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.

  2. Sandra Price

    Hal, as a Hospice worker in two states, I was very aware of all the stages of grief. Great analogy! She may be able to come out of it but can her crazy women supporters? Most of these women, I assume were simply disgusted with the religious right behind Bush and want those prohibitions silenced by the voice of a strong woman President.

    What we must never forget is that the Prohibitions have been installed in the GOP platform and as long as they are there we are all living under the threat of a police state.

  3. DejaVuAllOver

    I’d like to hope Hillary can emerge from this a better person. I’m not an expert, like you, Hal, but I suspect Hillary’s egocentric behavior is gonna be a tough nut to break. Kind of like teaching a dog to hold it’s breath! Some things are so innate, they ain’t bloody likely to go away. I hope I’m wrong, however.

  4. bryan mcclellan

    Maybe she should try what our soldiers are faced with,130 degrees, 80 lb rucksacks and some freakin idiot around every corner trying to take their heads off.

    You know what they do?

    They suck it up and move on for Christs sake.Retrospect kills in a combat zone.

    She says she is tough, prove it!

    She doesn’t have time for any stages of remorse or what the f#+ks. If we commoners had time to feel sorry we’d all be sitting next to a gas pump crying our eyes out, but we don’t because it won’t put food on the table ,etc.

    She needs to take those steps ASAP that lead her to get her ass to DC and do her damn job,and that is stop smirk from doing any more damage.

    The Dems with the exception of a few have been on some kind of Nantucket sleigh ride with the fool on the hill and it’s time to put up or get the hell out of the way for new blood.

    Hilly has plenty of time for Ego damage assessment later.She’s got the best health plan in the world,and besides that, a little HONEST hard work is always the best medicine.

    Suck it up girl and do the job you were hired to do.Or are you the neocon in donkey skin we all suspect?

  5. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    Hell Yes Bryan, I agree with you, Pillary is a Neo-Con in A Custom Made Donkey Pants Suit taking money from the likes of Neo Con Media Mogul ‘Rupie’ Murdoch.

    I won’t vote for Sir Obama of Camelot either with his pandering to AIPAC.

    Won’t vote for Sir Obama but if he really doesn’t want to take the Democrapper party in flames, he better get a Clintonectomy and get that Hillary Cancer Polyp removed from his intestinal lining -and after that Polyp is removed, toss it in a jar of Formaldehyde.

  6. Hal Brown

    We just came back from the beach and saw our best summer beach friend for the first time of the season. She’s as anti-Bush as they come and last summer we had great Bush bashing conversations. But today she said she was in mourning and didn’t want to talk politics.

    She said she can’t even think about voting for Obama so she may just not vote. Another woman friend sitting with us disagreed and said that while she’d been for Hillary and was sad over her loss, she’d vote for Obama because the alternate was so unacceptable.

    This is just an example of how some Hillary supporters are grieving in different ways. I am confident most of those who believe in the ideals of the Democratic party, and see what a McCain presidency will be like, will resolve their grief in good time and end up voting for Obama.

    Unfortunately, Hillary did quite a good job trashing Obama and what I heard today, and from another Clinton supporter yesterday, suggests she’d convinced some Democrats not merely that she was the better candidate, but that he’s unqualified to be president.

    That was and is supposed to be McCain’s job.

  7. Flapsaddle

    Those 18 million are not hers either to give or to withhold.

    Like the women you mentioned talking to on vacation, the X-chromosome support will resolve itself as a small number – like the first woman – will boycott the election out of either grief or anger and the remainder come to a practical acceptance; few if any will cross to the “dark side”. I would expect much of the older vote that has been her support to remain loyal, with only a relatively small number opting to punish the party by not voting.

    What she cannot deliver will be the lower socioeconomic white voters that propelled her to such solid victories in in West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania; the racist, white-trash Archie Bunker voters will not support Obama. They will, as they did starting in 1968, cross over to the candidate that has “out-niggered” the other.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  8. RafaelApollo

    “Mirror Mirror on the wall-who is the most self-centered and ego-driven and most narcissistic of them all.”

    I have just spoken with 2 friends who were female Hillary supporters and they said they could breathe now because they saw what was really there.

