The Coping Hazards of Tribalism

by Michael Church and Charles Brooks

A sure way to find yourself burdened with excessive stress is to try and control things in your life that are beyond your control, such as others’ behavior. One key to mitigating your stressors is to stay centered on what you can control directly – your thoughts and actions. That process will be greatly facilitated when you recognize that your most important thoughts should revolve around your values, purposes, goals, and acceptances. Once you identify these thoughts, your task becomes ensuring that your actions are consistent with these thoughts. It sounds simple enough, but this process can be difficult because reality can be tough to accept, and values can be hard to identify. Why? Because others often try to construct your reality based on their agenda, and they work to convince you to accept their value system. To do so, they assure you that issues confronting you are emotionally based – that is, these false messengers try to trigger despair, frustration, anger, and hatred inside you. They console you that “our side” – the tribe – is right; “their side” is wrong, and must be rejected, defeated, overpowered, and crushed as evil. If you accept their emotionally-based foundation for your thoughts and actions, you are no longer listening to yourself and evaluating reality objectively; you are no longer identifying your values and coordinating your actions to those values. Instead, you have succumbed to a manipulative message of tribalism that makes you no more than a passive puppet.

The Survey Center on American Life reports alarming increases in depression and suicide in America over the past decade, and a similar increase in those saying they have no close friends. In a Facebook world that amplifies differences in values, beliefs, and opinions, psychologists note how acceptance of – and coping with – lifestyle changes is becoming progressively more difficult. Technological developments, social media, working at home, shopping online, barely knowing neighbors, and interacting more frequently with artificial intelligence instead of humans – all can have a depersonalizing and dehumanizing effect on you. The resulting frustration and anger can make you vulnerable to concocting a psychological coping strategy that is a recipe for disaster.

The progression to coping catastrophe is well-documented: Emotion-based coping strategies –> Acceptance of extremist autocratic false messages –> Rejection and hatred of targeted others –> Subordination of your values, purposes, goals, and independence to the “tribe,” aka the “clan” or “cult” –> Denial of objective reality –> Feelings of helplessness –> Increasing self-criticism –> Unhappiness and depression –> Self-damaging actions.

When subservience to false messaging and alternate realities becomes your pattern of coping with stress, in the long run you will suffer. Objective reality has a way of creating immense psychological pressure from this pattern, and the “self” – who you thought yourself to be – will crumble with dire consequences. On the other hand, if you commit to accepting objective and verified reality, if you learn to discriminate between what you can and cannot control directly, and if you decide to be guided by values and standards that you – not others – choose, life becomes less stressful and you will be better able to cope with change. You will find a corresponding increase in the energy you need to pursue independent and constructive pursuits that bring you satisfaction and contentment with a life well-lived. You will get along better with others because you will be able to accept their perspectives and individuality. In short, you will be guided by humility, empathy, a social conscience, self-actualization, and life satisfaction, qualities that cannot merge with who you are – your sense of self – if you are guided by tribalism.

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