Dr. Keith Ablow,
As a healer, I help people accept stark truths about their lives and the lives of others. These truths and insights may call upon them to act boldly, often in spite of their own anxiety and despite the fact that others will experience pain.
Here’s an example: A young woman whose mother deserted her as a young girl and left her to be cared for by her alcoholic father might have convinced herself that her dad was her savior — even a saint. After all, what did she have to believe in, once her mother was gone? Even if her father was abusive to her, she might deny his shortcomings and what she suffered because of them.
Grappling with the fact that both her parents were untrustworthy would have been too much to bear at 9 or 10 years old. It would have turned her childhood into pure panic. But, as an adult, her healing may depend on my convincing her to accept what she really lived through — and to act boldly on those facts. Becoming a strong person who values herself and does not allow others to abuse her could require making very tough decisions. She might even have to sever her connection to her father, with all the pain on both sides of that equation.
I use the word equation intentionally, by the way. In some ways, seeing one’s life clearly requires an almost arithmetic assessment of it. If one’s father was no father, that’s how things add up — period. Pretending otherwise invites all manner of misinterpretation and self-sabotage, in many realms, all through life.
President Trump is practicing the political version of this arithmetic: psychological truth and healing. It is what it is.
When Trump tells the citizens of the United States that people who are in our country illegally and commit crimes must leave, he is the same as the therapist who tells a patient, “If your boyfriend is hitting you, you need to make him leave your apartment.” The breakup might result in sadness and anger, but that is no reason not to act.
When Trump says trade deals with the United States can’t be to the detriment of the U.S. economy, he is the corporate psychologist who tells a pair of business partners, “If one of you is trying to steal from the other, this isn’t a partnership, it’s a scam. That would make one of you a thief and the other a chump. And you both had better aspire to being more than that.”
When Trump tells our citizens that the borders of the United States need to be enforced vigorously, with a wall to defend the more porous of them, he is no different from the therapist who tells the owners of a house that is repeatedly robbed that they not only need to get an alarm system, but they also need to wonder why they don’t already have one. Because if they don’t value themselves enough to defend their property, that’s a much bigger problem than the robberies themselves.
It all adds up to what people do to prevent being victimized. It’s all arithmetic.
When Trump tells our citizens that companies that leave our country and American workers behind — and then sell their goods back into the United States — need to pay a price for their bad faith, he is no different from the sports psychologist who tells a team that its departing quarterback, who takes the team’s playbook with him mid-season, shouldn’t be able to walk back onto the field in another uniform, to a hero’s welcome. There’s got to be a price to pay for that betrayal, whether they once liked the guy or not. Otherwise, the team can start feeling like losers who deserve to be abandoned. And that can mean a really bad season, or even many bad seasons.
When Trump tells our citizens that states can’t choose to ignore federal drug and immigration laws and expect to receive financial support from the federal government, he is no different from the psychologist who tells the board of directors of a parent company that they need to stop funding subsidiaries that show utter contempt for corporate policies and procedures. Yes, it might be a tough stance that causes conflict, but what is the alternative? Anarchy that ends up eroding the credibility of the board and the very foundation of the corporation?
It all adds up to what a company is willing to do for cohesion and survival. It’s all arithmetic.
Healing or governing via psychological truth is not always pretty. Some of my patients’ most self-empowering decisions and actions set the stage for phenomenal periods of growth, but they also caused the most initial angst and brought the most sadness or conflict. But the alternative — self-doubt and self-destruction — was worse.
President Trump knows this truth, governs with it and, despite all the tough emotions it is bound to bring up along the way, can ultimately heal America with it.