When I came back from Bali after the US presidential election, I took a several month hiatus from Facebook because I couldn’t tolerate all the hateful, polarizing energy I felt on both sides of the left/right divide. Even off Facebook, I felt pain in my community. I live in Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area, and a lot of people here consider themselves progressive, loving, and “spiritual.” And yet everywhere I went, I felt this intense hateful energy aimed at Trump voters. While I am not a Trump supporter, I also am not a hater of those who do support him. In fact, my shock at the fact that half of my fellow Americans voted for him made me more curious than upset. Nobody can deny that Trump never even tried to hide his blatant racism, misogyny, narcissism, greed, and childish immaturity. If anything, he was prideful and even rebellious about his behavior and his points of view. Yet that didn’t stop half of our country from voting for him.

Aren’t you curious about this? I certainly am.

What I witnessed during the election and ever since is a divided nation. One woman told me that she and her husband have often voted on opposite sides of the left/right polarity, and yet it has never been a problem. In this election, it became very emotional and personal for people. She and her husband are getting divorced. Their voting choices led to irreconcilable differences between the couple. They just couldn’t forgive each other for having different points of view.

What is that all about? Don’t you want to know?

I started asking Trump voters, “What’s it like to be you?” and their answers surprised me. It became very obvious that something was hurting in half of the people in our country, and whatever was hurting was more important to Trump voters than choosing a President who isn’t racist, misogynistic, greedy, narcissistic, or immature. These people had needs that were not getting met, and as a country, we were not tending to these needs. These people took their unmet needs to the voting booth and took a risk. They were essentially saying, “Well anything is better than the status quo, so we might as well try something different, even if he’s a loose cannon. People with unmet needs get easily triggered, and when we’re triggered, we have a tendency to polarize.

The Human Tendency to Polarize

As humans, we are mammals, which means we have nervous systems that go into stress response when we feel threatened, and when we’re in stress response, we make fear-based decisions and separate ourselves from love and Oneness. (This is the whole basis of my book The Fear Cure.) Lisette Schuitemaker from the intentional community Findhorn says that when we make people who don’t agree with us “other,” we start “enemy-making.” This human vulnerability cuts us off from empathy and interrupts our ability to ask, “What’s it like to be you?” When we can’t feel what it’s like to be someone else, we feel like it’s OK to say and do hurtful things. This is how we can rationalize closing our borders to humans who are having their basic human rights to safety and survival violated. When we aren’t getting our own needs met, the survival instincts of our mammal bodies go into a mode of protection rather than empathy, and we start thinking, “It’s all about me. I have needs that aren’t getting met, so who cares about those Syrian refugees. Not my problem. They are ‘other.’” Then you go to the voting booth and cast your vote with only your needs in mind, and if someone casts a vote different than yours, you polarize, separating yourself and seeing them as “other” too.

But sweethearts, there is no “other!” Yes, from one point of view, my human body is separate from your human body, and if food is going into my mouth but not yours, it affects us differently. But from a more expansive point of view, we’re like aspen trees, connected at the roots, all part of one human family, and if you’re not getting food in your mouth, it hurts your body, which harms the larger body, which hurts me too. I need to care whether you’re getting food in your mouth as much as I care about getting food in mine. Otherwise, the larger human body of which each of us is one necessary cell breaks down. We are seeing that on a global scale right now.

When our needs aren’t getting met and we lose the ability to ask, “What’s it like to be you?” we become narcissistic. “It’s all about me.” We can’t feel what it’s like to be you, so we stop caring about you getting your needs met. This makes us vulnerable to isolation, judging, and polarization. This makes us capable of bombing other humans because we care more about getting our needs met than about meeting the needs of others. It makes people capable of rape and insane levels of greed and all forms of physical and emotional violence because we don’t care what it’s like to be you. We only care about ourselves. Then, if you don’t agree with me, we’ll have a tendency to polarize, and when we’re in polarity, there’s no love. There’s no Oneness. There’s no empathy.

It Hurts to Have Empathy

I’ve been reflecting about this a lot lately. How is it that so many supposedly “spiritual” people in our communities have turned so hateful against those with different points of view? Why have we stopped caring about what it’s like to be in someone else’s body?

I think it’s because it hurts.

