I have a few loved ones who do not want the vaccine and I’m not gonna lie, I have a lot of feelings about that. While I’ve not had anyone in my own social circle die from Covid-19, I have loved ones of close friends who have succumbed to this virus or are in the hospital, fighting to get well.
It’s like playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” but with Covid. And nobody wins.
Witnessing this is a sobering reality. After 18 months of the pandemic, we are tired, overstimulated, overwhelmed. We are trying to maintain a sense of sanity and normalcy in uncertain times, and our brains do not like ambivalence at all.
So what can we do when a loved one doesn’t want to get the vaccine and we have a lot of feelings about that? Here are some suggestions.
It’s Not About You
Repeat after me: Do not take this personally.
Recognize that very little of what other people do is about you. Even when someone acts out against something you do or say, it is often not about you – their behavior is about them. Behavior is a revealer, whether we like it or not.
If a loved one doesn’t want to get the vaccine, it is not to attack or undermine you. Recognizing that their decision is not personal frees you up to observe your emotional reactions and prepare facts. This is vital to having any kind of conversation about the topic, should you choose to do so.
Differentiate Facts and Feelings
This topic is a divisive one, especially after a year and a half of living through a pandemic. We want this to be over, and it’s not over. Acknowledging the difference between facts and feelings can help save our nervous systems.
We are feeling beings first. Our bodies take in what is going on around and inside of us, and then our brains make meaning from those sensations. Physical sensations are clues to our feelings. If a loved one says, “I’m not getting the vaccine because my natural immunity will fight it,” you might feel your chest tighten and breath become shallow. Your heart may race and your palms might become sweaty. These are all indications of strong feelings, like anger and frustration and impatience.
Take a series of deep breaths to help manage these reactions. Acknowledge the feelings. They will not last forever. They can be processed by talking with safe people or getting out in nature or doing whatever helps your brain get back into the positive. These feelings are not facts.
Know Your Facts
It’s easy to feel the physical sensations, assign meaning to them, and run with them. I call this “toddlering out”. We experience new emotions every 2.5 seconds, and it’s easy to see how they can overwhelm us. Before emotions get the best of us, it’s important to take a step back and remember the facts.
Take some time to gather facts about what’s happening with the coronavirus where you and your loved one live. Get current numbers from the county, the state health authority, and the CDC. Here is a great list of myths and facts about the virus, as well as links to frequently asked questions and key points to know about the vaccine. Over and over again, it’s easy to see that the numbers of unvaccinated patients far outnumber any vaccinated patients who still get the virus. That’s just one example.
Decide Your Boundaries
Now you know that other people’s reactions are not personal. You acknowledge the differences between feelings and facts and have gathered key points about the vaccine. Now what?
You decide what you do with these skills and information. You decide what is best for you. This is called setting boundaries.
Do you want to talk directly with your loved ones about Covid-19? Do you want to talk about the vaccine? Do you want to start these conversations or wait for an opening? What about social media interactions? Are there times when you absolutely do not want to talk about any of it? When are those times? Do you want to see unvaccinated people in person? Do you want them to be masked? Do you want everyone to be masked?
Deciding what you want to do beforehand can help maintain your own sense of calm and sanity.
Rehearse Your Boundaries
You have more control than you think, especially about how this issue affects you. You get to make decisions about how, when, and where this issue is discussed, and if you will discuss them at all.
However, it’s super easy to fall into an emotional spiral and “toddler out.” Avoid this pitfall by rehearsing the boundaries you want to make. For example, if a loved one says, “I’m not getting the vaccine because my natural immunity will fight it,” you can decide how you respond. Here are some possible responses to rehearse:
- “I’m not sure what you mean by that. What are the facts about coronavirus and natural immunity?”
- “I would like to have this conversation, but not during dinner. How about later tonight?”
- “Have you seen the latest hospitalization numbers regarding unvaccinated versus vaccinated patients?”
Rehearsing your possible responses and keeping your feelings and facts close can help save your sanity and your nervous system through this uncertain and frustrating time.