The COVID-19 pandemic can cause lasting psychological effects for many individuals because it has changed people’s lives indefinitely all over the world.
One way the pandemic can affect college students specifically is by disrupting their individuation process. Individuation is a psychological concept conceived by psychologist Carl Jung. This process helps to establish one’s identity and autonomy during college. The trauma that students are now experiencing due to the pandemic can cause a regression of the progress that they have made in establishing their identity.
Essentially, individuation is when people form their own ideas and become independent beings. This process typically occurs within people in their early 20s. COVID-19 disrupts the psychological process of individuation in students and can cause them to feel like they are losing their autonomy. That feeling can even prompt them to get too stuck in autonomy and feel like they can’t practice certain guidelines such as wearing face coverings.
“Individuation doesn’t just mean be your own person,” said UWG Associate Psychology Professor Dr. Mark Kunkel. “It means be everything. To have something happen like COVID jeopardizes, stalls and sometimes even undoes that process.”
The process of individuation typically occurs when students begin college and go out into the world on their own for the first time. When away from their families, students start to figure out key parts of their identity all the way from religious values to what types of food they like. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some students find themselves with no choice other than to move back home with their families because of campuses shutting down, financial problems or both. Moving back home with their families can cause students to lose a sense of having their own identity resulting in a loss of the work they did to gain it.
“If you’re like most people, then for your first 18 years you pretty much live your parents’ lives, and you like what they like,” Kunkel said.
It is important for students to keep in mind that their current situation during the pandemic is not their new normal forever. While at home, students can exercise their individuality by sharing with those around them what they have learned about their likes, dislikes and beliefs while being away. Students can also practice a balanced amount of autonomy by being responsible during the pandemic and practicing proper hygiene and COVID-19 guidelines.
“My concern is that this pandemic and its consequences have upset and derailed the work of becoming,” Kunkel said. “Students are going to spend the rest of their lives catching up.”