Trauma & being against pandemic measures & conspiracy theories

The results showed that the more trauma people had experienced in childhood, the more likely they were to mistrust NHS Covid-19 information, to feel unfairly restricted by the government and to support the end of mandatory face masks.

– Covid vaccine hesitancy could be linked to childhood trauma, research finds, The Guardian, February 1, 2022

I have long suspected this connection, and have written about it in previous articles.

ANTI-PANDEMIC MEASURES AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Not everyone who criticises the pandemic measures is into conspiracy theories. Some rely on good data, take a reasonable and informed approach, and chose to not get vaccinated and so on, for whatever reason.

And from what I have seen, it does seem that many who are against the pandemic measures do it out of reactivity and their reasoning is rooted in bad logic and bad data and in some form of unsupported conspiracy theory. This is the group I’ll focus on below.

INDIVIDUALS VS GROUPS

It doesn’t mean that every single person opposed to the measures has a lot of trauma in their system. And it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone with trauma goes into these views.

At a group level, research suggests this tendency. And at an individual level, there is a lot of variation.

TRAUMA AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Several studies have found connections between trauma and conspiracy theories. (Here is one of several.)

We all deal with trauma, emotional pain, and discomfort in different ways. We can face it head-on and work on it. We can try to make it go away. Or, most commonly, we distract ourselves from it.

And one way we can distract ourselves from it is by going into ideologies. And one type of ideology is conspiracy theories.

For some people, conspiracy theories is the perfect distraction. The pandemic has given more people time to go down rabbit holes on the internet and getting into echo chambers. Conspiracy theories can be exciting since we uncover hidden information. It has good guys and bad guys. It’s global and epic. We know something others don’t. It has a lot of drama. And we can create more drama by going into conflicts with friends and family about it.

In short, it has everything for us to get completely absorbed into it and the drama in it, which creates the perfect distraction from our own pain.

HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE

When we look at history, we see that conspiracy theories tend to flourish during pandemics and other collectively challenging times. People are scared and react to that fear by distrusting authorities and trying to find someone to blame.

The conspiracy theories we see today follow the pattern we see from history. History repeats itself, which seems to be missed by many who are into conspiracy theories these days.

We also know that conspiracy theorists from history tend to see themselves as outsiders, ignored, and relatively powerless. It’s not a stretch to imagine that many of these were traumatized from a challenging life and conditions created by an unjust social system. Their reaction is understandable and misguided, and distracts from the real changes needed to change a system that only works for some.

TRAUMA BEHAVIOR & CONSPIRACY THEORIES

What is trauma behavior?

When we experience strong emotional pain or discomfort, we find ways to deal with it.

In general, we have two options. We may meet it, befriend it, find peace with it, heal our relationship with it, invite in healing for the issue, and so on. We may try to distract ourselves from it or make it go away. Or we shift between both.

If we try to distract ourselves from it, we tend to do it in a slightly obsessive way, whether we chose food, sex, entertainment, work, exercise, drugs, nature, spirituality, ideologies, or something else.

And if we try to make it go away, that too can take on a slightly obsessive flavor, whether we try to make it go away through healing, spirituality, or something else.

It seems that for some, conspiracy theories is the perfect distraction from emotional pain.

They may have an outsider identity, and conspiracy theories fits their outsider identity. They may have a victim identity, and conspiracy theories feed into their victim identity. They may get caught up in the entertainment and excitement of discovering new and previously hidden things. They may get to fuel their image of themselves as people on the side of the good and against some evil conspiracy. They may get to feel smart. They get caught up in the drama of the conspiracy theories, and the drama between those into conspiracy theories and those who are not into them. And so on. And all of this serves as a perfect distraction.

PERSONAL OBSERVATION

As mentioned, I have long suspected the trauma-conspiracy theory connection.

Why?

One reason is what I mentioned above. We all deal with our pain, trauma, and discomfort in different ways. And one way is to get into ideologies and things like conspiracy theories.

I also see typical trauma behavior among many who are into conspiracy theories. They seem reactive. Defensive. Procetylizing. Wanting others to understand and agree. Feel like and outsider. Go into a victim position. Become obsessive about it. Use bad logic and bad data to support their views. Resort to name calling. Act like a somewhat immature or even damaged child or teenager. And so on.

What do I base this on?

Partly, it comes from working on my own trauma and emotional pain, and seeing the many ways I have dealt with it. I have done, and sometimes do, what I see in them.

Partly, it’s from history and historical patterns repeating themselves.

Partly, it’s from current research on trauma and conspiracy theories.

And partly, it’s from having worked as a trauma therapists and seeing a lot of the many ways people deal with trauma.

