As a psychologist who has researched the experience of disillusionment, it is clear to me that many are in the throes of this painful experience. Since the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion rights, emotional responses have ranged from despondency to disillusionment to fury. Even people who saw this decision coming are experiencing a kind of shock.
There is a structure in the experience of disillusionment and its resolution. The process starts with a strongly held assumption that ultimately shatters. In the face of the shattering, one is left with shock or disbelief. Finally, through healing, one emerges into a phase of reconstruction. When you are in the beginning phase of the process, you can’t see where things will end up.
It is normal to feel shocked when there is a break in your expected reality. As a society, we assumed that the right to privacy and body autonomy would be protected. We were falsely assured that it would be. We shuddered when we listened to the stories of our older generations who described back-alley abortions.
The court’s decision and the broader implications evoke trauma. The decision to have an abortion is already difficult. Now this pain will amplify as teens and adults consider their options (if any) and try to sort out where to go, who to talk to, where they will be safe; their curtailed choices will put their lives at risk.
We know that emotions are generally made more tolerable by acknowledging feelings, differentiating if the immediate imperative is a need for calmness or action, increasing self-care, engaging with a community of like-minded others and connecting with what is meaningful.
Acknowledge your feelings: Name and accept your feelings. You may feel shock, anger, disbelief or rage. It is OK to feel this way. It is often a struggle for patients to accept these negative feelings. People are conditioned to stay calm and move on, or feel like they are failing if overcome with painful feelings. It is healthy to accept that there is a valid reason for your feelings.
Decide whether you need containment or expression: Some people need to contain feelings to avoid being overwhelmed. You may benefit from increasing self-care and taking a break from media exposures in order to regroup and restore. Take a break from your usual routine, allow yourself to take a breath, and marshal your energy for your own well-being.
You may seek more immediate expression of your feelings. Consider where you want to place your energies: Donating, marching, contacting politicians or other productive expressions.
Share in community: We are social creatures, and it often is helpful to reach out to like-minded people who are emotionally safe. We feel better when we share our feelings with others, whether disbelief, outrage, disappointment, disillusionment or dread. Reach out to whomever serves this role to reduce feeling so alone.
Move toward meaning and inspiration: Each of us has sources of meaning that sustain us through adversity — work, faith, relationships, artistic pursuits, fitness, reflection, action. Amplify what brings meaning to you.
Washington psychologists are grateful to be in a state committed to offering protection to those impacted by this decision. We look to examples around us for inspiration to move forward with hope to create a safer and more just world. We don’t know where we will land at the end of this maze, but we will find our way through despite shattered assumptions — moving toward the end goal of protecting the values of privacy, liberty and inclusion.