Mitt Romney's loss to President Obama on Tuesday unleashed predictable angst and debate in a Republican Party that must now decide how to attract a more diverse electorate.
But for conservatives who identify with the tea party, one emotion seemed to dominate all others: a white-hot anger at the Republican establishment. Tea party supporters are angry at the GOP for embracing as its presidential nominee a "moderate" like Romney. For undermining "true conservative" candidates. And for "choosing to ignore" the conservative agenda.
This reaction can be understood as a manic flight from grief. Psychologist Mary Gail-O'dea describes the dynamics of this psychological defense in relation to recent developments within the Catholic Church, but her description applies to any ideological group that suffers a major loss. Though this defense actually occurs within individuals, the group unites individuals who provide mutual encouragement and support for their shared defense.
The Catholic hierarchy from the papacy on down seems to be roiling through a series of manic episodes in which they execute perverted power plays against those perceived as enemies. This kind of mania often is exhibited by large identity groups whose power has been threatened and who are unable to respond adaptively to that loss through a process of healthy mourning.[...]
When a large group’s identity is threatened and power is lost, the healthy group will mourn before reworking their sense of self to accord with a new reality. When mourning goes well, there is a cleansing of mind, spirit, and psyche to go on after loss; to reconstitute self, relationships with others, hopes, dreams and beliefs in a renegotiated engagement with the real and the possible. There is self-examination about our own contribution to the control we are losing, perhaps ending in a rueful recognition that we never should have had that much control. The crisis of mourning well done can morph into a kairos leading to deeper connection with self, others and the Divine.
When mourning is refused, however, we may deny that loss is permanent and instead manically try to restore that which is forever changed. Nostalgia, memory’s rose-colored cousin, rules the mind and soul. In some cases, we select someone or something defined now as “Other” onto whom we direct rage for “causing” our loss of power and control even if our own behaviors actually ushered in the loss. Mourning is submerged beneath rage and exclusivity -- we are OK, they are not; the badness is out there while goodness and heroism is within.
This post describing the dynamics of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions in psychological life may be helpful, as well.