Category Archives: Personal Reflections

What Is a Strength-Based Approach to Suicide Prevention?

Sommers FB 44

Suicide—as a thought, word, or action—usually triggers fear and judgment. Even though suicidal thoughts are common and suicidal behaviors have been part of humanity from as far back as anyone can recall, to think or talk of suicide is saturated with shame and judgment. A strength-based model for suicide prevention is about shifting attitudes toward suicide from negative judgment to compassion and lovingkindness.

Most people who think about suicide are sensitive, intelligent, and self-critical. Typically, they’re judging themselves in negative ways; sometimes they experience self-hatred. All this adds up to the main proposition underlying a strength-based approach to suicide prevention: Because individuals who feel suicidal are already burying themselves in harsh judgments and negativity, what they need from others is empathy for their pain, reassurance that suicidal thoughts are a nearly universal part of human experience, compassion, help for coping with their excruciating psychological distress, and a more or less relentless focus on the positive.

No More Mental Illness and No More Moral Shaming

In 1973, Edwin Shneidman, wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition of suicide: “Suicide is not a disease (although there are those who think so); it is not, in the view of the most detached observers, an immorality.” Shneidman—often referred to as the father of suicidology (the study of suicide)—capture two harsh judgments popularly linked to suicide: Mental or moral illness. As advocates for suicide prevention, we need to doggedly follow Shneidman’s lead, and show acceptance of the mental and moral condition of people experiencing suicidality.

I like this next quotation from Nanea Hoffman. I’m not sure it fits here, but because this post is about being strength-based when thinking and talking about suicide, and this is my blog and I can include what I want, here it is:

“None of us are getting out of here alive . . . so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.” – Nanea Hoffman

Shame surrounding suicide has a long history. By 1000 B.C. most ancient city-states had criminalized suicide. People who died from suicide were sometimes dragged through the streets to enhance their shame and possibly as deterrence for others. Around 400 A.D., Saint Augustine declared suicide an unrepentable sin. I’m not quite sure how that works because I’m guessing that Christian theology would hold up God as the authority on what’s repentable and what’s not repentable.

Contemporary suicide-related policies continue to link shame and suicide. When students die from suicide, many U.S. schools follow a “no memorializing” policy. In New Zealand, the media is prohibited from using the word suicide when reporting on suicide deaths. Most families, when struggling to write obituaries for family members who died by suicide, replace the word suicide with “died suddenly” or some other vague explanation. In an online article, Charlotte Maya wrote of the first time she was able to speak of her husband’s suicide:

“The first time I spoke publicly was about a year and a half after Sam’s death. In many ways, I think Sam would have been appalled. After all, he did not speak a word of his struggles out loud – not to a therapist, not to his friends, not to me. There is so much shame.”

Charlotte is right; there is so much shame. To avoid shame, many people, institutions, and nations have decided that—like Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series—suicide is the thing that must not be named.

But it should be named; if we don’t talk about it, the shame linked to suicide grows more powerful, more frightening, and less well understood. It should be named because, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are dying by suicide every year, perhaps dying in shame, perhaps dying unnecessarily, and always leaving loved ones behind who pick up on the theme of shame and begin experiencing it themselves. If we don’t talk openly about suicide, we cannot address it effectively.

Shaming people for thinking about suicide, or for making a suicide attempt, or for completing suicide, magnifies the problem. Shaming people for their suicidal thoughts only makes them less likely to speak openly about their thoughts. And, as in the case of Charlotte Maya’s husband, remaining quiet about emotional pain is linked to tragic outcomes. When people who are suicidal shutter themselves in their private worlds, the suicidal pain and distress doesn’t diminish or evaporate; instead, being alone with suicidal thoughts usually deepens hopelessness and grows desperation, both of which contribute directly to death by suicide.

Shaming individuals who are suicidal is like pouring fuel on an open fire. Suicidal people already feel immense shame. There’s no need to add more. Besides, shaming isn’t an effective deterrent. Further, as I’ll elaborate on later, suicidal thoughts aren’t primarily about death anyway. If our goal is to save lives, there’s a different and more useful emotion to link with suicide.

