The corona denier in my family

Friends or family members are caught up in conspiracy myths and deny Corona. What to do? Photo: Dieter Menne/dpa

Friends and family members get caught up in conspiracy myths, deny Corona, drift away. Tears ties. What to do? An affected couple has founded a self-help group.

Bochum – Families break up, spouses are strangers to each other, close parent-child bonds are torn apart.

When relatives or friends in the pandemic become adherents of conspiracy myths, develop into Corona deniers, the stress tests are severe, destroying even the most intimate relationships. Student Sarah, who can hardly stand her father’s drifting, but doesn’t want to give him up under any circumstances, has founded a self-help group with her boyfriend. In Bochum, it has now met for the first time with 15 participants.

It is about loved ones

"There are very different characters, young and old. For all of them, it is about a person in the family who is incredibly important to them.", describes Sarah (30). "And for all of them, the pressure of suffering has grown over time." Her friend Tim says after the online round: "Everyone has already taken a good beating." It is about parents, children, siblings, partners, whom one does not want to lose. "You stand in front of a person you love and know that you have to wear a Jewish star no longer. The theme unites us." The feeling of not being the "only person seeking help" is already to be, is strengthening and can motivate.

"Everyone is aware that there is no panacea.", Tim (32) emphasizes. But they can give each other tips – for example, on how to get around arguments so that the conversation doesn’t completely break off. And where to get support from specialized counseling centers. "Everyone in the groups wants to keep in touch with the difficult person in their family circle, even if it’s super exhausting. There are fates, there the tear goes already in the middle by the family ", reports Sarah.

She knows, how the despair feels. "When my dad started saying more and more strange things and then suddenly said on the phone that as an unvaccinated person he would soon have to wear the Jewish star, I broke down." This was not her father, who had studied, worked in many countries, who is open to all cultures. "From my point of view, that was no longer my dad, nor was his choice of words. I cried for hours." His entire thought construct has narrowed down to Corona, vaccination refusal and conspiracy myths.

Shame and pain

"When the belief in conspiracies becomes identity-forming, it influences the whole life", explains social psychologist Pia Lamberty. It destroys marriages and families, leads to despair, also to shame – and to pain when close people die because they dismissed the vaccination as a conspiracy. "That’s why it’s so important to exchange ideas with others who are experiencing similar things, says the executive director of CeMAS, an organization that deals in depth with conspiracy theorists.

Self-help groups are just beginning. Thus, at the same time as the Bochum initiative, a new group has also been started in Erlangen. There is an exchange in the digital space, adds Lamberty. "However, the offers might not cover the need by far yet."

The problem affects many people, and the need for advice has grown enormously, reports Christoph Grotepass from Sekten-Info NRW. It is a matter of doubts about political measures, diffuse fears of vaccination, and even the idea that the population should be lied to, decimated or replaced. The basis of trust in the families dwindles, it comes to alienation, speechlessness, fear of each other up to the endangerment of third parties – also children – by the refusal of protective measures.

There is an enormous need for counseling

Grotepass assumes that a support group is not the right path for everyone. "Some first need stabilization through a counseling context, some don’t want to reveal themselves to others." Counseling centers could provide individual help in finding the most suitable intervention.

In many places further groups will be founded, one believes with the self-help contact place of the Paritatischen. Even if the Corona crisis had been overcome, the problems within the families would not simply resolve themselves. The contact point supported the Bochum foundation, a consultant accompanied the first meeting. But the goal, he says, is for such groups to be able to work autonomously quickly. According to a spokeswoman, many contact points are available to help people who want to start a new business.

After difficult months, Sarah has a strategy, also thanks to intensive consultations with the sect info. In conversations with her father, she now looks above all for common ground and things in common. "And I no longer try to talk him out of what I see as his strange views with arguments." Anyway hopeless. "But I tell him clearly that I don’t like his topics, that I don’t agree with him." She shows him that she cares about him and makes an effort to emotionally comprehend his motives. "I see fear and insecurity."

Tim says: "No one likes to admit that they have lost their way. Those affected must also be given time and must not be blocked from finding a way out." Both are glad to have started the group. They have already supported a second foundation: "In order to cope with the great onslaught."

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