Monthly Archives: September 2021

Are Conservatives All Suffering from Unhealed Childhood Trauma?

When individuals in power attempt to force their fantasy of a perfect world onto the whole of society – or even a segment of it – it can attract a cult of followers who are willing to believe that, like their leaders, it’s possible to live some charmed version of reality. It’s like existing in a dissociative state.  Or a dissociative fugue.


According to the Psychology Today definition (Aug. 2, 2021), “Dissociation is generally thought of as a defense against trauma that helps people disconnect from extreme psychological distress. A dissociative fugue state is a condition in which a person may be mentally and physically escaping an environment that is threatening or otherwise intolerable.”


I have seen students do this. They just “punch out,” like they’re floating in space. It happens when kids are abused or neglected by shameless adults who don’t give a damn. By staying inside their heads, children can tune out reality. It gives them a sense of control. They often imagine they can protect themselves. However, the least threat, real or imagined, can trigger an angry response. Their stress level at this point is through the roof. They can’t think rationally. When I would ask students to please clear their desks for a spelling test, I could expect one kid to have a problem with it. Because children aren’t supposed to run or fight, sometimes they simply freeze. The ones who do act out – usually boys – might throw all their books and pencils on the floor. Rip their neighbor’s paper. Or disturb the entire class with crazy talk.  I’ve seen both boys and girls act out by sitting back with arms folded. They feign arrogance. Sometimes they look broken.  The look says, “Lady, I ain’t doin’ nothin’ you say to do.”


A woman I know, a writer and educator whose parents were both doctors,  once revealed that she was left alone every day after school. The family had horses and a barn, and it was there that she created an imaginary world into which she could escape.


Another woman whose memoir I worked on as a ghost-writer had a hideous childhood. As a girl she had dissociative episodes both at home and school. She fainted when she couldn’t cope with her parents fighting. At school, it  was beyond her understanding why everyone cried when President Kennedy died. Her mother, a nurse, would come home from work, lock herself in her bedroom, get drunk,  and cry wildly while my friend played jacks outside her door. And she insisted she had a happy childhood.


I would guess that more than a few over-the-top Right Wingers grew up without empathetic relationships. People like Gov. Greg Abbott, who thinks he’ll score votes by denying women the right to an abortion; Rep. Lauren Boebert, who believes everyone should carry a pistol, and wanted Jan. 6 to come off like the Revolutionary War (1776),   And then there’s Rep. Jim Jordan, who according to the Washington Post, Tweeted out that vaccine mandates are un-American. He means for everyone.  (Jordan apparently hasn’t heard that while fighting the British, Gen. George Washington was also fighting a smallpox epidemic, and felt it necessary to mandate a crude smallpox vaccine for his troops.)


However, by denying their personal stories of hurt and trauma, these self-righteous zealots abandon their humanity. They become fundamentalists who need everyone to become part of their fantasy world. To quote psychotherapist and author Thomas Moore, “The tragedy of fundamentalism in any context is its capacity to freeze life into a solid cube of meaning.” (Care of the Soul, 1992, HarperCollins.)


Conservatives today seem bent on freezing the country into a solid cube of meaning. No discussion. No compromise.


So, what do we have now, but an increasing number of far-Right elected officials pushing a concept of freedom they’ve packaged into a neat and tidy single belief, whether it’s denying a woman’s right to choose, insisting that legitimate election outcomes were fraudulent, or pushing a false narrative on vaccinations? They think if enough voters take them seriously, if they can force their childish will on enough people, they will never have to feel the burden of pain, loss, and failure, all of which make us human and are part of life.  In my opinion, it’s not the future that scares them, but facing their pasts.


Time and again, we’ve heard Joe Biden talk about his personal history of loss and pain. Telling his story is exactly why he has empathy for families who’ve lost loved ones to school shootings, floods, war, and disease. Because in the retelling of his traumas, he’s owned his humanity, not sold it for some easy, fundamentalist fix he’d like to impose on other people’s lives. He’s done the hard, emotional work of healing. Some would call it resilience, but I think Biden’s gift of empathy is the result of having grieved, and having given each of his stories a Beginning, Middle, and an End, so that they are no longer traumas. By owning his pain, he has gained “soul.”


I believe those political and religious fundamentalists who are trying to force the country into a “solid cube of meaning” are simply prolonging their own pain. And they would like to see everyone else suffer along with them. They just don’t know why. If they could only acknowledge their humanity, and accept the fact that life is a shared journey, they might walk alongside the rest of us instead of trying to lord over us.


Fixing the problem won’t happen overnight. It takes raising a generation of empathetic listeners. And to do that, we have to become empathetic listeners ourselves. In other words, we have to believe in everyday soul work. It’s about telling your story, whether to a trusted friend, counselor, or writing it in a journal. It’s about crying and grieving losses of all kinds. And most of all, it’s about listening to our children when they share their  hurts. Just by listening to our children, and to each other, we can help heal the world. FFG