HOW TO TALK TO A ”TRUE BELIEVER”
It can be scary and frustrating to realize that someone you love believes outlandish falsehoods. “But remember that they’re anxious and uncertain, so shunning, isolating, and shaming is the last thing you should do,” says Moskalenko. “Trying to debate their beliefs will only make them more entrenched.” Here’s what to do instead:
WALK (AND TALK) IN NATURE
“Research shows that this makes people less aggressive and more open to opinions they wouldn’t have entertained before,” says Moskalenko. In that setting, you might say something like “I’m worried about how much time you’re
spending online” or “You seem like you’ve developed some anxiety. Do you think it would make sense to talk to a therapist?”
“Just saying ‘I understand how you feel’ makes people let their guard down and can have a profoundly positive effect on their mood and their willingness to have a healthy discussion,” says Moskalenko. After all, child sex trafficking and government overreach do exist—even if not in the way some believe—and their anxiety or concern is real.
ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION
“I recommend that people ask, ‘Why did you start to believe this?’” says Mick West, author of Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect. “That question takes them back to a time before they adopted the beliefs. It helps them get in touch with their authentic self and perhaps see this change from a different perspective.”
“People who believe conspiracy theories become entrenched in the idea of being right, so it can help to say things like ‘There are so many questions I would like answers to, but I think the truth is no one really knows,’” says
Lobato. Promoting the idea that it’s normal not to have all the answers may make people more willing to scrutinize their beliefs.
KEEP EXPECTATIONS LOW
“Change takes time and patience,” says West. “Remind yourself that the primary goal is to maintain the relationship and the secondary goal is to help them see that the conspiracy theory is wrong.” At first your loved one may reject contradictory information, he says, but most people eventually are able to ask themselves more difficult questions. “You want to be there to help them when they reach that stage,” he says.