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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Outrage Fatigue

I have, you have, we all have outrage fatigue.  I and we – and by we I mean anyone who’s paying attention, because who among us can look away from the National Spectacle? –  are simply out of rage.  It’s gotten so we talk only in shorthand, like the four Bubbies at the canasta table in Boca and Brooklyn, outdoing each other with tales of their grandchildren’s uniqueness, who begin each sentence with some version of “In all your life, you never…” 

We bring up the latest awfulness, from the ridiculous– “Did you hear what he said about being the Chosen One?” – to the inhumane – “Can you believe he’s going to keep them there indefinitely?”  We quote not just Rachel and Chuck and Lawrence and Nicole (who we all think is not only smart but funny and hot, although we wish she’d stop bringing up her time in the Bush  White House) and Chris and Anderson and Don, but also their regular guests, and we have definite faves among them, too.  

We read the same daily newspapers, mostly digitally these days, the New York Times and the Washington Post, and we’ve basically given up on the Seattle Times except on Sundays, when we check to see if anyone we used to know died that week; like other former Seattle touchstones, it’s as replaceable as  the stores and the buildings and the restaurants and the houses and even, in too many places, the view corridors that have disappeared.

Some of us get our news from other sources, too – we surf the web, we send around links, and when our outrage is at the tipping point, we rant about it on Facebook, which has become our digital town hall, especially among the recently retired who no longer have office-mates to talk to, whose cronies and friends  and spouses are tired of hearing us blather on about what fresh hell this is.

We are all so tired.  Every shrink I know tells me about the epidemic of bad feelings in his or her treatment room which  is directly traceable to the chaos incited by the President. “I’m in a rotten mood, and if you’re not, too, you’re insane,” said a particularly aggrieved patient, misquoting R.D. Laing, who famously said that insanity was a rational response to an insane world.  Their manifest concerns – about their kids’ and grandkids’ future in a decaying climate, economic uncertainty, the rise of racism, antisemitism and white nationalism, the arbitrary nature of mass shootings, the decline of civility – may mask their unconscious fears of death, say the Freudians, or the confrontation with their own dark side (the Jungians), but there’s no doubt that Trump’s deteriorating mental condition has resonance in the national psyche. 

David Remnick, in a recent piece in the New Yorker, warns against despair, which in some religions is the cardinal sin. And Hara Marano, in Psychology Today, writes thoroughly and well about the efforts of many in the mental health community to call professional rather than partisan attention to the deteriorating mental competence of the President, the conflict within the various branches and associations of practitioners about diagnosing from a distance, and the absence of any constitutional remedy save the 25th amendment.

Like the problems with the Electoral College, the cumbersome nature of that amendment, which nowhere provides for either a means of determining when a chief executive is unfit for office or a more immediate and un-partisan way to remove a mentally incapacitated president, the lengthy and difficult process of amending the constitution will peter out; it’s been almost 50 years since the campaign for the equal rights amendment, and it’s still one vote shy of passing.

A smart psychologist, Carol Tavris, wrote a book about anger, which she deemed the most misunderstood emotion.  Despite the fact that many of her clinical colleagues and most other psychodynamic practitioners promote some version of getting in touch with your anger as a precursor to understanding and resolving it, Tavris asserted that excessively “rehearsing” anger exacerbates it. Sure, get it off your chest, she essentially advises, and then let go of it. Exhausted by outrage, I’m trying to take her at her words.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Jane Adams
Jane Adams
"Jane Adams PhD was a founding editor of the Seattle Weekly. Among her twelve books is Seattle Green, a novel . She is a contributing editor at Psychology Today, and coaches parents of adult children."

1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Jane:
    Thanks for laying it all out. The only outrage behavior you left out that I can’t shake is screaming at the TV. And, you’re right, Nicole is the star in that firmament, but I agree she needs to let go of the Bush connection. Every time she mentions it I see a thread I’d like to pull on. Nobody’s perfect, but what’s that about?

    I didn’t know your earlier work. I was away from Seattle for 40 years, but I enjoy and look forward to your Post Alley columns these days.

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