I’m at a loss for words, and my heart it hurts
“I’m at a loss for words, and my heart it hurts. Things going on in this world so absurd – Mr. President tell me what’s the word?”
These words are from Landon McNamara’s song “Loss for Words” which is about the grief experienced by witnessing all the violence going on in the world. But I find it equally applicable to what’s going on right now. Here we are in another time of unfathomable trauma and heartache going on in our country and many are struggling to find the words to express the complex and difficult feelings that we are experiencing.
Feelings like helplessness, anger, sadness, grief about all the unnecessary loss and separation that’s going on. Or feelings of anxiousness and being afraid of what’s to come. Many of us are struggling with trying to make sense with what feels so crazy-making, each day with a different mandate coming at us. We experience these feelings in our bodies, we have a visceral sense of the trauma and torment that is being carried out.
My clients talk to me from time to time about the strain and overwhelm they feel about what’s going on politically and socially in our country. But this experience in particular, related to children that are being separated from their parents at the border, seems to have hit everybody’s rawest nerve and deepest heartstrings. Most every hour I’ve had someone pouring their heart out to me about how disturbed they feel about this example of humankind not being treated with human kindness.
Mostly there is an experience about helplessness and questions about what one can do to alleviate some of the suffering (in the world or within themselves.) Or people wonder about how to handle their feelings of outrage in light of the circumstances that are happening, that are inhumane, egregious, akin to torture and abuse, and even kidnapping.
Anyone who has suffered trauma in their lives or been victimized seems to be especially vulnerable and re-stimulated about these horrific things going on. Clients are talking to me about feeling like the world’s soul has been deeply injured, and humankind has taken an enormous blow.
Some have called this fascism on American soil, equal to what many in Latin American countries already live with and expect regularly. These immigrants who have already narrowly escaped the tail of the shark in their own countries, have sought to protect their families, only to travel north and land in the mouth of the shark.
Others have talked to me just about how terribly sad it is, and how they are reminded of their own children, and the pain they would feel if their own children were in any kind of pain. Still, others have talked to me indicating that they really don’t have anywhere else in the world to talk about this in a personal feeling way.
As a human being and as a mother I have been deeply impacted by this terrible scenario. I am heartsick and alarmed in a profound way over the separations and the lack of cohesion demonstrated, as ICE and so-called ‘Human Services’ are trying to reconnect parents with their children. I have been horrified by the lack of compassion demonstrated.
Before this, I had already felt personally affronted by the ways this administration thinks about and treats people of color, particularly Latinos (calling immigrants rapists and criminals; humiliating proud Puerto Ricans after hurricane Maria with paper towels; eliminating hopes for Dreamers; wanting to build the Wall), but these actions after zero-tolerance have been even more unbearable.
As a psychotherapist I am deeply troubled by what’s currently going on and by what I know will be the likely future that plays out for these children and families that have been separated. To be separated from one’s parent when one is a child is a traumatic event with lifelong negative implications. To be separated from your child when one is a parent is equally traumatic, and there seems to be no level of support for the devastation that has occurred and continues, day after day. We all know that racism is an ongoing traumatic experience to bear. It affects our psyche, our relationships, our sense of security in the world, our families.
Admittedly I have had difficulty to find the words to respond to peoples’ anguish adequately. I have been at a loss for words myself. But I have also felt inspired by the positive and compassionate actions taken by many to address this outrage, like the grandmas who want to make sure someone is looking out for the children.
And from listening to or reading those people who give me guidance and solace, here are some of the best tips I have encountered for holding on to hope in heavy times:
- Be inspired by all of the support that’s out there – know you are not alone.
- Let your human compassion grow – be kinder to the next homeless person or person you see who is struggling.
- Send peace, care, compassion, empathy into the universe.
- Take action: go to a rally and make signs (Click here to see some of the signs that I witnessed at this weekend‘s ‘Families Belong Together’ rallies). Take only actions that reflect those coming from your heart.
- Call your Senators and Representatives.
- Give money to causes like the ACLU or Raíces, or Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande, so they can continue their important work.
- Cry, share your sorrows, grieve collectively.
- Remember, all living beings want to be happy, belong, connect and be free. We are all similar that way.
- Take breaks from the news.
- Don’t use your suffering to cause anguish to others – use it instead to elevate others.
- Treating someone as an outsider increases our experience of them as less than human. Do the opposite – see their similarities to see them as more human and more connected to you.
- Be fully present, even when loss has come. Make space for the “One who knows“ inside of you. Remain calm and clear and bring forth your own wisdom, conscience, compassion.
- Be fair and generous with your courage as you acknowledge how things are. Remember that many others know how to survive, as do you. Let yourself experience the hardship intimately, personally within yourself, and then also share it with the world.
- When angry, Breathe (with presence into your heart), and Push (act with intelligence and love, that comes from your best self). Redemptive anger is better than reactionary anger.
- Pay attention to how you touch your sorrows – is it with fear, anger, aversion, tenderness, warmth, acceptance?
- Feel underneath your anger and connect to what hurts.
- Become present and aware of that unbelievable beauty and inevitable tragedy that make up human life. The juxtaposition can be painful.
- Mindfulness practices empower you to carry on, and help you to remember who you really are. No matter what happens, you still have your courage and good heart. Mindfulness also helps to reduce racial bias and the treating of people as unreal others.
- Bear witness. Listen deeply to the stories.
- Share compassion. Let yourself feel another’s pain. Let in other peoples’ suffering. Get close enough so your heart can be broken (open).
- Offer loving kindness to yourself; then to a benefactor/friend; then to someone you have a complicated relationship with (like a parent, or a spouse); then to a neutral person you may often overlook; then to an enemy or difficult person; then to all living beings….
May you be happy
May you be safe
May you be healthy
May you live with ease
May you not suffer.
What’s your experience like during difficult times? What helps you to get through? I’d love to hear from you. Reply back.
If you or someone you care about is having difficulty managing the overwhelm of racism or discrimination and would like some support, please contact me for a therapy appointment.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.
Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist