The Need for Conspiracy Theories

Empathizing with the psychological need for conspiracies.

Over the last year, especially with the coronavirus turning our world upside down, I’ve noticed family members buying into conspiracy theories more and more. Yesterday, having had enough of it, I tried to call them out on it. Afterwards, feeling somewhat smug with myself, I thought that would make them think twice about “sharing this crap again with me”.

Later that evening though, I was drawn to understanding why people are drawn to conspiracy theories in the first place and after reading a variety of articles, what I found rocked my world and made me have a much deeper sense of empathy for them. It turns out that people are drawn to conspiracy theories because they help them address their basic psychological needs of control, understanding, and belonging, thus helping them to create a coping mechanism that actually protects their mental health.

Why this is mind blowing to me is because this directly relates with my life’s work which is about “levelling up” to creatively adapt to the times we’re living within. What I’m talking about here is our psychological development and increasing our level of consciousness which directly correlates with our ability to go beyond just our lower level needs and begin to address our higher level ones. When we are able to achieve this, we’re more and more able to let go of our fears and thrive within a “wilderness” of change that previously seemed scary and uncertain to us but with a broader perspective can hold newer possibilities and potentials for us.

So what my family members are going through right now is similar to what I experienced two decades ago when my world was shattered by the Dot-com Bubble bursting, leaving me unemployed and angry at the world for what it had did to me as a victim of it. In their case though, their experience is amplified even more so because their basic ability to feel safe and connected with others physically (especially if you’re extroverted) has been ripped away which is why they’re effectively grasping at anything to try to make sense of it and give them back a sense of control in their lives. In this case, feeling like they are at least controlling the narrative by communicating how they are being victimized by “outside forces intent on doing harm to them”.

While I find this all amazingly remarkable and gives me another reason to try to package everything I’m learning and sharing it with others in a simpler way that can actually make sense to them from their perspective and level of consciousness, what still perplexes me about this all is why haven’t there been any external signs of extreme psychological duress from them prior to this? I mean my one sister did indicates stresses before but nothing that seemed extreme from the way she was describing them. In comparison, I’m quite vivid in describing the experiences of stress on my own journey, as they can feel like you’re “being torn apart from the inside” (because your identity is metaphorically “dying and being born again” in a larger sense, often referred to as creative destruction).

Is this just another way our culture and society puts expectations on us to just carry through and persevere, keeping a stiff upper lip and not complaining about the stresses we’re going through? If so, it’s a bullshit expectation. People need to express what their going through and be able to share their experiences, describing the feelings they’re going through, so that they can work and “walk through” these experiences, making sense of them in a positive way. If they just bury them, it doesn’t help. It just makes things much worse in the long run, as years of progressing and regressing, back and forth, have proven in my own life because I rarely had someone to talk to who could actually relate and help me understand the experiences I was going through in my own life.

In fact, if you look at the patterns and why people are attracted to conspiracy theories, my life follows a very similar path that rides the razors edge of this. For example, if I tell someone I just met that “they don’t see reality but instead a mental map of it”, they’re going to think I’m crazy because their perceived reality, based upon their beliefs, is going to seem very real to them. That’s because people don’t start realizing most of what they consider their reality is actually a social construct until they evolve to a high enough level of consciousness to realize it. Science is even proving this now via neuroscience, explaining that we don’t see reality directly.

And that I can show someone a bunch of facts to prove this makes no difference to the person. The individual themselves needs to be psychologically ready and primed before they can actually make that developmental leap and make sense of what this means in their own life and how it transforms it as a whole, especially their identity. And reflecting upon this, if you look at Robert Kegan’s perspective on this, as the individual evolves from a Socialized Mind to a Self-Authoring Mind, they are effectively crafting their own narrative for their life which is exactly what a conspiracy theorist is trying to do to overcome the challenges in their life. But in their case with conspiracies, their narrative is a negative one of victimhood and outward blame at others for “enslaving” them, instead of a positive narrative of empowerment, independent growth, and autonomy.

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for the roleplaying game called Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.

Leave a Reply