ELECTION RESULTS 2016: HOW TO EFFECTIVELY COPE WITH THE WOUNDING WILL OF THE PEOPLE

For so many minorities and those who have always perceived themselves to be on the fringes of American society, the results of the 2016 Presidential election is a big and bitter pill to swallow.  For the vast majority of people of varying colors, those living proudly under the rainbowed flag, and we women who were all ‘with Her,’ it feels like a mortal wound akin to a stake in the heart. For what we have always known about America, what we have sensed and felt and experienced at work, in school and in the shopping malls has now in our minds been confirmed and made public. The schism is real.  The ‘ism’ is real.  Racism and racial hatred is no longer a covert operation.  It’s pretty much out there for all to see and hear.

Given this, how do we deal with the myriad emotions we are struggling to come to grips with?  The fear, the loathing, the disappointment, shock, the hopelessness?  How do we survive in Trumpland?  We go back to basics, and we remember some simple things that have sustained us in tougher times:

  1. Identity: During a time when we are feeling devalued as a people, like we do not fit in and don’t belong and aren’t wanted, Black people living in America must know and celebrate who we are and from whence we come.  We must celebrate all that is us and is unique to us, and help our children to accept and embrace all of what is our cultural contributions to this nation. A trip to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, or rather a series of trips, is a wonderful place to begin. It is so important that we set the foundation for our children’s healthy sense of self and self-esteem despite the overt and covert messages to the contrary.
  2. Community: We are a communal people, and we have survived and thrived by sticking together and by having each other’s backs. It’s funny though; seems the more progress we’ve made, the less unity we seem to have. Nevertheless, we need to reflect on our history and get back to basics. Together we enacted great change in this nation. Together we elected the first African American President. Together we have overcome so much, and together we will do it again.  During this difficult time, let’s not isolate or separate but let us remember there is both strength and power in numbers and in unity.  Let’s not simply come together for protests or boycotts (though these can be adaptive ways of dealing with the upset and inequality in our country).  But let’s come together and be proactive. This could be the catalyst to healing some of the internal strife and schisms that exist within.
  3. Conversation: The election results should and hopefully will pave the way for honest conversation; both in this country and in our community. Thoughtful, ope and real conversation about our community, about problems that are seemingly endemic, about the solutions, and about how we will break the cycles of poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity, and others that continue to plague us.  We gotta be willing to look at the man in the mirror.  Everything aint about the enemy.  Sometimes the enemy is within.
  4. Spirituality: No matter what your spiritual bent, where there is faith in and reliance on God or whatever higher power you subscribe to, there is hope.  This hope is what has gotten us over many a mountain, and it is what we need to cling to now.  As a people, we have clung to this hope when the only thing that could be seen was pure darkness. Out of our faith came an optimism and an unshakeable belief that better would come.  Because of our faith, we knew we would overcome.  And so we did.  And so we will. During these difficult times, lean on your faith. If you don’t have a religious practice or attend a religious service, try attending one as soon as possible. Or try praying, or having a conversation with God or your higher power. Even meditation can be a way of connecting with Spirit. The point is, getting back to the roots of your belief system can be a grounding force and a powerful accelerant for change.
  5. Keep it rolling: We as a people have taken a licking, and kept on ticking.  Its what we do, and a part of who we are archetypically.  While today was a difficult prelude to what might be a new reality, tomorrow will be just another day, and the world will go on. And we will wake up, and we will put on our big girl underwear or panties, and we will keep it moving.  It’s what we do.

I’m learning to appreciate this one thing: in life and business, one should always seek to achieve the win-win situation.  Losing doesn’t have to be an all or none. There is great progress that can be made despite such disappointment, and much good that can come from what is seemingly so bad. Let’s strive for that.  And let’s maintain hope, for hope is ALWAYS here.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik

 

Dr. Nicole M. Alford, aka ‘The Good Dr. Nik,’ is a Washington, DC-area based Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, blogger, speaker and compassionate activist.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @theGoodDrNik and view her website at http://www.TheGoodDrNik.com.

Election Stress Syndrome: I WILL SURVIVE!

I, like all Americans, have reached a saturation point.  A point where I just can’t.  Not anymore. I can’t see their faces.  I can’t utter the name Trump, nor any word that begins with ‘trump,’ like trumpet.  And despite my feelings about him and what he stands for, this is really not about him.  I don’t want to be reminded of anything that vaguely looks or sounds like Hillary Clinton; like Bill or Chelsea.  This has arguably been the ugliest, most contentious, vile, uncivil, unfocused, and damaging election in modern US history.  But that’s not the problem.  Print, video and social medias have inundated us with the rollercoastery 2016 Presidential election for well over the last year and a half.  And we just can’t take anymore.  Many of us are keenly aware of the fact that there is so much at stake.  The future is at stake.  This is an Animal Kingdom fight to the death type of scenario, or so it seems.

So how do we survive what many mental health professionals have dubbed Election Stress Syndrome?  While not a true clinical diagnosis, it describes the cluster of symptoms that many are experiencing as a result of the drama and trauma of the approaching 2016 Presidential vote.  Feelings of worry, stress and fear, difficulty making decisions because of unease about financial markets or job situations, impaired sleep, gastrointestinal issues. All fight or flight parasympathetic responses to the fact that our brains see our futures in jeopardy.  And how about getting into heated debates or full-blown arguments, irritability, anger, or God forbid aggression?  How is one to survive over the next few days with sanity intact?

