Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Election

“I came here to gloat,” Diane says, grinning ear to ear.
I feel as though I’ve been slapped, rendered immediately shocked and speechless. I know exactly what Diane is referring to, the election.
“It was worth it for me to pay you for the session, just to say, ‘You see, I told you so.’ You were entirely out of touch. Thought you understood the little people, but the little people never wanted your elite Obama. Now you’ll see what they want.”
Finding it difficult to regain my composure, I struggle to remind myself that I am the therapist here, that although I haven’t seen Diane for over two years, we had a lengthy therapeutic relationship. It is my responsibility to understand the intensity of her anger. Although it is not my usual practice to discuss my politics with patients, Diane made it impossible to avoid. She scoured the internet looking for information about me and soon knew my political leanings, taking great pleasure in baiting me into arguments. She was definitely capable of raising my ire, like the time she said, “When was the last time you were hired by a poor person?” I experienced most of those interactions as Diane’s attempt to maintain distance between us, emphasizing our differences, rather than our shared connection. But this feels like unadulterated rage.   
“Diane, if you feel you won, which you obviously do, why are you so angry? And why are you so angry at me in particular.”
“’Anger Trumps Love,’ to rephrase an expression being thrown around these days.”
I remain silent.
“All your goody, goody peace, love and compassion. It’s bullshit. It’s about anger. It’s about taking what you want. It’s about being able to win, regardless.”
As with the rise of hate crimes across our country, I hear Diane saying that Trump has given her permission to express the rage she has long bottled up. Is she suggesting that I didn’t allow her access to that rage? Perhaps that’s true. Is she angry with me about that? Perhaps.
“Do you hate me, Diane?”
Now she looks startled. “No, why would I hate you? As you said, my side won.”
“You feel to me as though you hate me. You come here to gloat, as you said, very angry and clearly wanting to say, take this, bitch, suffer, I won, you get to crawl. Yes, that’s how it feels to me, it feels as though you’re wanting to dominate over me and have me submit.” As I say this, I think that perhaps all our arguments over the years were about this issue, that it wasn’t about maintaining distance, but rather trying to attain dominance. Only one person could win and she was determined that it would be her.
“I definitely feel I finally won over you. But I don’t hate you. I’m just enjoying my victory and I want you to admit defeat.”
In my mind I say, no way. I definitely admit losing this battle and suffering the sadness and grief that comes with it. But admit defeat, no way. “So what would my admitting defeat mean for you?”
“I’d have won.”
“I understand that, but what would that mean for you?”
“That I was right.”
“And what does being right get you?”  
“You can’t dismiss me and look down on me and see me as stupid.”
“Diane, are you sure that it’s me you’re reacting to now or is it more your feelings about your family, your parents and elder brothers who you experienced as dismissive and contemptuous of your opinions and intellect.”
“But they all agree with me politically.”
“I understand that. And I understand that it may feel when you and I disagree that I am being dismissive of you and your ideas. But from my perspective, you and I have very different world views. That doesn’t mean I question your right to your opinion or that I think less of you.”
“Are you sure about that?” she asks, challengingly.
That stops me. “That’s a very difficult question, Diane. I certainly don’t think less of your intelligence. But as I’m sure you very well know, we live in an extremely polarized society where people spend more and more time with people they agree with, they read material that supports the positions they already hold. So may I think less of the people who disagree with me, perhaps, perhaps it’s sometimes hard for me to understand how you or whoever holds the position you do. But, and this is a very big but, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. My caring does – eh - override your politics.”
“You thought it didn’t you? You thought to say, ‘Love trumps hate,’ but decided against it.”
“Yes, I thought it, but decided against it. You see, you’re smart and insightful, as always.”


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this sharing.

kermit said...

Nice but painful post, Linda. I've been fortunate in so far having no patients who want to gloat at me about this event, but I surely have in the past -- like the borderline man whom I saw on the day of 9/11 (I didn't close the office after the attack) who insisted to me that the Jews were responsible for the WTC destruction.

One small suggestion, after the horse is out of the barn: The patient once asked you whether you ever see poor people. Evidently, she's not poor, but for some reason feels like a poor person, a little person, an underdog. Perhaps at the time (in the midst of whatever fight was going on) it might have been interesting to reflect that to her: You are not poor, but evidently you feel as though you are. Disadvantaged. Evidently money is not all this feeling can be about -- and money alone doesn't cure it. And yet you feel as though I'm seeing you just for the money, exploiting you.

Something like that.

Anonymous said...

I have found it difficult to hear and listen to the gloatung of some of my long-term patients over the Trump victory.
Given that they are mostly caring, kind thoughtul individuals the intensity of their anger, and the single-minded narrowness of their political concerns has been arresting. Ive come to the generalized conclusion that for these patients, apart from their indoividual clinical issues, it is the errosioin of their social privilege that has unleashed the anger long held in check as socially unacceptable. (ieg. Cubans, Jews, Blacks, Gays on the country club roster, Spanish spoken among some members at the Womens Club luncheon.)
Of course there are also the issues of transference and the myriad mneanings of this in view of the obvious (tho unspoken) differences in our political concerns and leanings (eg. -turning of the tables, who is up and who is down, who is right or who is wrong, etc.)
Gloating is always aggressive.Not very "sporting"...
Emily S Rosenhal, LCSW

Linda Sherby PH.D., ABPP said...

Thanks for your comments.

I did want to clarify, Fred, that the patient had not asked me whether I ever saw poor people. She was asking a much larger economic question - the trickle down theory - in an effort to bait me, which she succeeded in doing. The question literally meant that since poor people don't have any resources, they are not the ones doing the hiring in our country and therefore should not be accorded special understanding or benefits. I found the question infuriating and contrary to everything I believe in, which the patient definitely knew before she brought it up.


Linda Sherby PH.D., ABPP said...

Hi Emily,

I feel fortunate that none of my current patients are avidly pro-Trump, although I know that there are several who did vote for him. It's not the same as having to deal with an arch conservative patient who is constantly wanting to bait me into a political discussion/argument.

Although I don't disagree that there are people who chose Trump because of their creeping sense of privilege, I also think that the failure of the Democratic Party this cycle was that they failed to understand and respond to the anger and angst of the blue collar working person. In my day, it was those working class people who were the backbone of the Democratic party. Now they have been hoodwinked into thinking that a billionaire born into enormous privilege will represent them better the party that is supposed to be their representative. Something is definitely off.

Thanks for your comment.


Siebolt Frieswyk PhD said...

Bitter, disillusioned, demanding, assaultive, frightened and filled with hate and loathing for self and other, your patient is in pain and alone and knows not how to connect or seek safe refuge but can only express bitter cynicism and vile repudiation...quite a state to live in and to encounter in a therapeutic process...I might have said, nothing and waited for a direct assault that vomited all this poison and then said. "No one has ever heard you screaming and you live alone knowing that no one ever will but I think you know that I hear you and care and that makes matters worse for finally you have found someone who actually does care and knows how you live with pain that never ceases and you feel that all you can do is attack and rage at me and that's OK."

Linda Sherby PH.D., ABPP said...

I think your response/interpretation is excellent, Sid. The problem is that I felt so attacked, assaulted, and enraged at the patient that a reasonable, therapeutic response was more than I could manage and that, in fact, was the problem throughout the treatment. Whenever there was the possibility that real connection and caring might be possible, the patient would subvert the interaction by throwing some provocative, distancing comment my way. A very difficult treatment indeed.