Psychology of Voting: Why Do We Vote the Way We Do?

People don’t generally want to look at how politics and psychology are joined. But if we don’t, we will miss the seam that allows us to utilize what is happening in our world for the deepest healing and transformation possible!

When something brings up intense, deep, raw feelings for you . . .
It means something in your past has been triggered.
It means something within you has been evoked.
It is becoming more commonly known in our world that this is true in our personal lives and our professional lives.

For example . . .

If your spouse has a bad day at the office – whether the office is inside or outside the home – and gets frustrated when you ask for something in the evening, it could evoke for you experiences of abuse from your childhood . . . and the feelings you had at that time.

Or . . .

If you have a frustrating night at home – your partner is too busy to spend time with you – you might be super critical of your employees the next day in an unconscious attempt to get back at your partner for “neglecting” you . . . or your parents before that, who perhaps really did neglect you.

Or . . .

If your child has a temper tantrum when you go to take him to nursery school . . . you may feel so out of control that it evokes your being an innocent 2 year old – out of control of your mom, dad, and your own feelings. And you may try to control your child to hold your own feelings at bay.

These are just some of the many examples of what gets triggered and how . . . in our personal and professional lives.

Awhile back I talked about how current day communal events – national events, world events – can evoke feelings from our individual childhoods – and how what gets triggered in us can affect our lives and the life of our world. Here’s the essence of what I said related to 9/11:

It is the night of 9/11. We are all feeling the terror of the attacks by Al Qaeda. But we aren’t all aware that while some of the terror we’re feeling is the very real here and now terror of what happened this morning, an enormous portion of the terror we’re feeling is from our childhood experiences . . . and 99 out of every 100 people don’t even know this. Most people can’t answer or even ask the question . . . Is this terror from today or from once upon a time?

As a result the ancient and the current terrors are enmeshed with each other, you cannot do the work to heal the ancient terror, and you unconsciously move to bury your terror again . . . creating problems in your current life without even being aware of it. For example, instead of feeling the terror of being attacked as a child by your parent, you might defend against it with your anger and escalate your anger to revenge. This affects your own life and the lives of those you are in contact with on a daily basis. But it also affects the life of our country and our world. Imagine if there are millions like you who try to replace the terror with revenge – consciously or unconsciously! Whether you act on it or not, there is revenge in the air. Your feelings of revenge will bring you to support revenge in many forms . . . in the media, in the government, in the military, and more.

9/11 was 7 years ago. We have major events in our world today that are evoking young feelings and experiences, too. A major one of these is the election!

Most people think of the election only as a current event. It’s happening now. But I can tell you from hours and hours of experience with clients, colleagues, friends, and from watching what is going on in the campaign . . . People’s experiences as children are getting evoked big time! (This doesn’t discount whatever is truly here and now. But it surely clouds the picture and makes it hard to know what feelings, thoughts, and sensations are current and what are ancient, from childhood.)

In my practice and workshops, people explore the roots of their “election feelings.” Colleagues talk with me about their own personal election triggers. I share with you some of these discoveries (transformed into fictionalized stories with fictionalized names) . . . to help you as you start to access your own deep feelings about the election.*

Sally grew up in a home where her mother would be very sweet to her, and then suddenly switch and attack her. She made a decision “something good happens – then – something bad happens.” As she has watched the election process, this has been evoked in her over and over again. She’s been on a roller coaster ride as the candidate she supports has risen in the polls and then fallen, been praised and then criticized. And she doesn’t know how to get off the roller coaster! So she wants to disappear into sleep.

For Robert the election with all its fighting, lying, and mean-spiritedness, triggers helplessness, paralysis, powerlessness, and the experience that “there is no one to step in and make it right”. . . which is what he experienced in his home as a child when his parents fought in a similar way.

Jane is terrified by the election. It stirs up her childhood fear that . . . “the people who are unconscious (Mommy and Daddy) won’t wake up and see the truth of the damage they are causing.” And that “there won’t be change.” As a little girl she realized people weren’t paying attention. She wanted to go up to family members, nudge their arm with her hand, and shout “Wake up! Wake up!” But she was afraid to do that. They never did wake up.

In response to the election campaign and the coming election day . . . Susan and Julie both feel a horror that “there is no safe adult in charge” and that there won’t be. Susan’s mom and dad were both alcoholics. One of them raged and attacked when drunk, the other disappeared for days, either in the bedroom or who knew where? Julie’s father abused her mother, who went through life as though she was walking on egg shells, cowering in response to every move, sound, whisper.

Richard’s mom and dad fought, too, but his dad always won. Although Richard is generally a peace-loving guy, without realizing it, he decided the best parent is the strongest one – like his dad. So he’s happy with the candidate who gets the angriest, the meanest, and thinks of that candidate as the most presidential.

