Archive for category: Emotion
A therapist who specializes in cult recovery says he’s “never seen anything like this before”
Following several nationally publicized police killings of unarmed Black Americans in the United States, Eva L., a fitness instructor who identifies as Black, started to experience what she describes as “immense paranoia.” She would often call in sick, because she feared risking an encounter with police upon leaving her house. She also started to second-guess her and her husband’s decision to have children.
“Seeing Black bodies murdered and physical/emotional violence online and on the news” was a trauma she could no longer bear, Eva says. “I was terrified of bringing a child into the world we live in and experience as Black people. I thought not having kids was a truer sign of love than risk them being harmed by this world.”
A recent study sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania — released just before the anniversaries of the deaths of Eric Garner (2014), Michael Brown (2014), John Crawford (2014), and Philando Castile (2016) — found that there could be millions like Eva, for whom these killings have been a mental health trigger.
Research included data from the Mapping Police Violence Project database for police killings between 2013 and 2016 and information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System of over 103,000 Black Americans. The results indicate that police killings of unarmed Black Americans are having a population-level impact on the mental health of Black Americans.
According to researchers, the incidents may contribute to 1.7 additional poor mental health days per person every year, or 55 million more poor mental health days every year among Black Americans across the United States. That means the mental health burden for African Americans caused by police killings of unarmed Black victims is nearly as great as the mental health burden associated with diabetes. African Americans have some of the highest rates of the disease, which contributes annually to 75 million days of poor mental health among them.
African Americans make up 13 percent of the US population but they accounted for 26 percent of people fatally shot by police in 2015 and 2016. While the death of a loved one can be tragic for the family and community of any police-shooting victim regardless of race, the study reveals that there is a deeper trauma for African Americans, related to the victim or not.
Eva started seeing a therapist who diagnosed her as having generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s been two years now, and she admits that her progress toward healing has been slow, yet steady.
Jacob Bor, co-author of the study and assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, says the responses in his social circle to police killings of unarmed Black victims is what interested him in conducting this study. Bor noticed that White people were able to comprehend “the injustice on an intellectual level but did not experience the same level of trauma.”
The study findings confirmed Bor’s personal observations. The research team did not observe spillover mental health effects in White respondents from police killings. It should also be noted that among respondents of either race, there were no spillover effects for police killings of unarmed White people or killings of armed Black people.
The research is essential in considering our own personal experiences, says Bor, adding that the findings speak to the overall “value of different people’s lives.” This society “has a long history of state-sanctioned violence” toward racially marginalized groups, he says.
The mental health sector is only now researching the impact of police brutality, a concern that has affected African Americans for decades. “Clinicians can go through medical school without [gaining] any experience in treating the effects of racism,” Bor says. Studies like his, he adds, can help to create long overdue critical mainstream discussions about the effects of racism on mental health, such as, “How do we in public health, society, and among the clinical and mental health services support people when these incidents occur?” and “Can a profession dominated by White providers effectively treat the emotional struggles of ‘living while Black’ in this country?”
According to Bor, these discussions are needed to implement change. “Among many White Americans, there is an empathy gap … and a failure to believe when people of color say ‘this hurts me,’” he says.
Adding to the deficiency of culturally competent therapists, poverty and other formidable socio-economic challenges — also stemming from structural racism — remain steadfast barriers to African Americans accessing mental health care, according to the American Psychological Association.
New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, has also become a passionate advocate for what she describes as a movement for “culturally competent mental health care.”
“When you talk about people of color, who are obviously facing discrimination and legacy of racism and poverty in huge numbers, you are talking about something that is really tough to overcome,” McCray says.
Inadequate care undermines benefits from policies and resources designed to mitigate the burdens of systemic oppression. “Mental illness along with substance abuse disorders are hardship multipliers,” she says. Struggling unsupported with “mental illness can make everything that much harder.”
For example, holding on to affordable housing, staying enrolled in college, and even surviving encounters with law enforcement can be extremely more difficult for those suffering from mental illness or trauma, McCray says. In fact, the most recent annual numbers from the Washington Post’s database of fatal police-shooting victims indicate that “nearly 1 in 4 of those shot was described as experiencing some form of mental distress at the time of the encounter with police.”
“Mental health is the ultimate intersectional concern,” McCray says. “It is reflected in all of our policies … education, housing, school, relationships.”
In 2015, she and her spouse, Mayor Bill de Blasio, launched Thrive NYC, a $850 million mental health program that incorporates 54 initiatives. Among the program’s several core objectives is the aim to address the stigma around mental illness and increase access to treatment across the city. McCray believes that ThriveNYC’s community focused approach is one of several necessary steps toward reaching historically under served groups.
