A psychiatrist’s view on how leaders should act as therapists to bring people together.
This can truly be called an age of rage; everyone seems to be angry with one thing or the other. Following the outrageous behaviour of members of the House of Commons after the proroguing of parliament was declared unlawful by the supreme court, the behaviour of our leaders and representatives in the House was utterly shameful and disgraceful.
British parliament had always prided itself being less partisan and more respectful towards each other. The leaders one would have liked to follow seem to be disappearing and instead, waves of abusive rage are surging.
What would the next generation make of the current crop of leaders across the globe?
Is the rage to do with the political situation?
Economic or social discrimination?
Or, is this something cyclical?
In the USA, although, the differences between the two main political parties have always been obvious and strong, these have become even deeper and more pronounced. The UK, on the other hand, has always prided itself on having a reasonable level of civilised discourse, especially across the political divide.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the referendum to stay or leave the EU, it has been done.
The past three years have been strange times living in the UK.
The day after the referendum, for the first time, I felt worried about my safety in public.
I have had racist experiences from patients and from colleagues at work many times, but this was a different feeling. Looking as an insider/outsider in the country which I have considered home for 40 years, it felt as if I do not recognise it anymore. The tribalism and the rigidity of opinions held by leaders and individuals have been truly astonishing. In common with the American experience, something that had been hidden was now unleashed and people felt that they could say whatever they wanted.
However, the deep divisions that existed came to the surface and the feeling is that it is acceptable to be rude to people especially if you do not agree with their political views.
The role of leaders to act as therapists to bring the warring couple together seems a distant dream.
To my mind, this rage and division between the leavers and remainers can be seen as a discordant couple or family.
Having worked with couples and families over the years, has the time now come to look at how these warring couples can be united for the sake of their children who are not only suffering now, but are likely to do so for generations to come? Furthermore, the parents need to stop squabbling and work towards better living together, as both parties have to live together whilst respecting each other’s view-points.
However, a divorce, even if amicable, is not possible under these circumstances. Neither half of the population is likely to move out of the country, and the rage is making stress levels and strain palpable.
Buried within this rage is a moral distress, where both sides perhaps want to do the right thing but are so stuck in their position that they cannot move or shift at all. Like warring couples, they still have to tolerate each other and live alongside one another in a mutually respectful and civil way.
How does one resolve this situation where two individuals have to re-learn to live with each other having come close to separation which is theoretically not possible?
Family and couple work teaches us to use a systems approach, which indicates that changes in one part of the system affect other aspects of the system.
The rage has meant that people are losing control of their actions, and social and mainstream media seem to be feeding into this situation creating further tensions and stress. Thus, inevitable self-esteem and self-worth are affected, and individuals lose a sense of mastery of their actions and their inter-personal and communication skills are strongly and strangely influenced.
In general, family and couples therapy looks at the individual context, suggesting suitable compromises while scrutinising the relationship between behaviour and environment between the patient and therapist; in this case, population and putative leader.
Change and homeostasis become interchangeable forces within the system which may well protect the family from stressors and not exacerbate these. In this case, the country needs reconciliation and a healer leader who can bring the warring factions together, and not provoke further rage.
Individual behaviour has to be understood within its relational and systems context.
In a couple, at various times one individual holds the power, whereas the other individual does so at other times. It would appear that those who had previously felt powerless have grabbed the power from the establishment and are not likely to give it up readily. An interesting observation is that people who are saluting the people power are as ‘establishment’ as they come!
In any family, if an individual acts out, there is a safe assumption that such behaviour is reflecting something else which may be obvious, or hidden, and may well be part of a larger drama with two parts affecting and influencing each other.
Families or couples should be seen as a living open system composed of individuals connected in specific ways that mutually affect each other. Rules in family and couple relationships are both explicit and implicit. Explicit rules come into play early and clearly, but implicit rules can be observed in action — these emerge over time and are content specific for each family.
In this age of rage, these rules are about Brexit and as they are implicit, neither side clearly knows what it means and thus, they can be interpreted in any which way. The family tensions were under the surface and the referendum brought these to surface.
For the first time, the spouse who had felt hard done by but managed to hold on to their rage, has found it acceptable to let out this rage. The message from one half of the couple to the other was to say was that you have not been listening and political masters unleashed the rage with a vengeance. One half of the population is saying clearly to the other half: “you do not understand me and if you really loved me you will know how I feel’. The other half thus looks and behaves in a bewildered way — almost saying: “you know that I love you and if you loved me you would know that, I should not have to say it.”
So, the bridging between the two is a task for a couples therapist — in this case, a visionary leader who can bring the two warring factions together, making sure that it is a win-win for both — but where are the therapists when you need them?
It is possible to reach a level of reconciliation especially if both sides feel heard and listened to and appropriate compromises are suggested and carried out. The tone of political discourse especially with the use of social media is belligerent, loud and noisy, in that neither side is actually listening and has certainly taken a turn for the worset in the past few days.
As in therapy, perhaps the first step will be to encourage communication in a civilised discourse — face to face rather than through social media — with a moderator or mediator.
As the letter from the Bishops promotes.
Boundaries in the families are both interpersonal and intergenerational with a continuum of permeability and these have rules which determine who participates in which situation and how.
The rage that disengaged families feel and relate to a particular time or event needs to be clearly acknowledged and attempts made to mitigate these. Looking inwards and at each other with introjection of the rage is not a pragmatic way forward.
A visionary leader who can mollify and reconcile warring factions is the need of the hour. What is needed is an outward looking approach, ascertaining positives and common ground upon which both parties can work in the context of building for next generations.
It has to be recognised that the current disruption is not likely to be healed rapidly and may well last for a generation or two, and so the challenge to warring parents is how to protect and nurture the younger members of the society.
Therapists, in the shape of leaders who can heal rather than divide, can provide maps or blueprints and needs to be both challenging and accommodating.
No one is in listening mode, especially the leaders, so perhaps the first step may well be to bring together a group of leaders from a spectrum of views with clear instructions to listen, first and foremost.
Perhaps a time-out may be needed to dampen the rage so that clear dialogue can begin.
NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: We are honoured to have Professor Dinesh Bhugra, CBE, writing for InSPIre the Mind. Dinesh is an Emeritus Professor of Mental Health and Cultural Diversity at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, and an Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Trust.
Thank you, Dinesh for sharing your thoughts, expertise, and experience of BREXIT with us and our readers!
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