How can people move past anger after the election?

Fred Luskin, lecturer in wellness education in the Health and Human Performance unit of Stanford’s Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation, offers his thoughts on forgiveness.

Why do elections create such strong emotions?

In any election both sides have invested a lot of passion, energy and time in their point of view. For many reasons humans take not getting their point of view validated as a menace and a threat to their well-being. When we have to coexist with someone who has a different point and their point of view is victorious, it’s hard.

It’s quite challenging to be in a world where one’s strongly held views are repudiated. Our minds wrap around the rightness of our view and the need to have other people share those views in order to feel that there is order and safety. If you find out the other side has won, it is a loss which needs to be grieved and it creates a tremendous amount of vulnerability.

Is the anger that people feel after their candidate loses unhealthy?

You have to recognize that the feeling of being on the wrong side of any election is not just a result of having not got your way, but of the intensity that you place on your point of view triumphing. When we lose it feels wrong, our sense of control unravels and that’s when grieving begins.

Grieving and anger are what’s supposed to happen with loss and unwanted change. What’s not healthy is to hold on to anger about something that can’t change and is in the past. That’s when bitterness and hostility can become habits and limit our moving on and enjoying life.

When can people move past grief?

Forgiveness should not be on the menu until you admit that you are unhappy and/or scared, and that takes time to germinate and feel. You have to acknowledge that your candidate didn’t win, and that after experiencing the loss understand that your well-being doesn’t depend on your side winning. That’s part of healthy grieving before forgiveness takes place. Since the election was so recent, people need to acknowledge their feelings and allow themselves to have them.

Part of grieving is the attempt to create a cognitive schema that lets you adjust to a new reality. That schema has to happen or we can stay stuck in bitterness. During that time you are looking for an updated cognitive schema, understand you will be unsettled and at times uncomfortable. Remember also that moving forward without bitterness is a desired resolution.

What is forgiveness?

All forgiveness does is to say, “OK, I’m making peace with reality. I wanted this election to go one way and it did not.” It doesn’t condone bad behavior. Forgiveness emerges when you realize there are always going to be people who disagree with you.

What forgiveness adds is a peaceful acceptance that things don’t always work out and you don’t have to sacrifice your happiness because of it. Things not going your way is part of life. Then if you don’t keep insisting that things work out but make some accommodation, you can live your life without being bitter. You can continue to fight politically for what you believe in, but it won’t come from the bitterness. Forgiveness is an inner resolution. Forgiveness offers nothing to stop us from believing fully in our values and goals and working to make them manifest.

When does forgiveness happen?

The length of time forgiveness takes depends on how personally affected someone is, how much they personally suffered and how deeply invested they were in a certain outcome. A lot of people have a lot invested in the outcome of this election. Negative feelings ran high on both sides. It may be for a few months that the painful feelings continue to be stirred; people feel unsettled because of their loss and they scramble to find a workable schema. Inside of that the fear of not having one’s way manifest may still bubble for a while.

However, the more we make forgiveness of not winning, of not having our vision for the country manifest and for spending so much of ourselves in a losing cause part of the emotional discourse, the better off as a society we will be. Blame is bad for our physical health. If we can make peace emotionally, we tend to make better decisions about how to fight for what we want.