“Culturally competent care to me is all about trust,” McCray says. “It improves early identification, accessibility, and outcomes.” Also, she says, “People have to be seen.” From her advocacy experience she has observed that “people have to feel that they can turn to someone that they trust.”
Connecting people with the appropriate resources, however, means surmounting many challenges. “There is great deal of work to be done to eliminate the stigma,” McCray says. There is also the matter of affordability and infrastructure. “We’ve never had a well-coordinated mental health system in our country — ever. People who have the money find ways to manage.” She says she wants to fight for everyone to get the resources they need to cope.
Eva recognizes that her path to healing has taken a significant amount of work and support beyond the means of many African Americans. “Access to therapy is a privilege,” she says. “I know that most people can’t afford weekly sessions at $150-plus.” Yet, she adds, “[going through therapy] is the only reason why I’m OK planning for kids at 32.”
The post Research Shows Entire Black Communities Suffer Trauma After Police Shootings appeared first on Truthout.
Consciousness may be an emergent property from a bunch of background chatter. The implications are huge
James Gordon has worked with traumatized societies in Africa and Eastern Europe. America is having that moment now
Less than three finger-widths, around four or five centimetres, separate the neocortex from the amygdala: our reason and our emotions. For centuries, thinkers and poets thought them to be worlds apart. It took the arrival of neuroscientists using censors capable of reading brain activity to prove that, in addition to their proximity to one another, reason and emotion work closely together – although one is always faster and stronger than the other.
“When we make a decision, whatever it may be, our emotional areas are always more active than our rational ones. We know this thanks to technological advances that allow us to visualise how the brain is activated. The amygdala, our emotional centre, lights up much more quickly than when we are thinking,” explains David Bueno i Torrens, PhD in biology and director of the Chair on Neuroeducation at the University of Barcelona.
When faced with a decision, reason can serve as a filter for discarding less sensible options. However, as Bueno i Torrens explains “the final decision is emotional” – and brands, traditional media, social media, and political parties know it.
In 2015, the Harvard Business Review warned of the arrival of a new emotional era. According to the publication, businesses can as much as triple their sales by employing emotions in marketing. As philosophy professor José Carlos Ruíz argues, immediacy, individualism and false connectivity account for the central role that emotions play today.
“We are living in a society where the past has lost its consistency and seems to be of little interest, while the future has become unpredictable. What we are experiencing is an expansion of the present and emotions are oriented to this, to living and experiencing the moment. The instant, the ephemeral, is the only thing that counts.”
In his most recent book El Arte de Pensar (The Art of Thinking), Ruíz warns that “the balance between reason and emotion has definitively tipped towards the latter.” And while the temptation to appeal to this most urgent and visceral part of the human being has always existed – think of the bread and circuses of Ancient Rome – our current technologies allow us to mobilise emotions ranging from anger to joy as never before.
Few would disagree that social media has helped to intensify the emotional climate. Feelings such as indignation, joy and even grief, previously reserved for the most private sphere, are now displayed, shared and transformed through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram into something viral, something contagious.
“The digital architecture of social media privileges the expression of emotions. It privileges the audiovisual over the written, the controversial over the moderate. All of this makes us more emotional,” explains Javier Serrano, a researcher on emotions and the media at the University of Navarra in Spain. The present phenomenon of ‘virality’ is driven by emotions, firstly because they are faster but also because, in our over-informed society, they always win the battle for our attention. Studies have shown that content with greater emotional intensity tends to be shared more, regardless of whether the emotions are positive or negative.
“Social media didn’t invent emotionality but its business model seeks to enhance the emotional. Dozens of engineers have designed the product to ensure that you stay as long as possible, provide data and want to come back,” adds Serrano.
The documentary The Social Dilemma vividly portrays this dynamic. Every time someone clicks ‘like,’ ‘love,’ or ‘sad,’ they are not just sharing a mood but most significantly they are sharing valuable personal information that, with the right algorithm, can tell a lot about a person. According to research from Stanford University, 10 ‘likes’ are enough for anyone – be it a commercial brand or a political party – to know as much about you as a family member or close friend.
Technology companies didn’t invent emotion but they have been able to make the most of it, including popularising the use of what is now considered the smallest unit of emotionality: the emoji, a symbol symptomatic of this era, capable of replacing real expression with virtual expression, of replacing words with images – faster, more effective, direct to the amygdala.
Recent findings in the field of neuroscience reveal the power of emotions, for example, when it comes to shopping. It is known that customers who are emotionally connected to a brand are 52 per cent more profitable than customers who are simply satisfied. That is why advertising is armed with emotional artillery aimed at finding the quickest shortcut to the part of the brain that it is most interested in.