  1. Limit your exposure to elections news updates:  Turn off or restrict viewing of all stations (this includes CNN, MSNBC, nightly news broadcasts, and oh yeah Fox)!  If your Twitter feed and Facebook timelines are full of political memes and mentions, then you might just have to give them a break until November 9th.  Silence news notifications on your smartphones.
  2. Try not to engage in political discussions: We all know those folks in the office who have those off-putting, uncommon, or maybe just politically divergent views and are loud and boisterous about it, right?  Stay away from them (if need be), and avoid any situation that might steer you into a heated political debate.  You know the old adage — the one we seem to have forgotten: the two topics to NEVER publicly discuss are religion and politics. People’s emotions are running very high.  And as you’ve probably seen, the heat will only get hotter as we near Election Day.
  3. Try mindfulness meditation:  Y’all know this is my cure-all for all things stressful!  The research backs me up on this!  It will quickly and effectively focus your attention from elections drama and shenanigans to yourself (like your breathing, for example), divert your attention and tune your concentration, clear your mind, and reduce anxious feelings.  The app that I like to recommend to patients is Headspace, (Disclaimer: I have no proprietary interest nor receive any compensation from its developers, and am not endorsing this one specifically).  There are many meditation apps available for both IOS and Android. My point is, try one if you are new to mindfulness meditation.  I guarantee you that with some practice, you will see great results and can apply this to other stressful situations in your life.
  4. Relinquish the illusion of control: The underpinning of anxiety is fear.  That is the basis of it.  We fear the unknown. And so we try to tightly control the future. This is an illusion, and really, a form of denial.  I am of the belief that we mere mortals have no control over anything really, save the limited control that we have over ourselves exercised as free will. And so I relinquish the belief that there is anything that can be done or said to influence the outcome of this election, because the outcome has already been written. And for those who share similar beliefs, prayer may be a way to remind yourself that the results of November 8th are well out of our hands. You will find solace, then, in praying for the will of your higher power to be done.
  5. Know that it will all be OK:  Try having a little faith that in the end, things will work out.  History teaches us that no matter what happens on November 8th, and no matter who becomes our next President, we will accept it, roll with it, and move on.  Things will be different, and we know that change isn’t always easy.  And this will be true no matter who wins. But in the end, let hope kick in.  Have faith that things will be OK, and let us learn a very valuable lesson from all of this, lest we find ourselves in this very uncomfortable place again.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik

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Dr. Nicole M. Alford, aka ‘The Good Dr. Nik,’ is a Washington, DC-based Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, blogger, lecturer and compassionate activist.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @theGoodDrNik and view her website at http://www.TheGoodDrNik.com.

Bully Nation: Psychological Implications Of The New Mean

We’ve become a nation of bullies. I’m not sure when it happened, but it did. It’s like I woke up one day and civility and neighborliness and smiling passersby were a thing of the past. People bang and bump into you literally and figuratively with no regard for anything other than themselves and their hustle. Even worse is the fact that nobody can agree to disagree. No one can take an insult and just walk away and let things go. Nowadays, not even kids fight fair (spoiler alert: not condoning fighting here, just making a point)!  We’ve let jealousy, envy, and our inability to directly confront negative situations fester into passive-aggression and what is called in ebonics ‘hateration.’ We have become a nation of haters. And passive-aggressive haters become bullies.

In the days of old, a bully was thought of simply as one who, as a normal course of action, intimidated a weaker individual purely for sport. Just because he or she could. But be clear: bullying, like all behavioral characteristics, has evolved. The tactics have become much more sophisticated and are not always enacted against a weaker, defenseless target. Today’s bullies react out of fear and insecurity, or revenge. Therefore, the goal is not simply to intimidate. No. Today’s bullies set out to malign, impugn, and ultimately destroy the reputations, careers and possibly even the lives of their targets. What more powerful an illustration of the psychological unhealth of a society than when its elected officials, (men and women of supposed character and integrity), behave in manners heretofore only reserved for children? When they behave towards the Commander-in-Chief with daily insolence, irreverence, and threats?  When they incite and spur racial disunity, and hatred? Just today, elder statesman and former POW Sen. John McCain issued a threat from the Republican party to block the appointment of any justice to the US Supreme Court if Secretary Clinton wins the US Presidential election. Need more examples?  Lest you think this is yet another political piece, let me get back on track. I think I’ve made my point here amply.

Bullying behavior has diffused into every segment of society.  And bullying has become the norm. Bullying is up in our schools, with 1 in 4 children reporting having been bullied. Bullying is up in the workplace, with nearly half of all American workers having been directly affected as a victim or a witness. Instances of workplace violence, school shootings, and other acts of severe aggression towards others are much more frequent, and psychological postmortems typically reveal some history of victimization from others. And lastly, dare I say, we are facing the nastiest election in US history with political candidates threatening violence, condoning violence (then offering to pay attorney fees for those arrested), and using lies, warped truths and other subversive tactics against the other.

There is a toll to pay, and the price will be high. The question is, what will you do to reduce the bill?  Tune in to Part II of this series on bullying and,

Be well.

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The Good Dr. Nik

Dr. Nicole M. Alford is a Washington, DC-area based clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, healer, author, and compassionate activist. Follow her @theGoodDrNik on Facebook & Twitter, and at http://www.TheGoodDrNik.com.

And What About Our Children?

This is just a tough piece to write.  It always would’ve been, but seems even more so now after seeing the tear-filled, emotional pleas of a 9 year-old little girl who is saying, (apparently to an audience of mostly white members of the Charlotte City Council), that “we have rights too.”  For even the most stoic of us, witnessing this broke us down.

Charlotte resident Zianna Oliphant is obviously quite moved, quite affected, and quite possibly even traumatized by the events that she has experienced.  Her city in turmoil, she feels the anger, rage and fear of those adults around her. And so I am reminded, as should we all, that in the midst of all of this chaos are our children —  and they too are affected. Children take their cues from we adults, and many of us are not coping well with this spate of police violence enacted on our Black men and women. We are angry, saddened, anxious, worried — all normal emotions given this rather abnormal situation.  Quite frankly, many of us adults are having a hard time trying to make sense of it all; to understand the utter paradox of being Black in America and feeling like you have a target on your back during the Presidency of the first-ever African American elected to the highest office in the land. The irony of witnessing history having been made in that way, while simultaneously witnessing the emergence of racial hatred and disrespect in a way that is reminiscent of the Jim Crow days of old. So if its true that children take their cues from us, the question remains, what about them? What about our children?

  1. You must begin the conversation: The first thing to know is that there must be some type of conversation with your children. These events cannot go left unprocessed. And this is a teachable moment. The ‘how to begin’ and ‘what to say’ will be determined by a few key factors: first, where you as the parent or caregiver are emotionally given these events.  Gauge your own emotional state and coping.  It might not be quite the right time to engage your child in a conversation about the police-on-Black violence in our communities. Wait until you can talk calmly and rationally. Second, it will depend on your child’s or children’s ages and developmental maturation. It will also depend on how they are taking the events; how much exposure they have had to the media and to these stories, and what their response has been. Has there been behavioral acting out that heretofore did not exist? Bedwetting, suddenly feeling ill or sick with no apparent cause, wanting to miss school or not wanting to go outside, nightmares, acting fearful, anger or irritability.  All of these behaviors, and others, might be a hint that your child is having some difficulty understanding these events, and might need some assistance.
  2. Children take their cues from us: Like coping with any negative event in a child’s life, such as the death of a loved one, how they understand and cope is largely a learned phenomenon. Children learn by watching and modeling what they see in their environment. So, how are the adults dealing with this?  What are they saying and doing?  Is there anger, rage, fear or uncertainty? I’m not making any value judgments about any of those reactions — again, they are all very normal and indeed, expected given the gravity of this situation.  My point here is only to illustrate that children will ‘be what they see,’ and they will ‘do what they view.’
  3. Children need reassurance: When the adults are mucked up, uncertain, and can offer no assurance that things will be okay, the children are left in a place of great anxiety. Children need only a few things, but during times of chaos one of the really important things is a sense of stability and a sense that things will be okay.  To this end, we adults must consistently deliver this message, both in word and behavior, to our children. We must not try to sugar coat of hide the truth of what is happening. The message can be that yes, this is a difficult situation, but we have faced difficult situations before and like then, we will get through this tough time and emerge better from it.
  4. Dealing with police: What Now? So what say we then, to our children about this apparent paradox?  Again, this is very age and very gender dependent. The conversation with a 10 year-old girl will be vastly different than that with a 13 year-old African American male. For starters, we’ve always taught our children to enlist the help of a police officer, and in fact to seek one out in times of trouble. That they shouldn’t trust a stranger no matter how nice he or she seems, but that they can always trust an officer in uniform. Because this paradox (of the heroes hurting the people they are supposed to protect and save), is so illogical and nonsensical that we must help navigate their minds and behavior.
    • For ALL children, but especially younger ones, the message must be consistent from both parents/caregivers. Next, the message must deliver reassurance — remember that this is what children need above all else, to feel safe in this situation.  Third, the message should deliver hope and optimism.  And last, rely on the teachings you’ve instilled in your children to date. Perhaps a message combining all of these points sounds like this: “I’ve always taught you that there are good people and bad people in the world, but many many more good people. The same is true for police. There are good ones, and bad ones. But so many more good ones. They are not all bad.” For younger children, (and depending on their level of maturity), this should be just a part of the message. We absolutely cannot instill a sense of fear, and distrust in our children. But we must be realistic and honest.  And the truth of the matter is, not all police are bad.
    • Dealing with the police as an African-American male teen: After much thought and counsel with those who are parents of young Black males, I’ve come to this: the goal for our child is to get home, and to get home alive and unscathed. If one is stopped or pulled over, even if it seems that there is no justifiable cause, now is not the time to assert one’s disdain for police or to behave disrespectfully towards authority. The goal is to make it home, unscathed. Everything else can be dealt with at an appropriate time in an appropriate manner – legal or civil action. But now is not that time.  Unfortunately, unconscious bias and stereotypes criminalizing Black male teens have caused those they interact with to approach them with fear, or at the very least, trepidation.  And, police officers are certainly not immune to societal perceptions and their influences. The point is simply this: there is a time and a place for everything. The time to jump big and bad and mouth off  is not at the point of being questioned by armed police officers.
  5. Our children can get involved too (And we should encourage it)!  All of that nervous energy and angst that many kids might feel can be channeled and used positively.  Zianna Oliphant’s impassioned speech is only one example. Other examples have been seen nationwide: children giving bottled water to urban officers during the high heat of the summer — a gesture of good will that goes a long way towards healing damaged community relations.  Others have been giving out free hugs to police officers.  Encourage junior activism in safe and proactive ways. Perhaps children can use school as a forum to begin conversations with classmates. Hopefully, schools and educational settings can use this, and past lessons from history as a springboard to engaging in discussions about civil unrest and protesting and the positives that can come from it (such as those that spurred the Revolutionary War, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.). If the schools don’t, then certainly caregivers can.  Talk to your children about ways they can become involved int he conversation and the movement towards change.  Again, this is a huge teaching moment that should be capitalized upon.