Instead of shame, the word suicide should evoke compassion—compassion for people who were or are so distressed that they have contemplated or completed suicide; compassion for people who lost someone they loved to suicide; compassion for ourselves, during times when we’re in psychological pain and naturally have thoughts about suicide.

I’ll be writing more about this in the future and so I’ll summarize here. What people who are suicidal need from others includes:

  • Empathy for their pain
  • Reassurance that suicidal thoughts are a nearly universal part of human experience
  • Compassion
  • Help for coping with their excruciating psychological distress
  • A more or less relentless focus on the positive (to help counter their feelings of hopelessness)

Last night I had a chance to engage in a delightful discussion of the strength-based approach with a small group of amazing people at Big Sky, Montana. Thanks to Robin and Jacque for setting that up. As a part of our time together, I flipped through a set of powerpoints. Here are the powerpoints, in case you’re interested: Big Sky Public Lecture 2019

Please Support Trapper Creek Job Corps and the Other Job Corps Designated as Civilian Conservation Corps

Hi All.

I’m asking for help. All of the Job Corps designated as Civilian Conservation Corps are slated to be cut.

Below, I’m pasting information about Trapper Creek Job Corps. I’m also providing a link to a form letter with talking points, as well as an Excel sheet with contact info for various Senate Offices.

Thanks in advance for your help. Job Corps was started as part of LBJ’s war on poverty. It’s a program that gives youth and young adults ages 16-24 a chance to learn a trade and become a taxpayer who contributes to our country in positive ways.

I hope you will spread this message far and wide!

Here’s the letter:

Dear Friend of Job Corps.

This is not a drill. This is 911.

The media is out there; Secretary Acosta (Department of Labor) and Secretary Purdue (USDA) have made the agreement to eliminate the USDA’s role in the Job Corps Program. This means that Trapper Creek (as well as the other 24 Forest Service Centers, or CCCs) will be transferred to DOL, and Trapper Creek will be more or less eliminated as we know it. Our students will no longer be served by this program. Our communities will no longer be served by the extensive support of our amazing students. Our 55 hard working staff at Trapper Creek (and over 1,200 Nation-wide) who have dedicated their professional lives to helping disadvantaged youth will lose their jobs. It is clear this is an assault on our youth, our communities and our people.

My understanding is as such: the decision is to eliminate operations of the CCCs by September 30, 2019. This is not an arbitrary date: it is the last day of the fiscal year. Should this movement take place successfully, the contingent will have won; Trapper and the CCCs are over and done for. We lose our jobs and the thousands of young people served by the CCCs ever year will be without services. However, Congress was just notified today of this decision and, frankly, are not happy. The Forest Service Job Corps program has always had huge support from both sides of Congress; Democrats believe in the humanitarian component while Republicans believe in the fiscal responsibility of training young adults in poverty to learn the hard skills to get a living wage job and the soft skills to stay employed.

WHAT I NEED YOU TO DO: below are two documents.  The spreadsheet attached has contact information for Congressional folks in your states. Please make as many contacts as you can to them as well as to local political folks; mayors, city council, etc. We need as many calls and emails as possible from as many folks as possible. Democrats are already putting things in writing; Republicans are on board but all together too quiet. These folks need to hear of your displeasure of this decision.

Also attached is a form letter (5.23.19 CCC Agency Letter), talking points if you will, to use when visiting with these folks.

Please forward this message to all parties you know that care about our youth, our communities, our staff and the program at large. Facebook is a great tool to move information as well.

FEDERAL EMPLOYEES: do not use government time, equipment or material to move this information. You are welcome to use Facebook if you do not identify yourself as a Federal Employee.

The Talking Points letter is here: 5.23.19 CCC Agency Form Letter with Talking Points

The Excel spreadsheet with contact info is here: Copy of CCC Contact Sheet

 

 

 

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

One Wipe Charlies

This post includes psychology and politics. If you don’t like psychology or you don’t like politics, you can stop reading. If you continue reading, you should know that I’m not focusing on political ideology; I’m focusing on the corrosive effect of lies on trust, relationships, history, and the social contract between government and the people.