Cindy clings to hope for dear life . . . hope that her candidate will win! When she shared what was evoked in her by the election, she said: “He’ll make everyone behave. He’ll make everyone be more like me. And then I can feel safe to be me!” That’s what she hoped her step-father would do when her mother remarried after four years of being alone post- divorce. He would be the good father at last, come to save the day!

Greg is adamant about honesty, publicly. But right underneath his public persona, he votes for lying. His mother lied all the time to protect herself and her kids from her abusive husband. Anything that feels like a threat to Greg – though unconsciously a threat to the boy still alive inside him – warrants lies and deceit of any kind as protection . . . the consequences be damned!

Linda grew up in a house where her parents and older siblings ganged up on her physically, emotionally, and verbally. They were, naturally, bigger than she. She didn’t have a chance. The conclusions, or early decisions, she came to in her childhood are getting triggered in the election. “The bad guys always win. They overpower you, lie about you, and get you to doubt yourself. They make you believe that because you are good, you lose. You really did have a dream – a dream of happiness in the family, fairness, but they rode roughshod over that and laughed at you for having it.”

Arlene’s parents, by their own actions and by their true paranoia “summoned up the lowest, basest fears, the fears of others, masked it in the guise of devotion to a higher purpose, and got away with it.” When she sees the goings on of the election campaign, she is horrified that this is happening not only in her family but in our country.

Albert grew up with parents who loved him dearly, took good care of him, and never wanted him to experience pain. They used every situation to help him process his thoughts and feelings, understand the bigger picture, trust the process, and make everything okay. Albert’s response to the campaign, whether warranted or not, is that everything’s going to work out all right.

Each of these people needs not only to be aware of what is getting triggered from his/her childhood, but also to work with the feelings and early decisions that are part of those ancient experiences. The healing they do will have a huge impact on how they perceive the election and on how they respond to it. The healing they do will have a huge impact on their individual lives, on the life of our country, and on the life of our world.

Now . . . now it’s your turn. What is getting evoked for you by the campaign and the upcoming election?

Imagine . . .

If we each do our own healing work with the roots of what is evoked in us by the election . . .
Through light and through darkness,
We can help to heal our country and our world in a lasting way.

I have been called a dreamer.
I don’t mind. I know I am.
I also know that dreaming is visioning,
a powerful instrument.
So I play my visioning
with the confidence and skill of a musician
filling the world with the music of possibility.

On Tuesday, if you choose to, you will vote. As you go to the polls, you will carry with you, or be driven by, all the feelings inside you that have been stirred and triggered by this election process. The here and now feelings that are part of the current time. And the feelings from long, long ago that are raw, deep, intense, charged . . . and calling for healing.

Part of your task will be to make your choice – from which feelings will you vote?
Will you vote from the feelings of Tuesday or will you vote from the feelings of the child you once were who is still alive within you?
Knowing this, will you work toward healing the child’s wounds so you can tease those wounds and feelings away from the current reality?

And on Wednesday, we will either have a new president or be in some process toward that state. Again, as you go through Tuesday, Tuesday night, and into Wednesday, you will carry with you, or be driven by, feelings from Wednesday and feelings from once upon a time.
Will the outcome of the election trigger you into the child’s reaction?
Will you know what is happening and set out to do the healing?
Or will the outcome be a signal for you of what is truly needed from you in the here and now?

Whatever the outcome, part of your task will be to make your choices, moment by moment.From which feelings will you respond? And what will you do with the feelings evoked from long, long ago?

If you – and we all – utilize this occasion for such consciousness and healing . . . we will co-create a better world.

Many blessings,
Judith

*Examples given with fictitious names . . . and with the permission of the participants.

© Copyright 2008 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 16 comments
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  • Alex

    November 4th, 2008 at 9:50 AM

    Thats a great post, Judith. I personally know some people who are like the ones you mention in this post. One of my friends is exactly like Robert!

  • jeni

    November 4th, 2008 at 10:05 AM

    This is so sad that past experiences makes us re-act to the things in the present. I find myself responding the same way… If someone says something, I find myself wondering if they are going behind my back and saying something negative because I know in the past I have had this happened to me.. I totally believe that past experiences carry over to the present.

  • nicole

    November 4th, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    This was a very good article and enjoyed it. I too know many people, including myself, who have fallen into this situation. It all goes back to what you experienced ,and sometimes when you don’t remember, your subconcious does. Very true.

  • Siau Ngee

    November 4th, 2008 at 11:02 PM

    Wonderful article about our negative acts. I always show my anger from family problems in office. Sometimes, it is just a small matter like when I said something to my husband, he don’t reply. He might be concentrating in his work. But, I feel like he don’t bother to answer my question. Now, I know something is wrong with me. Thanks for opening my mind. Really informative post.

