Well, it's official. The United States is now being led by a bully, a misogynist, a philanderer.
And while this election has been deeply painful to so many for so many reasons, Trump's victory can be particularly agonizing for those of us who know those behaviours well because we've seen them up close.
My divorced friend Jamie put it this way: "It's like living in my marriage all over again."
It might feel familiar to you too.
The gas-lighting for instance. The insistence that you didn't see what you say you did, that what you think is going on isn't. You're being hysterical. You're over-reacting. You're jealous. Men like this are masters at manipulation. At making you doubt yourself. Doubt is a reasonable response to such insistence that you are the one that has it wrong: well, did I see that? Did he actually say that? And before long, you've walked it back. Maybe I am over-reacting. I have been over-tired lately... What's more, we want to believe we're wrong. We want things to be okay. And so we silence our inner observer who knows damn well that something is going on.
If the gas-lighting doesn't work, the bully shows up. Shut up. Look at you, you're pathetic. I'll walk out that door and never look back. You don't deserve me. You're lucky I'm even here.
Too often, those words have taken root in our heads and we agree with them. Thing is, none of us "deserves" a guy like this. On the contrary, we deserve respect and kindness and honesty. A bully is only effective is we agree with him, if the words he's flinging at us are words we're telling ourselves. Watch your self-talk. How kind are you to yourself or does your inner dialogue sound more like an abuse: You're such an idiot. How could you be so stupid. What's wrong with you? Pay attention to what you're saying and then talk back in words that speak the real truth. You are worthy. You are a person, like anyone else, who makes mistakes. You deserve love and compassion.
The misogynist, of course, wants us to believe that objectifying women normal behaviour, "locker room" behaviour. Guys will be guys. That sexual assault – grabbing, groping, unwanted touching, is actually flattering, that we're attractive, we're desirable, he can't keep his hands off of us.
As for cheating, guys are wired this way. It's harmless. A little fun on the side.
It's agonizingly familiar. I don't know a single woman who hasn't been exposed to this type of twisted language and behaviour. If we resist it, we're frigid, bitches and worse. If we give in, we erode our humanity. We detach our bodies from our hearts. We lose our agency.
But just because this behaviour is so god-damned common, it's NOT normal. And it's certainly not harmless.
Part of what keeps us stuck in relationships with these guys is that the behaviour devolves over time. We might slowly become aware that we get a knot in our stomach if he's had a bad day because we're somehow going to be in the line of fire. We might notice that we avoid bringing up certain things because we can predict his response. The accusations, the anger.
We might find ourselves having sex out of a fear that he'll go elsewhere. That we "owe" it to him to make our bodies available. Guys have needs, right?
We might find ourselves wondering, abstractedly, where the "old" us has gone. What's happened to our hobbies? Our friends? Our joy? Our sense that we were okay just the way we were?
Why are we so skittish all the time? So anxious? Why does our mood depend so heavily on his mood? Sure it's natural to want the people we love to be happy but to need them to be happy? That's a sign that something is not right.
Trump is, clearly, a narcissist on a scale that would be comical if it wasn't so dangerous. He's managed to gaslight millions of people. To convince them that his worldview is the accurate one, despite clear factual evidence that he's wrong.
And it's deeply painful to see someone rewarded for such a con when we've lived our lives with the belief that good things happen to good people, that integrity matters. It's not unrelated to our desire to see the OW somehow punished for what she's done when, often, her life goes on pretty much undisturbed by the relationship that has devastated our own. That's not fair, we wail in vain.
But these people can be our teachers. They can make us acutely aware of where, in our relationships, we're not taking care of ourselves. Where we're denying what we know to be true in favor of another's alternate (and crazy) reality. It's not okay, for instance, for your husband to "stay friends" with the person he was cheating with. You being NOT okay with this isn't you being hysterical, it's you setting clear and healthy boundaries. It's you refusing to allow toxic behaviour into your life.
And that's the ultimate – and painful – lesson we can learn from the hell of betrayal and from watching a misogynistic bully on the world stage: We get to build our own lives. We get to parcel out pieces of our hearts only to those people who have shown themselves deserving of them and who value and respect our hearts.
Once you get there, the world becomes so much clearer. That muddy thinking, the but what if I'm over-reacting, what if I'm wrong turns into this is what I know and this is how I'll respond. We become much more self-focussed than other-focussed. We're coming at life from a place of self-respect rather than fear of the other's response.
If you're not there yet, you'll get there. Pay attention to how you've reacted to much of Trump's rhetoric. His "grab them by the pussy" talk, his doubling down on statements that have been easily proven to be lies, his discussion of women based on their faces, their bodies, their availability to him. And then ask yourself when you've felt like that in your marriage, when the knot in the stomach shows up, when the helpless rage begins to simmer, when you feel devalued, unheard, disrespected.
You are none of those things: Not helpless. Not worthless. Not hysterical or crazy or jealous.
You are a woman responding to a situation that is inherently emotionally abusive and arming herself with the tools that are going to help her heal.