Many of the memes that started after the country began social distancing involved distraught extroverts and contented introverts. Consider the Instagram image of actress Zoë Kravitz eating and drinking in the bathtub with a caption that reads, “People: I’m going crazy in quarantine. Me: Living my best life.”
There’s truth to the jokes, but for some, it’s not a joking matter. People with certain psychological characteristics are more vulnerable than others to the effects of staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Also, what works best for one personality type might not be helpful to another. As a psychologist, I see the differences in how people adjust to the challenges of isolation, constricted life, uncertainty and dramatic change. Two personality traits that seem to have especially strong effects on people’s current functioning and household disagreements are extroversion, though introverts can also have issues, and perfectionism.
A study found that perfectionism has been on the rise in the United States, at least since the 1980s. Perfectionistic people have very high personal standards and become self-critical when they believe they have failed to reach them. They tend to base their self-worth on striving and achievement, ruminate about perceived past mistakes and worry about excelling in the future.
“The all-or-nothing approach puts them at a particularly high risk for psychological problems now, given that coronavirus and lockdown have severely restricted our lives and have forced us to compromise and improvise,” said Gordon Flett, professor of psychology at York University in Toronto and a co-author of “Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment.”
If you or your family members are still seeking perfection and are having a hard time adapting to the new reality, you might be at risk for burnout. Rigidly adhering to pre-pandemic standards can lead to disappointment, anxiety and depression. “Obsessive information-seeking, which these days amounts to obsessively consuming news, just increases the burnout odds,” Flett said.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a perfectionist’s judgment — research shows they tend to have unrelenting standards for others as well as themselves — resist the urge to question their standards. Instead, try expressing empathy and compassion for how tough it must be in the perfectionist’s shoes. After the perfectionism softens, you might try reaching a compromise on what is acceptable in different parts of your joint life.
And if you are the perfectionist struggling with one or more easygoing household members, try expressing what lies beneath your inflexible standards and tendency to keep raising the bar. Opening up about potential vulnerability or pain will go a long way toward fostering understanding and tolerance between you and others.
Although talking through your problems with trusted family members, romantic partners or friends is almost always beneficial, there is one important caveat.
“When two people almost exclusively focus on problems and how bad things are, without problem-solving or pivoting toward anything positive, we call this co-rumination,” said Brandon Gibb, a professor of clinical psychology at Binghamton University.
While co-rumination can make you feel better in the moment, studies show that it is related to depression and anxiety in the long run. So, “pay attention to what you are talking about, and make sure to talk about what’s working for you,” Gibb said. And if your confidant sticks with negativity, bring that to their attention. If that doesn’t work, make sure that you have other people in your network less prone to co-ruminate even during this difficult time.
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