BEING DISCERNING IN HOW TO USE THIS INFORMATION

It’s important to do solid research on these connections, and that research is still in its infancy.

It’s also important to know how to use, and how NOT to use, this information.

We can use it when we discuss anti-pandemic views and conspiracy theories at a group level. We can use it as yet another argument for trauma-informed schools and institutions in general, and working to prevent and heal trauma.

And when it comes to discussing specifics – around vaccines, masks, and so on – it’s better to stay on topic and avoid using it against someone. (In that context, it’s an ad hominem argument).

ADDITIONAL REFLECTIONS….

This is more related to the bigger picture of conspiracy theories.

THE SEED OF TRUTH IN CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There is a seed of truth in many conspiracy theories. Some have a strong reaction to vaccines and get seriously ill or even die. (This is their own body’s reaction to the vaccine, and some react to the virus in a similar way.) The medical industry is in it for the money, not primarily to help people. The multinational corporations have a way too strong influence on policies and some media.

Most conspiracy theories take these seeds of truth to the extreme without supporting it in good data and without too much nuance and maturity.

In rare cases, conspiracy theories are true. When these have been revealed through history, it’s typically because of the work of journalists, historians, or even government agencies. Not because of some people on YouTube or a podcast.

And, in general, the problems we see in the world today are systemic. They are a natural consequence of the system we have. They don’t require or depend on some secret and sinister conspiracy of certain people or groups. (Although, of course, it is in the short-term interest of some groups that the current systemic problems continue.)

“I AM NOT A CONSPIRACY THEORIST, YOU ARE IDIOTS”

I saw someone posting this on social media, apparently in all seriousness.

Of course, from the perspective of conspiracy theorists, what I write here is nonsense.

They are not conspiracy theorists. They have just uncovered the truth.

It’s the rest of us who have bought into the mainstream narrative.

In fairness, from their own perspective, their reactions make sense. They get frustrated, angry, defensive, and reactive. Not because they are caught up in trauma but because they have uncovered a terrible truth that most are oblivious to.

THE PEACE IN TRUTH

When we are very honest with ourselves, we tend to find peace.

What would that look like for me?

Of course, I cannot know anything for certain. For all I know, what these people are saying is true.

And yet, it’s not very likely.

The mRNA vaccine seems relatively safe based on twenty years of testing and research, what we see in the world so far, and knowing how it works. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection, which in term reduces the rate of transmission. And vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. And, of course, it’s possible we’ll see more problems with the vaccine down the road. That’s always possible with any medication.

Masks definitely work in reducing the risk of transmission from droplets. They often reduce the viral load when someone gets infected, and that makes a big difference. And research show they are effective in reducing transmission.

Some folks refer to single studies showing something different from the mainstream view. There will always be outliers. That’s statistics. For the results to have any value, it needs to be replicated several times – by reputable researchers using solid methodology. A single outlier, in itself, means nothing.

And when it comes to the more grand conspiracy theories, is it really likely that a large and very diverse group of people around the world – with widely different political views and orientations –would be in on it?

I cannot know for certain. And that doesn’t mean that I cannot know with a relatively high degree of certainty in a conventional sense, especially when it’s based on history, science, and logic.

For me, this is the most accurate and honest.

What would be more honest for them? I cannot know, of course. But I assume it may be that they too cannot know for certain. And perhaps, somewhere, they know their data and logic doesn’t always hold up.

When I come from reactivity and defensiveness, it’s because I am holding onto a story that I know is not true the way I pretend it is. I assume it’s the same for them. They know they cannot know, and they may suspect their logic and data are flimsy, so they get reactive and defensive when they see their views as threatened.

MATURING OUT OF IT?

To me, conspiracy theorists often appear without too much nuance and maturity, especially when they have the zeal of the newly converted.

So will they mature out of it?

I am not sure.

Some will if they are open to it feel they have the space to do.

And some may not. They may have built an identity and community around conspiracy theoris. They may have burnt intellectual and social bridges. They may feel too much backed into a corner by the reaction of family and friends. And if they have specific predictions that don’t come true, they may go into explanations that fit their existing worldview.

SUMMARY

This is a topic that’s both relatively simple and complex.

The pandemic-related conspiracy theories we see today follow what we have seen in other pandemics. They follow a historic pattern and were predictable even before the pandemic happened.

The people who get into these conspiracy theories tend to have an outsider identity, sometimes a victim identity, and may have more-than-average trauma in their system.

There are often seeds of truth in conspiracy theories, and these seeds are typically more connected to systemic problems than any intentional or coordinated conspiracy.

