Crisis. Just hearing the word can cause our heart rate to increase. With our routines and efforts to maintain them, humans are, as a whole, crisis averse. Generally speaking, humans are all about the status quo. However, sometimes, crisis just “finds you” in what you believe to be a life that is running like a well oiled machine. It sneaks in sideways, or comes barreling in like a hurricane, and foists itself upon you.
The fact is, how we react to a crisis will determine our future. Most of us were not taught good skills for crisis management as children and if we rely on the programming we received as a child, we may respond to a crisis in ways that are only sure to harm us. Learning how to make the most of a crisis, instead of letting the crisis destroy us, is one of the most important tools in leading a resilient life.
So, what is a Crisis? A crisis is an obstacle to your welfare, a traumatic event or threat to your emotional or physical well being. It is a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger, when a difficult or important decision must be made.
Crises come in many different shapes and sizes. Sometimes we believe that small things are a crisis, like the bakery forgetting to deliver the wedding cake in time for your reception, or having a flat tire on your way to an important meeting. Those events certainly do seem like a big deal, when they are happening, but when they are over, they are pretty much over, with little to no lasting effects.
I am referring to the big things, like the cancer diagnosis of yourself or a loved one, the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one, a partner who is unfaithful, or a forest fire whose flames destroyed not only your home but your entire town. Crises can come in any number of ways that result in the disruption to the continuance of our cherished norm. Really…who could get excited about these things? I don’t know anyone who actually likes the idea of welcoming a crisis.
More often, instead of looking for opportunity in the presenting crisis, people get angry, act out against themselves or others, or become withdrawn and depressed. Many people try to bury their feelings about a personal crisis, hoping that the situation will resolve itself with time.
Unfortunately, the feelings that accompanied that event will never just “go away.” Experts tell us that in the case of childhood trauma, the person must address the situation head on, or risk the likelihood that their future will be riddled with difficulties and challenges that negatively effect their personal relationships, their ability to hold down a job, and their ability to cope with future crises, which are simply inescapable in life.
This can also be true, albeit perhaps on a smaller scale, for crises that occur in adulthood. For example, when a loved one dies unexpectedly, or our partner is unfaithful, we have a choice of how we view this experience. If we respond negatively, our lives will spiral downward. If we respond by looking for growth, we will become better people. We can choose to blame ourselves, our loved one, or someone else, or we can choose to open our hearts with care and curiosity. How would our departed loved one want us to proceed with our life? What can infidelity teach us about ourselves and/or our relationship? How can you use this experience to build a future that honors your loved one’s memory while also honoring yourself, or find a better understanding of what kind of relationship you want in life?
A wise man once told me that when a loved one dies, their death makes possible for something to happen that could not have otherwise happened. For example, when my mother died, receiving my inheritance enabled me leave an unhealthy marriage, something that I had been wanting to do for a long time. That, in turn, allowed me to heal from a lot of my own traumas and get onto the path which led me to do the work I do today. I believe that this opportunity for a new experience is offered not just in physical death, but also in the death of our dreams and the shattering of our illusions as well. Every crisis, every crossroad, offers us the opportunity of a turning point from which we can elevate our lives, if we so desire.
So… how do we make the most of a crisis when presented with one in our lives?
The first step is to accept the new reality. This does not mean burying your feelings about it or moving on as though nothing has happened. It just means that after you have allowed some time for the new reality to hit home, don’t fight it. Something has changed. Something has happened. Something is different. It will never happen the way you wanted it to happen, no matter how sad or angry you get.
Once you have accepted that you can’t have things the way you wanted them, you must determine what you now want instead. Here is where it can get tricky. If we are holding onto anger, this decision will not be a good one. In order to make a solid choice about our new future, we must listen to our hearts, not our ego. That is not as easy as it sounds, in our society, which teaches us that there are some things that simply “should” not happen and that some things are clearly unforgivable.
However, if we look at our challenges from the perspective of discovering the gifts brought to us by the crisis, any life experience can be well digested, and even the “unforgivable” can be forgiven. You may need to seek help in learning how you can make a more loving choice for your life given your current circumstances. It may take more time than you might like, but you can do it. You can find the power in the disappointments in life and use them to fuel the building of a more appropriate future for yourself.
Never ask why this is happening “to” you. Instead, look for the gift inside of the challenge or crisis and see that your life is happening “for” you. It is true, that along with crises comes endings, but with every ending comes a new beginning. You can take the ingredients of a crisis, or a traumatic life event, and renew yourself, your life, or your relationship into something more beautiful than you could have previously imagined. While perhaps not exactly what we had expected in life, a beautiful life is a beautiful life… and that is the best gift of all.