Looking back over a career in clinical psychology, short-comings of oneself and of ones profession come into view.
One danger for therapists is to think we can understand the psychology of people we have never met.
It’s difficult to form true perceptions about our patients who sit in front of us week after week telling us their thoughts and feelings. It’s difficult to understand our own family members. It is even difficult to understand ourselves. It should be obvious to us that public figures wear carefully constructed masks and that we have little chance of guessing what lies behind them.
Our perceptions of others are influenced by our emotions, especially the strong ones. Strong emotions about Donald Trump led to this book. My fear and anger come from a feeling of being threatened. They make me want to fight. This book is that fight. It is not the objective, professional opinion of an expert in psychology.
Why do I call it psychological at all? Because I am, through and through, a psychologist, and everything I see is filtered through a psychological lens. True or false, the views in this book (both the ones about Trump and the ones about Clinton) are from a psychological perspective.
The view of the psychologist is different from those of the political commentator or the economist or the military strategist (this, even though there are many different psychologists with many different views).
The reader may wonder if strong negative emotions about Donald Trump might not be a sign of envy and sour grapes and weakness.
People who reflect on and try to understand themselves have to face their own strong feelings, like it or not. This is usually embarrassing. Personal anger, fear, envy, feelings of weakness are not representatives of our best side. We like to think we only fight in noble battles, but what pettiness lies behind our conflicts?
Even more embarrassing is that we are often wrong in our evaluations. We come to see it was our own imagination that projected things out and made us furious at John or Jill. Even if we were accurately seeing bad things in them, why did we get so upset, and, looking back, should we have gotten so upset?
Often, when the conflict is over and we have calmed down, we are left holding the bag, as it were. We are left with the mud on our own faces: We got worked up over nothing much, and what does this show about ourselves?
Deep emotions are often projected onto others. We see other people as despicable, as our hateful opposites. Later we come to see in ourselves what we saw only in them. They were like mirrors held up to our inner selves.
Though embarrassing, this awareness can be a stimulus to change. If I see Trump as a despot, a tyrant, a self-proclaimed god, a huckster, psychology suggests I look for the despot, the tyrant, the self-proclaimed god, and the huckster in myself. Then there is a chance for change, for growth.
Consciousness is interesting. If there is such a thing as free will, it is because of consciousness. Consciousness is the mirror that separates us a little from ourselves. A glimpse of an emotion is a moment of freedom from the grip that emotion has on us. It can be a moment of peace and a glimpse of a way out. We become an object to ourselves, and, for that second, we get hope that we have the power to move towards a new self.
This book is a part of a war. It is an attempt to throw a new light on shadowy things, and this light is a kind of power — like a spotlight thrown on a night-time battlefield.
Whether or not I am fighting straw-men (and straw-women) or windmills, and whether or not Trump and Clinton and some of their supporters are completely different than I see them in my imagination, there is the possibility I will become more conscious and use this increased freedom and power responsibly. Maybe others can find a similar use for this book.
Psychologically, what first looks like pure evil in ourselves or others, often (but not always) turns out to be not so bad.
And human nature has two sides. That is how it is. How we understand and work with nature is what is important. Though they may rub some of us the wrong way, Trump’s apparent love of wealth and power and Clinton’s apparent addiction to deception, are parts of a bigger picture.
For the artist of human nature, the darkest parts of our nature must be integrated into a work for it to have a chance of reaching the levels of universality, wholeness, and truth.
If we are hoping for a satisfactory way out of the dead-end the world has reached, one of the first steps has to be a willingness to face and stomach the depth and breadth (and heights) of the quandary. We can not turn from any aspect, no matter how ugly, and just hope it will disappear. And we can not react from a panic and charge blindly ahead. We have to sit for a while and bear the pain of viewing the whole picture and wait for and hope for a new and reasonable path to appear in front of us.