When an election triggers your past trauma and leaves your daughter struggling

When an election triggers your past trauma and leaves your daughter struggling

My work is about empowering women to live into all of who they are – and to inspire this in their daughters. For me, it’s not about politics. It’s about individuals; it’s about nurturing the deeply precious gift of each of us. I believe that this is the hope for the world.

This has been a painfully difficult week for many women. For women (perhaps for you, perhaps for a friend) who have experienced sexual assault, or who have been overpowered, whether emotionally or physically, the elevating of a man, to the highest office in the land, who has bragged about his sexual offenses is an almost overwhelming retraumatization and a terrible betrayal. If you are feeling this, please know that you are not alone. If you are not, please know, nonetheless, that it is all too real and you can help.

As a therapist, what I want compassionately to say is this: Please don’t think that the woman next door or at the next desk is not deeply affected by this election. Estimates of the number of women and girls in our country who have been sexually assaulted range from one in six, one in five — as high as one in four. That means that there are many women — and girls — feeling profoundly devalued this week.

In a Washington Post Op-Ed about the impact on black citizens, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made mention of “…the women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, the LGBT community and others who now must walk through the streets of their country for the next four years in shame and fear, knowing that their value as human beings has been diminished by their neighbors…”

What I want compassionately to convey is that this is not an exaggeration. This is truly what many are feeling. Even if that was not the intent – and I truly believe that for the majority it was not – that is the reality.

Our girls are affected, by this election, too. Varying with their age, depending on the talk among their classmates, depending on what they saw and heard in live video coverage on television and social media, they are aware of our president-elect’s actions toward and words and attitudes about women. Some have heard the accusations of rape, some have heard his cavalier remarks about groping and grabbing. And they are struggling, many painfully, to understand why someone who views them and their friends in this way would be chosen to be in charge. They may be shaken, rightly, by abhorrent acts of racism that may now surround them, even in their schools, acts  unleashed by someone who has been rewarded, inexplicably in the eyes of our trusting girls, by being named the new leader of the free world. [For one small example, see ‘Girls in my daughter’s class were crying… and we live in BRAZIL’]

They look to us to explain. We wish we could turn our heads with gentle reassurance. But they need us to respond to this reality. What do we say to them?

For starters, let’s not invalidate them (or ourselves) by minimizing or denying what they have seen and heard. We’ve all had the experience of being “made wrong” for how we’re feeling; of having our accurate perceptions invalidated. That won’t do here. Instead, talk with them about how they feel about it. Ask them what they’re most disturbed about. And listen.

Please tell them (and remind yourself) in no uncertain terms that their bodies are theirs alone, that no one has a right to touch them without their permission. Remind their dads to tell them this as well. Let them experience that their parents have their backs.

Explain to them that democracy holds the potential for liberty, justice, and equality for all, but that it is hard work and requires constant tending, just like the garden they helped with this past summer. Democracy is always and forever a work in progress.

Empower them. Share with them the stories of powerful women who have changed the world – and the “first tries and next tries”1 it took to do it. A Mighty Girl is an ever-growing treasure trove of stories like this. (Follow A Mighty Girl on Facebook.)

Help them take action. Show them what they can do. Teach them the magic of small moments – how a remark, a glance, standing up to a bully, inviting someone who is alone to join them for lunch – can change the hue of life for another girl, particularly one who is now living in fear. And make no mistake, the repercussions for students have already begun – intimidation, taunting, shunning. It’s now.

Tell them about the Safety Pin Initiative. Ask them what they think would help another girl feel safe and welcomed.

Tell them – and show them by modeling it — that we each have things that we uniquely can do. For one woman it’s speaking an immigrant’s language and helping her find her way. For another, it’s teaching critical thinking and creating a solid presence for her students. For yet another, it’s helping in a food pantry. And for some, it’s politics. This is how nurturing the spark of self in each one of us stands to light up the world.

Finally, teach them, teach yourself, that while, like weeds in a garden, there are always people out there who will say otherwise, this is what is true:


Your Voice, Your Self2

You are a separate, defined entity in spirit and in body; you exist as such and belong to yourself alone.

No one can have any legitimate claim on your identity or your physical self;

you can not owe to anyone the debt of being other than who you are.

You can create your niche in this world.

That is the potential that lies within you.


1Hendrick, Fran. Raising Joyful Rebels: A Guide for Moms. Loveland, Ohio: Wildflower House, 2015.

2Copyright Fran Hendrick, 1988