So here we are (again). It is indeed sad that these conversations must be had.  Even sadder to have to write this article.  But it is what it is. How we handle this situation is so very important, and will have long-lasting implications.  Let’s handle it well.  And if we cannot, let us be responsible and seek help from those who can. If you or someone you know is not coping well with these recent events, or whose children might not be handling this well, please reach out to your pediatricians for mental health referrals, to your insurance company’s website for local mental health providers, to your church, or your state psychological association for further resources.

Be well.

The Good Dr. Nik

 

Dr. Nik is a clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, author, and speaker practicing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her @theGoodDrNik on Twitter and @theGoodDrNik on Facebook, and read more of her articles at http://www.Harvestmagazine.net

 

Featured picture reprinted from Washington Post.

 

 

THE TRAUMA IS REAL! So How Do We Heal?

Sigh.  Here we go again. Writing yet another article about police-on-Black violence in America. I know there are some that don’t get it; that in and of itself is part of the trauma and injury.  This type of existence does something to the psyche. It does something to be Black and see story after story of law abiding, unarmed, non-threatening Black man, woman, or child be shot dead for reason unknown. Better yet, for no reason. It does something. It does something for a mother to fear when her child leaves the house. It does something for a woman to fear being pulled over — a ticket being the least of her worries. It causes a pain, a wound, a psychological injury that is trauma. And the trauma is real.

Psychological trauma, like every good trauma, manifests at some point. At some point it just becomes too much to contain for even the most well-adapted individual. We saw that with our own Sheryl Underwood as she went from subdued, controlled anger to an ire-filled, escalating outrage that ended in tears. I applaud her for allowing herself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the beginning of healing. Admittedly, for the vulnerable to be vulnerable is indeed, paradoxical. So what do we as a community do to heal?

  1. We must tune out: The continuous stream of information via visual, social, audio and print media allows for constant exposure to the traumatic incident. This is countertherapeutic and indeed, only serves to deepen the intensity of the trauma and prolong healing. Tune out from media imagery and updates and allow your brain the opportunity to process and make sense of all of this.
  2. We must come together: We are a communal people, and part of the healing experience must include leveraging this cultural strength. Attend an organized community gathering at a local church, university, precinct, etc. where there are mental health professionals who can normalize the emotions (and symptoms) that many are feeling, impart information on how to cope, how to talk to our children, and to help ameliorate this suffering. We need these gatherings to be safe places; not forums for venting (though venting can be cathartic and healing in the right environment). Trained clinicians can help to set parameters and boundaries during these small, community events.
  3. We must recognize the real enemy:  We must recognize the real enemy, and place blame on the real perpetrator. The real enemy is the racism, bigotry, and hatred that has been brewing for quite some time.  That is the real enemy.  That must be the target. We must not blame police, or target them as the easy objects for which to displace our anger.  And those of us who are community leaders must communicate this message loudly and clearly.
  4. We must deal with the emotions: There will be many emotions that have, and will continue to come up. These are indicators of the individual and collective trauma that many have.  Anger, sadness, hopelessness, apathy, rage, depression — these are all normal feelings to have. But they must be dealt with. As with any uncomfortable (or frankly painful) feeling, the tendency is to want to avoid it.  Avoidance will not be your friend in this context.  Resist the urge to numb your feelings using substances, sleep, sex, or anything else that can be used to distract yourself from your thoughts and feelings.  In fact, if you feel yourself running to a numbing agent, let that be a hint that you might really need assistance with your feelings, or possibly with an addiction. Deal with the emotions. And deal with them adaptively.
  5. We must talk. Talk is therapy: Allowing yourself to talk openly with your trusted person, your group(s) of friends, your confidantes, and/or your therapist can be cathartic. Given the recurrence of this type of event in recent times, I really do recommend therapy — especially for those who are the most emotionally vulnerable or susceptible to trauma. This category includes those with histories of trauma (veterans, abuse survivors, etc.), those experiencing prolonged sleep difficulties and/or nightmares, those exhibiting behavioral acting out, and/or those whose feelings are just overwhelming. Many communities, churches, and perhaps even mental health centers are offering therapy, and many private practitioners offer reduced rate or pro bono services. Research these in your locality, and you can also look for therapists on your health insurer’s web site. Last, you can contact your state psychological association via its web site for referrals.
  6. We must do something:  My mantra has always been that playing a very active role and busying oneself with positive, philanthropic activity is in and of itself, healing. Volunteer at the community center; coach a team, be a mentor. Pour into others — especially our children who so need us now. Keep them busy, engaged, and safely off of the streets. Get involved in your community. It will be healing both for you and for them.
  7. And what about the children?  Our children, with their undeveloped minds and inability to comprehend such complexities, are likely dealing with fears that we can only fathom. After all, they see that we have no answer to this problem.  And they may feel that there are instances when not even we can keep them safe. (And to a child, when Mommy and Daddy cannot guarantee your safety, you’re in BIG TROUBLE)!  Our children have seen many examples where the same police whom we have taught them to go to in times of trouble, are the very ones who have harmed innocent citizens. How can we help our kids?   Of course much of this really does depend upon their ages and maturity levels.  You as parents and caregivers will have to gauge how much your children can handle.  So take your cues from your children, first by listening to them.  Keep an open ear for what they say spontaneously, and respond accordingly. You want to balance truth and reality with safety, reassurance and offering a solution: our kids always look to us for that. Next, look for behavioral changes in them.  Acting out, irritability, bedwetting, nightmares, academic issues — these (and other previously unseen behaviors), could all be manifestations of acute trauma and fear. Talk openly with them about how complicated this situation is even for grown-ups, and that you don’t have all the answers. Importantly, reassure them that not all police officers are bad. In fact, assure them that most are not. And that violence is not the answer, nor is looting, racial hatred or mistreatment. When we act in those ways, we only perpetuate the problem. Use this as a teaching moment, and model the responses you give your children for your children. Last, don’t feel like you need to have all of the answers.  There are many resources and professionals out there to assist you.

