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Ask Dr. Helen: How Do You Deal With a Palin Hater?

When political passion becomes obsessive and unhealthy.

by
Helen Smith

Bio

October 6, 2008 - 12:08 am

Reader Sean emails to tell me he is concerned about an advice column in Salon that gives some… not so good advice:

Dear Helen, I wanted to get your take on this article on Sarah Palin at Salon.

I will not repeat the entire question and answer that Cary Tennis, the advice columnist at Salon gives to a woman who identifies herself as A “Hater” (you can read the whole thing yourself if you are so inclined).  The highlights of it are that a woman writes in stating she is a Democrat, a mother of three, a full-time attorney and a Palin hater:

And then came Sarah. My reaction to her, and the way the Republican Party threw her in our faces, and the pandering and hypocrisy that was behind their decision to do so, was immediate, visceral, and indeed, vicious. I have crossed every line I believed should never be crossed in public discourse — I have criticized not only her policies and her record, but her hair, her personal style, her accent, her abilities as a mother, etc. I’ve also begun to suffer personally and professionally. I bore my friends with my constant tirades against her, and am constantly distracted from my work by my need to continually update myself on the latest criticism, and indeed, ridicule, of her. In my hatred for her, I have begun to hate myself. I don’t want this woman ruining my life before she even gets a chance to ruin our country. How do I stop? Is there a self-help group for this? A “Hater”

Now, one would think that a decent response might have been to give some advice on how to handle political exchanges with family members, friends, or others — but no such luck.

Instead, advice columnist Tennis makes excuses for “Hater,” fans the flames of her hate, and tries to psychoanalyze Palin when he is way out of his league:

I think what disturbs us about Sarah Palin is that she reminds us of the authoritarian personality. My guess is that she is also an ESFJ, or Extroverted Sensing Feeling Judging type, with a strong preference for sensing. Such a person prefers to acquire her knowledge from concrete objects and places instead of from abstract ideas. This would explain why she thinks being geographically close to Russia is a form of foreign policy expertise.   As an authoritarian type, she strikes us as a person who prefers power to reason. The people running John McCain’s campaign seem to instinctively understand the uses to which such an impression can be put. Perhaps they know better than we do how deeply the American people long to be done with the problem of democracy, to yield to a powerful father-mother pair of authoritarians.   The very thing that appalls us about Sarah Palin — her discomfort in the realm of reason — is her main selling point. This is so mind-boggling that you have to take a minute to let it in. Take a deep breath. Read that sentence again. Face it: Sarah Palin represents what many people want: a retreat from reason; a regression to childhood.

Say what? This advice columnist states that Palin is an authoritarian personality and his superior reasoning is that a Myers-Briggs (a test used by organizational and industrial psychologists) would say that Sarah Palin is an ESFJ — and then interprets the non-existent test results as meaning that she is an authoritarian personality?

And he thinks that Palin can’t reason? This is what is mind-boggling, if you ask me.  Perhaps Tennis’ interpretation of an “authoritarian personality” is anyone who disagrees with a liberal.

In fact, Theodore Adorno, one of the researchers who developed the term “authoritarian personality,” has an anti-capitalist bent, so it is no wonder he and his work is held in such high esteem by those who fear the free market, private industry, and personal responsibility. These ideals are abstract, intellectual, and require reasoning.

Those are the ideas that Sarah Palin aspires to, but that Tennis has no clue in understanding. Perhaps Tennis would have given better advice if he had told “Hater” about the studies of University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who found that while conservatives could put themselves in the mindset of liberals, liberals did not return the favor. In other words, like Hater, some scream, rant, and rave when someone does not agree with them, with no understanding of why people are different. Perhaps a little empathy is in order here for Hater’s friends and family.

At the very least, Tennis could have told her to back off from friends and co-workers with her rants and angry tantrums. For her behavior is nothing but the regression to a two-year-old: throwing a tantrum because she has no idea that other people have different opinions than one’s own and that those opinions may be just as valid or more so. And yes, perhaps a self-help group would help Hater to reflect on her ugly behavior.

What do you think, is Hater’s behavior to friends and family justified?

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If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email at askdrhelen@hotmail.com. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question – if you want me to use your name, tell me; otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader,” etc.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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