  • Aliyah

    November 4th, 2008 at 11:02 PM

    My childhood definitely affected my voting choice. Having grown up in a poor ghetto and having seen and experienced the hardships of life.

  • Shannon

    November 5th, 2008 at 3:54 AM

    Wow! I had no idea about any of this. But you are right. We vote not only because of the current issues but also for the candidate who feels like safety and security for us.

  • Judith Barr

    November 5th, 2008 at 5:10 PM

    Thank you so much, all of you, for your responses.

    I’m delighted that you found my article mind-opening and meaningful . . . and so personally meaningful, too!
    And I’m so moved to know that with this article touching you, more people will be conscious and more people will take another step in their healing.

    When I first wrote this article for my newsletter, I was glad to know I could help raise awareness for the people on my mailing list.
    With Noah’s welcoming the article on GoodTherapy.org, I am thrilled to know that even more people are being helped.

    If you would be interested in receiving future articles, you can sign up for my newsletters on my website — PowerAbusedPowerHealed.com. And
    if you would like to read previous newsletter articles, you can find them on my website under Archived Newsletters.

    Thanks again and
    Many blessings,
    Judith Barr

  • Bethany

    November 6th, 2008 at 3:52 AM

    Sorry guys but I have to disagree a little about this. I am sure that I vote with my mind and not my past repressed feelings. There are certain issues that I feel very strongly about on an intellectual level and that is how I make my voting decisions. I know that there are probably people for whom everything always boils down to the past but I guess I see myself as more of a live for the current moment kind of gal. Voting is a very important process of the American democratic system and should never be taken lightly. The outcome is too important to let only personal emotions get in the way of doing what you know is the right thing for the country as a whole.

  • Bluewafer

    November 6th, 2008 at 10:22 AM

    That’s a lot to take in! But it makes sense to me. The recent election was a very big thing for me and for my family.

  • Selena

    November 7th, 2008 at 1:13 AM

    it a truly fabulous post Judith. We always carry our negative emotions so strongly that sometimes we fail to react positively to the good things in the present. You are absolutely right Bethany that voting should be done for the truly deserving but sometimes our emotions and fears get in our way and stop us from making the right decision. Yet the wounds can heal as the recent elections and its outcome have shown us.

  • Grace

    November 8th, 2008 at 11:55 AM

    Emotions are one thing but I think it can be even more of a negative when we allow others who are louder than us to make our decisions for us. Vote with your mind and your heart, not because of the rhetoric of others!

  • Jack

    November 10th, 2008 at 4:33 AM

    Hopefully most of us do vote for these reasons Grace but there are still many others who are swayed not only by the empty rhetoric but also because of the right or wrong things tht they carry around with them in their hearts. How many people did you honestly hear say that they would not vote for Obama becasue he is black? Unfortunately I heard a lot of that. Thank goodness these are not the bigots who turned out in large enough numbers to make a difference but they did vote and it was based on assumptions and raw emotions, never any rational decision making. I am not saying that the majority of people vote because of perceptions and emotions but it does happen and we cannot discount that- how do you think Bush was elected to two terms in office?:-) He played very well into that cowboy savior role that many Americans like- unfortunately for the country we learned a little too late that there was not too much going on underneath that cowboy hat on his head.

  • Tudy

    November 11th, 2008 at 4:25 AM

    This election was kind of hard… I voted for the one I thought would do me and others more good. I just hope I am right. I did take in several factors just from what I have read and heard and based my voting on that.

  • Lib

    November 11th, 2008 at 5:30 AM

    To vote based on emotions only is truly irresponsible.

  • Judith Barr

    November 11th, 2008 at 9:08 PM

    To Bethany and anyone else who feels this way, the intriguing and mysterious thing about decisions we make and actions we take that are driven from our past . . . it is unconscious. We are not aware of its occurring until and unless somehow it gets brought out into our awareness and we are open to being aware. As a result, people will often swear they are doing something from a current place because they are truly not conscious that it is from an ancient place. It’s not something to judge, but rather something to raise awareness about and help people know it is possible to heal to the root.

    If you would like to learn more about this, you can go to the Archived Newsletters on my website, PowerAbusedPowerHealed.com and find the May Newsletter.

  • Sara T

    November 19th, 2008 at 3:07 PM

    I believe that this is probably the first election of the many I have had the honor to participate in that my emotions did dictate alot of the way that I voted. I voted on a very emotional level this time, and am so glad that I did. I feel that our country needed a real change and Obama was the right person to bring that to us in a significant way. Not only does he represent a real step forward for us in terms of leadership, but I think that for black Americans his election to this highest office in the land shows us something to be proud of, something that we can show our kids and grandkids and let them know that they can be better than what they may have always been told by society. God bless America for making this dream of so many finally become a reality!

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