These are difficult times, and this is a most difficult situation. No one has all the answers. If we did, we wouldn’t be in this wretched place. All we can do is to try to cope the best we can, reach out for help when we cannot, and look out for those that we know are struggling. It is my hope that I will never again have to write this type of article. The logical me says, ‘fat chance,’ and cautions me to keep the laptop charged. But I am an eternal optimist.  In the end, I will always choose hope.  For there is always hope.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik

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Dr. Nik is a clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, author, and speaker practicing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her @theGoodDrNik on Twitter and Facebook and read more of her articles at http://www.Harvestmagazine.net

*This article was re-Tweeted by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans #AfAmEducation on 23 September 2016.

WHY WE LOOOOOVE THE OLYMPICS!

Last Friday night was well worth the four year wait!  At exactly 8PM, with a glass of sangria in hand I tuned in, (in HD of course), to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the XXXI Olympiad (also known as Rio 2016).  Forget the fact that critics were expecting the nation with the second highest number of Africans living outside of the Continent to flail, (and fail miserably might I add) [but that’s a subject for another blog].  No no, my intentions for watching were much more noble.  My observance of this quadrennial milestone is steeped in tradition; just as the games themselves are steeped in Greek history and tradition. I watch for the sheer fanfare; the pomp and circumstance; the parade of nations and the opportunity to see the best athletes from countries I have no idea where to pinpoint on a globe. I wanted to see the best of the best sportsmen and sportswomen in the world walk proudly next to their countrymen. And of course, I needed to critique the official uniforms; because hey, that’s just an important part of the Olympic experience!

All of this pageantry and excitement got me to thinking: just why do we love the Olympics so much anyway?  Is it really just all about which country wins the most medals?

After much thought I’ve come up with three key reasons why pretty much all citizens of the world are fascinated with these games:

  1. UNITY:  These games remind us that we share a certain commonality: humanity.  The Olympics remind us that we are more alike than different, and that it is the human condition that binds us. In a time in the world’s history when there is such strife, schism and separation; such darkness and despair, and when hatred for those born outside of our borders seems so conventional — during these times we do what humans under stress and strain do.  We regress to that which is instinctual, and that which is familiar.  It is an attribute of humans to be relational, and to move towards that which is similar to us in a relational way.  And they, even though they may live on the other side of the world or just a few hundred miles north of us, even though they may speak in a different tongue and dress in different garb, they are us.  And these two weeks have an eery way of allowing us to forget the differences just for a while. We become, just for what seems like a long moment, acutely aware of the fact that underneath it all, they are us.  These games remind us that we are one.  For two weeks, under that flame, within those concentric rings, we are one world united.
  2. HOPE:  In these games we see not only the best of the best, but we see the best that has somehow emerged out of the worst of circumstances.  We see athletes who have overcome hardships that will take out even the strongest of men. We hear the commentators narrate the carefully edited segments of those born palsied, with parents having been told the child would never walk unassisted.  At the end of the reel, and at the end of the Games, that child goes on to win gold.  We hear tales of people who just a few years prior lost their entire families to war.  Who had no parents, no food or shelter. No state of the art training facility.  And during these Games, they go on to win gold.  We become familiar with the story of a young Black girl whose mother was addicted to drugs, and whose father abandoned her, overcome her circumstances and go on to be called one of the best gymnasts ever. It does something to the human spirit to hear those stories, and to see men and women push their minds and bodies despite the pain and in spite of the pain — to lengths that to us are unimaginable. These games give us hope in something good. They give us childlike faith. These games let us believe again, like children, in superheroes.  As we watch mere mortals become immortalized through their superhuman achievements, we are reminded that miracles really do happen.
  3. TRANSCENDENCE OF TIME:  These games, like greatness, transcend time.  Beginning in 776 BC and lasting for centuries, outlawed for 1503 years and resurfacing again — the Olympiad has clearly weathered the passage and test of time.  The Olympics — complete with the thrilling victories, and the agonizing defeats — they remain etched in both our collective and individual memories.  For the three year-old girl who in 1972 watched Mark Spitz swim his way to Olympics history on our big screen Zenith floor model color TV — that event has become crystallized in the annals of my mind.  For me these games are more than just an every four year event; they have become a way to mark my life. Just as I vividly remember that cold day in 1994 when Tonya whacked Nancy in the knee, I remember when Nancy went on to win gold three weeks later. I remember that opening ceremony in Lillehammer where a skier skied off of the slope, Olympic torch in hand, to light the Olympic flame. I remember when Muhammed Ali lit the Olympic torch in Los Angeles.  And by God we ALL remember Lake Placid, NY in 1980. The day the cold war became even colder following the thrilling US win over the Russian ice hockey team. We remember the events of these Olympiads just like they happened yesterday. We remember them despite the many years that have passed.  And we will continue to remember them.