*******************************

I thought I was having a very bad dream.

Donald J. Trump was speaking. He said,

“Well, it turns out I’m the most — and I think most of you would agree to this — I’m the most transparent president, probably in the history of this country.” 

That was two days ago.

Yesterday, Trump summoned his staff, claimed (again) to be a stable genius (who even makes up bullshit like that?). Then he called on people to speak out in support of him in his temperamental tiff with Nancy Pelosi. Shortly thereafter he posted a spliced video designed to make Pelosi look bad.

Sadly, none of what I experienced had anything to do with an altered mental state. I was listening to the radio when Trump’s fictitious words floated into my brain. This is a big problem, not just for me. There are far too many fictitious words floating around, and far too many people having them drift into their brains, which brings me to my central point: Even though most of us would readily agree that saying or thinking or writing something doesn’t make it so, sometimes, over time and with help from others (e.g., Fox news and spliced videos), and this is the dangerous part, saying something can—and often does—make it so.

My non-dream left me with two powerful insights.

  1. Never before, probably in the history of this country, have I been more of a social constructionist.
  2. Now I know the EXACT strategy for beating Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election.

Some of you may wonder what being a social constructionist means. Let me quote some experts:

“There are two main branches of constructive theory . . . both perspectives hold firmly to the postmodern idea that knowledge and reality is subjective. Constructivists . . . believe knowledge and reality are constructed within individuals. In contrast, social constructionists . . . believe knowledge and reality are constructed through discourse or conversation. . . . social constructionists focus on what’s happening between people as they join together to create realities (Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2018, pp. 283-284).

Right now, as I type and as you read, we’re in the midst of a dangerous social deconstruction and reconstruction. Every morning, we awaken to new savage attacks on conventional truth. We’re facing the most chronic and pathological liar probably in the history of this country.

George Orwell might put it this way:

. . . if all others accepted the lie which the [Trump] imposed – if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the [Trump] slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’ (from the novel, 1984).

Lies corrode trust. Lies destroy relationships. Lies re-write history and shape the future. We all know this from our direct personal experiences.

But there’s a method to Trump’s madness; the method is all about using social constructionism to divide and conquer. Trump is a master at creating new realities through conversation. He’s a master at using dishonesty and the misrepresentation of facts to destroy trust, incite hatred, and gain power. Trump has a nearly reflexive capacity for steering conversations away from conventional reality and toward his subjective perspective.

Trump is engaging us all in a re-write of past, present, and future realities to meet his own narcissistic perceptions. He can’t do it alone, but he has many proponents who support his views. Big money can do that. Sometimes the mainstream media contributes too, albeit inadvertently. For example, when Rachel Martin on NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed Kristen Gillibrand, she referred to Trump as “formidable.” Her words contribute to Trump being perceived as formidable, as if that’s a constructed reality. In fact, Trump is something far less than formidable, which leads me to the recipe for Trump’s defeat.

Trump’s Achilles’ heel is his deep fear of weakness and his compensating wishes for strength, power, and ultimate authority. What this means is that Trump’s so-called strengths are also his weaknesses. To defeat Trump, we must relentlessly target his lies, his weakness, and his inadequacy.

Everything he says should be viewed through the lens of weakness. He wants to drop the mother of all bombs, mostly to compensate for his inner terrpr over being seen as weak. He insists on complete obedience from his administration because he’s too weak to cope with hearing dissent. He’s deeply afraid of being discovered as a fraud, and so he cannot share his tax returns. He must fight to resist the Mueller probe and legal efforts to get at his personal finances, because he’s not man enough to be open, honest, and forthright about who he is and how he does business. He pays off porn stars because he wants to maintain his delusion and a false cover up of who he really is . . . a man who has to pay a porn star for sex and then has to pay for her silence.

The press consistently refers to Trump as an unconventional politician. Other than his lack of political experience, governing experience, and foreign policy experience, I can’t figure out what they mean. Trump is a political caricature. He lies with abandon, buys himself out of trouble, and takes on the persona of an attack dog who attacks people whom he sees as beneath him, principally because he’s scared shitless that his inner weakling-fraud will be exposed.

