Yale psychologist walks through the difficulty of dealing with those who deny reality
Stock photography of an angry white man yelling. (Shutterstock)

As families come together for the holidays, some are being forced to face off against those who deny reality due to belief in conspiracy theories.

Sarah Lowe is a clinical psychologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Yale School of Public Health, and in an interview with CNBC, she explained that things like natural disasters just like Jan. 6 can cause trauma and when people deny the reality it makes it even worse.

As natural disasters increase, more people are facing fears of losing everything they own, their homes, their communities, and even their family and friends. Hearing people deny the cause or even the news makes it even worse.

The Sandy Hook families just won a lawsuit against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who led a movement of people who claimed that the mass shooting wasn't real. Parents who lost their young children were forced to endure claim after claim that their children somehow weren't dead. Then Jones' followers went on the attack against the families, attacking them online, issuing threats, and more. One Sandy Hook father is still living in hiding because of the attacks from conspiracy theorists.

On Jan. 6, police endured beatings, tasing and abuse so bad that some even committed suicide after their experience. Today, members of the far-right have conspiracy theories that the FBI caused the Jan. 6 attacks, a Fox News myth. Another is that the Jan. 6 attack didn't even happen at all and those who attended the rally were nothing more than tourists who never did anything violent.

There are also the pandemic deniers and anti-vaxxers, who believed that COVID-19 was nothing more than the flu, overblown by politicians. Now that the vaccine has been offered around the world, there are theories that it injects a tracking device or that the vaccine will kill you.

"Disasters are fundamentally stressful," CNBC explained. "And for some people, they can be traumatic both directly — by leading to direct threats to one's life, for serious injuries, bereavement, destruction of one's property — or indirectly. We know (and this is true with the pandemic as well, just as an aside) that when people are faced with stressful situations, some people who might have a tendency for aggression and violence can be tipped due to stress."

The report noted that cases of child abuse and domestic violence dramatically increase in the wake of disasters and in extreme heat.

"In terms of the mental health consequences, we know that PTSD can result from disasters," CNBC also explained. "Disasters are also associated with increased rates of a variety of psychiatric conditions and symptoms: depression, generalized anxiety, substance use, disruptions and health behaviors, like healthy eating and exercise. And these can all have downstream impacts on mental health in the long term."

COVID-19 denialism prompted Prof. Adrian Bardon to explain that some humans have brains that are hardwired to dismiss facts that don't follow their worldview.

Dr. Anthony Fauci went so far as to blame the poor pandemic response on "anti-science bias." The same science denialism that disputes climate change, vaccines or evolution can all be similar to those who dispute the effectiveness of masks and social distancing.

Facing off against family truthers seems like an easy challenge. In theory, all one would have to do is present facts and evidence that explain the reality. But what happens if an entire group of people refuses to agree on the facts?

In an interview with former Gov. Chris Christie this week, MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace pushed the Republican on the GOP's turn to denying reality.

"He did not really put much distance between himself and Donald Trump on the Big Lie or the Deadly Insurrection, in which police officers were maimed by flagpoles," she said of Christie after the fact. "I think the real ominous thing is that critical race theory, which isn't real, turned the suburbs 15 points to the Trump insurrection-endorsed Republican. What do Democrats do about that?"

She went on to say that people will never be able to come together if people deny reality.

"They are so far from the truth that you can no longer have a conversation with them about how to solve anything because they don't agree on what the problems are, and that terrifies me," Wallace told Stephen Colbert after her interview.

She explained the idea of "critical race theory" or CRT is the same problem. Kindergartners aren't being taught CRT. It's a theory that's taught in law schools. The right-wing has turned CRT into a kind of boogeyman for anything they find offense about people of color. CRT was cited as the reason that one Black Texas principal was put on leave after posting a photo of him with his white wife. He was told to delete the photo and ultimately was shoved out of his job. A Pennsylvania school banned children's books teaching about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Now Virginia conservatives are suggesting a book burning for those stories that involve people of color that they find offensive. All cite CRT as the reason.

So, as people come together for the holidays, it might be worth trying to find things that can be agreed on. The sky is blue. The grass is green.