Your Personality Impacts How You Experience Shelter in Place

Your Personality Impacts How You Experience Shelter in Place

Just about everyone is currently sheltering in place under the recommendation or order of their elected officials.  We share a common reality of being confined to a limited space and the danger of an invisible virus that has the potential to destroy.  But that is the end of our common experience.  We all have unique responses to what is happening because of our own personalities and soul conditions.  If you assume that other people are reacting to this situation in the same way you are, you may be very wrong.

You might deduce that people who are at the highest risk are experiencing the greatest anxiety and fear.  That seems logical, but it probably isn’t true.  Just yesterday, I saw young people out exercising with face masks on, but there were many senior citizens that obviously were not in the best of health without masks and very relaxed about social distancing.  What’s going on with that?  Is it because some people aren’t listening or understanding the danger?  Or is there something else going on.

If your house is like mine, you are discovering that you have a different opinion about how careful you need to be right now to avoid getting COVID-19 or passing it on inadvertently to someone immune compromised.  One person refuses to go to a store for anything because of the danger, while the other feels like it is no big deal – just be careful, don’t get near other people, and wash your hands when you get home.  My wife only orders things online and when it comes to the door, the door is not opened until they are long gone.  Then the disinfection program kicks in.  The disinfection sprays come out and everything gets washed down.  Some things get quarantined in the garage.  I’m told to stay away.

I’m one of those “at risk” people:  old, male (3-4 times more likely to get very sick or die), heart disease, and have an immune disease.  Ironically, I don’t feel very much in danger.  I probably watch the news more than anyone else because I want to know what is happening and understand the dangers and solutions, but even with all the panic reporting and descriptions of what is happening outside our door, I feel rather calm and peaceful.  We live in a county that has one of the highest rates of infection in the country.  But that doesn’t concern me greatly.

I find myself at odds with my wife over safety daily.  I want to order out for dinner and she thinks that is the craziest idea.  Why subject ourselves to the virus through some infected cook or tainted food?  That would be like inviting the virus into our house!  Our grandkids live just down the street and we haven’t been able to hug them for several weeks now.  Both of our households have been quarantined for more than fourteen days so I deduce that none of us have the virus.  Why can’t we enjoy the grandkids and help the grandkids have a little fun – not to mention giving their parents a break from non-stop attention to caring for them?  My wife who is not paranoid, nor neurotic, just doesn’t see it the way I see it.  She doesn’t want to inadvertently infect our grandchildren.  “Its better to be safe”, she explains.

I would love to go for a ride and just get out of the house for a while.  The weather has been beautiful recently with spring finally arriving.  A friend from out of state shared with us that they have a house on a lake less than 45 minutes from us that is vacant and that we could use it and even launch our boat there.  This seems like a very safe family outing to break up the monotony.  My wife pointed out that the governor has ruled that unnecessary travel is prohibited.  So now we have a disagreement about what is “necessary”, and from my perspective what is “reasonable”.

We are in the exact same situation with the COVID-19 virus, but we respond differently to what is happening.  This can cause strife and conflict – especially when we can’t avoid each other.  So why do we experience life so differently when the circumstances are the same?

Our personalities are different, and we value different things.  My wife values safety and making sure people are protected.  The way she responds to our situation is colored by these values.  I also want to be safe and care for people, but I have other values ordered higher.  If I ignore those values, I find myself frustrated and it can cause conflict within me.

One of the highest values I have is to get things done.  Just sitting around the house and being kept from doing the things that bring fulfillment can drive me crazy.  Ironically, being locked in a house for four weeks gives me the greatest opportunity to finish my book on leadership that I have been working on for over a year.  My wife points me in that direction every time I mention about going somewhere (in an isolated and very safe car).  Yet I just can’t get myself to work on the book.  I keep putting it off.  Writing takes focus, and I can’t seem to focus right now because all the other things that I want to get done, I can’t.  I could make a huge list for you, but you get the idea.  COVID-19 restrictions keep me from achieving so many important goals.  And when I don’t accomplish my goals, I feel depressed and it puts me a little on edge.

As a person who is motivated by achievement and accomplishment, life is at a stand still right now.  This might be true for you or someone you are housebound.  But this time is an excellent time for self-reflection and evaluation.  Think about what is frustrating you right now.  Remember, God is still on the throne and in charge of the world.  We are still his children, adopted through the precious blood of Christ that we celebrate this week on Easter.  If our need for achievement is impacting us to feel good about ourselves, I would suggest that this desire (which is good and can be used for God’s glory) may be revealing itself to be an idol.  Idols replace God for our feelings of safety, acceptance, and significance.

What is an idol?  It is anything that replaces God.  Our source of validation should be tied to our heavenly Father rather than our success.  This is true for those whose idols are security or acceptance.  Perfect peace is available for God’s children even, in the midst of the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

Having an understanding of why others in your “shelter in place” habitat are struggling may give you insight in how to encourage them.  Remember, your struggle is probably a little different from others.  I have little fear and concern for safety right now.  But I realize this is a high value for my wife.  Rather than arguing and fighting about what we should be doing, I have the opportunity to live together with understanding and grace.  Knowing that safety is important to her, I can invite her to pray and ask God for protection.

P.S.  I did sneak out and take the motorcycle for a spin!  And it felt great!

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.