A small sampling of his lies helps capture his focus.

In the beginning he mocked people with disabilities (is that what strong people do?). He was caught on tape degrading and debasing women (more strength; so much strength). He called Hillary “Crooked,” when his most dominant trait is all about being crooked. His lies are mostly about his desperation to appear strong. Often, they’re obvious projections. Projection happens when a behavior or trait of someone else stirs an impulse in you, so you end up accusing others of something that’s really about you. For example, when Trump claims Nancy Pelosi is “mess” or “crazy” what he’s really saying is “I’m a mess” and “I’m crazy.” Projection is an old-fashioned Freudian defense mechanism that thrives on oversensitivity to criticism, combined with an inability to restrain impulses to say whatever comes to mind. A simpler way of thinking about projection is that the traits of others that really disturb you, may often be your own. And so when Trump refers to little Marco Rubio and little Bob Corker and little Adam Schiff, he’s speaking of his preoccupation with their smallness of stature, but he’s also speaking of his unrestrained preoccupation with and fear of being small and weak. In every one of the preceding scenarios, Trump’s purpose was to put down individuals or groups. Think about the people you know in your life who compulsively put everyone down. Are they the strong people?

That Trump would accuse the media of being fake is another in his legion of lies and projections. Who’s fake? Let’s see, there was the fake Trump University, the fake marriages, the fake condolences that he offered to school shooting victims, the fake losses on his tax returns, the fake claims about his wealth, his fake foundation with fake and unsubstantiated charitable giving, and his fake claims of being “completely exonerated.” There are so many fake things, including his skin color, his physical examination reports, his bone spurs, and his claims of being a stable genius that it’s hard to know what’s underneath. There’s also his fake courage, the fake 91 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, fake statements about Democrats executing babies “after birth,” fake promises about Mexico paying for a border wall, fake claims that Democrats want “open borders,” fake announcements that U.S. Steel is building six new steel mills, fake claims that opioid deaths are down, and, as you know, I could go on and on into his thousands of lies.

To defeat Trump, we must attack two things.

We must attack his compulsive and manipulative dishonesty and his fake news about himself and the world. Every word he and his staff utters should be scrutinized and laid side-by-side with the truth.

We must also attack the perception that he’s anything other than a weak, pathetic, inadequate man who has to pay porn stars to get laid. We cannot ever, for the sake of truth, exonerate him for his lies. We need to pierce his armor of narcissism with the whole truth and nothing but the truth over and over again. In this defense of truth, we must not waver.

 

Op-Ed Piece — Suicide prevention in Montana: We must do better — In today’s Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Boze Coop

It’s a short piece, but given that I’m in Bozeman tomorrow evening for a public lecture on suicide and spending the day on Friday doing a day-long suicide workshop for professionals, the timing is good.

You can read the Op-Ed piece in the Chronicle: https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/guest_columnists/suicide-prevention-in-montana-we-must-do-better/article_0607e973-2b96-500f-93ba-bf9e85f2a7a8.html

Or you can read it right here . . .

In 1973, Edwin Shneidman, widely recognized as the father of American suicidology, was asked to provide the Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition of suicide: He wrote: Suicide is not a disease (although there are those who think so); it is not, in the view of the most detached observers, an immorality (although . . . it has often been so treated in Western and other cultures).

Shneidman’s definition captured two elements of suicide that many of us still get wrong. First, suicidality is neither abnormal nor a product of a mental disorder. At one time or another, many ordinary people think about suicide. Wishing for death is a natural human response to excruciating psychological, social, or emotional distress.

Second, suicidal thoughts or acts are not moral failings. Shneidman noted that society and religion often harshly judge and marginalize anyone who experiences suicidal thoughts and feelings. People who struggle with thoughts of suicide are already feeling immense shame. Adding more shame makes people feel worse, increases the tendency toward isolation, and serves no preventative function.

If you live in Montana, you’re probably aware that news about suicide in the U.S. and suicide in Montana is nearly always bad news. By some estimates, suicide rates have risen 60% over the past 18 years, and Montana has the highest per-capita suicide rates in the nation. Although national and local efforts at suicide prevention have proliferated, these efforts haven’t stemmed the rising tide. There are many reasons for this, some of which are sociological or political and consequently not responsive to suicide prevention programming.

