Attending to Anti-Vaxxers
I don’t like the label "Anti-Vaxxers." It seems to be a label primarily used by the vaccinated. I’d guess few “anti-vaxxers” self-describe as such.
Labeling people with such a term is alienating and othering. It comes with a lot of assumptions, both spoken and unspoken: mis-informed, conservative, selfish, heretical, conspiracy-based, poorly educated, stupid, etc.
If someone doesn’t want to get a vaccine, it doesn’t mean they are all of those things.
They are humans making individual decisions for a variety of reasons that run the gamut. Decisions based on medical recommendations, religious beliefs, concerns about the vaccine’s quick development, conspiracy ideas, fake news, or more. It’s a spectrum.
And the label immediately groups them together into one.
I wouldn’t want that label and the heavy judgments it carries (rest assured, I am vaccinated).
The label says more about those who choose to use and apply it.
It’s a convenient way of summarizing our own implicit biases, frustrations, fears, and anger.
And we are angry.
Everyone is. Regardless of vaccine status.
Anger arises when something we value is in jeopardy (a beautiful definition provided by Dr. Richo in his book “How to Be an Adult”).
Right now, with COVID and its multiplying variations, many things we value are in jeopardy.
Our physical safety. Our sustenance (food availability, cost of living increasing, etc.). Our homes (increasing rent prices, etc). Our material comforts (supply chain issues, etc). Our communities (isolation, social restrictions, etc.). Our very way of being.
When fear consumes us, our nervous systems become activated and our brains function differently.
We cannot access full executive functioning (logical reasoning, etc.) when we feel unsafe. We consciously (and subconsciously) act to preserve our safety.
For some, that means preserving safety by not taking a foreign substance (a vaccine) into their bodies. For others, that means preserving safety by using a vaccine. For many, they’re not entirely sure the best choice.
Regardless of the choice, when someone is consumed by fear, strategies and tactics that appeal to executive functioning (logic, reasoning, etc.) are not going to work.
Presenting more information, science, or logical reasoning to someone will not work. Shaming them with labels and other derogatory comments will not work.
I’m a mental health therapist. I see this every day in my therapy practice. An individual needs to feel safe, understood, and heard FIRST.
Using a term like “anti-vaxxer” does the opposite.
It makes individuals feel misunderstood and defensive (I would too if someone implied I was uneducated and stupid). It makes them retreat even farther to protect themselves (I would also put up boundaries with someone who asserted I'm stupid and selfish).
Let’s develop the same awareness, compassion, and understanding that we want from others. We can start by dropping the label.
I provide therapy that honors individuals' unique choices.