Ryan Martin Ph.D.

All the Rage

The Days After: Coping With Election Grief

Anger is an important element of the grief experience

Posted Nov 14, 2016

This is a companion piece to a podcast episode on election grief (listen here).

Late last week, I asked a colleague how she was doing and her response was “meh, I’m dealing with some PET—Post-Election Trauma.”  Her response, and a variety of other conversations I have had with colleagues, friends, and family got me thinking about election outcomes as grief experiences.

Now, I’m not saying that this is the same as having a loved one die or anything like that.  But I am saying that for many people, this outcome feels similarly to other sorts of losses that lead to grief (e.g., loss of a meaningful job, the end of a romantic relationship) and there are similar sorts of emotions at play. 

Here’s what I think people should know about this as a grief experience.

  1. Like any grief experience, you are feeling a lot of different emotions (e.g., sadness over the loss, fear about the future, guilt because you could have done more, jealousy for the other side).  Anger is certainly one piece of that experience. Now, many describe a “stages of grief” model that includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  While I don’t agree with that sort of model because grief is a much more complicated experience than that, it is important to acknowledge that anger is an important part of any grief experience.
  2. Those feelings are very legitimate.  I discussed in a recent post about how anger is an understandable respond to election outcomes.  For many, if not all of us, this election will have tangible consequences and it’s reasonable to feel angry about those consequences.  You should not feel any pressure to “move on” or “stop whining” as many on social media and elsewhere have been advocating.
  3. The consequences will continue.  One of the reasons I do not care for the stages of grief model is because, in reality, additional losses continue to be realized after the original loss.  In the election context, policy changes yet to come will affect you in potentially negative ways.  Those consequences (i.e., losses) have yet to be experiences but, when they do, people will likely feel a range of grief-related emotions all over again.
  4. Finally, in the context of anger, which is what this blog is all about, know that (a) anger is not inherently bad and (b) anger can be channeled into prosocial activities.  The anger you are feeling can be used to energize your writing, art, and more.  Many people funnel their anger into protesting or donating their time and energy into causes that lead to change.  Anger exists because it has evolutionary value.  It lets people know they have been wronged and energizes them to confront the injustice.

About the Author

Ryan Martin, Ph.D. is an anger researcher and the Chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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