How to Stay Sane

Shock, rage, fear, despair, depression, hopelessness, apathy, or even how about - drinking the kool-aid, surrender. Do we have a better choice?

Robin Chance, behavioral specialist and therapist, did a little therapy for the nation three years ago with her article, How to stay sane if Trump is driving you insane: Advice from a therapist. She offered a better choice.

Two questions: (1) How do we integrate this crisis into our understanding of the world? and (2) what do we do now? Now that the crisis of three years ago is our new normal, it seems time to revisit her words.

She begins with some hard truth telling.

We must understand that the belief in human progress is a myth, with historical and religious context, and it is no longer serving us.

Now you don't want to believe that. You were taught to believe in progress like you were taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance. But there it is.

Nobody ever heard of the idea of progress until the eighteenth century. Nobody expected things to get better, short of the coming of the kingdom of heaven. And that coming wasn't going to be pretty.

But the US, born of eighteenth century enlightenment, built progress and its soon-to-be-motion picture trope of the happy ending into the national psyche. It is time to get over it.

People who cannot get the expectation of the happy ending out of their heads are doomed. They (you?) fill their Facebook feeds with the latest outrage and the comment SCARY! This is not helpful. This constant activation of the amygdala will exhaust you, depress you, leave you brittle and without the resources you need to navigate this insane new world.

In its place, Chance pulls out the heavy duty artillery, the mind trick that works for people with borderline personality disorder, the mental illness with an 80% rate of suicide attempts. If you are that determined to be dead, what on earth can turn you around?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, that's what. We need a national course in dialectical behavioral therapy. And the basic tenet of DBT is:

Radical Acceptance.

Huh? We're supposed to accept what is happening? Well, not exactly. We're supposed to accept that it is happening. Stop with the I can't believe this is happening! Believe it. It is the starting point.

Stop with the wishful thinking. No, there isn't anyone in the White House who will rein him in. There isn't some groundswell of human decency going to come out of the Senate. I could go on...

Serenity Prayer

Some years back, I started praying the serenity prayer. It is a staple of Alcoholics Anonymous, though its murky origins are in a meeting of the Church ladies and Reinhold Niebuhr. Here is the original long version:

      God, give us grace to accept with serenity
      the things that cannot be changed,
      Courage to change the things
      which should be changed,
      and the Wisdom to distinguish
      the one from the other.

      Living one day at a time,
      Enjoying one moment at a time,
      Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
      Taking, as Jesus did,
      This sinful world as it is,
      Not as I would have it,
      Trusting that You will make all things right,
      If I surrender to Your will,
      So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
      And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

A short form goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

There is much in here that reads like a textbook in dialectical behavioral therapy. Read Chance's article to see how it plays out.

When I put this prayer into my daily prayer practice, I couldn't accept "accept." A one word change says the same thing but removes the stumbling block:

God, grant me the serenity to acknowledge the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

It's about reality. It's about acknowledging what is real.

From there, I can work on what I can do something about. I can choose who I am going to be in this new world.

And if I choose love, well, that is not an easy choice. I have a lot to learn about how that plays out. But it is a steady rudder.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, in the public domain
book cover from
candle by anonymous, used under the Creative Commons license

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