Shifting The Heroic “Freedom” Narrative for Anti-Vaxxers

Anti-vaccine protesters fueled by existential anxiety, psychologist says

‘We want to feel something that is larger than ourselves, that transcends our personal lives’

People refusing to get COVID-19 vaccine may be doing so as a result of a deep existential anxiety, a psychology professor says.

Dr. Joseph Hayes of Acadia University says vaccine skeptics such as the ones who organized demonstrations near Canada’s hospitals earlier this month are looking for a sense of meaning.

“The way people manage this deeper existential anxiety is by investing in a world of meaning and try to live up to standards of value that would give us a sense of personal significance or personal value,” he told CBC during an interview aired Monday on Island Morning.

We want to believe that life is meaningful and worthy of meaning, essentially. So where you see some hesitancy or even some resistance to getting the vaccine, I think what you’re seeing is people affirming the value of freedom. That the value of freedom is so important that we need to defend this. That life would be not worth living without it.

This directly correlates with what I said before about the primary reason people don’t want to get vaccinated is more about their identity than anything else and it relates to a feeling of a loss of control in their lives. More specifically, a loss of control that first occurred with the pandemic itself and then was further compounded by the government and officials imposing lockdowns that took away the very things that gave these people a strong sense of identity on a basic psychological level (i.e. belonging to a group, socializing, etc).

In effect, if you prevent people from doing the very things that give them a sense of identity, it can literally feel like you’re trying to kill them. This is no different than a person losing their job or even their entire way of life as a career path and it feeling like their entire sense of identity and life is being ripped away from this, thus causing them to implode by suicide or explode by killing others.

The sad thing about this though is that these people experiencing this identity trauma obviously aren’t realizing that pretty much everyone is experiencing this same feeling. It’s just that other people are better able to cope with it, possibly due to their greater psychological capacity for dealing with change.

Hayes says that while it would be difficult to convince an anti-vaxxer to change his or her mind, one way to do it that could prove to be effective would be to highlight “the personal value or heroic nature” of getting vaccinated.

“This could be looked at [as] some historic moment in time,” he said. “We want to feel something that is larger than ourselves, that transcends our personal lives. You could get that by taking part in protest movements that affirm the value of freedom. But you could also get that by feeling you’re part of ridding the world of COVID.

This is a remarkably brilliant idea to shift the narrative for anti-vaxxers by agreeing with them that freedom is of the utmost importance for us all which is why we do need to get vaccinated, so that we can return to the freedoms we had before.

It’s funny because I find that people with conventional mindsets love continually to tell stories about their parents or grandparents and how they sacrificed so much in the previous wars throughout history. It’s almost like they would have loved to have lived during those times and participated in that “great effort” to rid the world of the “evil tyrants” of that time who were trying to take away their freedoms.

The reality is that they can actually participate in a similar great effort within the context of world today, as the pandemic can be seen as this “enemy” that is trying to take our freedoms away from us. Seriously, I’m surprised that someone hasn’t already started creating propaganda-like posters similar to those during the war effect of World War II, showing how everyday citizens can contribute to the “greater effort” of stopping it so as to “return our freedoms”.

It’s funny. I remember one news article when vaccine mandates were first implemented. An anti-vaxxer lady within a White Spot restaurant shouted “Is this communist China?” when asked to show her vaccine card. I thought it was ironically hilarious for her to say that when she was effectively shouting to a bunch of people who were enjoying some semblance of their previous freedoms by being vaccinated.

As for those hesitant to get vaccinated because they believe the risks of the vaccine outweigh those of the virus, Hayes says they might be refusing to get the shot in order to avoid personal responsibility.

“If you’re really concerned about side effects, it can feel a little daunting that you would be responsible, essentially, for your own fate or hardship,” he said. “Whereas just sort of passively laying low and waiting for the whole thing to pass, you can feel less responsible… for anything that may happen.

This is also a radical insight as well. As I’ve already stated before, many vaccinated people see most anti-vaxxers as completely irresponsible people because it seems like they don’t care about the lives of other people. This insight shows how anti-vaxxers are actually trying to be responsible in a twisted sort of way because they don’t want a wrong choice (i.e. getting the vaccine) coming back to haunt them and ruining their life (i.e. vaccine side effects), thus making it impossible for them to continue fulfilling their responsibilities to others.

The problem as stated before though is that they don’t seem to have the psychologically capacity to handle this Catch-22 situation that the pandemic is causing because not getting the vaccine could kill them and prevent them of fulfilling their responsibilities as well. This is effectively the cognitive dissonance they’re experiencing that I mentioned before. To get around it, they make believe that the coronavirus isn’t as deadly as it seems, thus disbelieving the reality of it which resolves the conflict within their mind and allows them to continue justifying their freedoms to connect and socialize with others.

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