“Messages with an emotional component are more likely to be processed impulsively,” explains Bueno i Torrens. “If you only appeal to the emotions, it’s easy not to pass through the filter of reason.”
For some time now, political discourse has been adopting the same strategy, substituting emotional impact for arguments. In his book La Política de las Emociones (The Politics of Emotions), professor of political communication Toni Aira describes how feelings rule today’s world. “Humans have always toyed with emotions, but their ability to do so has increased exponentially. It’s not just that you can connect more with your audience and their moods, it’s that, through algorithms, you can monitor them,” he explains.
In his book, Aira profiles different political leaders according to the emotion that pervades their discourse: Vladimir Putin and revenge, Boris Johnson and optimism, Donald Trump and hate. When the latter was elected in 2016, the Oxford Dictionary chose ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year, a term that has a lot to do with the emotions. Post-truth is ‘felt truth,’ the victory of feelings over facts.
As Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News and campaign advisor to Donald Trump, once said: “If you tell people what to think, you’ve lost them. But if you tell them how to feel, they’re yours.” The 6 January storming of the US Capitol by a radicalised mob loyal to the now ex-president (number 45) provides a perfect example.
Exaggerations, inflammatory slogans and the permanent disqualification of the opposition are capable of provoking the most apathetic person and simplifying the most complex issue. “A dichotomy has been established: with me or against me,” says Aira. “It is a constant dialectic of election campaigning. Every day seems like election day, and that has a perverse side. When you reduce everything to a question of winners and losers, the only thing that matters is winning.”
According to French essayist Christian Salmon, we are living in an “era of confrontation” in which the winners are those who make the most noise rather than those who construct the most coherent or compelling narrative. The media – which, as Javier Serrano points out, “also benefits from the emotional shockwave” – multiplies the effect of this noise, building audiences that are increasingly divided into simplistic categories, communities divided by emotion at visceral odds with one another.
“There is both ideological polarisation and affective polarisation,” explains Neftalí Villanueva, professor of philosophy at the University of Granada. “Affective polarisation is an attitude that has more to do with desires than with beliefs. People do not necessarily commit themselves to a series of ideas. What they do is express their support for one group and their rejection of the group they consider to be its opposite.”
Polarisation in itself does not necessarily have to be negative – it allows us to disagree, to express contrary opinions. According to the professor, it becomes dangerous “when we become indifferent to other people’s motivations. This is linked to affective polarisation. The more fanatical I become about the political identity I adhere to, the more irrational it becomes for me to pay attention to other people’s reasoning.”
Thinking is tiring
We are all vulnerable to the tyranny of emotions and the reason for this is essentially physiological. “Emotions consume little metabolic energy while reasoning consumes significantly more. Thinking is tiring, so when we’re already tired for other reasons, emotions come easily simply because they are not very tiring,” says Bueno i Torrens.
If this is so, today’s acute and precarious living conditions are undermining reason, making any shortcut all the more tempting.
Is it possible to find a balance for this excess emotionality? The answer is yes, although the solution is not intelligence but critical thinking, which is not the same thing. There are very intelligent people whose cognitive biases lead them to seek out only the information and data that confirm that which they already believe.
Critical thinking, on the other hand, entails intellectual humility, curiosity and openness to other points of view. As Carlos Ruiz argues, it is possible to be emotional – in fact it is inevitable – while also having well developed critical thinking. “I hope that sooner or later someone will realise how important it is to teach critical thinking, especially to younger generations. We should start by recovering the capacity for wonder and above all work on questioning, activating the rational, being more humble,” he adds. “Maybe that way we will be able to lower the current emotional temperature.”
A MAGA hat was set on fire prior to clashes between Black Lives Matter protesters and a group of Proud Boys following the “Million MAGA March” in Washington, DC. | Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images
His presidency is over, but the trauma isn’t.
Four years ago, Americans were gathering at airports to protest then-President Donald Trump’s newly enacted ban on travel from primarily Muslim-majority countries. A year ago, they were watching his trial in the Senate after he was impeached on charges of obstruction and abuse of power. Three months ago, some were gathering emergency kits and making safety plans with their neighbors to prepare for potential election violence from his supporters.
And three weeks ago, they were watching those supporters storm the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election and keep Trump in power.
Now, Trump has finally left office, despite his constant threats that he wouldn’t. But the impact on the American psyche of four years of racist rhetoric, incitements of violence, and out-and-out chaos remains.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Trump supporters broke windows and breached the Capitol building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election.
