election trauma.

“There are times when the heart, like the canary in the coal mine, breathes in the world’s toxicity and begins to die.” – Parker Palmer

Over the weekend in the middle of the night someone stole our Black Lives Matter and Amendment T ( to take the slavery clause out of Colorado’s 13th amendment) yard signs, along with my next-door neighbor’s supporting two local Democrats.

Several days ago I was waiting for an appointment and there was a TV on in the room (we don’t have regular TV so I rarely ever see what’s on). I suddenly realized what people are seeing piped into their living rooms day after day, hour after hour–election advertisement after election advertisement.  Every Amendment, Proposition, State Representatives, Congressional Representatives, and Presidential campaign possible was represented in the span of about 15 minutes. It was relentless.  I felt it in my body and I only saw it for 15 minutes without the sound! 

Then yesterday I was driving by a house down the street with the biggest Trump-Pence sign you have ever seen (it’s a big piece of property) and there were maybe 30 people holding a street-corner rally, waving American Flags, wearing Yankee Doodle hats, and flashing big bold “Women for Trump” signs.  I could feel my shoulders tense up and my foot quickly press on the gas pedal to get by it as quickly as I could.

These are small incidents, nothing, really, but I noticed their impact on me.  Tense. Flinch. Cringe. The oh-my-goodness-this-election-season-is-a-nightmare-feeling.

I have recently seen multiple articles talking about the true-blue, medically-researched physical and mental toll this election is having on people.

I think many men and women and young people of all shapes and sizes are experiencing election trauma this year.

This happened well before the release of Donald Trump’s 2005 comments, but that unleashed an incredibly deep level of trauma for so many women and sexual assault victims; the fallout from that is not something to take lightly. It unearthed something that must be addressed far beyond this election.

Election trauma is real.

We are are having a physiological response to a distressing or disturbing experience and we are all coping with it in all kinds of different ways. 

I also want to be careful about using the word “trauma” carefully because I know so many who suffer from deep emotional trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from life experiences.  My use of “election trauma” is not to minimize their pain in any way.

I even tried to think of another word–election anxiety, election angst, election depression.

But those just don’t cut it.

I really do think what many of us are experiencing is a type of trauma.

And election trauma comes in a lot of different forms:

The same sound bites and headlines being played over and over on every major news channel. 

Facebook feed after Facebook feed filled with memes and images and blog links and You Tube videos and everything in between. 

For some, the realization that a family member or close friend is voting for Donald Trump (add in extra-trauma for faith shifting folks who read about people defending him as God’s best choice).

For others, the realization that a family member or close friend is voting for pro-choice candidate Hillary Clinton without apologizing about it. 

Reading the comments in most any Facebook or blog or social media thread. (Extra trauma when you notice that one of your friends comments with something negative on one of your other friends posts–not on your wall–and they don’t even know them). 

Stories your kids bring home about what kids are saying at school.

Bumper stickers while you are sitting at stoplights.

The constant media cycle bombardment, bringing whatever will make headlines that day to the forefront over and over and over and over and over again. 

It’s relentless.

It’s taxing.

It’s taking its toll.

It will take us a long long time to recover, and I truly believe a lot of people are going to be suffering from the fall-out of Election 2016 for months and years to come.

Meanwhile, here’s my hope for you, for me, if you feel the realities of this election taking you down:

  • Take good care of yourself.
  • Turn off the TV when you need to.
  • Shut off Facebook and social media if it helps (I also want to acknowledge that for some, it’s helpful to share honestly and truthfully there as a way of standing up and using our voices but for others, it gets be too much).
  • Don’t read the comments!
  • Watch this video from Canada.
  • Find a healthy place to vent and share where you don’t have to edit or make nice or worry about what someone thinks.
  • Practice soul care, some how, some way.

I realize these are all individual possibilities, and the reality of this particular situation is it’s a shared trauma, too.

We definitely aren’t suffering alone on this one.

I hope groups and organizations and churches and safe-spaces find creative ways to honor the trauma that’s threaded throughout this election cycle–to lament, to heal, to find our way forward. I’m so glad the Denver Faith and Justice Conference is creating a special gathering for leaders in our city to come together after the election.  And The Refuge is facilitating a Post-Election Liturgy for Unity and Hope the Sunday after November 8th, too.  We need it.

Meanwhile, may we do our best to breathe, to be kind to others and ourselves, to treat others as we want to be treated, and pray for each other. 

God, help heal our tired and weary hearts. Help heal our tired and weary land.  We desperately need it. 

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Thank you, Kathy, for voicing this! I’ve definitely been feeling this way. I’ve stopped watching tv in regular time (we don’t have cable; so that’s a relief), and only watching on Hulu or Netflix. Hulu still has some political ads; but nothing like regular tv. I cannot wait for next summer when I think/hope the comments about the election will die down and I can enjoy some of my friends again… ;0) And, I resonate with you acknowledging that those of us who are continuing to shift in our faith feel so many triggers right now. UGH! There aren’t many places in my town where I feel safe to express my truest feelings; but I am learning to go ahead and let the chips fall. I’ve had a couple of respectful conversations with friends who are not voting my leanings, and that gives me hope. I wish there were more people who could have ‘dignified dialogues,’ disagree, and remain friends… :0)

    • thanks, maggie! yes, it’s trigger central 🙂 i hope for the same thing for next summer, although i saw a few threads today on FB that made me realize how truly polarized this is beyond candidates and on issues of abortion, healthcare, and more. rough waters ahead. may there be more and more places to have good safe challenging conversations where both sides can talk with dignity and not keep stooping so low on social media!


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