For Hillary Clinton the ultimate psychological challenge: fast tracking the five stages of grief

The Democratic Party doesn’t have the luxury of affording Hillary Clinton the time she needs to fully resolve the loss of her dream to be president because this was a primary, not a general election where she would have months or years to lick her wounds. The party needs her now at her best to assure a victory for McCain whether she runs for vice president or uses all the power of persuasion she can bring to bear to keep her 18 million supporters from defecting to McCain.

We saw Hillary going through the first stage of grief, denial, for the weeks where the math just didn’t add up in her favor. She clung to her denial tenaciously even until Tuesday night when Obama went over the top.

Being introduced by Terry McCauliffe as the next president and her enthusiastic cheering supporters shouting "Denver, Denver, Denver" didn’t help her confront the truth of her loss.

Here’s an example of how her denial was fueled from the Sunday New York Times:

Mrs. Clinton recognized the odds. But she was being encouraged by emotional supporters along the rope lines and came to believe she had an obligation to stay in, aides said. At every stop, someone would say, “Don’t you quit!” — and aides said she internalized the message. “The psychology of it all is very complicated,” one said. “I’m sure you don’t want to slow down because once you do, you start to think about

Advisers shied from suggesting she quit. “You’re a persona non grata if you bring up getting out,” another aide said. LINK (bottom of page)

The next stage of grief is anger. This could be discerned by her reluctance to concede defeat and not mentioning that Obama won and agreed to concede until the New York delegation forced her to do so. One could also make the case that being 45 minutes late to give her concession speech endorsing Obama was a manifestation of grief related anger.

So far we have the first two stages of grief which ideally should resolve themselves without others interfering. I always tell my clients that there are no time tables for working through the stages of grief, but there are impasses possible at each level which can be resolved, often with counseling.

From a psychological standpoint, I don’t think any of Hillary’s stages of grief have been resolved. She’s probably working on denial and to a lesser extent anger, but she has been forced by circumstances to move to the next stage of grief which is bargaining. This seems to have begun by making a tentative effort to achieve peace with Barack Obama. It isn’t clear what she is bargaining for unless she is trying to be asked to run as the vice presidential candidate.

In the famous Kübler-Ross model, bargaining seems to involve a higher power. Cynics and smart-ass columnists like myself have suggested that Hillary has been trying this so Obama would disappear from the scene.

Frankly, no matter what obnoxious thoughts may cross my mind about bargaining with Lucifer, I really don’t see Hillary as religious or superstitious. Her bargaining may be the real nutty gritty face-to-face bargaining with someone who actually is a higher power. That hopefully began last night.

It can’t be easy for her. I suspect she’d rather be bargaining with the Devil than a flesh and blood man some 15 years her junior who now has what must be unfathomable andi infuriating power over her.

The fourth stage of grieving is depression, and for this the "cure" is quite special for her. With most people it involves making a concerted effort, sometimes with the help of a loved one or counselor, to be able to think about what you lost realistically, confronting both the good and the bad. I means appreciating what you still have and what you still can do in the future.

Hillary should do this, it is what is effective in conquering grief depression with everyone.

But she can do something few have the good fortune to be able to do during a time of grief. This is to immerse yourself in a cause greater then yourself.

For her own mental health, and the overall health of the nation, she needs to devote herself to helping Obama get elected. What greater cause is there? If she succeeds she can maintain her mantle as the most female power and force for positive change in the world.

She needs to remind herself that if she devotes her full talent and energy to it, in the next administration she could do it so well that she will go down in history as the most accomplished female American politician ever, if not one of the most accomplished politicians period.

Hal Brown has been a clinical social worker and psychotherapist since 1971. He often writes about politics and politicians from a psychological perspective.


  1. Sandra Price

    Keith, just wait until August and September when the GOP starts throwing the hard stuff. I recieved an email this morning that Obama wants to repeal the 2nd Amendment. There was already a story about his adultery on a tabloid magazine 5 months ago. I plan to use this dirty political spread of lies against the GOP and point out that we have lived through 8 years of intense lying from the party and it is time to throw the bastards out.

    People who give a damn about the integrity of our nation can be turned around to rid us all of this horrible bunch of users and abusers but it is the people who do not want to discuss the situation that we must find a way to get to. Politics is too complicated for most people and all the two-timing of our leaders is simply ignored.

    Apathy will kill America and not even 9/11 can budge it.