*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
Author’s Note: This article is written by a former conspiracy-theorist who escaped the world after a decade of being in it.
There is no doubt the next few weeks are going to be confusing for Trump and for QAnon supporters.
Anybody who has been in an abusive relationship and escaped knows what happens next. There are different stages full of emotions like grief, despair, denial, and shock at how you got into the situation. There is a long path to recovery ahead before a person fully realizes it wasn’t their fault. They were manipulated and controlled.
People who have escaped cults can see the signs: The larger-than-life figure in the center. The feeling that you’re part of something important and are fighting for a righteous cause that others doesn’t understand. We have seen this before. But during boring lockdown life, QAnon’s political gamification provided extra excitement.
However, their wild predictions ultimately didn’t come true. When Trump’s term was up without any arrests of pedo-celebrities or politicians, many realized they were duped. The QAnon bubble popped, and the followers who gave up everything for Trump were left in the dust, confused.
It makes sense that during a global catastrophe, there would be a rise in conspiracy theories, which offers a sense of knowingness during a time of uncertainty. Our emotions drove our belief systems, and it was more comforting to “know” that there was something specific causing this that we could fight against. Because then we could resurrect a leader who is secretly going to overthrow the evil global cabal and make everything okay. Perhaps even great again? Who wouldn’t want to be part of a revolution and feel like they’re part of something big? Especially during these times.
What we witnessed in 2020 is a case study for human psychology and how our species responds in a state of crisis. But let’s put aside that QAnon could have just been the result of a bored person trolling the world, or perhaps a government psyops (psychological operation) in itself. Regardless of how made-up the entire thing was, it led many good people to destroy their relationships (just like most people who get pulled into a cult typically do).
It is essential to create an empathetic, soft landing space for those wanting to return to normalcy, while still holding their harmful beliefs accountable. While many are changing, unfortunately, there will always be those who will not. They’ve attached their identity to this movement of breadcrumbs.
When one conspiracy theory doesn’t come true, an anonymous person named Q would create a convincing reason why it didn’t come true. And then, when that new conspiracy theory failed, they would tell their followers to “trust the plan.” But there was no plan. It was all a psychological game, built on game theory, likely being run by some sadistic person on an ego-trip from having so much anonymous power over people.
But it’s over now.
Trump is not the president anymore. He lost the popular vote in the election twice, including once by seven million. His approval rating was the lowest we have seen. He constantly gaslights people, all while playing the victim. But nothing he does has an impact on his supporters.
This is the difference between looking up to a leader and being in a cult. When you look up to a leader, and they do something harmful, you can spot it and call it out, just like we did with JP Sears. It’s disappointing, but it’s not devastating. They’re just a person. And you can choose to not follow them anymore. But when you are in a cult, you believe your leader can do no harm regardless of how many people they hurt.
The real question is why? Why is it that even when so many people around Trump have been backstabbed, cheated out of money, lied to, thrown in jail, and betrayed, why were so many willing to follow him to the edge of a cliff?
Some people believe it is Stockholm Syndrome, where a person falls in love with their abuser. Others believe that many of his followers had an abusive parental figure growing up, and that being mistreated registers in their subconscious brain as “love.” Yet others believe it is a psychological addiction to validating our own beliefs at all costs to protect us from the shame wound of being wrong. It would be interesting to see a psychological study on their relationship to authority, but I digress.
“Trump is a drug and you took way too much. Without the flags, hats, slogans, and rallies, you just don’t know what to do with yourself anymore. You have been conditioned to not believe your own eyes and ears and not think critically. You are a victim of this abusive behavior, and not of some conspiracy.
The U.S. was not overthrown by a deep state. The election wasn’t rigged. Nobody is coming for your guns. BLM is not a terrorist group. Antifa is an idea and not an organization (it literally just means anti-fascist, so by being anti-Antifa, it means you are being pro-fascist). And there is no Q. I’m sorry if all of that is hard to accept.
We all know how difficult and embarrassing it is to admit an addiction, but we want you back and out of the trance. The first step is admitting you have a problem. The second step is getting help. But just like for any other addict, I am not going to accommodate or tolerate your lies, your harm, or your attempts to continue them. I will not feed your addiction, pretend it doesn’t exist, or entertain your fantasy any longer. It’s up to you to get help.” ~ Anonymous acquaintance of author.
But some may not know what is right and what is wrong as their moral compass has been damaged by being gaslighted.
So here is a useful guideline:
“If you look left and right and there are Nazis, it’s safe to say that you are on the wrong side. Some things are relative, and politics can absolutely have its opposing sides and grey areas. But evil and good are nearly absolute. As are the lessons of history. ” ~ Don Lemon
The truth is that there was a real awakening, but it wasn’t the one you thought it was going to be.