    It was not a woman and it was not a political figure but an apparition-something that was supposed to be a doorway for old Bill to come back into the White House and, perhaps, exact a thousand more of his unconstitutional Executive Orders from the shadows or to, at least, try. And to bring their brooms to sweep up after Junior.

    They (my friends) will vote for Obama or the “Man In The Moon” to avoid voting for McCain but they knew “nearly too late” they said what Hillary really was.

    Bargain with the Devil. That’s been done. She just had to look in the mirror. They had to pull her off the stage with a grappling hook. Charlie Rangel and the other guys were as courteous as they were going to be.

    Put the violins away.

    As time goes by-more and more of her so-called eighteen million will slip away from her like sands through the hourglass…or is that the “looking glass.”

    Obama will now get about his business of dusting off McCain. Hillary has just been his drafting partner. Like 2 drivers on a NASCAR track Clinton and Obama holding onto each other to keep the other from winning—they joust away while the real winner slips gleefully across the finish line. That facet of the contest is over. McCain is the priority here.

    Everyone is so worried about her extortion and his (Bill’s) “power play” that they are consumed with it-with her still. Obama doesn’t need her as VP or in the cabinet at all. This is someone who carries with her, not just the baggage of Bill and his crimes (and I’m not talking about the set-up with Lewinsky to get him out of the White House)-but is prone to every manner of sabotage, manipulation and scandal. Then there are the peculiarities such as Foster, etc. and I thought it was funny that she mentioned “foster” in her “speech.”

    I never was so happy as to see her exit stage left. Now turn off the klieg lights and let the real games begin. The GOP is shaking in its shoes that their foil has been removed from the spotlight.

    The women I’m talking to are savvy politicos–they are not mourning-they are relieved that they were spared supporting this travesty. They are sorry they did not see it more clearly-earlier.

    Rafael Apollo

    The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be lighted.

  9. Hal Brown

    Rafael Apollo, I don’t recall seeing your comments to my columns before so WELCOME! I look forward to reading more of your opinions.

    Two different slants on why Hillaristas should get over it and support Obama in today’s New York Times OpEd section.

    “The Good American and Monsieur Obama” by Roger Cohen


    “It’s a Different Country” by Paul Krugman.

    Something to remind Hillary supporters who don’t reach the final stage of grief by election day and vote for Obama is that in order to win McCain has to appeal to his hard core right wing base, mostly made up of the 25% who still support George Buah. He will owe a debt to these voters if he wins.

  10. Sandra Price

    Hal, the worst enemy facing Obama is Rush Limbaugh. He has turned from attacking Hillary and is full force against a black President. I live in Limbaugh country and this is the only news many of the residents here get. When I ask them what Rush says, they back away and tell me they don’t talk politics. The women will sometimes whisper that they like Hillary but their husbands do not hear them.

    I’m a big supporter of free speech but something has to counter Rush’s terrible rumors about Obama.

  11. Hal Brown

    McCain surrogate slimers,

    indeed Sandra while McCain himself will wink and nod as he disavows the messages from Limbaugh’s legions, we can expect an onslaught of ads like this:

    ” ‘Willie Horton’ ad creator takes on Obama” LINK

    Ideally I’d like to see the Hillary 10% (estimate now of those who will vote for McCain) get to know Obama better and change their minds about him. I told the woman at the beach that I’d bring “The Audacity of Hope” to the beach next weekend and asked her to select any two chapters to read and see if, after that, she’s still so against Obama.

    If the Hillary 10% still can’t accept Obama, perhaps seeing McCain for who he really is and what he will do to the country (to THEIR civil liberties) will convince them to “hold their noses” and vote for Obama.

  12. keith

    It is often said that you vote with your heart in primaries, but you vote with your head in elections.

    Certainly, there are still WAY too many ignorant bigots in our country that would never vote for a black person if he (or she) was the Lord incarnate.

    However, my hunch is that, come November, most of those folks will have had their fill of Mr. McCain’s singularly bankrupt “bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran” strategy for our nation that they will flock to the polls and elect Mr. Obama by a landslide.