It hurts me when I imagine what it feels like to be a Syrian refugee mother who just lost her beloved children in a chemical attack. It hurts when I let myself feel what it feels like to be a working-class single mother who is having trouble feeding her family and sees that her job might be at risk when an illegal immigrant is willing to work for less money. It hurts when I feel what it’s like to be a good churchgoing man who feels attacked and shamed by feminists when his wife gets pregnant and wants an abortion and he believes he has the right to raise that baby because it was made from his sperm and he wants to keep the baby. It hurts to feel so frightened that the progressive military industrial complex will take away your right to carry a gun that you’re willing to elect a president who admits to sexually molesting women and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It hurts to feel like you need a gun at all. It hurts when you stop trusting your fellow humans and think you need to protect yourself from other cells in the collective human body. It hurts to feel what it feels like to be a terrorist who isn’t getting his needs met and feels so bullied by the leading world superpowers that he’s willing to take his own life and kill others in order to punish those who oppress him. It hurts to feel what it feels like to be a woman who was sexually molested throughout her childhood and now sees that half her country is OK electing a man who unapologetically brags about groping women. It hurts to feel what it feels like to be an African American man who feels like black lives don’t matter after he gets brutalized by a policeman when he didn’t do anything to earn the punishment. It hurts to feel what it feels like to be a Native American man at Standing Rock who is standing for his sacred land, standing for his people, standing for the Divine Mother, standing for his tribe’s right to drink clean water, and once again, after centuries of oppression by the White Man, the government has broken yet another promise, all because the White Man cares more about driving cars and earning money than about protecting sacred land. It hurts to feel what it feels like to be the White Man who is so cut off from his appreciation of the all of the feminine qualities of compassion, empathy, caretaking of Mother Earth, and love of the tribe that he has become selfish and dominating and fearful and abusive. I can feel what it feels like to be the White Man who is so sick and tired of liberals and feminists and “spiritual” people spewing hate at him and telling him that he’s a bully and an asshole because of how he treats blacks and gays and women and immigrants, when all he wants is to get his needs met. I can feel what it feels like to be Donald Trump in a beleaguered White House, where the angry, hurting little boy in him feels like no matter what he does, everybody gets mad at him and shames. I wonder what had to happen to him to make him capable of saying and doing the things he says and does.

It hurts when I feel into what it feels like to be me too. It hurts me desperately when I see how so many beautiful souls who are part of my human family separate from each other and isolate and rationalize and justify hate. It’s almost unbearable how much it hurts. In fact, I’m crying as I write this, because I can feel the waves of fear and grief and fury that all these violated people with unmet needs feel. I feel it moving through my own body and I have to breathe like I’m in labor and moving through a labor pain in order to tolerate how much it hurts.

Are We Willing to Feel the Pain of Others?

I wonder if people are afraid to feel empathy because they’re just not capable of handling what it feels like when you tune into the pain of the planet. When we experience so much of our own human pain, maybe many people are just not willing or able to go there. If you’re just barely eeking along, suffering from your own depression or anxiety or scarcity or physical pain or fear, maybe you just don’t have the capacity to feel what it feels like to be a terrorist or a Syrian refugee or the next door neighbor who hates your dog. Maybe it’s all you can do to handle your own natural human pain.

Psychic Boundaries

I also think psychic boundaries play into this. If you’re an empath and you lack psychic boundaries, you may be feeling what others feel so intensely that it’s all you can do to just shut it all down and take care of yourself. If you have no psychic boundaries, you may be feeling anxiety and depression that doesn’t even belong to your individual experience. You also may be incapable of handling all that pain, which can cause you to dissociate and detach.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible for empaths to cope with intense levels of pain if they have clean psychic boundaries that allow you to just move the pain through your feeling, sensing body without holding onto it, letting the pain just flow through you straight into Mother Earth, where all that energy can be safely composted, without getting stuck in your body and turning into cancer or heart disease.

This is why we have to learn emotional resilience. (Learn “10 Tips for How to Feel What Hurts without Going Insane” here). Without the capacity to let strong emotions move through you without getting stuck, we can’t handle the empathy we’re going to need in order to stop “othering” those who say or do things we don’t like.

It’s OK to Have Needs!

As I wrote about in “How to Be Needy without Being Codependent“, humans have needs, and there’s nothing wrong with you for having needs! It doesn’t make you less “spiritual.” It doesn’t mean you have to manipulate people in order to get your needs met. But you will have to be self-aware enough to know what you need and get help getting your needs met. It also requires you to know that others have needs too, and their needs are not more or less important than yours. In Village Consciousness, all of our needs matter, and they all matter equal. If you let the needs of others matter more than your own needs, you’re co-dependent. If you let your needs matter more than anyone else’s, you’re narcissistic. Neither works when it comes to peacemaking and global harmony. If people aren’t getting their needs met, we “other” others, and we lose our natural and necessary capacity for empathy.

