How do you break up with a narcissist? How do you get rid of that toxic person in your life? Earlier in history, these might have been mere self-help questions, but now they concern the whole country. How do we, as a nation, break up with Donald Trump? How do we let go of our strange attachment with the man? How do we disentangle him from the web of our political alliances, social systems, and policies? In short, how do we grow from this experience and move on? Impeachment raises all sorts of political and logistical challenges, but I would like to address the process at a subtler level. Given where we are in our development as a nation, what sort of awareness and growth does it take to get over Donald Trump? There is quite a bit of wisdom in the personal process of healing from a bad relationship that we can apply to the collective process. I’ll discuss here three key steps.
Step One: Understand Why We’re Hooked
Toxic relationships look awful from the outside, but typically they are not easy to recognize from the inside. Even those who acknowledge the abuse often make excuses for their partners’ behavior. They hold on, desperate for the relationship to work out. Many of us would like to see Donald Trump gone immediately and forever. As a nation, however, we have a sick fascination with the man – one that goes back several decades. If he is not genuine, empowering, or supportive, what is it that we find so appealing about him?
At a personal level, the reason why we get stuck with narcissists is simple. Although relationships involve all sorts of complexities, which I don’t mean to downplay, the hook is in almost every case the same. Narcissists model inconsistent and conditional love, which is exactly what those of us who get stuck with them experienced as children. They reinforce the familiar messages coded into us during the early years of life about being unworthy of love. They feed into our self-defeating patterns and limiting beliefs about who we are and how we deserve to be treated. In holding on to the relationship, we are trying to win from the narcissists the approval we never knew as children. But healing doesn’t happen until we learn to rewrite those messages about who we are and how we deserve to be treated. We have to give up trying to win love and approval from our abusers, and learn to find it on our own.
For us as a nation, Trump symbolizes a special aspect of love: power. The stuck patterns and limiting beliefs we have around our relationship with him are not the marks of negligent caregivers, but of a decaying society. They are the survival strategies we developed to get by in a world that feels vastly impersonal, unjust, and alone. We tell ourselves that money is power, and that power is truth. We think that both come from outside of us. And we expect that someone else needs to step up and give them back. In order to experience healing, we need to rewrite the messages about our powerlessness. We need to find real connection and community on our own. The moment we reach out to each other, we begin to transform. We discover the power that has been ours all along.
Step Two: Acknowledge Our Likeness
There is a bitter truth for those caught in relationships with narcissists like Donald Trump. It is one that can take many tears and harsh looks in the mirror to recognize. Luckily, though, recognizing it is part of the cure, so I hope most of you will not mind my saying it: We are not as different from narcissists as we would like to believe. As much as we pine for them to change, for them to love us consistently and with their whole hearts, we are uncomfortable receiving so much love. Because we didn’t grow up in a safe, loving world, we have no idea what to do with abundance. In fact, if too much love comes too close, we can become narcissists ourselves. We come up with excuses. We play games. We run away. Only once the narcissist has wounded us completely do we finally cry out, in anguish, that we are ready for love at any cost. Narcissists can be great teachers.
As a nation, how are we like Donald Trump? Like him, we believe that money, power, and truth are one and the same. As much as we pine for real leadership and connection, we are uncomfortable coming together as a society. Because we didn’t grow up in vibrant, nurturing communities, we have no idea what to do with togetherness. We are scared of too much civic responsibility. We make excuses. We play games. We run away. Only as Trump wounds us completely – destroying our rights, our healthcare, our education system, our natural resources…do we begin to cry out, in anguish, that we are ready for change, for a healthy society, at any cost. Trump can be a great teacher.
Step Three: Embrace the Lessons
In all matters of awareness and growth, the problem stays with us until we are ready to learn. If we are caught in a bad relationship and do not heal ourselves, we will simply end up in another bad relationship. Life presents us with the same lesson – perhaps in different variations and forms – over and again until we get it. The same is true of our nation. Until we learn what real connection is, until we embrace our civic responsibility, until we engage each other with open arms and open minds, we will not change. Trump, and perhaps future Trumps of different constitutions and manifestations, will continue to burn us until we cry, “Enough!” When the pain is bad enough, and it feels as if everything is lost, we will reach out to each other. We will rediscover what it means to be neighbors, stewards, and friends.
It is up to us to open our eyes and change. Every day we announce on our Facebook feeds Trump’s new idiotic acts, as if they still surprise us. Like typical victims of narcissistic abuse, we find ourselves dazed and confused. We can’t make sense anymore of the behavior and the lies. We watch him assault Nature, education, the sick, the elderly, the poor, and we can’t figure out how just to kick him out of office. Of course, it’s not that easy, we say. It never feels that easy when you’re in the throes of it. What woman, for instance, says it is easy to divorce a husband who beats her? Even one who does so repeatedly, to the point that she is so injured she can barely carry out her daily work? There are finances, legal agreements, children, fears of retaliation to deal with. And yet, she can make it happen. We encourage her to make it happen.
Recovery at the collective level is not that different from recovery at the personal level. In fact, they work together. As individuals, we need to be clear-sighted enough to recognize the self-defeating patterns and limiting beliefs of our society. But the work we do to release the old and call in the new must be done together. It is through collective action that we discover that we already have power. It is with each other that we create new practices and beliefs to serve our highest social consciousness. Through dialogue and connection with each other, we learn that our own open eyes and hearts are the greatest guides to truth. The moment we open our eyes, the problem begins to transform. The moment we reach out to each other, our world begins to rebuild…
There will be Trumps here to remind us until we are ready. It is up to us to decide when to change.
Photo credit: Donald Trump by comstalker (2015), PhotosForClass.com