“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.”