Most Americans Struggle With Their Feelings Towards the United States

drawing of American symbols

Verywell / Laura Porter

Key Takeaways

  • A majority of Americans believe that other countries respect the United States less than in the past.
  • Younger Americans are also more likely to view other countries as superior to the United States.
  • Mental health professionals explain how a lack of respect from your country can hurt a person's well-being.

The United States of America is anything but a united, equal place these days and Americans are really starting to feel it.

In the past six years alone, there have been Islamophobic immigration bans, men credibly accused of sexual assault gaining high office, unchecked racist police violence, regular mass shootings everywhere from grocery stores to schools, delayed action against a deadly pandemic, a president-backed insurrection, proposed and enacted laws against transgender people, and the removal of people’s control over their own pregnant bodies. 

Even more devastating: The above is only a tiny sample of the terrible events that have occurred. So, is it a surprise that many Americans don’t feel pride in, or respected by, the United States and are beginning to believe the rest of the world looks down on the country? 

A recent Pew Research Center (PRC) survey found that 68% of Americans believe the United States is less respected globally than in the past. About two-thirds of people who feel this way label it a major problem. 

“I do not claim America, and I, too, am embarrassed to be here because my body or my existence is not affirmed or protected. I feel scared and unheard,” explains KD Comeaux, one of the many exasperated Americans speaking out.

“Here we are in 2022 still fighting for basic liberties on land stolen from a Native people with stolen African people from their own land. America needs redemption. Beyond perception, there’s work to repair generations of housing oppression, and mass incarceration and racism need to be eradicated.”

How Americans View "The Land of the Free"

In December, PRC conducted a similar survey to determine how Americans viewed the United States in comparison to other countries. The results varied widely by age and political party.

Overall, younger people were more likely to say there were countries better than the United States (42% of people 18 to 29) than older people (10% of people over 65). Younger people were also much less likely to say the United States was the best country than older people. 

The shift by age remained when looking specifically at Republicans or Democrats. Still, the former was much more likely to say the United States was the greatest worldwide, with 38% of Republicans agreeing on this compared to 12% of democrats. Looking at people 18 to 29, 55% of Democrats believe there are countries superior to the United States, but only 18% of republicans in this age range agree. 

A person’s view of their country can tie directly to how the nation supports them and their fellow citizens.

Veterans, in particular, face a specific dilemma around respect for the United States and exhibiting “patriotism.” In a 2021 study, veterans explained to researchers how they feel a responsibility to project patriotism after returning from service. However, some people spoke of the necessity for this to be a two-way street, with the government also providing respect and care for them.

Yet, after experiencing traumatic events, many veterans are left to deal with things on their own, with a great deal more suicides occurring each year than deaths in service. For example, between 2003 and 2017, a little over 4,400 American service people died in combat, but in 2014 alone, more than 7,300 veterans committed suicide.  

Growing Impact on Mental Health

When people feel a lack of protection and respect from the place they call home, it can cause them to lose respect in return and have harmful mental health effects. 

“Humans are social creatures who seek a sense of belonging and security through association with a larger group. As such, it can be really destabilizing for people to come to terms with the fact that they are not accepted or regarded as a member of the society that they identify with,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy.

Harouni Lurie continues, “Coping with the reality that you could be harassed, attacked, imprisoned, or even killed for your very existence and that your government will do nothing to protect you can be very challenging and can either be the source of, or lead to the amplification of, an individual’s depression and anxiety.” 

Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT

Coping with the reality that you could be harassed, attacked, imprisoned, or even killed for your very existence and that your government will do nothing to protect you can...lead to the amplification of, an individual’s depression and anxiety.

— Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT

It feels impossible not to sink into anxiety or depression when faced with these truths. We pay taxes, vote, and act as responsible society members only to face danger, uncertainty, and diminished rights. Many people across the country question whether the United States is somewhere they still feel comfortable living.

“As an American, I feel like I live in an impossible situation,” says Alicia Marshall, who previously moved to the United Arab Emirates before returning to the United States. “I'm afraid for my daughter. She's four. I don't want her to do live shooter drills. The whole concept is insane to me—to live in a place that just accepts that kind of mass violence. But also, it's my home. Do I just give up and leave again?” 

Relationship With the Government

According to Chanel Johnson, a certified clinical trauma professional, licensed professional counselor, and CEO of Altus Home Counseling, when evaluating how the United States government makes you feel, it can help to think of it as a relationship. “Being in any relationship where you feel unsupported or ignored negatively impacts your mental health,” she says.

Johnson continues, “It can cause stress, anxious symptoms, and depressive symptoms. These symptoms can include, but are not limited to, always feeling on guard, being tense and keyed up, feelings of hopelessness, excessive worry, unhealthy appetite, unhealthy sleep patterns, and low mood.”

Johnson has noticed people who feel that the government doesn’t respect them describe it with traits that reflect that of a narcissist, such as exhibiting entitlement and using others to achieve their goals. 

Margo Gabriel left the United States two years ago to work as a freelance writer in Portugal. She also states the amount of deadly violence and easy access to guns as one of the factors that need to be changed for her to think of the United States in a more positive light.

“The clear disregard for human life in this nation is staggering [and] the school shootings are beyond horrifying,” she explains. She has noticed her European peers’ respect for the United States continues to diminish. They ask Gabriel why more Americans haven’t left to move to places with greater rights and less danger.  

“It is a good idea to consider moving abroad when the pros outweigh the cons, or the cons threaten your life or livelihood,” says Johnson. “The latter is why I am personally considering expatriatism.” She feels torn between helping people as a mental health professional in her hometown of Detroit or leaving to somewhere she feels less at risk.

Like Marshall, she worries about her daughter’s safety while at school. “I liken my feelings and relationship with the United States to one of domestic abuse at times,” she explains. 

Johnson says that similar factors to leaving an abusive relationship are involved, such as worrying if the unknown will be even worse, leaving familiarity, financials, and knowing each place has problems. 

Chanel Johnson, LPC

I liken my feelings and relationship with the United States to one of domestic abuse at times.

— Chanel Johnson, LPC

It’s critical to note that for some people leaving the United States is the right choice and a possibility, but for many Americans, it is not even a viable option. The cost and logistics involved are unattainable in many instances.

Of course, many people also want to stay in the United States and either fight for a better society or live with things as they are—the latter is much easier for people who are less impacted by the government’s policies, such as cisgender rich white men. 

Lurie emphasizes that though more people may be impacted directly by recent, horrific decisions such as Roe v. Wade being overturned, many people in the United States have consistently been ignored or discriminated against by the government.

As she explains: “BIPOC, immigrants, and LGBTQ folks have long been made to feel like they don’t belong in this country, and, in many cases, they feel unsafe in their ability to freely live their lives due to forms of institutionalized and systemic oppression that are supported and perpetuated by the government.” 

What This Means For You

Every person deserves a country that supports, protects, and recognizes them. The United States is not acting in that capacity for many of its residents. It's up to each of us how to fight for the home we deserve.