by Alexandra Guhde, PsyD
HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Here, in this "potential space," I am granted the freedom to write about whatever I choose, so long as it relates to psychology. (And, really, what is there under the sun that isn't?) But, this month, I find myself constrained. I feel obligated to write about President Donald Trump. It is as if I must. If I don't write about Trump -- the man to whom tens of millions of daily journalistic sentences are dedicated (I made that number up, as is my post-factual constitutional right) -- I am shunning my liberal, sociopolitical duty as a blue-state-native psychologist-citizen of the United States of America.
But, if I do write about Donald Trump, I give him what he wants. I pay him yet more attention. Regardless of my tone -- be it critical, complimentary, or downright contemptuous -- he gets richer. (Yes, Donald, we're all watching you.) In all likelihood, I don't have anything to say about our new president that this choir hasn't heard (and sung) many times. So, how, then, to write about what's happening in our world without writing about You-Know-Who (or, He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named-So-Obscenely-Often)?
Perhaps by talking -- writing -- about listening. Because it is the listening, the receiving, rather than the speaking out, that seems to be the challenge in these social-media driven times. And, as therapists, quiet soul-to-soul listening is kind of our thing.
As you might know, I construct these 500-word missives on the underside of the earth -- in Australia, where cyclones spin clockwise, winter is summer, and there are no worries allowed -- where I work as a psychologist specializing in couples. And, despite the Australian rejection of worrying-as-a-pastime, there is just as much bickering here as anywhere else on the planet. So, I'm intimately familiar with what Drs. John and Julie Gottman have named "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse": Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling.
The Horsemen are the aggressive protectors of our unmet longings; the weaponized armor-plated harbingers of fear. When they're let loose, listening is just this side of impossible. Our bodies go into freeze-fight-flight, capacity for empathy declines markedly, and we tend to respond by setting our own Horsemen upon the Other. Conversations become battlegrounds upon which everyone loses.
Never wholly absent in politics, the Horsemen are on an utter rampage today -- on both sides of the aisle. Maybe Trump is the herald of the apocalypse for American democracy. But he isn't acting alone. Manipulating as he advocates -- true to oratorical tradition -- he speaks on behalf of so many others. It is to those others we must listen. Not to their Horsemen, and not with our own -- not vigilantly for willful ignorance and dangerous -isms -- but listening for vulnerability, fear, and dependent desire. As Emmanuel Ghent wrote, "only where there is no fear, love flourishes."
Hey, it works for couples -- sometimes. Can it work for an entire nation? No clue. But, as the faithful say, the sun " ... also hastens to the place where it rises."