But, as Shneidman emphasized, we need to stop equating suicide with mental or moral weakness. Suicide prevention and intervention efforts shaped around quick, superficial questions or influenced by pathology orientations are unlikely to succeed, and in some cases, may do harm. Compassionate, collaborative, and strength-based models constitute the best path forward for improving the effectiveness of our prevention efforts. If we want people who are in suicidal crisis to open up, talk about their pain, and seek help we must make absolutely sure that we’re communicating the following message—that suicidal thoughts are natural responses to difficult life circumstances, that opening up and talking with others will be met with compassion, not judgment, and that people who seek help from others should be respected for having the strength to reach out and be vulnerable.

To help the Bozeman community learn more about a strength-based model for suicide prevention and treatment, the Big Sky Youth Empowerment Project (BYEP) is sponsoring a free public lecture on Thursday, May 16th from 6:30pm to 8:30pm in SUB Ballroom D on the campus of Montana State University. Please join me for an evening of thinking differently about suicide—with the goal of saving lives in Montana.

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John Sommers-Flanagan is a Professor of Counselor Education at the University of Montana, a clinical psychologist, and the author of over 100 professional publications, including eight books. He has a professional resource and opinion blog at https://johnsommersflanagan.com/

 

Why You Should Avoid Small Talk with God — Short visits with an honest God

Happy Mother’s Day Rita!

“Hey big fella,” I said, making small talk with my co-author–the entity commonly referred to as God in many parts of the world. “What’s your favorite name for yourself?” At that moment, one of God’s legs was flung across the valley, the other tucked up like a mountain under his stubbly chin. Wild, unruly hair […]

via Why You Should Avoid Small Talk with God — Short visits with an honest God

Spending Time with the Jackson Contractor’s Group in Big Sky

Missoula-College-Exterior_Web-Op

Have you ever looked at the Jackson Contractor’s Group (JCG) website? You should, it’s filled with statements about values, integrity, company culture, and they talk about “unapologetic authenticity of each Jackson employee.” Pretty cool. Oh yeah, and there are the many astounding projects they’ve done, like the new Missoula College Building, featured above. You can check out their website here: https://jacksoncontractorgroup.com/culture/

JCG is a company that’s all about construction. Other than being an admirer of their website, why are Rita and I hanging out with them in Big Sky, Montana?

The reason is that JCG cares about its employees. They also recognize that the construction industry has one of the highest (or the highest) rate of employee suicides in the U.S., and so they invited me to their corporate retreat to talk about suicide and suicide prevention.

While preparing for tomorrow’s talk, I discovered, among other things, that the Construction Financial Management Association lists several specific employment-related risk factors, including:

  • Tough guy culture
  • High pressure environment with a potential for failure and shame
  • Physical strain and psychological trauma
  • Travel away from family and friends
  • Stressful working hours/conditions
  • Stigma – Activities
  • Access to lethal means

I’m very impressed with JCG and honored to share time with them tomorrow. For those interested, I’m pasting a link to tomorrow’s powerpoints right here: Jackson Understanding and Preventing Suicide

The Brain-Based Truth of Donald Trump’s Social Dominance

Snowy Sunset

Although everyone is arguing with everyone else about everything—especially everything involving presidential politics, no one argues about whether Donald Trump can work a room, work up an audience, and dominate a news cycle. Love or hate him, Trump has a special talent.

But what is that talent? How can it be that despite clear evidence of Trump lying at unprecedented rates, despite the small blue wave that swept the House of Representatives this past November, and despite substantial evidence that his policies are not benefiting rural Americans, Trump’s approval ratings continue to hover at around 40%. Given his flirtation with the Russians, his legal problems with the Department of Justice and in the Southern District of New York, and his incessant outrageous and vulgar tweeting, why don’t his approval ratings dip even lower?

