(Adapted from an earlier supportive letter after Orlando Shooting)
Written by: Michelle Topal, MSW, LCSW – LGBT Therapist & Licensed Clinical Social Worker
There is grieving across the country, as well as fear and anger. There is also a sense of disbelief; that this is not who we are as a country. This has been a difficult time for many people in the queer community, as well as African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, women, other ethnic groups, millennials and many other disenfranchised and currently targeted groups.
I am not writing this to talk about politics or to make a case for progressive ideals and policies. I am writing this because what has occurred, and what is occurring. I am writing this to express how demoralizing and terrifying it feels to many of us to see a minority of hate-filled people emboldened by a bully who has been elevated to the highest office, arguably, of the world. I am writing this to be supportive where I can. It is disheartening as we wake up to the disturbing feeling that our neighbors might hate us and want to do us harm. These are painful feelings. It is hard to imagine how we heal; how we move forward; how we persevere in the face of what appears to be a dramatic shift, in if nothing else, our perception of the world we live in. But, persevere we must! So, how are we to do that in the face of this type of uncertainty?
Here’s a possible roadmap:
1) Grieve. Allow yourself to feel and to hurt. It is normal and affirming. These feelings may range from denial or a sense of unreality, to sadness, anger and fear. These may occur in no particular order or intensity, because while we all experience these common feelings, they are filtered through our life experiences and how these experiences have informed our world view and sense of self.
2) But, don’t do it alone. Reach out to family, friends, community… to anyone you feel safe with. This is a shared experience, and in sharing it you promote healing through connection and community. We need to see that we are not alone, not a minority and that there is power in our unity. At a time when you may feel hopeless or helpless, being with others can be empowering. We need to affirm our humanity and humanness, as well as our shared values and common vision, and there is no better way than through each other. It is also powerful to allow people to be supportive.
3) Do something proactive. These kinds of experiences make us feel helpless. Volunteer. Donate time or money to causes that help create the community and world that reflect your values. Care for others as they need to process their feelings. Be supportive. Go to rallies or protests. Participate in calls for social action. In doing what you can, you are helping. And in action there is healing that can be empowering, combat helplessness, and prevent you from feeling immobilized. While you may not have control over others or the unknown, you do have control over something incredibly important – you. So, do the things you can and recognize the power in that.
4) Acknowledge your fears. If you are feeling fearful, this is understandable and under the circumstances, to be expected. There are reports across the country of hate speech and behavior. These types of threats are terrorizing, as they are intended to be. It’s hard to know how to function and move forward with this type of fear. But we have to function. We have to move forward. We have to protest and prosper, as we have persevered through many other scary times in our history. Recognize your fears, however don’t let them stop you from engaging with others or doing what you enjoy. Let them empower you, rather than cripple you. Remember you are actually the majority of this country and that bigotry is not a shared value, in spite of what it seems. In fact, what could be said is that the majority chose to sit out, not weigh in and allowing this to happen. The message here is, not to hide or be silent, but rather to realize moving forward how important it is to have a voice and use your voice. When each of us does that, we see just how many shared accepting voices there are.
5) Get professional help if you need it. This election process has been difficult, contentious, divisive and for many people triggering. This can not only hurt, but be traumatizing and can bring up old, unresolved wounds. Be aware of that, if you are struggling with moving forward, it can be about current events and it can also be due to old issues that are being triggered. If, instead of slowly recovering day by day, you find yourself feeling more and more sad, anxious, fearful, hopeless, helpless, etc., it may be helpful to seek out counseling. There are many of us, especially those therapists who are part of the queer and other minority communities, that get it, and that really want to help and be supportive. Remember that we are here for you.
6) And lastly, try to work towards finding hope in what may feel hopeless. While we are all shocked, scared, saddened, and angered by what has and is occurring, we can also see how this is bringing incredibly large amounts of people together to protest and voice how we are not people of hate. It is heartening seeing how this is galvanizing. This is not to say that this is not a huge blow and scary. It is difficult to witness how some hate-filled people can attempt to erode the progress we have made as a multicultural, accepting country and how some small group of powerful people can give a megaphone to amplify this. But with all movements forward, there are people who are threatened and need to try to regain what they perceive they’ve lost. Steps backwards are part of all movements. Progress is not linear. This sometimes is what is needed to help galvanize and keep people from getting complacent in their progress; it can be a wake up call that we need to be vigilant and do more. Being hopeful is about resilience and managing expectations. It tells us to not give up, but to temper this with patience.
I am always so encouraged by the words of Mr. Rogers, who said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
You are not alone! There are millions of us who are supportive. We are connected and united in our commitment to safety and life, liberty and justice for all.