So our American mid-term elections are now mostly over. Now what?
Well, for one thing, we pretty much stay the same as we were before the election. This in spite of the public demand for a change of directions.
Is this a joke, or what?
The majority of Americans polled say they want a new direction for the country and they cough up donations to their favorite candidates in the amount of $7.6 billion (yes, with a b) spent on big media advertising. And what for? So we could re-elect, with the rarest of exceptions, the same incumbent politicians as we had running our statehouses and legislatures in the first place.
Well, let me take a stab at this one. Here’s my idea of a “what for.”
Those of us who follow our calling or make our living working as mental health therapists are well accustomed to discussing what we refer to broadly as “ambivalence.” By definition, I mean “Ambivalence: the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone” (https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/.
Most Americans have this in common. Most humans have it in common. It’s the state of thinking in terms of “both/and” such as wanting things to both change and stay the same. Classic example? How about Americans saying they want change but voting for the same politician? We want both to have our cake and eat it, too, to borrow a softer euphemism.
Said more bluntly: we want to have different consequences but we don’t want to make different choices. We are ambivalent about change. We want it but we don’t.
Where my own ambivalent clients are concerned, I’m known to congratulate them for being normal human beings. Meaning that they, like you and me, have different brain sections and functions that are designed for interaction. While none of us can change the world around us, we can all change the mind within us. And changing our mind in ways that produce our happiest and most successful of outcomes requires understanding our minds….and our bodily organ (brain) that produces our mind’s content and process. So our first choice within, say, mental health/psycho-therapy is this: do I want to fail in life by working to change what I cannot change outside of myself, or do I want to succeed by working to change what I can inside myself (my own mind)?
Personally, I’ve successfully improved my own mind over the course of these 76 years by realizing that my own brain’s Limbic System is in place for only one purpose: maintain the status quo and resist change. It’s my mind’s red light alarm that cries fire inside my own crowded theater, stresses me into fight or flight mode, and tells me about my worst case scenario. This is my brain’s first stop. My first responder to every experience my body will ever have. It was the first part of my brain to develop and will be the last to leave. It has no capacity to reason. It is there to detect change, arouse fear, and maintain my survival.
That’s my Limbic System. It’s my “conservative” brain and my “emotional brain.”
Up above that section of my old noggin lives my brain’s frontal lobe, or “rational brain” that has a very opposite job: to adapt to change and understand the reasons why such change will actually expand my quantity and quality of life instead of just maintaining it.
You may be getting the picture here.
Place the two opposite sections and functions in my brain together and I get “ambivalence” and struggle within to decide whether to conserve or progress, whether to stay or go, whether to resist change or adapt to it. My emotional brain fears change and holds on to my past. My rational brain loves progress and lets go of my past for the sake of an even better future. My thought process involves a two-way conversation or self-talk within my own brain. Yep. I’m ambivalent.
Just like you.
Just like America.
Just like humanity.
For me it has, over the years, been a question of asking whether I’m better off letting my Limbic System decide my future (by holding on to the past and resisting change) or changing my mind and letting my Frontal Lobe decide my future (by letting go of the past, accepting change….and adapting). My answer happens to have been that of changing my mind from the emotional decision to the rational decision, from my faith in fear / doubt in love to my faith in love / doubt in fear. This is how I’ve learned to manage my own ambivalence, my own internal self-talk. It’s how I’ve learned to affirm my own Limbic System as having an important job to do as my first responder and stress producer for purposes of fight / flight and survival. How I’ve learned to accept my fears and the other emotions that stem from them. How I’ve learned to listen to my conservative side first.
This is how I’ve also learned to entrust my final decisions to my Frontal Lobe and rational brain as it follows my Limbic System like the Fire Chief who arrives at the theater after the first responder has panicked everyone with cries of FIRE! I listen to my own boots on the ground, but then make my own “on second thought” or “bigger picture” decision even when it is opposite my Limbic brain's advice.
It’s taken me quite a few years to learn how to manage my ambivalence, regulate my emotions, and make better decisions for my future.
It may take America quite a few more years to learn the same.
It’s what most Americans still have in common.