Knowing about the trauma connection is important at a social level, and it reinforces the need for a more trauma-informed society and institutions, and a better system for helping people with their pain and trauma. Mainly, it reminds us of the need for deep systemic changes.

When discussing these issues, it’s most helpful to stay on the topic and avoid ad hominem arguments.

…..

INITIAL DRAFT

I have long suspected this connection, and have written about it in previous articles.

ANTI-PANDEMIC MEASURES AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Not everyone who criticises the pandemic measures is into conspiracy theories. Some rely on good data, take a reasonable and informed approach, and chose to not get vaccinated and so on, for whatever reason.

And from what I have seen, it does seem that a good deal of the anti-pandemic measures views are rooted in some form of conspiracy theory. What I have seen so far is mostly supported by bad logic and bad data.

INDIVIDUALS VS GROUPS

It doesn’t mean that every single person who gets into these views – anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-pandemic measures in general, conspiracy theories, and so on – has a lot of trauma in their system. And it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone with trauma goes into these views. (I am an example of the latter.)

At a group level, we may find this tendency. And at an individual level, there is a lot of variation.

TRAUMA AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Previous research has found that there is a connection between trauma and going into conspiracy theories. (Here is one of several.) At a group level, the more trauma the more likely people are to get into conspiracy theories.

And although not everyone who are skeptical to vaccines and so on base it on conspiracy theories, many do. Much of the reasoning for being against pandemic measures (vaccine, mask) is rooted in conspiracy theories. In what looks like bad logic and bad data.

HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE

When we look at history, we see that conspiracy theories flourish in pandemics and other challenging times. People are scared and react to that fear by distrusting authorities and trying to find people to blame. The conspiracy theories we see today follow this historic pattern.

From history, we also see that those engaging in conspiracy theories tend to be ones who see themselves as outsiders, ignored, and relatively powerless. It’s not a stretch to imagine that many of these were traumatized from a challenging life and conditions created by an unjust social system.

TRAUMA BEHAVIOR & CONSPIRACY THEORIES

What is trauma behavior?

When we experience strong emotional pain or discomfort, we find ways to deal with it.

In general, we have two options. We may meet it, befriend it, find peace with it, heal our relationship with it, invite in healing for the issue, and so on. We may try to distract ourselves from it or make it go away. Or we shift between both.

If we try to distract ourselves from it, we tend to do it in a slightly obsessive way, whether we chose food, sex, entertainment, work, exercise, drugs, nature, spirituality, ideologies, or something else.

And if we try to make it go away, that too can take on a slightly obsessive flavor, whether we try to make it go away through healing, spirituality, or something else.

It seems that for some, conspiracy theories is the perfect distraction from emotional pain.

They may have an outsider identity, and conspiracy theories fits their outsider identity. They may have a victim identity, and conspiracy theories feed into their victim identity. They may get caught up in the entertainment and excitement of discovering new and previously hidden things. They may get to fuel their image of themselves as people on the side of the good and against some evil conspiracy. They may get to feel smart. They get caught up in the drama of the conspiracy theories, and the drama between those into conspiracy theories and those who are not into them. And so on. And all of this serves as a perfect distraction.

PERSONAL OBSERVATION

Why have I long suspected a trauma-conspiracy theory connection? Because I see typical trauma behavior in the reactions and language of many of the ones opposing the pandemic measures. (Part of my background is as a trauma therapist.)

And this is even more clear when it comes to conspiracy theories.

What are some examples of behavior that looks like trauma behavior?

Reactivity. Defensiveness. Procetylizing. Wanting others to understand and agree. Feeling like an outsider. Feeling like a victim. Being obsessive about it. Using bad logic and bad data to support a view. Name-calling. Acting like a somewhat immature teenager. And so on.

HOW TO USE / NOT USE THIS INFORMATION

It’s important to do solid research on these connections, and that research is still in its infancy.

It’s also important to know how to use, and how NOT to use, this information.

We can use it when we discuss anti-pandemic views and conspiracy theories at a group level. We can use it as yet another argument for trauma-informed schools and institutions in general, and working to prevent and heal trauma.

And when it comes to discussing specifics – around vaccines, masks, and so on – it’s better to stay on topic and avoid ad hominem arguments.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS….

I thought I would add a couple of related topics:

THE SEED OF TRUTH IN CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There is a seed of truth in many conspiracy theories. Some have a strong reaction to vaccines and get seriously ill or even die. (Since this is their own body’s response, and the vaccine mimics a virus, they may have experienced a similar reaction to the actual virus.) The medical industry is in it for the money, not primarily to help people. The multinational corporations have a way too strong influence on policies and even media. We live in an economic system that does not take ecological realities into account, and this sets us up so even our daily life activities are destructive to Earth.