There is magic in these games. There’s goodness in the unity they bring. There’s specialness in the way they make a young boy eat his Wheaties. There’s magic in anything that can lead anyone to rise above her natural limits into a realm where just for a moment, she is no longer human, but superhuman.  There’s virtue in anything that can do that.

Al Michaels once screamed into a microphone a long long time ago, “Do you believe in miracles?”   All I can say to that is Mr. Michaels, we see them every four years.

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Dr. Nik is a Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, author, educator and compassion activist in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her on Twitter @theGoodDrNik.

 

WHY NOT VOTING IS NOT THE ANSWER (Or How Bush Won the 2000 Election: The 7th Grade Breakdown)

I’ve been watching. Its always good to stop, look, and listen.  And as a psychologist, I am of course a trained observer of human behavior, and indeed a very good listener!  But as I’ve been …

Source: WHY NOT VOTING IS NOT THE ANSWER (Or How Bush Won the 2000 Election: The 7th Grade Breakdown)

WHY NOT VOTING IS NOT THE ANSWER (Or How Bush Won the 2000 Election: The 7th Grade Breakdown)

I’ve been watching. Its always good to stop, look, and listen.  And as a psychologist, I am of course a trained observer of human behavior, and indeed a very good listener!  But as I’ve been listening, I’ve been hearing one consistent theme that just doesn’t sit well with me. Its something that I cannot allow my silence to passively condone.  And really, it is something so divergent from my belief system that it makes me cringe. My beef is essentially this: I’ve heard far too many indicate that the upcoming national election brings no suitable candidate from which to choose, and so they have decided not to vote at all.

The sheer horror of such a thought does something to me.  If it makes me cringe, then certainly it causes our ancestors to flip over in their graves. Why? Because voting is a basic right of all US citizens, right?  Truth be told, voting is a privilege that historically had only been afforded to those whose voices were the only ones that mattered: white men. Anyone not a card carrying member of this category endured great physical and emotional injury, terror, humiliation and even death to be able to earn the ‘right’ to vote. Poll taxes, literacy tests, cognitive tests (oh yes — there was the eight box test), and other forms of chicanery were loosed on the freed men whose only desire was to assert their voice and be heard. So for we Blacks living in America, voting is not a right.  It was the victory at the end of a long struggle.  It was an accomplishment we earned. We paid for in blood. Period. So my upset is not because by refusing to vote, one is refusing to exercise a right. No, my anger is because in not voting, we disrespect the memories of every life that was snuffed out prematurely, every neck broken by the noose, every black man humiliated because he couldn’t read a sentence or pay the toll at the poll. We cheapen the significance of the bloody battle that was fought and won for the cause when we refuse to vote.

Now if that little perusal through the annals of American history is not enough to convince you of the importance of your vote, then let me appeal to you using sheer logic. Presidential elections are a numbers game, but it’s not as simple as, ‘he who holds the most votes wins.’ The 2000 Gore/Bush elections taught us that.

School is now in session.

Lesson I:  There are only two votes that count:

The popular vote truly is a numbers game.  With the popular vote, the candidate with the most votes wins.  Hands down.  But elections are not based on the popular vote.  They are based on the electoral vote.  Ahhh yes, the dreaded electoral vote. We’ve all seen Anderson meticulously track electoral votes every first Tuesday in November of every recent US Presidential election year.  And we’ve all thought to ourselves, ‘what the hell is he talking about?’  The electoral college is an intangible college created in the heads of some very smart (but dead) presidents that was meant to guard against the inherent unfairness of a solely numerically based system of electing a national leader.  You see, in a solely popular vote type of scenario, a state that has more people has more say.  These highly populated states can ipso facto change the outcome of an election — particularly if they were to band together and all vote for the same candidate. So to guard against this, we have this thing called the electoral college.

