done on an individual level? Apart from controlling our thoughts, we can also take action if we feel strongly enough. In the same way that using energy saving devices can help environmental issues in a small way, so things can be done on a local and community level to support those who are disadvantaged. It does not take a revolution or a lot of effort for this to work. The key is to decide what can be done, what is feasible and making a choice to do it. Returning to the LGBT community, my clients decided what was functional at that moment and what was best for them was to support the community and give a voice to anyone who wanted to be heard. This was in addition to spreading information concerning keeping safe.
To summarise, what this means is keeping thoughts and action on a very local, individual level and working on these in a realistic manner. This is not to say that global issues are not important or that they should be avoided but more productive work can be done by concentrating on things that we really have control over. That also means working out which of our fears are realistic and can be dealt with and which are unrealistic and can be discarded.
Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals, couples, groups and companies with a speciality in CBT techniques. Apart from seeing clients face-to-face, Dr. Jenner also runs a thriving online therapy business bringing help to those who find taking therapy online as convenient and tailored for their needs. More Details