• Uncertainty and upheaval in politics can remind us of personal challenges

  • Betrayal, disappointment, and anxiety are common in response to social change

  • If you are feeling overwhelmed by current events, find a therapist here 

Whatever your political stance you will agree, UK politics is undergoing change, on a number of levels, since the Brexit referendum. And not everyone feels comfortable.

Questions are asked and decisions need to be taken regarding ongoing relationships with other countries. Divisions have opened up within political parties, and different attempts are being made at resolving the problems. Politicians come and go. Some disappear only to resurface in a different guise. Some get the feeling of being stabbed in the back; others get the feeling of being stabbed in the front. Old alliances give way to new (fragile) ones. 

No wonder some people take stock of the value of their own loyalties. While some feel the party they support has left them, others make a conscious decision to leave of their own accord. 

At the same time, economic uncertainty continues, social cohesion appears more fragile than ever in many places across the globe and the daily trauma of attack and death is not ceasing. It is all very unsettling. 

The impact on the individual

Even more so, if you feel alienated from those you trust or trusted to have your best interests at heart - parties and politicians. It is unsettling for many, who say they feel cheated, disenfranchised, disappointed and angry: “I did not sign up for this… I did not vote for that. You have changed beyond recognition… These are not my values…I have been loyal for decades, but enough is enough…” You may recognise these sentiments and may think of many more.. 

And as much as you may disagree with party and / or government politics, you will find others who may disagree with you on the very same points. Families, friends, people at work and party members across the land are debating, arguing and disagreeing with each other, a lot more explicitly now, than before.

With the vote to leave the EU, the resignation of David Cameron, the selection and resignation of Theresa May, the in-fighting in the Labour Party, Boris Johnson's new appointment as the PM, a nerve has been touched, and I wonder why? 

Who has ever promised that political parties and the fellow citizens we elect to offices do what we expect them to? Why is it that we are struggling with disappointment, which creates even more friction in the relationships we have? Why are we surprised about change that may not have our interest at heart?

When past and present come together

Without wanting to use a clichéd or lazy argument, it reminds me of those key moments in life, when we feel deeply disappointed by those we trusted most – our parents or first caregivers, intimate partners, friends, employers, role models. We entrusted them with something very special: our hopes, our safety, and our future.  

Often something needs to go wrong first, for us to realise that others are limited, just the way we are. We cannot do it all, we make mistakes, get it wrong and disappoint. Some people try their best, others don’t even try. 

And in those key moments we may feel cheated, disrespected, hurt, angry, and we have lost trust. What then?

We may run away in distress or disgust and take the unresolved pain of disappointment with us, and find it difficult to trust again. 

We may stay and put up with it, unquestioningly, while seething inside and losing ourselves with every passing day.  

Or we talk about it, try and work it through, and then make an informed choice about the next appropriate step.

And whatever we choose, some people will tell us not to. You can see this in the debate over Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. Some people will feel aggrieved with our choice and question our loyalty to them. And the feeling of alienation, judgment and disappointment spreads in concentric circles.

Life is about managing transitions. It is risky to ignore that they are happening; it is risky to delegate the job of managing them to others. We can do that up to a point, in friendships, intimate relationships, at work, in the groups we belong to, in political parties and others. 

But if alignment with others and loyalty to them is not kept in line with our own values, principles and ultimately our own identity, than this can lead to serious disappointment. Because people can change and organisations can change. Rightly or wrongly. 

We cannot wake up one day feeling betrayed, if we chose to be asleep for the majority of the ride. As adults and voters we have choices and responsibilities, which we did not have as children. Change happens, and we are allowed to change our minds, too. And within our society we have permission to respond to change.

Change is not easy, but it is necessary. It is risky in relationships, as in politics, to give power to the other, if we are left feeling disempowered.

And so I see the current change in UK politics as something that we all are part of. For some it is a wake up call and time for serious introspection, just like when a relationship is in crisis. 

We can bemoan the fact, by all means, but we are also capable of and responsible for the choices we make.

This post by Karin Sieger was written three years ago; welldoing.org has updated it

Further reading

Keeping the political peace with friends and family

Why dishonesty in politics affects us

How we lose trust in politics

Politics, psychotherapy and boarding school

How social and political forces shape our identity