Lesson II: How the West Won

When you vote for President and Vice President, I know you think you are voting for who will be the nation’s leaders.  But can I burst your bubble?  You actually are voting not for the candidates running on the ticket, but rather, for an elector — a representative from that state whose only job is to cast that state’s electoral votes for a presidential candidate.  Two important things here: The number of electoral votes a states has is, in fact, based upon the state’s population.  Second, typically, (but not always), it is the candidate who obtains the most votes in X state (i.e. the one who wins the popular vote), that the elector casts his or her state’s electoral votes for.  This concept is uber important because as we recall from the presidential election of 2000 (Gore v. Bush), one can win the nation’s popular vote (or have the highest number of individual votes cast for him or her), but lose the electoral vote (again, because the number of electoral votes is based upon population of the state).  And in terms of numbers, there IS ofncourse a magic number of electoral votes a  candidate muat have: 277.  You don’t reach this number, you dont win the presidency.   So some states kind of count more than others in terms of reaching this number, simply because they have greater electoral votes to throw into the game.  This is why candidates focus their campaign efforts and dollars so heavily on large states (they need to get those electoral votes).  Breaking all of this down, it is quite simple (well, I am making it much simpler for illustrations sake): for those of you who live in more populous states (NY, TX, CA for example), it is even more important that you exercise your vote. Because in most states, the electoral votes cast for a candidate are based on ‘winner takes all.’  So whomever obtains the most votes in that state (i.e. whomever wins the popular vote), also wins ALL of the electoral votes from that state.  And we have already established that the larger the state’s population, the higher the number of electoral votes that state’s elector has to cast. This is why elections really boil down to mathematics.  This is why we see those colorful maps on election night, and why some states are paid really close attention.  This is why every vote really does count.  And by simply playing a numbers game, this is how Mr. President himself, Barack Obama, won the 2008 and 2012 elections…decisively.  And this is how Bush won the 2000 election.

Despite my very simplistic and watered down version of the national election process, I’m sure we still have some who are ill convinced of the implications of sitting this one out.  My friends, don’t be fooled. There is a saying, “Pennies make dollars and dollars make hundreds.”  The same logic holds true for votes. Cumulatively, all of the single votes that will not be cast will all of a sudden become millions of uncast votes. The stakes are way too high to chance how millions of votes could impact the upcoming election.  Its just frankly a roll of the dice that we cannot afford to make.  So cast your vote.  Assert your voice and have a say.  If you don’t believe your vote matters, just do the math.

Class dismissed.

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Dr. Nik is a clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, author, and speaker practicing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her @theGoodDrNik and read more of her articles at http://www.Harvestmagazine.net

No Time To Be Silent

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In the wake of the massacres of Brother Alton Sterling and Brother Philando Castile, both fatally shot within a 24 hour time period, this is no time to be silent.

Tuesday, in Louisiana, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was fatally shot as he tussled with two white officers outside a convenience store in a predominantly black neighborhood. The shooting was caught on tape and went viral online. The next day in Minnesota, 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot to death during a traffic stop. His girlfriend posted a video of the aftermath live on Facebook, saying he had been shot “for no apparent reason” while reaching for his wallet, as an officer had asked.  And then the malefic reply to both events by Micah Johnson, a combat veteran who killed five officers and wounded seven others, in addition to two civilians. Like many I found myself struggling to make sense of just what is going on.

I found myself at a loss for words.  Nothing to say.  Nothing to post.  Nothing to write.  And if I am honest, not wanting to feel.  Because to feel would leave me overcome with a tidal wave of grief, anger, fear, and God only knows what else.  It would leave me to acknowledge the sad reality.  And why acknowledge reality when denial is such a wonderful thing?  And when ignorance really is bliss.  But alas, the events of the past few days, weeks, months, years can no longer be ignored.  The reality must be acknowledged.  After having said nothing about these tragedies, I realize that this is not time to be silent.

I know that after 400 years of inhumane treatment, of being likened to animals, raped and lynched and murdered and put down and passed over and ignored like the invisible man Ellison wrote about — takes its toll.  I know that in this 21st century we still face situations reminiscent of the Jim Crow days of old; occurring under the guise of “progress.” I know that there have been more police killings of Black people in the last year (2015) than were lynched in the worst year of Jim Crow (1892).  I know that in 2015, killings of Blacks by police accounted for 26% of deaths, and that we are on the trajectory in 2016 to likely surpass that number. I know that our community is angry.  And I know that anger is a righteous response.  Justified.  No one can question that.  But what we do with this anger, and how we respond to this situation will dictate whether we live up to the truth of who we are. Will we rise?

I know that we are the descendants of Kings and Queens.  And we are warriors.  Make no mistake, this is war.  It is a battle against archetypal spirits of evil, and a history entrenched with maltreatment and injustice. Unconscious biases and conscious discrimination have existed for as long as we have been in America. Therefore, our weapons must not be physical.  We must not resort to the id-mentality of tit for tat; a life for a life.  No, we must be strategic.  We must be thoughtful.  We must recall our past victories. We must deftly use our powers, and those of us in power must not be silent. I repeat: THOSE OF US IN POWER MUST NOT BE SILENT.

There are a few key members of our community whose voices reverberate. Their platforms are global and they are tethered to the purse strings of Wall Street.  Like puppet masters they can pull a string and poof — stocks rise or fall immediately and exponentially.  These African Americans must not be silent.

The Black church, which has historically been the backbone of the African-American community, and THE instrument of mobilization and leadership for social and political change, must not be silent.  It is time for Black pastors and the Black church as a whole to rise and take its rightful place as the leading agent of sociopolitical change, healing, and reconciliation.  The Black church can and must play a key role in setting the stage and the tone for our community moving forward.  The church must not be silent.  Silence = death.

