Could the pandemic be changing your personality? A mental health expert weighs in

The pandemic has forced changed into our lives in ways big and small, and according to Yahoo Life Mental Health Contributor, Jen Hartstein, it can also be changing our personalities as well. “The Michelangelo Effect is the idea that our personalities can change when we’re supported by an ecouraging partner, or there’s a major 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 with the pandemic came a hard stop to the way we live our lives, which makes us take a second look at what we may truly want out of life. “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?’ Along with the abrupt stop to our typical lives, many our spending more concentrated time with individuals who they weren't before. Hartstein explains that if you're spending time with a supportive partner, that could have a significant impact on your personality, and your partner can be helping sculpt you into the person you may want to be. Hartstein does say that the pandemic could have a negative impact on our personalities as well. “Similarly to PTSD with a veteran coming back from war, this 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," she says. “So if you notice any of those [feelings] starting to impact your life, you want to reach out for some support and I encourage you to get that.”

Video Transcript

JEN HARTSTEIN: Most of us are born with the personality that we're gonna have for a lifetime. We can see those personality characteristics in babies that we can kind of predict what they might be like as adults. However, major life changes, like a pandemic, can cause some personality shifts in many of us.

A personality is the unique characteristics that make up an individual. So that includes how we act, how we think, how we feel, all the things that make us who we are and make us different from somebody else. The Michelangelo Effect is the idea that our personalities can change when we're supported by an encouraging partner or when there's a life change, kind of like the idea of the sculptor Michelangelo. It's as if we are being sculpted by our experience.

If we're spending time with people in our lives that maybe we haven't spent as much concentrated time, and they are encouraging and positive people in our lives, that impact sculpts the pieces of us that we want to be. It forces us to look at the pieces that that person might see in us and bring that out.

The sculpting element of the pandemic is it forced us all to stop in some way. In our day-to-day lives without this, we keep moving, we keep going, we never take the time to just stop. We really were able to say, what do I want in my life and what am I doing to make it happen?

One of the significant ways that we know the pandemic is changing our personality is because it is a very big, traumatic event. 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. It can cause us to be more withdrawn, more isolated, more anxious, more irritable. And we have to be mindful of how that's impacting us.

Trauma builds up in our system and can change how we engage in the world, so we want to be mindful of that. And I encourage you to reach out for help in those moments to connect with the people who can support you through that. Most personality changes are not immediate. They tend to take a little bit of time to develop. And oftentimes we may not even realize it. It's a slow, gradual process.

So awareness of how it's changing is kind of the first step. And then we have to determine if it's something we want to keep going with and take action on, or is it something we want to squash down. And that might be helpful with some therapy or with some support from other people.