Could the pandemic be changing your personality? A psychologist weighs in

Jacquie Cosgrove
·4 mins read

For many, the coronavirus pandemic has brought more change to people’s lives than they would ordinarily experience in just a few months’ time. Some may feel as though their lives have never looked more different, which begs the question, could our personalities be changing along with everything else?

Yahoo Life Mental Health Contributor Jen Hartstein says the unique characteristics that make up an individual tend to stay consistent throughout life, however, major life shifts do have the potential to make a significant impact on our personalities. This is reflected in a psychological phenomenon called “The Michelangelo Effect.”

“The Michelangelo Effect is the idea that our personalities can change when we’re supported by an encouraging partner, or there’s a life change,” Hartstein tells Yahoo Life. “Kind of like the idea of the sculptor, Michelangelo, it’s as if we’re being sculpted by our experience.”

Hartstein explains that the sculpting aspect of the pandemic may very well be the abrupt stop to a typically busy lifestyle. “In our day to day lives, without this, we keep moving, we keep going. We never take the time to just stop and look at our lives,” she says. “For many it’s been the first time that we’ve been able to really stop and say ‘What do I want in my life? How am I getting that? And what am I doing to make it happen?’”

The people we’ve been spending our time with could also contribute to personality changes. Hartstein explains that if individuals have been spending concentrated time at home with people in our lives who are positive and supportive influences, that impact can sculpt pieces of our personalities for the better.

“Some of us are quarantined with loved ones and some of us are quarantined alone, but the Michelangelo Effect can reach all of us because we're slowing down regardless,” she says. “The slow down is the key. Dropping in and allowing yourself to reflect, identifying what your aspirations are and then problem-solving how you want to get there.”

However, every pandemic experience is different, and for many, it’s been a time fueled with fear, anxiety and grief.

“One of the significant ways that we know the pandemic is changing our personality is because it is a very big, and for many, traumatic event,” Hartstein says. “Similarly to PTSD with a veteran coming back from war, some major life event has an impact on us as individuals, and it can still have an impact on our personalities, potentially in a negative way.”

Hartstein says that individuals should stay aware of personality changes in themselves such as being more irritable, withdrawn, isolated or anxious. “Trauma builds up in our system and can change how we engage in the world,” she explains. “So, if you notice any of those [feelings] starting to impact your life, you want to reach out for some support.”

Hartstein says the first step is to look out for personality changes in ourselves in this critical moment. From there you can move on to evaluating if these changes are having a positive impact in your life, or are ones that you need support in getting past.

“The pandemic has had a lot of negatives for many of us, and at the same time, the slowdown has forced an equal amount of us to look at, review, and identify our lives,” she says. “And in doing so, we may be shifting and changing our personalities in a way that might bring us to a better place, and allow us to meet the aspirations we really have, versus the life we’ve been in up until this point.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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