Fear and Loathing ’16: ACEs & Retraumatization
Posted on October 28, 2016
Our country is swimming in toxicity as we reach the end of this election season. We seem to hit a new low every week. Words matter little as folks on both sides try to destroy each other, with seemingly no awareness of the long-term consequences of those words and actions. Personally, I’ve been so neck-deep in the toxic energy that I didn’t realized how it was impacting me and, I’m sure, how it is impacting many of our clients
This realization hit me when I was prepping for a training where I discuss the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, which measures a person’s adverse childhood experiences (ACE), or childhood traumas. For readers not familiar with the ACE Study, ACEs have been shown to be connected with many emotional, medical, and social issues. I started to think about the language of the election, focusing on abuse, family dysfunction, incarceration, and violence, and realized that in any given news cycle, you could check off multiple ACEs being thrown as toxic bombs in an attempt to take down one’s opponent.
Rape, sexual assault, and violence are now reported as just another issue, with little attention paid to the impact this is having on those victimized by these traumatic experiences. There are so many in our communities that walk around with their own ACE wounds. Throwing around issues with this level of emotional intensity risks retraumatizing large numbers of people, and can be especially devastating for those we serve who have experienced numerous ACEs – many of which they are still struggling to overcome.
I would be interested to do a study of behavioral issues in schools and our programs/services during the last several months. I would bet that there are many people walking around with dramatically increased anxiety and/or depression who do not realize that this is due to the poisonous moment our country is currently in. If the larger culture is in an intense fight/flight response, this emotional reality will have a disproportionate impact on those already struggling with their mental health, and other issues related to unresolved traumatic experiences.
Back in March, I tried to put a positive spin on this dysfunctional mess of an election. A year ago, I wrote a post on how negative ads and campaigns create an environment where it is nearly impossible to logically engage with the other party after the election. Today, I feel I must warn you that the election maybe having a real impact on your mental health, and most likely is retraumatizing many of the clients you work with and are trying to help.
From a clinical perspective, I struggle with what advice to give. On one hand, if clients are continuing to be retraumatized, this will impact their ability to engage and succeed in services. Broaching this topic by saying something like, “Our country is going through a pretty intense time right now and I’m just wondering how all this is impacting you,” might help clients get some of this anxiety out, and help regulate their emotional state. On the other hand, it might derail the conversation totally and prevent you from getting to more important issues.
While I might not have a great answer for all clients, it is critical that we have the impact of this toxicity on our radar. If we are seeing an increase in negative/harmful behavior, we need to consider that one explanation might be connected to stress or retraumatization caused by the election, especially for clients with a history of abuse or family dysfunction. In this time of high toxicity, it is important that we meet this energy with empathy, compassion, and work to look deeper for causes behind certain behaviors.
I want to open the comment section for any strategies or approaches people have found effective in dealing with the current situation. Let’s learn and support each other!