“There’s nothing like a family crisis…to force a person to re-evaluate life.” ~Michael Douglas
In a recent conversation on podcast Coming up for Air, I took a look back over some of the crises that have swept through my life over the last decade. Among them have been the death of people very close and dear to me, other abrupt losses, upheaval and changes, work stresses, loss of beloved pets, unsolvable conflicts, family turmoil and so on.
Often some of the most painful and frightening days of crisis occur when addiction, alcoholism or Substance Use Disorder (SUD) come roaring like a tornado through a home and family. I know this type of crisis all too well. I clearly remember days when our lives were extremely chaotic, yet somehow I still had to manage my focus in work meetings, go to the grocery store, tend to my home and keep life demands navigated as much as possible.
Life doesn’t slow down when we’re in crisis.
While I am happy to say almost five years have passed without having chaos near my daily life, I feel compelled to share the strength and hope I found in times of crisis.
The word crisis has three definitions I find particularly interesting…
Crisis: A time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger.
“This is the part when you find out who you are.” ~J.H.
When intense troubles arrive, everything dysfunctional within us tends to rise to the surface.
We can find ourselves doing what Author, Speaker Brene’ Brown refers to as “chandeliering.” Chandeliering is when profound pain or fear causes one to “hit the ceiling” anytime we become rattled, due to the extreme stress we’re feeling.
What has helped me in these times is to have healthy tools in place, some of the work I personally have done over the years has involved the following:
Trauma therapy, which focuses on post-traumatic stress and grief
Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT): based on methods designed to help people accept, express, regulate, make sense of and transform emotion. … systematically but flexibly helps clients become aware of and make productive use of their emotions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): an effective combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies. The goal of DBT is to transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.
Most people connect with a therapist in times of turmoil or relationship breakdown, not realizing there are specific types of therapy and processes for modifying thoughts, emotions and behaviors. I was a layman and didn’t know this. Customizing what fits you, your family and specific circumstances is critical.
I truly believe anyone and everyone would benefit from experiencing or studying therapy. Life is challenging and unpredictable, no one is absolved from trying times.
Once we find some relief in the area of distress and solutions are in place to heal and manage difficult situations, we find life gradually calms and improves. And the good news is you don’t unlearn these things. These skills return in future times of crisis when we need them.
Crisis: A time when difficult or important decisions must be made.
Interestingly enough, the Greek root word for crisis is krisis, which literally means decision.
Certainly in times of crisis we are called to turning points of decision. A decision I try to make after being made aware of crisis is the choice to grow from it as much as possible, versus allowing it to defeat me. While I have absolutely gone through times of Post-Traumatic Stress, those times are not where I prefer to remain. Doing the work to heal forward, I find much Post Traumatic Growth occurs, creating instances of great creativity, new areas of depth, compassion, wisdom, strength and intense personal development.
Times of crisis tend to peak in strength and intensity. Once we’ve come down from the “chandelier,” it’s wise next to enter research and action mode in order to make smart decisions about handling the situation. This is the time we need to secure support from outside ourselves, such as crisis intervention agencies, emergency lines, law enforcement if needed, support groups, therapy, along with trustworthy and compassionate friends, family etc.
Crisis: The turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death.
“Life always waits for some crisis to occur before revealing itself at its most brilliant.” ~Paulo Coelho
Often a crisis can be one of the greatest agents for change in our lives. It can be a huge turning point, once we come through the upheaval and shock, and begin to see what and who it may have led into our lives.
In my opinion, recovery, growth and triumph in the aftermath of a crisis mean nothing is wasted or without purpose.
In the midst of crisis…
I was taught to ask myself three questions in moments of extreme distress:
“What am I feeling? What can I do, what am I going to do?”
(I kept them on an index card on my desk)
These questions calm my mind in the midst of stress and lead me to a more productive mindset. I then apply tools I’ve obtained from therapy, crisis and conflict training and recovery work, which prompts my next question:
“Am I thinking right?”
We all go into habits of unhealthy, distorted thought patterns when stress or crisis hit. Which waste time in coming to solutions and can develop into serious defeated, victim type thinking.
Below are ten examples of distorted thinking often written about in Psychology Today:
Awfulizing; imagining a situation to be fatalistic, worse case scenario and as bad as it can possibly be. “I awfulized the conversation with my ex-wife, mentally turning it into a nasty confrontation, so I opted out of resolving the issue with her.”
Tunnel Vision (Filtering); only one part of a situation is focused on and the rest is ignored. A tendency is to focus on the negative aspects or interpretations of a situation and ignore alternative ways of seeing things. This is when we “can’t see the forest for the trees.”
All or nothing; Splitting our view into extremes, there is no middle ground, everything is either/or. “We are either going to talk this through right now, or end up enemies.”
Generalizing; Make a general or broad statement by inferring from specific cases. “Every person who became addicted, happened into it by making bad choices.”
Projecting/jumping to conclusions; defending oneself against our own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in ourselves while attributing them to others. We project negative motives into someone without bothering to confirm if we are correct. “He/She is manipulative and calculating when they act friendly and warm.”
Negativity; the expression of criticism of or pessimism about something. “There’s no way this can work out.”
Blame; assigning responsibility for a problem versus working to resolve it. “It’s your Dad’s fault we’re struggling like this.”
Unfairness; believing there’s a lack of equality or justice, inability to understand that things sometimes will just not work out in our favor. “Why is this happening to me? I’ve been doing all the right things!”
Shoulds; used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions. “You should have handled that different. You should have tried harder. You should do this, go here, help this person” etc etc
Heavens Reward; We expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come. “After all I’ve done for you? After all I’ve been through…this is the thanks I get?”
The truth is, I have personally thought with just about all of them at one time or another, especially in times of stressful conflict or crisis. It wasn’t until I experienced therapy, recovery for trauma/codependency, and did research that would teach me these even were distorted perceptions, that I tried handling situations differently.
No one is immune, we can all fall into unhealthy thinking. Becoming aware of these patterns is key, adjusting them going forward is life-changing.
The last series of questions I ask myself in crisis is:
“Is this my crisis? Did I create the situation and is it something I can, or need to resolve?”
If not, I need to step aside instead of triaging someone else’s urgency (which was my usual routine in years past) and tend to what I need to manage within my own life, like the feelings of fear and panic a crisis tends to invoke. This is when I need to breathe, focus and move through it a moment at a time, before I respond.
“If you over-react to a crisis, legislatively it generally ends in disaster.” ~Thomas Watson, Jr.
Author of Unhooked
For Support, information and hope:
Crisis Text Line: 741741
(Thank you Dominique Simon-Levine, Ph.D. for teaching me so much!)