By: Doug Talley
Covid-19 has been a prolonged pandemic. For over two years both the United States and the world have been dealing with significant restrictions and alterations in how we live in an attempt to limit the spread and devastating impact of the virus. Virtually every area of our lives has been affected: family, work, church, school, recreation, hobbies, pastimes, vacations, social activities and events, eating out, travel, etc. Everyone’s lifestyle has been altered (often drastically altered) for a lengthy time period.
During the last couple of months, it appears that the United States and some parts of the world are shifting the status of Covid-19 from a pandemic to an endemic. As a result, the focus is on what the new normal looks like and what it means to live with Covid-19 as an illness that will continue to infect people.
Neuroscience (The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. and Successful Aging by Daniel J. Levitin, PhD.) tells us our brains can be rewired by events, especially difficult and traumatic events. To some extent this is what happens with PTSD. In an April 2021 IM webinar Karl Vaters (note: Karl Vaters is leading an in-person IM workshop on April 28. You can register HERE.) said that the pandemic shutdown caused trauma for pretty much everyone, yet many people failed to realize it. In this pandemic season there have been other significant happenings – racial issues and tensions, bizarre political season, vaccine and anti-vaccine tensions, etc. As a result, we have been bombarded with trauma inducing events that have deeply impacted us. Vaters even says we have experienced multiple traumas and are at different stages of recovery with each one.
I was recently talking with a close friend who is in ministry. He was telling me that he’s had several conversations lately with pastors who have recently realized that the pandemic has changed them…changed the way they lead and how they interact with people, and not in a positive way. The prolonged stress and demands imposed on them by the pandemic and how it had impacted their lives had resulted in them adapting in ways that were lessening their effectiveness and even harming their emotional and mental health. They had become a shadow version of themselves, and they didn’t like the changes they were observing.
Most of you know that I work a lot with assessments – tools that help us understanding our wiring and behavioral tendencies. Many of you have taken the DISC which is an assessment tool that focuses on outwardly observable behavioral tendencies. A DISC report includes two graphs – natural and adapted. The natural graph indicates who we generally are (i.e. your basic behavioral style), and the adapted graph is how our behaviors adapt due to stress, pressure, or conflicting expectations (caused by internal conflict or between us and another person). Your adaptive graph may indicate how you have been affected by the COVID pandemic.
As I do DISC assessments, I find that some people are a high D (take charge person) in their natural graph but may increase or repress their D tendencies when under stress, pressure, or conflicting expectations. This increase or decrease can happen with any of the DISC tendencies, thus producing a different behavioral profile.
My adaptive DISC profile is not the best version of me. The same is true for you. It takes incredible energy to operate in one’s adaptive DISC profile. The behaviors which surface are kind of a shadow side of us. In other words when we adapt, we aren’t at our best and we don’t make our best contributions.
For me personally, my adaptive DISC is not one that you would want to be around very long. My D increases and tends to be overbearing. My I decreases significantly as I focus with intensity on the tasks I am trying to achieve. My S stays the same which is very, very low. And my C remains high and stays zeroed in on accomplishing the tasks at hand with excellence.
When I adapt, I tend to become abrasive, overly task focused, not any fun to be around, overbearing, and irritable. My EQ tanks, my conflict management skills suffer, the expression of my spiritual gifts is convoluted, and how I express other dimensions of my God-given wiring are compromised. In other words, you wouldn’t want to be around me. I don’t even want to be around me!
Here is where I’m going in this article. We’ve been in this unprecedented trauma producing pandemic for over two years. The stresses, pressures, threats, and conflicting expectations created by this lengthy pandemic have affected each of us in ways that have resulted in behavioral adaptations that (probably) aren’t the best version of ourselves. Yet, we may not have noticed the shift in our behavioral tendencies. The people who have noticed changes in us may not have understood what was happening. Therefore, they didn’t give us feedback that would have helped us take a step back, observed how we were adapting, and then made intentional behavioral adjustments.
My question to you is: how has the pandemic changed you, how you relate to others, how you lead, how you work? Are there any expressions or behavioral tendencies related to your dark or shadow side that have been surfacing more frequently?
Most of us are slow to realize when we are adapting in negative or unhealthy ways. We’ve been trying to survive this pandemic without losing our sanity. Sometimes the way we cope with things that are happening seem to us like they are working, but they actually change us in ways that undermine the best version of ourselves. In more normal times people around us may notice our adaptations and speak into our lives in helpful ways. During those more normal times we may even notice that we are adapting in unhealthy ways. But in a lengthy pandemic we and everyone else is just trying to cope and survive. The result is our adaptations continue and may even become more extreme.
How has this pandemic changed you? How have you been adapting? What adaptations have allowed your dark side to emerge? What adaptations have been unhealthy to your relationships (family, work associates, friends)? What adaptations are negatively impacting your leadership or your personal mental and emotional health?
Now that we are, hopefully, on the backside of this pandemic, why not take a good look at yourself and solicit feedback from some people you trust so that you better understand how the pandemic has affected you.
One of my dreams is for every pastor, associate pastor, and church staff person to be the best version of themselves and to be serving God and others in a way that maximizes their Kingdom impact. I want to see everyone doing ministry according to their A game. We aren’t likely to be at our best unless we are willing to engage in self-assessment, as well as let others speak into our lives. After being in this challenging pandemic for such a lengthy time, now is a good time to step back and take a good look at yourself. Ask God to help you identify how the pandemic has changed you. Then you can examine whether the change is a positive one related to personal maturation and growth as a person, or if it is an adaptation of your behavior that is unhealthy and likely to be problematic. If you conclude the latter, I’d suggest you talk with a professional counselor or touch base with me so that you can take steps towards finding greater health. You might even want to read Widen the Window: Training Your Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma, by Elizabeth A. Stanley, Ph.D.