Self-isolation mithering often denotes a sense of restlessness. During a pandemic, social distancing mandates are strictest among large, active populations. If you’re a member of one of these populations you’ve likely come into an overwhelming inheritance of time.
Catching up on some reading and knocking off projects on your docket are all fine ways to cope with prolonged loneliness, but a practicing psychologist based out of New York City (a certified COVID-19 epicenter), has been observing a surprising psychological upside to imposed alone time.
In Dr. Barry Lubetkin’s estimation, a lot of our worst impulses are rooted in insecurity. Fear of being perceived in a less than favorable light welcomes an unhealthy desire to shape narratives and manipulate the goodwill of others in the service of narcissistic tendencies. For sufferers of narcissistic personality disorder, the condition loses much of its mettle without an audience to play to.
“They have been forced to give up the precious control that they felt they must have to keep their lives in order and to be happy. Their ideas of how the world “should“ treat them have been turned upside down and have challenged them to seriously rethink their deeply held beliefs about their importance and superiority over others in their lives,” Dr. Lubetkin explains in the paper.
Narcissism exists on a continuum. There are healthy ways to exercise self-interest, just as there are cordial ways to demonstrate it to those around you. Control seems to be the most imposing deciding factor; These are my qualities, take them or leave them vs. I’ll be the final word on which qualities are on offer at any expense necessary.
A good relationship, of any kind, requires vulnerability from all participating parties.
More than the forced introspection consequenced by self-quarantine, the psychologist suggests boredom be every bit the devil’s playground as it is god’s workstation. With nothing to do, narcissists have come to discover other ways of procuring meaning that doesn’t involve perception.
Once those incentives were muted, patients were able to appreciate the value of the company of others irrespective of what it did for their egos.
“A young woman I work with had little understanding of why, for years, other women would not remain friends with her and failed to reach out to her to plan time together, Lubetkin continues. “She demanded control, thought she was smarter than any of her friends, and displayed little interest in their lives. Since she is now only able to interact remotely, she and I are able to practice active listening and sharing her own insecurities with others. Not being face-to-face has allowed her to be more introspective, more vulnerable, and more willing to accept others’ opinions without immediately dismissing them.”
A similar outcome applied to other flavors of narcissism. Patients who once devoted a horde of hours and money to shopping for new clothes and cosmetics were sobered by the indiscriminate warpath of COVID-19.
Viral images of first responders with pressure streaks lining their faces, families communicating with their sick remotely and masked pedestrians of all races, ages, and dispositions providing supportive care for vulnerable individuals, all prioritize the actual standards that define a persons’ worth.
“The COVID-19 horror is affording self-involved, entitled, unempathetic individuals an extraordinary opportunity to pause, to take the foot off the self-aggrandizing pedal, and to take a good, hard look at themselves and what their lives really could be about,” Dr. Lubetkin concludes.
Of course, the value of this lesson extends beyond psychological conditions. Whatever deficiency, isolation doesn’t have to feel like a sentence.
Be sure to read Dr.Lubetkin’s full paper in Psychology Today.