Regular readers may remember that I do in fact have a favorite drunk rage uncle, my Uncle Ingus. Anyone reading back in 2017 may remember that he wrote a post for us arguing that America wasn’t a racist country. Something of birthday present since we share the same date of birth. Because Uncle Ingus has played such a prominent role in our family, I’ve had to cope with his increasingly virulent aggressive representations bubbling up out of the mass psychosis that has overtaken MAGA Nation. Like many of us with Fox News-watching Big Lie-believing inner racist-having #COVID19-resisting CRT-hating gun toting relatives, I’ve struggled with how best to cope with his presence at family gatherings and interact with him without feeling like I’ve sold out completely and avoiding spittle ladened invective.
With Festivus coming up, I know most of us want to (a) renew the familial gatherings that we couldn’t hold last year and (b) worry about how the Feats of Strength will go if we’re too honest during the Airing of Grievances and everything gets tinged with accusations of treason, stolen elections, and various conspiracy theories. I also know that several readers have actually asked how they can help their friends, neighbors, and relatives that have fallen into the QAnon, Fox News, MAGA Nation rathole.
We’ll start with the basis of the problem because we all know that a good diagnosis will help us find a good treatment.
Part of living in the miasma of mass psychosis is being traumatized. In reality, we’ve all been traumatized by the Trump years and #COVID19, but layered on top of that for your favorite drunk rage uncle is the traumatic effects of being continually outraged by white grievance identity politics for the past forty years.
Because of the sheer continuous nature of the outrage, they get stuck in the trauma that is induced. In an episode of the podcast, On Being, the psychiatrist, Bassel van der Kolk, presents strong evidence that the over stimulation of the fight-or-flight response can get us to be permanently stuck in panic mode ready to defend ourselves. This is where MAGA Nation is now. They feel constantly under threat whether they really are or not. They perceive the world as an extraordinarily dangerous place to be in.
When you look at them through this lens, you can see some humanity in them. The politicians that are manipulating them have deliberately created this milieu of threat and victimhood that is interwoven with racist dog whistles to keep them stirred up and fighting back against the forces that are arrayed against them. Of course, there are no forces fighting them. It’s just us. Fellow Americans who want to earn a living and raise our families same as them.
Seeing the mass psychosis of MAGA Nation as trauma is helpful because it points us towards ways of dealing better with the individuals suffering from it in our lives. Because trauma exists deep within the somatic and emotional parts of the brain, it is not directly linked to the thinking, rational, speaking parts of it. This lack of communication between these two areas makes it difficult to articulate our deeper emotional responses like those we have when we suffer trauma.
This is why it does no good to try to present rational information to your favorite drunk rage uncle about why the conspiracy theory of the Big Lie is wrong or that masks really do work or that the vaccines really are trustworthy. He’s, literally, running on just his limbic system and rarely engages his prefrontal cortex where his thinking is controlled. He just won’t process that information. It will never be able to affect the way he sees the world.
Trauma rewires the brain so that it perceives the world as an inherently dangerous place. The person automatically responds to the world as dangerous. They are predisposed to seeing the world as threatening. Understanding these two things, that the rational part of the brain is disengaged and that they constantly feel threatened by the world, helps us understand better how to respond in a more effective way.
Responding to the Traumatized
To treat trauma, you have to engage the body and emotions, not the rational thinking part of the brain. You need physical activity, emotional engagement. Get your favorite drunk rage uncle to engage is physical activities with you like dancing? Playing catch? Walking the dog? Hikes in the country? Sing-a-longs? Whatever you can think of that your family would be willing to do together. Cut off talk of politics. Focus on a group activity.
Trauma doesn’t allow the body to relax because it feels constantly under threat, so re-engaging the body is one of the most important keys to working out trauma. Exercise will allow the body to relax after its done. Exhausted muscles aren’t capable of being in fight-or-flight mode, they’ll be in rest and digest mode.
Other Advice for the Festivus Season
Unfortunately, the Festivus comes but once a year and MAGA Nation’s white grievance identity outrage is year round. It means that you may have to engage a lot more often and a lot more closely with the members of MAGA Nation in your life if you really want to try to deprogram them.
As difficult as it is, we should seek to remain engaged with the MAGA folks in our lives. Many have lost touch with reality because they suckle at the teet of Fox News and conservative talk radio all day and night. Without some actual contact with the sane world of reality, they will have no hope of recovering from the spell of mass psychosis that has been cast over them. So, maybe think of a long-term project or problem that you could solve together even if it is just painting a house or helping with the lawn upkeep or starting a garden.
It really is that simple. You don’t want to argue with them and further inflame their intransigence, but you want to offer the quiet reality-based alternative. They know without you saying it outloud that you don’t agree, so arguing with them, as we’ll see, doesn’t actually help. Brief mentions of things from the news like the man in Utah who knowingly signed his dead wife’s name to her absentee ballot, filled it out, and sent it in was Republican and one of the only verified examples of voter fraud will do more as an earworm than a screaming red-faced rage fest of a confrontation.
Seek Common Ground
Look for topics that you can agree on that are safe. Before my mother passed, one of the few things we could talk about was football and her team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though I can’t be a football fan because of the gross mistreatment of retired players with chronic traumatic encephalitis, I followed it enough to be able to hold intelligent conversation with her about the season. Now and again, though, I’d talk about a player in the news who was suffering from the chronic traumatic encephalitis, like the great Pittsburgh center, Mike Webster, in order to address injustice in the world. She could hear it then.
Of course, I never brought her back from her Fox News-induced delusional thinking disorder syndrome, either, but I like to think that I made some inroads before she died a few years ago.
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Categories: Abnormal Psychology