For many, the past year has been especially difficult, bringing with it a pandemic; the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans; and the Trump administration’s violent response to the racial justice protests that ensued. “It created an environment where you are constantly in a state of fight or flight,” Lauren Carson, founder and executive director of the mental health nonprofit Black Girls Smile, told Vox.
Among the Black girls and women it serves, as well as among its own staff, the group saw a lot of stress, anxiety, and feelings of being overwhelmed, Carson said. “You are working on 2 percent every day, day in, day out — or negative percent.”
Some of those feelings have also been reflected in nationwide surveys, with a significant increase in stress about the country’s future and political climate after the 2016 election. And in 2020, 68 percent of Americans said the election was a significant source of stress in their lives, up from 52 percent in 2016.
Like the impact of Trump’s policies, that stress doesn’t go away overnight, especially when the conditions that led to his election — systemic racism, anti-immigrant paranoia, and the rampant spread of misinformation — are still very much a reality.
But Carson and others are working to help people care for themselves and address the trauma of the past four years, even as some of their biggest stressors — if not Trump’s presidency itself — continue. These days, “a lot is coming to light that I think is forcing us as a society to work on making some real changes,” she said. There’s “a lot of real pain and real hurt there, but hopefully it creates an opportunity for healing.”
Trump’s presidency was traumatic for a lot of Americans
The problems Trump brought to light — racism, xenophobia, and transphobia, to name just a few — certainly didn’t start with him. But from the moment he announced his campaign in a speech maligning Mexican people as rapists, he made such attitudes more explicit than ever before within the bounds of traditional party politics.
His rhetoric helped embolden a wave of hate crimes across the country targeting Muslim Americans, immigrants, and a number of other groups he had demonized. Meanwhile, his constant all-caps tweeting, his preference for staff who enabled rather than checked his worst impulses, and his return to campaign-style rallies shortly after his election all led to a relentless news environment that subjected Americans to the president’s disjointed and frequently abusive thoughts multiple times per day. In the first three years of his presidency, Trump tweeted more than 11,000 times — 5,889 of those tweets, according to the New York Times, “attacked someone or something.”
While Trump was able to energize a core of supporters with his mix of bravado, defiance, and racism, for many others, his presidency was, quite simply, scary. In the American Psychological Association’s 2016 “Stress in America” survey, 63 percent of Americans said the future of the country was a “significant source of stress,” and 56 percent said they were stressed out by the current political climate. In the 2018 version of the survey, those numbers went up to 69 percent and 62 percent, respectively.
Clinical psychologist Jennifer Panning even coined the term “Trump anxiety disorder” to describe the stress many people were feeling in the weeks and months following the 2016 election. “People tended to experience things like ruminations, like worries of what’s going to be next” as they awaited each new tweet or action by the president, Panning told Vox.
Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
A protest against President Trump’s planned ban on Muslim travel in New York City on January 25, 2017.
Trump also subjected people in America and around the world to language and tactics used by abusers, Farrah Khan, a gender justice advocate and manager of the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education at Ryerson University in Canada, told Vox. That includes gaslighting (like when he claimed that the official Covid-19 death tolls were fraudulent, or that the virus would “go away on its own”), lashing out in anger (his perennial rage-tweets about “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT”), and seeking revenge on people for perceived wrongs (his attacks on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after she criticized his administration’s Covid-19 response). In a relationship with an abuser, “you’re constantly hypervigilant to what he’s going to do next,” Khan said. Under Trump’s presidency, that hypervigilance extended to the millions of Americans affected by him and his policies.
Of course, those effects were not evenly distributed. While all of America had to put up with Trump’s tweets, many immigrants, LGBTQ people, and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color experienced real threats to their families, their well-being, and their lives. Thousands of children were separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border, with attorneys still unable to locate the families of more than 600 children. Trans people faced an onslaught of regulations stripping away their protections from discrimination in health care, housing, education, and more. In at least 41 criminal cases — including an assault on a Latinx man in Florida and threats against a Syrian-born man in Washington state — Trump’s name was invoked in connection with violence or threats, according to an ABC News analysis. The network found no criminal cases with such direct connections to presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush.
And over the past year, with the country facing a pandemic (that Trump called by a racist name) and a long-overdue reckoning with racism and police violence (to which the Trump administration responded by tear-gassing protesters), the administration’s impact on Americans’ mental health and physical well-being has only grown more acute. That’s especially true for Black Americans, who have had to contend with the deaths of Floyd and others, and what ongoing police violence — as well as the pandemic and economic crisis — means for them and their families, Carson said. “During this time we were definitely seeing just a lot of overwhelm, a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety,” Carson said.