Don’t beat yourself up if you fall into the co-dependent or narcissistic patterns. Just recognize when you’re over giving or overtaking and be gentle with yourself as you learn to have a healthy relationship with your own needs and the needs of others. Acknowledging our natural human neediness is essential to having a healthy society, healthy physical bodies, and a healthy Mother Earth.

And don’t beat up someone else if they have unmet needs and act out. We have to just love the triggered people who are not getting their needs met. Send them love. Hold them in our hearts and remember that they are part of this human family too. Nobody wakes up until we all do. Nobody gets left behind. We have to do this waking up shizz together.

“Othering” Causes Loneliness & Illness

“Othering” is causing a public health epidemic of loneliness. (Watch my TEDx talk The #1 Public Health Issue Doctors Aren’t Talking About here). It all stems from the Original Wound of separation, the story that says that we are separate from each other, separate from nature, separate from Source/God/Goddess. (Read more about this Original Wound here.)

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can start to heal the disconnection and separation we feel. It starts with YOU. Are you willing to stop “othering” and “enemy-making” so we can all return to love, unity, and peace?

Find Your Calling Through Your Empathy

Why would you want to feel empathy? Because this is what drives connection and motivates us to restore justice and help each other. This is what burns through our hearts and makes us say, “How can I help?” or “What do you need?” This is how we find the anatomy of our unique callings and give the burning, overflowing love in our hurting hearts a place to land. Where have you been to hell and back? Don’t you have empathy for those who are still in hell?

Or maybe you’re one of the ones who’s still in hell. Wouldn’t you want someone who has made it to the other side to open their heart, feel what you feel, and experience the joy and human connection that comes from choosing to help you get your needs met?

This is how we heal what needs healing in the world.

So tell us . . . what do you need? What do you have to give?

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22 Comments

  1. V May

    Wow, this is great Lissa. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Much love. -Violet

    Reply
  2. V May

    Also, just wanted to mention, I had a dream last night in which I was supposed to walk down a dark, void-like passageway, which I was apprehensive about, when suddenly your voice told me to walk through it to overcome my fears, rely on God through the process and come out of the “dark night of the soul” victorious. Kind of like how Obi Wan Kanobi became a guiding force to Luke in Star Wars. I found that dream amusing yet packed with symbolism. I thank you for your guidance, even if you are just the hose allowing God to flow through you… Thank you for being that much needed vehicle for the Divine. -Violet M.

    Reply
  3. Angela Schneider

    I totally agree with all of this. I think you should expand on this to help trump people get past the anger and fear. Fear drives poor decisions.
    But more importantly people in politics (DNC) need to understand this because they can reach more of these people if they understand this more. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t but we need those who can do more, do more.

    Reply
  4. Elsie Wilson

    Lissa, On a day when it was just more of the same….yet terrible news, when we each feel as if we are crying in a wilderness and no one is listening, your blog post shows us stepping stones we can all take to cross to all the others, like us, and unlike us. You sent a message of love and oneness into the bleeding world. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Chuck

    I voted for the green party candidate, Dr. Nicole Stein. I agree with everything that you said about Trump. Hillary is much worse than Trump but is a master at hiding it. If you look at the numbers you see that this year 8 people have half the wealth of the world. Last year there were more people that had half the wealth. Next year there will be less since the super rich tell the president what to do.

    So Hillary will continue that. So despite what you said about Trump, he is not owned by the super rich. So if Hillary was elected, Bill would be in the White House. He is one of 2 presidents to ever be impeached. Also the role model would be to marry a guy who is going to cheat on you. For the first time ever, the super rich do not control the president.

    Reply
    • mktoronto

      It saddens me that you look at a woman who has dedicated her life to public service, who has been unfairly attacked for 3 decades, who’s accomplishments were diminished while her failures were heightened beyond how we usually treat politicians, a woman who has been an inspiration for me and many other women, and all you see is her as an appendage to a man and blaming her for his failings. That a man who traded in hate and disrespect for women’s bodily integrity is a better choice than a woman who had to push against the conventions that limited women in playing a role in the public sphere. What I’m hearing you say is that women are to blame because they can’t mind read. That forgiving a man who has betrayed your trust is a bad model to follow.

      That is how the feminine became devalued in this world.