Perhaps even more puzzling is the apparent inability or unwillingness of previously powerful republicans to push back on Trump’s wanton disregard for family values and morality. Many of Trumps tweets are, at best, rated PG-13. The fact that Googling “bullshit” and “circle jerk” takes us to commentaries about Trump’s tweets is a testimony to his ubiquitous disrespect for whatever moral codes republicans have retreated behind.

Never mind the well-documented porn star payments, “shithole” references, and stories about bullets dipped in pig’s blood. Unless they’re still commenting on Obama, the Clintons, or other targets designed to distract from rational argument, the collective chorus of outrage among republican politicians is no louder than you’d expect from a band of Buddhists practicing mindful acceptance at a silent retreat.

Sure, Mitt Romney and a few others have occasionally (and carefully) expressed their sickened feelings. And although Bill Kristol and other #neverTrumpers have held forth—even purchasing political advertisings to counter Trump rhetoric—to date, no current republican office-holder has publicly confronted Trump and provided an alternative leadership narrative. What’s up with the formerly assertive republican leaders? Whether we’re watching blank looks from Chris Christie, John Kelly, or Rod Rosenstein, republican power brokers appear frightened, intimidated, and only a meek shadow of their former selves.

What’s the best explanation for Trump’s stable approval ratings and the continued shriveling of republican leadership? You might be inclined to consider favorable economic indicators, or the Fox News phenomenon, or some other rational explanation. But I’m leaning a different direction—toward a theory to explain the irrational.

Like all dangerous populist politicians, Trump is a master manipulator. He can bend minds like psychics bend spoons. Although many—including my father—refer to him as a run-of-the-mill con man, Trump is much more than that. Trump is no expert on the art of the deal; but he’s a wizard at the art of mass hypnosis.

Among others, two Canadian academics, Drs. Erik Woody and Henry Szechtman, have written about how mass hypnosis works. They say it involves the activation of a particular evolutionarily-important part of the brain. They’ve labeled this neural network in the brain as the “security motivation system.” Essentially, the security motivation system is an ancient part of the brain that scans for “hints, inklings, whiffs, and foreshadowings” of danger. The problem, as Woody and Szechtman put it, is that contemporary human brains are now connected to the internet, and the internet is filled with perpetual news, Facebook forwards, Russian bot activity, and political messages. Much of this instant information has hints and whiffs of danger and those hints and whiffs activate the security motivation system. The louder the call of dark, scary, danger, the more activated our collective security motivation systems become. And what do our collectively activated security motivational systems want? Action! Specifically, action leading to safety. All this can direct us to embrace politicians who offer big actions that will hypothetically protect us from danger. Woody and Szectman wrote: “. . . support for politicians promoting bold action [like building a big, impenetrable border wall] is itself an action . . . which may help” de-activate our heightened security motivation.

In contrast to Reagan’s message of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Trump’s message has been consistently about doom, gloom, and danger. His speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention was a bleak frightening portrait of America. But, in contrast to Trump’s portrait of America as under attack from Mexican rapists, Muslim terrorists, and international commerce, he simultaneously promised (and continues to promise) to make America great again with big, albeit unrealistic and unfounded, actions.

For a substantial minority of Americans, Trump is a charismatic speaker. He ramps up crowds to an emotional fever-pitch. He combines extremes. On the one hand, America is under attack from Mexicans, Muslims, and Democrats. On the other hand, he—and only he—can offer a future filled with beauty, safety, and financial success. As he speaks, he sometimes riffs like a hypnotist employing a specific hypnotic induction procedure called the “confusion technique.” When he employs this strategy, Trump’s words barely make sense. He offers a rhythmic narrative absent any real content. Take this example from the 2016 campaign trail:

You are going to be so proud of your country. Because we’re gonna turn it around, and we’re gonna start winning again! We’re gonna win so much! We’re going to win at every level. We’re going to win economically. We’re going to win with the economy. We’re gonna win with military. We’re gonna win with healthcare and for our veterans. We’re gonna win every single facet.

We’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, “Please, please. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore. Mr. President, it’s too much.” And I’ll say, “No, it isn’t!”

We have to keep winning. We have to win more! We’re gonna win more. We’re gonna win so much.

