LITTLE FALLS, NJ -- New Jersey, New York, and many states across the nation have had stay-at-home and social distancing orders in place since mid-March, and yet, there is still a significant subset of people not following those rules. 

Though the good news is that the curve seems to be flattening in New Jersey and the New York Metro Area because most of us are successfully practicing social distancing, “there are still some people who just don’t listen,” said Clinical Psychologist Meryl Dorf, Ph.D. Dorf is referring to people who are willfully and voluntarily disobeying social distancing, not essential workers. 

Dorf detailed various reasons why following these directives can be challenging or even impossible for a small batch of the community. 

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“Some people just have a personality where they feel that the rules don’t apply to them--they’re entitled to do what they want to do,” Dorf said. Others, “are defiant,” she continued. “They have personality traits that just don’t allow them to do what they’re told.” 

“I think when things get scary and our anxiety level rises,” Dorf said, “sometimes we tend to minimize the severity of the danger,” she continued. “Those are defensive maneuvers that we utilize to calm down, but they don’t allow us to think clearly and make choices that are in our, and other people’s, best interest.” 

Dorf also said that inconsistent guidance, such as whether to wear masks or the use of certain drugs to treat COVID-19, can cause confusion and even a condition known as learned helplessness. In the face of an uncontrollable situation, like the coronavirus pandemic, people may stop trying to make an effort to change their circumstances. “Some of those people just say, ‘what the heck--I’ll do what I want’,” said Dorf.  

Video conferencing can certainly help maintain our social networks, though of course, it doesn’t replace hugs or physical closeness, Dorf said. “We need to commune and be together and connect, especially when we’re under stress, and especially when we’re in danger, we turn to each other,” she said. “And yet, that very natural human tendency could be deadly.”

If reasonable arguments and government edicts aren’t convincing some to follow social distancing orders, what could possibly motivate them to do so? 

“You might appeal to the hero in them,” said Dorf. “Remind them that they could be helping society, they could be helping others in ways that might feel good.” 

But ultimately, Dorf said, “There are just a group of people who won’t do something unless they’re stopped.” 

To learn more about Meryl Dorf and her practice, visit: www.meryldorfphd.com.