      Reply
    • Alex Papou

      Chuck you really nicely summarised your beliefs and I think that also the beliefs of many Americans. I hear that you believe that rich people are cheating you and their only aim is to get richer, I hear that you feel that the world is divided to those who rule and those who are ruled, and you believe that lie is everywhere, for example, Hillary is demonised in your mind, she is a lier and has no positive sides. Did I get it right? But this is black and white thinking, simplification and stigmatising. I hear that you have a good intention to change something, you think that this change is what the world needs, but if something is black in your mind you simply want to get rid of this and destroy it and this is where the catch is. Anyway, I am surprised why you did not vote for Trump.

      Reply
  6. Ruth

    Thks Lissa I really liked your post. I felt what you are saying when I studied anthropology. I saw what white man did, especially In the name of religion and was ashamed to be white. You put it very well. Keep it up.

    Reply
  7. Chuck

    I forgot to mention that I am very empathic. But I also believe that everything is the most perfect for all involved. It is not perfect for all that are dead or will be alive. Do you want a perfect world where all people are as miserable as possible? What you have is a world that has the greatest possibility for all to be as happy as possible. Even you! It cannot be any better for you. Find the perfection in you and you will never have a miserable moment and yet, there will be more compassion in you for others than anyone. Buddha found that without his mother having sex with God, walking on water or coming back from the dead.

    Reply
  8. jazzfeed

    I love you too Lissa Rankin. A major proportion of your writing flings open the shutters over my inner heart. The first time was without warning, a shock – one of your (my) Daily Flames. The others following were always anticipated. The pithiness is a match for some of the great philosophers and psychologists. There is no fluff space to duck in to!
    Quick story of the same emotional shock in real life: My brother, his wife and their two daughters came to visit where I live and stayed in a nearby condo. They invited me to dinner and during dinner casually mentioned watching a movie afterwards. The entire time, all through dinner and intermittently through the movie, (which seemed to me junk) both girls were staring at their phones. One moved back and forth to a mirror, posing herself for multi-dimensional selfies. The movie was mindless and no one talked to each other. After about 20 minutes I couldn’t take it anymore and left quietly with no remarks. Fast forward: I described what happened to a new female acquaintance I met the very next day because that’s what was stirring in me. Her response after hearing it: “It hurts, doesn’t it?” Like you, a woman with a high emotional IQ just can’t help herself! So much to the mark! Like a wave of oxygen to my inner pilot light, it shocked me in the same way your best writing does.

    Namaste…my IPL acknowledges your IPL…with love from Maui.

    Reply
  9. person

    Lissa, I thank God for you. I cannot tell you how much your writing means to me. You explain things so beautifully. I just really appreciate you. You are a Healer. Thank you!

    Reply
  10. PK

    Lissa, I saw you on TeD sometime back, and has since been following you and your work, feeling what you have gone through and are going through along the way.

    From a medical background, you found your path to YourSelf; and Your sanctuary and the burning desires to be That, which you Are. Looks like your wishes are becoming realities as you are guided to meet up with teachers/messengers, and more to discover the wisdom, peace and the basis of the natural state of humanity.

    I feel your pain in this out-pour article. In some ways, I am also going through similar path.

    Continue to Be, and reach out to those who need the Light to show them the way.

    Be BLesed

    PK
    Malaysia.

    Reply
  11. Eve Beavers Fain

    Lissa: Like many folks you have missed the forest for the trees. Hillary Clinton had to overcome the Americans who just could not see a woman as president; a female in a male role. We are programmed by years of culture to accept men as leaders…..WE all have to overcome this programming. During the debates she appeared weak because she did not challenge Donald Trump’s rudeness. He was like a smart teenager & she continued to ignore it which demonstrated her inability to handle rudeness. If she would have turned to him & said, “Stop being rude to me & debate the issues” I believe many more Americans would have voted. Many did not vote because no one was running that motivated them to vote. Folks have “meh syndrome”. The second issue is our economy. We are rapidly integrating A-I (artificial intelligence) and robot labor into many functions. You can even order a Mcdonalds via a screen & pay with a credit card which eliminates a human taking your order. This leaves unskilled or folks with minimal skills unemployed. The Trump appeared in a red hat, focused on the poorer states with large numbers of minorities & promised to “bring back those jobs that Obama took away”. Because during the Obama administration, the focus was on stopping pollution and increasing solar versus coal. So more unemployed folks saw someone who at least noticed they were not doing well & those folks went out and voted for a candidate that appeared to be concerned. We must insist that everyone gets a job and a place because folks use their roles as “employees” as part of their self-esteem. Bring back the book, “Small is Beautiful”. I prefer a human to scan my groceries & refuse to use the self service…I want people employed!!