“Trump subjected people in America and around the world to language and tactics used by abusers”
Those feelings came to a head, for some, with the Capitol riot on January 6. That day, Trump urged his supporters to “walk down to the Capitol” and “show strength” against “bad people.” He then praised rioters as they occupied the Capitol, some holding Confederate flags and other racist symbols, calling them “very special.” The riot and the way it was covered just added to the trauma Black Americans were feeling, according to Carson. “Even the way that we’ve seen ‘protests’ versus ‘insurrection,’” she said. “Those depictions really weigh on the mental health and well-being especially of Black women and girls, because it’s a clear sign that we don’t matter.”
President Joe Biden has begun reversing some of the administration’s policies targeting marginalized groups, like the travel ban and the ban on trans people serving in the military. But just as undoing the impact of Trump’s presidency will take longer than a few weeks, healing from the trauma of the past four years will take time.
For some, it hasn’t even sunk in that Trump isn’t president. “People still talk about, ‘I can’t believe we actually did it, we actually got him out,’” Panning said. And for many people, especially in communities Trump targeted, his presidency “had a direct impact on the ways we felt safe,” Khan said. Rebuilding a feeling of safety will take time, and right now, “people are not okay.”
Rest, treatment, and action can help people recover from trauma
For some, the first step toward rebuilding that feeling will be simply acknowledging that the past four years — and especially the last year — have been traumatic. “We need to expect that there’s going to be a lot of emotional upheaval,” Panning said, and those emotions will “take some time to work through.” People are experiencing trauma symptoms from muscle tension to panic attacks to intrusive thoughts to simply deep sadness, Khan said.
For Black girls and women in particular, depression and anxiety have been “running rampant during this time,” Carson said. They’ve been experiencing fear not just for their own health and safety, but also for “our brothers, our fathers, our children.” Amid that, “it is very difficult to see the sunshine, it’s very difficult to see joy, it’s very difficult to be happy,” Carson said.
To combat that, Carson and others are stressing the importance of self-care, which can take many forms. Black Girls Smile, for example, offers online storytelling, journaling, and crafting workshops aimed at helping Black girls and young women “recharge, refresh, and renew,” Carson said. The group has also begun offering therapy scholarships to help Black girls and women afford professional mental health care. Groups like the Audre Lorde Project, Trans Lifeline, the Okra Project, and the Anti-Violence Project also offer support and resources specifically for trans and queer people and communities.
Anyone concerned about their mental health can also take an online assessment like those at Mental Health America to see if they have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or another condition that might benefit from treatment, Carson said. People should also keep in mind that for communities of color, “a lot of symptoms look a lot different in our communities compared to the white cis male community,” she added. For example, Black women can experience social anxiety as a result of experiences in predominantly white schools or workplaces, as well as PTSD and other effects of the trauma of racism. “We have to take a real hard look at the things we may be experiencing,” Carson said.
As individuals take steps toward healing, it’s also a time when we can look at bigger changes to the country’s mental health system. That includes providing child care, flexible hours, and other supports to make therapy more accessible to all Americans, Carson said. It also includes a greater focus on community mental health: “Too often we focus on just an individual, and in many instances, their whole family is impacted, or the whole community.”
Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
Supporters of President-elect Joe Biden celebrate at Black Lives Matter Plaza across from the White House in Washington, DC, on November 7, 2020.
And part of recovery, as a society, is addressing the forces that led to Trump’s election in the first place. “The issues that were uncovered during Trump’s presidency have not magically gone away now that Biden is president,” Panning said. “What Trump did do is energize a lot of people politically to pay attention and to understand how our government works and who it tends to benefit.”
Today, “there’s a lot of anger and frustration and resentment that is still lingering,” she added. And one healthy way to deal with it is to “channel that into action.”
Activism can be one way to heal, Khan said. For example, artists around the country have created street art to memorialize George Floyd and protest against police violence and racism, and activists Kenda Zellner-Smith and Leesa Kelly have collected some of the art from around Minneapolis and St. Paul to preserve and hopefully display it. “There has to be a space for Black people, by Black people, where this art can be available for healing and reflection, a reminder of what happened in a way to continue the movement,” Kelly told ABC.
But in addition to action, Khan cautioned, people need to make time for rest. “As activists, sometimes we’re taught to kind of just push through,” she said. “What I’m asking people is to slow down and take care of ourselves and our communities.”
Activists prepared for months, expecting Trump to steal the election. They were right, and he failed.
The post Nonviolent Activists Laid the Groundwork to Oppose a Coup. They May Have Saved the Republic appeared first on Yes! Magazine.