Every day in my practice clients tell me how disturbed they are about the hate speech they read on social media or the cruel language friends use to describe their political foes. We have not only been exposed to hateful language as of late, but also to sadistic attempts to humiliate those who have opposing views. There is no innocent party among Democrats or Republicans. I have heard and read appalling comments by both parties and yes, we know where it began but Donald Trump is not the sole cause of this trend.
The language of leaders matters a great deal. Sadistic language filters down to those vulnerable individuals looking for a cause that will allow them to victimize others. A compassionate leader attracts like personalities, a sadistic leader does the same.
I want to make clear that I have voted for members of both parties, right or wrong I tend to vote for the person more so than the party. Trump’s language has been enormously divisive and sadistic. He has given permission to Americans to hate, be vulgar and lie to demean all those considered in opposition. But here is my conundrum. How is it that the majority of Americans on both sides seem to have resisted this trend? How is it that a minority, I believe, of Americans have welcomed this disparaging manner of relating?
To Forgive or Resent?
I have been a clinical psychologist for over 40 years, and I have worked with people who are open to learning how to forgive past mistreatment, and I have worked with a minority of people who cannot or will not let go of old hurts.
The minority group, the non-forgivers, pay little attention to the origin of their grievances, but rather are prone to projecting onto others their chronic dismay. People who are consistently sadistic, meaning they enjoy hurting others, particularly when they think their image is being tarnished, have great difficulty realizing the enemy is within not on the outside. This leads to a critical question. Why is it that some individuals who have grown up with little empathy and compassion do not turn to sadism? Why is that they do not look for enemies to blame? How does it come about that these growth-oriented individuals look instead to connect with others in meaningful ways rather than choosing to persecute others? And how does it come about that some individuals who react with such cruelty do not recognize the origin of their venom?
Who Is the Enemy?
So many Americans have gone down an extremely negative path by insulting, demeaning and attempting to humiliate those on the other political side. It is unquestionable that the level of anger and discord in our current society has little to do with politics. Sadistic behavior and language are unquestionably related to the experiences in the early years of life. Renowned child psychologist Alice Miller believes that sadism takes years to develop and is the result of being raised in a hopeless situation. Sadism becomes a way of coping. She believes sadism is the result of pent-up feelings, and of having no acceptable outlet for fear of an aggressive parent’s reaction.
I have worked with White supremacists, racists, anti-Semites, homophobic and Islamophobic individuals. Although each individual is unique there are common dynamics in those who hate particular groups or individuals. Early deprivation or abuse often results in the blaming of others for what a young person could not control or alter. On the other hand, some individuals work through these hurts and learn to understand their caregiver’s behavior on a deeper level. They do not ultimately approve of abuse behavior, verbal or physical. They do however come to understand, through receiving empathy and understanding from caring reasonable people in adult life that their parents, teachers, coaches, theologians gave them what they had to give. They forgive and move on into health.
A Life Saving Choice
I have been fascinated throughout my career as to how it is that two people exposed to the same general mistreatment early in life reach adulthood with very different personality types. One type has learned from the past, understands suffering and learns how not to repeat what was done to them, and becomes a person with great empathy and compassion for others. The second type emerges with anger, resentment and constantly looks for opportunities to discharge their anger onto others. Often unknowingly and often with little awareness that the enemy is within not on the outside. Our political climate has given these individuals a cause, an excuse to blame their childhood hurts onto others without realizing that their behavior and hatred have nothing to do with political views. Trump’s inability to tolerate feedback and discharge sadism onto anyone who disagrees with him is symbolic of this avoidant and misguided behavior. Again, I am not making a political statement, I am giving you a psychological explanation for how a leader who blames others for childhood trauma gives licenses to other blamers to do the same. Unfortunately, most of the time the origin of hate speech and actions is unconscious. In the final analysis if you do not become more aware of your behavior and continue to project onto others rather than looking into your history for the real culprit you will live with chronic dissatisfaction.
Those of you who hate and believe the enemy is whoever is in the White House will spend years misguided and with no resolution to your unhappiness. You need to unravel the hurts of the past and learn how to cope with the truth of what you experienced early on and how it has affected you. You cannot accomplish this transition alone. You need help and help is available. Seek a mental health professional, clergy, friends you trust to help you understand and deal with what has been hidden from your awareness. Give yourself the gift of liberation from your old hurts by acknowledging that hatred, sadism, constant complaining is not about your political views, it is about the lack of empathy you received and how you felt helpless until your anger emerged and gave you a false sense of control and power. Ultimately you will need to choose tolerance of diversity and diverse ideas rather than narrow minded dogmatic views. You will need to open your heart, become vulnerable, while acknowledging and resolving the hurts in your life that have remained unhealed.
If you do so your heart will soften and anger will dissipate, your world will expand, as will your range of friendships, resulting in a high spirited, happy life.
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