Most conspiracy theories take these seeds of truth and go overboard with them without much nuance or maturity.

In rare cases, conspiracy theories are true. When these have been revealed historically, it’s because of the work of journalists, historians, or even government agencies. Not because of some people on YouTube or a podcast.

And, in general, the problems we see in the world today are systemic. They are a natural consequence of the system we have. They don’t depend on or require some secret and sinister conspiracy of certain people or groups.

“I AM NOT A CONSPIRACY THEORIST, YOU ARE IDIOTS”

I saw someone posting this on social media, apparently in all seriousness.

Of course, for conspiracy theorists, all this looks different.

From that side, they are not conspiracy theorists. They have just uncovered the truth.

They may see others as having bought into the mainstream narrative. As being idiots.

In fairness, from their own perspective, their reactions make sense. They get frustrated. Angry. Defensive. Reactive. Not because they are caught up in trauma but because they have uncovered a terrible truth and most people are oblivious to it.

THE PEACE IN TRUTH

And to me, it looks different. If they were certain their views were correct, they would likely be more in peace with it. When I am very honest with myself, I find peace.

And the truth here is that they cannot know their stories are true. The stories are based on flimsy logic and data.

That’s the same for me too. I cannot know that there aren’t some grains of truth in their views. Most likely, there is. (And, most likely, their views are also based on a lot of fearful imagination not rooted in reality.) I cannot know that the vaccine won’t have serious effects further down the road. (Although it’s very unlikely based on how they work and twenty years of testing.)

When I behave as they do – from reactivity, defensiveness, and so on – it’s because I am holding onto a story that isn’t true. I assume it’s the same for them. They know they cannot know, and they know their logic and data is flimsy, so they get reactive and defensive when their views seem threatened.

MATURING OUT OF IT?

Conspiracy theorists often appear relatively naive and immature, especially if they have the zeal of the newly converted.

Will conspiracy theorists mature out of it?

I am not sure. Many have built an identity and community around conspiracy theories.

And if they have specific predictions that don’t come true, they tend to make up reasons to explain why that fit their existing worldview.

SUMMARY

This is a topic that’s both relatively simple and complex.

The anti-authority views and conspiracy theories we see today is a repetition of history and what we have seen in other pandemics.

The people who get into it tend to have an outsider identity, sometimes a victim identity, and may have more-than-average trauma in their system.

There are usual seeds of truth in conspiracy theories. And the seeds are often the result of systemic problems more than any intentional or coordinated conspiracy.

When discussing the specifics, it’s good to stay on the topic and avoid ad hominem arguments.

OUTLINE

  • trauma and conspiracy theories / anti-pandemic measures
    • several studies found a connection
    • individual differences, is found on group level
    • discuss on the topic, not use as argument against (apart from in a very general way, that it’s part of the picture)

DRAFT FRAGMENTS

I have long suspected this connection.

It doesn’t mean that every single person who gets into these views – anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-pandemic measures in general, conspiracy theories, and so on – has a lot of trauma in their system. And it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone with trauma goes into these views. (I am an example of the latter.) But it does mean there is tendency of trauma to be connected with these views when we see it at a group level.

Why have I suspected this connection? Because I see typical trauma behavior in the reactions and language of the ones holding these views. (Part of my background is as a trauma therapist.)

And this is even more clear when it comes to conspiracy theories.

…..

Although it’s a very small sample, I have noticed that the ones I know with more trauma seem more likely to get into an orientation that’s anti-pandemic measures (vaccine, masks) and even conspiracy theories.

….

The reactions of some to common-sense pandemic measures (vaccines, masks) has many of the hallmarks of trauma reaction.

…..

To me, it has long looked like trauma behavior.

…..

At an individual level, there is a lot of variation. But at a group level, we may find this connection.

…..

because of my experience as a trauma therapist, and also findings from previous research.

…..

To me, it has the signs of trauma behavior. And previous research has found similar connections between trauma and conspiracy theories. (And much of what’s behind anti-pandemic measures views are forms of conspiracy theories.)

…..

We may meet it, welcome it, find peace with it, heal our relationship with it, and so on.

…..

What is trauma behavior?

It can take many different forms.

…..

HOW IT MAY LOOK FROM THE OTHER SIDE

From the side of those into conspiracy theories, this looks different.

The research above is obviously part of the conspiracy. I am buying into the mainstream narrative. The data and logic is good. And so on.

….

I have long suspected this connection, and have written about it in previous articles.

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