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On Vaccine Mandates, Contempt, Families and Thanksgiving…

Nov 23, 2021

By Peter Malinoski, Ph.D.

Happy upcoming Thanksgiving to you! We at Souls and Hearts are very thankful that you are with us, supporting us and engaging with us and what we offer. So thank you.

Let’s talk about family and Thanksgiving. And families getting together – or not getting together because of the COVID vaccine. Considerable ink has been spilled on how the debate about COVID vaccines has split families – and all the repercussions of that for the holidays. I’ve searched through a number of them and I didn’t find any worth linking to here. Frankly, it was a disappointing experience to read what I did on the Internet.

We need to be honest about how polarizing and multifaceted the vaccine debate is. I want to get to what the debate is often really about. Yes, there are real questions about the vaccine. But the acrimony, the contempt, the dismissive and condemning attitudes about this debate suggest to me that there are deeper issues at work.

As a depth psychologist, I consider the unconscious. And in any conflict, there are the surface reasons, the manifest issues that the debate is usually about on the one hand – and on the other hand there are the deeper, unconscious reasons. The vaccine question is seen as a life-and-death issue by both sides in the debate – and there is merit on many positions on the issue. The vaccine question, especially mandatory vaccination policies, brings up issues of control. Unresolved anger, enmeshment issues, autonomy issues, the wounds and attachment injuries can predispose us to conflict, to fighting – and the vaccine debate can be seen as a ripe opportunity to play out those unresolved and often latent hostile and conflict-ridden dynamics. The vaccine debate is a perfect lightning rod to attract the emotional intensity of whatever emotionally-charged family dynamics that still exist after decades.

According to family therapist Dr. John Gottman, contempt is the worst of the four horsemen that destroy family relationships and it’s the number one predictor of divorce. Contempt is the ultimate relationship killer. It’s the most caustic agent I know of for destroying relationships. Do you know the formula for contempt? Contempt = Disgust + Anger. Add in some eyerolling, biting sarcasm, derisive humor, shaming, and name calling, and you have a really toxic brew on your Thanksgiving table.

So here’s a tip – if you are coming across a family member this Thanksgiving with a very different view of vaccines than yours…breathe. Take some slow breaths. Then remember that that other family member has reasons for the positions that he or she holds. Maybe reasons you don’t agree with, maybe reasons that you don’t appreciate or understand. But there are reasons. We Catholics need to remember to give the benefit of the doubt to others – not to assume that they are “stupid” or “dangerously inconsiderate” or “control freaks” or “unreasonable” or “irrational” or even “sinful” in their positions. There are reasons for why people do what they do.

If you, with a formed conscience feel you need to set limits and boundaries, including physical ones, do so. But skip the eyeroll and the nasty joke. Remember that your brother-in-law is also God’s beloved little son. Treat him that way. Bear in mind that your aunt is Mary’s cherished little child. Even if she is a wayward daughter, how much more does her spiritual Mother love her, and want her back.

Primum non nocere. First, do no harm. So much family misery can be avoided if we first do no harm. Breathe. And think how you can be a gift to your family members, a gift of light and love, rather than being tempted back in to the same old dysfunctional dance.

About Peter Malinoski, Ph.D.

Peter Malinoski, Ph.D., is president and co-founder of Souls and Hearts. He has been a clinical psychologist for the past 18 years in private practice in Indianapolis. He specializes in resolving problems and healing wounds that bridge the psychological and spiritual realms. A particular emphasis on unconscious psychological factors that thwart one’s capacity to receive love from God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other people underlies his work. For more information about his private practice, please visit Secure Foundations.

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