And last, you, you, and you must not be silent.  Do not disenfranchise yourself.  Exercise the rights that so many fought so hard to ensure that you have.  Speak, write, blog, picket, lobby, boycott, and for God’s sake VOTE.  Your voice is mighty.  The pen is mighty.  The dollar is mighty. And together we are mighty. Once we realize this; once we truly realize who we are and the power we have individually and collectively, it is then that we will truly overcome.

Onwards.

Dr. Nik

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Reprinted with permission from Harvest Magazine.

Dr. Nik is a Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, author and educator in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her on Twitter @theGoodDrNik.

How to Cope With National Tragedy

The recent events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas have left many feeling some kinda way.  While some of us don’t know exactly what we are feeling, others can readily identify the one or various emotions they might be experiencing; and some may be experiencing emotions intensely.  As if the events of the past few days have not been tragic enough, we have been unable to escape the reminders, and are left to relive the first moment we heard or saw news of these events.  Our brains are being constantly bombarded with print and streaming images of civilians and police officers being assaulted, shot at and dying with not a free moment to process the apparent dichotomies.  For the record, my goal here is not to use this as a forum to air my personal beliefs; but rather, to use this opportunity to help us deal with what I have termed trauma by media.

Trauma by media is a cluster of symptoms experienced as a result of secondhand exposure, (i.e. indirect exposure), to a life threatening or fatal event via print or broadcast media.  Symptoms can range from anger and rage, from sadness to frank depression, from worry to anxiety and fear, to nightmares and more.  And these can lead to sleep difficulties, the inability to focus one’s attention on matters unrelated to the event, engaging in maladaptive behaviors to express one’s frustration and upset or numb one’s emotions, and can impact the ability to function effectively in one’s day-to-day life.

Make no mistake, we’ve been here before.  But we’ve not implemented the lessons learned.  As a nation we became vicariously traumatized during 9-11 due to the constant media coverage of the day’s events.  Notwithstanding the impact of the tragic loss of lives and the terror that the nation felt, seeing and hearing the stories over and over again solidified the horror in the minds of many and crystallized the trauma in our brains.  The graphic images of people jumping of out windows are forever etched in my mind; like they are for many of you.  As a result, there are many who can no longer see images or even talk about 9-11 without it evoking strong visceral reactions — and we were not even there nor did we suffer a personal loss.

Unfortunately, given the state of world affairs, there is  no lack of newsworthy stories, and the future is ripe for horrific and mind-boggling tragedies to report on.  In light of this, how do you keep yourself reasonably well-adjusted, able to focus, and not given to the emotional ups and downs that these tragic times and unfortunate events can cause?

  1. Tune out:  I think this is the single most helpful piece of advice that I can offer.  Turn off the TV and/or radio, disconnect from all social media, and just take a break from the non-stop coverage of the event.  Give your mind a break from the constant bombardment of images and information, and give your brain the opportunity to make sense of the confusion.
  2. Don’t isolate: Isolation, while needed at times to refuel and recharge, is never a good idea when one is in a state of emotional crisis.  So resist the urge to isolate yourself.  Talking about the event with others is a way to process what has happened in a healthy way.  But, be careful about engaging in very heated discussions or debates.  The goal here is to move towards a state of emotional acceptance and to stabilize oneself from the state of mental disequilibrium; NOT to get oneself so riled up that you are worse off than before!  Being around others and doing something social can also serve to distract you from all that is going on.
  3. Resist the urge to numb:  Your mind will want to forget.  You will want to be out of the uncomfortable emotional place that you are in.  Resist the urge to numb your feelings using alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, or any other extreme behavior.  This will only cause other difficulties down the road.
  4.  Get involved:  Doing something helpful and in assistance to a person or group directly affected, or picking up their cause, can be cathartic and emotionally healing for all involved. For example, many people volunteered their time, energy, and/or money after 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, and other national tragedies.  Organizing a food drive, a clothing drive, a blood drive, etc. were ways that people channeled their grief into compassion and action.
  5. Be part of the solution:  In the present case, there are many adaptive ways to channel the anger and frustration that many are feeling.  Mobilize or take part in peaceful protests, write or blog how you feel, lobby or start a petition, and be a part of the process of political change.
  6. Tap into your spirituality:  People oftentimes find a sense of peace, solace, and acceptance by tapping into their faith.  Be it through prayer, meditation, consultation with spiritually like-minded people or with your religious leader, this can be a very healthy way to make emotional peace with tragedy.  While we might never know the answer to the question of ‘why,’ the ‘how’ to move forward positively may become readily apparent.
  7. Seek counseling: If symptoms persist for more than a week or so without improvement or your functioning worsens with time, consider seeking mental health counseling.  For some who have histories of trauma from childhood, military combat, or other life events, these types of nationwide wounds can resurface unresolved issues.  Your health insurer’s website, your state department of mental health, or your state board of psychology would be initial places to look for a licensed practitioner in your area.  Your primary care physician, and even friends might be other places to start.  The point here is to stay ahead of the curve, and find professional assistance as soon as possible.

 

Nicole M. Alford, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, lecturer and educator in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.