Ashley Feinberg of Gawker, described this verbal dispatch from Trump as: “His best Howard Dean impression if Howard Dean had been given a whole lot of cocaine and also a thesaurus with just the word “winning” followed by the word “winning” again in progressively larger fonts.” Not surprisingly, Woody and Szechtman described it differently, noting nuanced differences between the oral and written word:

Through repetition, this type of communication stays “on message,” almost to the point of caricature. More importantly, it presents no line of argument or supporting material whatever that would call for higher thought. Such communication, which can be effective in person, is similarly effective when replayed on media as video [or audio]. By contrast, it becomes ineffective in print, where its paucity of intellectual content is painfully obvious. (p. 14)

Most observers agree, Trump is best when on the stump. When it comes to governing or foreign policy or role-modeling moral behavior, Trump is less effective. On the stump Trump uses other hypnotic methods, beyond the previously mentioned confusion technique. He continually pounds away messages about current dissatisfaction, combined with an orientation to the future. Under him, future life will always be better, more beautiful, a Shangri-La for the masses. He uses the words “believe me” and “trust me” like a mantra. Even though nearly every rational person in the U.S. knows they should quickly run away whenever a salesperson (or con-man) says “trust me” Trump’s hypnotic reverie has weakened the rational mind to the point where the words believe me and trust me actually work. As Roger Cohen opined in the New York Times,

Tolstoy wrote of “epidemic suggestion” to describe those moments when humanity seems to be gripped by a mass hypnosis that no force can counter. . . . We find ourselves in such a moment.

But there is a countering force. There always has been. And there always will be.

Let’s go back to Woody and Szechtman, and their ideas about the brain’s security motivation system.

When activated, the security motivation system directs humans toward actions that enhance safety. When looking for safety, nearly always, humans follow their evolutionary noses. And where do their evolutionary noses point . . . toward the person with the most social dominance.

Think about it. Who can keep us safe? Then, think about Trump’s hulking figure looming in the background as Hillary Clinton speaks in one of the televised debates. Then, think of what he has (wealth and property) and think of what he offers in his hollow narratives (winning, beauty, and safety, so much winning).

Republican politicians are cowed like never before. They can’t match Trump’s verbal skills and hypnotic persona. They can’t match his wealth and connections. And republicans have historically been motivated by fear. Trump’s presence activates their security motivation systems. On their own, most White, male republicans fear immigration. On their own, most White, male republicans are drawn to wealth and power. For them, Trump stokes their fears and activates their security motivation system in a way that goes back to primitive human thinking: “Save yourself” . . . is the irresistible unconscious motive that weakens republicans. Open conflict with Trump is too dangerous. Alone, individual republicans don’t have the verbal or financial prowess to compete with Trump. So, they slink into the background and do what frightened people have done since the beginning of time—they follow a socially dominant and powerful leader.

The answer to the problem of Trump is simple, but not easy.

There are two roads to countering a socially dominant, hypnotically adept bully. Both roads necessarily include an alternative socially dominant discourse. How to get there? Republicans, if they can find their courage, might band together to push back against Trump. This would be risky. And the outcome is dicey.

The other road is to latch our trailer to an alternative socially dominant political figure. The hazard here is we could end up jumping from the socially dominant frying pan into the socially dominant fire. Consequently, we need to be very careful when selecting the socially forceful leader who can take on Trump and win. Perhaps of greatest importance, along with powerful messaging, to ensure safety of all Americans, our new leader needs to have two characteristics that Trump lacks and that make Trump dangerous. We need a leader who can be a team player (and not just deputize family members) and we need a leader who is able to experience and express compassion.

Methods for resisting and awakening from a hypnotic trance exist. They begin as all things begin, with awareness. Now is the time to wake up. Listen closely as I count backward from five to one. When I get to the number one, you’ll awaken, you’ll stretch, look around, and realize that finding an alternative socially dominant and yet compassionate leader is urgent.

5

4

3

2

1

You can wake up now. If you stay asleep, you face a greater danger. If you stay asleep, you may act in ways that are incompatible with your deep values. If you stay asleep, you may need forgiveness, because although you will act, you . . . will . . . know . . . not . . . what . . . you . . . do.