This election season gives us pause for concern as to how candidates (more than one) sidestep questions about their personal and professional integrity.
There comes a point, though, where political discourse strays into a disturbing zone, well known by mental health professionals and the clients they serve. I am referring to a dynamic that surrounds trauma – particularly complex trauma, associated with sexual abuse.
When a child (or even someone older) is repeatedly subjected by others to uninvited sexual experience – something that simultaneously frightens, confuses and creates a sense of powerlessness – that child might start to wonder what is real and what is not. Sometimes the debate unfolds inside of the head of the child: “I can’t believe what my uncle just did to me; perhaps it didn’t even happen.” Other times, it is the abuser who contradicts and otherwise threatens the child’s actual experience.
Child: “You touched me in a private place.”
Abuser: “No I did not. It is just your imagination, and if you continue to talk this way, something really bad will happen to your parents and your little brother.”
Child (thinking): “Yikes! Maybe, I am just imagining all of this.”
What further complicates things is that many victims do not have the words to describe or, in the least, categorize, what has occurred.
Now, the vast majority of human experience is converted and systematically stored in a section of the brain dedicated to autobiographical memory. Traumatic experience, given its intensity, fragility and doubt-riddled character, is ill-suited to take up lodging in this section. It instead migrates, as a loosely coherent collection of memories, toward a more primitive section of the brain. Here images, sounds, smells and tactile impressions all collide against one another, oftentimes being inaccessible; other times emerging in the raw, as flashbacks.
Trauma survivors and their therapists refer to such memories and especially the process of acquiring them as “crazy-making”. For it is in the world of knowing, yet not knowing, being sure, yet unsure, that survivors run parallel to those who are chronically psychotic – that is unable to distinguish what is real from what is not.
When multiple women, from different walks of life, step forward and inform us that what one political candidate has claimed, in the presence of others, to have done, is, in fact, not just locker room banter, but their actual experience (i.e., unwanted sexual contact) with this candidate, and when that same candidate brands them all “liars” and threatens to sue them, then THAT is crazy-making.
When a candidate who consistently makes disparaging comments about women, objectifying them, dismissing them or otherwise diminishing their personhood, states with supreme confidence “Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody,” then that is crazy-making.
Even from the somewhat removed stance of an observer, my head starts to hurt, as I struggle to integrate these wildly disparate “takes” on reality. I can only imagine what it is like for the women who have come forward, or for any man or woman who was once the victim of sexual assault. I even wonder what effect this is having on the unfortunate women and men who are closely related to this candidate.
An early step of the healing process, for those affected by sexual trauma, involves their simply giving their selves “permission” to label offenders’ behavior and statements as “crazy making”. For some people, healing is further helped along, by noting the absurdity of the world and the words of offenders. It is in this spirit that I offer the following…
Upon conducting a fact check on our candidate’s statement to the effect of “Nobody has more respect for women that I do,” a select group of men – Peter (porn producing) Nobody, Gene (Gentlemen’s clubber) Nobody and John Nobody – has stepped forward. Each one argues “I’m the Nobody our candidate was referring to when he claimed ‘Nobody has more respect for women than I do.’ I might not be perfect, but I’m not nearly as disrespectful to women, as he is.” This select group of men has volunteered to be present at future campaign appearances, purportedly in order to prop up the candidate’s credibility. To date, none of them has been contacted by the candidate’s campaign managers….
So there you have it. There is, in fact, an entire group of Nobodies who have more respect for women than the candidate does.
Thank you for indulging me in taking some of the sting off of crazy making. I’m feeling a little bit saner already. I hope you are too.
Election Postscript: The candidate to whom I was referring, Mr. Donald Trump, has, as we now know, won the election. A day or so, after his stunning victory, Mr. Trump made a generous offer to those members of the electorate who had not supported him. It went something to the effect of: “I’m willing to learn from you, as to how I can better meet the needs of the fullest range of the American people.”
Mr. Trump, can you hear me? Moving forward, please “man up” and acknowledge the pain and suffering that your abuses of power have caused to women, for decades running. Make amends to those women and anyone else you’ve harmed. Before you can seriously contemplate making America great again, you need to embark on the pathway of rendering yourself halfway decent. It’s the least you could do, as you prepare to assume what, many would argue, is the most important role in the world.