    Reply
    • Eve Beavers Fain

      Please know we need to heal the fear of all of us in the U.S. Fear of not having enough. Fear of immigrants, fear of poverty. There are some of us who are unemployed that want to be employed. Some of my own family were very afraid of Hillary Clinton as she has not presented herself as really being in touch with the “lower socio-economic” groups in America. They voted for Trump. Does that mean they are racists, anti-women, and so forth? NO! It means the election activated fear, fear of not having enough. And Hillary Clinton supposedly referred to some folks as deplorable. We cannot hide in fear, we need to look at why some folks do not have jobs, do not have a purpose on the planet & help them find themselves and find work they can do….Otherwise we remain in fear of each other & divided….Because the fear of change happening too fast means some will clamp down hard & fight any changes. I, personally, found some of Obama’s changes to be a bit too “all or nothing” and Obama did not reverse the “Patriot Act” which is used as a tool for the government to spy on Americans….

      Reply
  12. nobody

    “Nobody can deny that Trump never even tried to hide his blatant racism, misogyny, narcissism, greed, and childish immaturity.”
    When you mind is already closed, you must become inquisitive…. that’s the first step to understanding.
    I wish you well on your journey to understand the other 50% of Americans.

    Reply
  13. Martha Julia Miltich

    It is incredibly important to dig into understanding where people come from in their voting choices. It is equally important to remember that in this election half the population of America did NOT vote for Donald Trump. Hillary won more votes by a significant margin. I think it would be fair to say that no president has ever won half of the votes in ANY election. The amount of people in our country who participate through voting is far below 100%. People do not vote for lack of citizenship, poverty, lack of education, age restrictions, feasibility, doubt in the value of voting, apathy… The function of a governmental system is dependent upon participation. The deep issue at hand here is that so many are not participating fully in their lives, and in turn, the process of governing. It has been amazing to witness myself and many people I know considering this and asking themselves how and where they can step up into their power.

    Reply
  14. Anna Lundeen

    When I was 13 my dad gave me a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Being Peace and it shaped forever how I viewed the world at this tender age… The Poem Therein “Please Call Me By My True Names” marked me with it’s acknowledgement that I am the sea pirate, my heart not yet capable of loving…
    Beautiful post Lissa. I don’t often share things through social media but this one I
    did. Though I have never had the honor of meeting you in person I still refer to you in my circles as one of my teachers… I even quoted you at my brother’s wedding last summer that I was asked to craft/hold space/facilitate the spiritual portion of. May you continue to have the courage, determination and feel the support you need to keep doing this important work of being a leader in turbulent times.

    Reply
  15. claire

    Spot on. Fear of unmet needs breeds a ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality full of self-protection and competitiveness. When we forget altruism and service we lose perspective and become too me-centric. Financial divides and pressures, differences, lack of support structures and rapid change put us on shaky ground as change these days is so rapid. All these make us feel fragile. But in a world where fragility, vulnerability and finding your quiet strength are drowned out by the roar of media, extreme defense mechanisms and a need to be right, I can understand why Trump offered people ‘safety’ and a solution.

    Reply
  16. Susan

    I agree with much of what you wrote, and our country (and world) needs to move toward this way of thinking if we have any chance of solving our enormous problems. I don’t know if I’m an empath, but have always been a political “middle-of-the-road” person because I do tend to see each side of the picture and understand the emotions that are behind each position. I’ve been criticized for not taking a firm position on many issues. But there IS two sides to any (or most) stories and we can’t solve anything by ignoring one part of the equation.

    Reply
  17. Dora

    I lately think that it’s not only empathy and compassion that makes us unite. I believe that many people unite deep down inside with violence, malevolence, hatred. I think that if you feed hatred you get hatred. If you feed barbarism, you get barbarism. If this is part of the animal in humans, many other humans will connect. This is why so many people will support violence, will be willing to perpetuate violence and will vote for a self-proclaimed advocate of hatred and misogyny. And this is why in society, rules, institutions, and laws should be strong and compassionate. Otherwise, we have no protection against haters.

    Let us only pray and wish that our empathy and compassion is strong enough to fight against this antipathy that is so prevalent today. It didn’t save other countries in the past, though.

    Reply
  18. Marcia McMillin

    Lisa, I am awed by your whole heart/mind understanding!!I am also a healer…a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. I am currently devouring your book Mind Over Medicine . I know most of the mind stuff but you put everything together so beautifully and so academically! I also practice as an astrologer when I have time. I am pleased you accept the mystical aspect of healing and how brave you are to expose your human frailties on the road to the holistic insights you have searched out and practice. I will be suggesting your books from now on to my pts and am glad to have found your blog. Thank You for your fine work!

    Reply

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