The great awakening is that science, philosophy, logic, intellectualism, and education are more important than we all realize, and our species needs to evolve in order to survive.
The inauguration and the week leading up to it showed a stark contrast between the past and the future. On one end, we had Amanda Gorman and Kamala Harris. On the other end, we saw gun-toting, angry, white people—domestic terrorists—trying to destroy democracy with unfounded voter fraud claims. And let’s not even get started at how both groups were treated differently by law enforcement, which only highlighted what BLM has been shouting for years. At this point, white privilege is undeniable.
My issue isn’t even with their voter-fraud claims. It’s about getting violent when the results aren’t what you want. I fully support investigating allegations in the same way that I fully support questioning government officials. It’s not like there wasn’t space to prove these claims, though. When Trump’s team loses over 50 lawsuits around the country, many of which were in Republican states with Republican judges (who Trump himself appointed), it is time to accept the results and move on.
The Trump/New Age/QAnon community, who you would never think would believe the same thing, came together because of an emotional resonance, not a logical one. There was a lot of projecting that happened in these communities.
For example, people who put all of their faith in an anonymous person on the internet called Q, projected that other people are “sheep”—they believe everything they hear. People who shouted, “Fake news!” were the biggest distributors of fake news.
These dangerous belief systems are like a cancer that preys on the intellectually and emotionally vulnerable corners of our society. QAnon has even turned on Trump, after years of believing he was their savior.
Cognitive dissonance is a self-soothing, emotional defense mechanism designed to make us feel good, even if it is at the cost of logic, reality, and harming others.
The credits are now rolling, and just like the “Game of Thrones” ending, you may not be happy with it. But it’s over nonetheless. The last few years have felt like a nightmare for many, as we’ve also had to grieve the loss of friends. Many of us felt hurt by what we witnessed. Some of us will forgive. Others had to block people for their own mental health. We were in a collective trauma response, and everybody did what they needed to do to survive emotionally and spirituality.
“In this sutta, the Buddha describes the Noble Eightfold Path as the middle way of moderation, between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification.” ~ The Middle Way via Wikipedia
During a time of extremism, the desire for the middle path is what rose to the surface. We have seen how extremism has led many of us into tunnel-visioned realities. We have seen how the middle path allows for more voices and perspectives to be considered. We can hold a center perspective, and still put pressure on our governments, especially on a local level.
After a period of time that took a toll on our mental health, I hope for 2021 to be a year of reflection and healing.
And for all the New Age folks: can we put a pause on “transcending” and worry about being here in this reality? Not to escape it. But to embody and be of this world.
Don’t worry. The ultimate truth (whatever it is) isn’t going anywhere, but how you choose to experience your journey and embrace this human experience is the only truth that is real in the present moment. And until we understand that, there is no “there” for us to achieve when we can’t even figure out “here.”
Keep on questioning, but don’t get stuck in rabbit holes. Travel the world and see how other people live to get perspective. Study history, politics, and science. Don’t just post #SaveTheChildren. Go volunteer at an anti-trafficking nonprofit. Listen. Read anti-racist and anti-fascist books.
When something is presented to you, instead of instantly believing it, write down a list of other possibilities. I can’t tell you how many times I believed a convincing theory only to talk to an expert in the field and get quickly debunked. You’d be amazed at how much you don’t know and how easy it is to fill in the blanks. The answer is often more simple than you realize. But when you’re only surrounded by people who think like you and your only knowledge and experience of the political world, the medical world, the scientific world, and of media are based on people who are not actually in those worlds, you’re destined to come across incomplete information by non-experts.
I challenge you to expand your beliefs and to explore the counterarguments without becoming defensive.
And seek professional therapy to get to the root cause of what drives you emotionally. Perhaps people stuck in their heads can get more into their bodies. And people driven by emotion can get more rooted in their intellect. Perhaps there will someday be an intellectual renaissance that has room to respect both science and spirit, each in their own right.
I believe that once we get a zoomed-out perspective of the larger world and see it as it is, combined with a more zoomed-in perspective on our own inner world and see it as it is, we may figure out what draws us into certain beliefs and lifestyles. And perhaps then we can avoid these harmful groups altogether.
The last few years are now just a memory for us all, as we move forward into a more grounded future. I believe we will look back at 2020 and realize that we were forever changed by it—for better or for worse.
Your personal awakening may not look like you thought it would. What you do next will determine so much of the rest of your life.
The choice is yours.