Most of us at one time or another will go through some type of crisis. A crisis usually includes some type of loss and, depending on the circumstances, will often challenge our sense of safety in the world. It's as if the ground is crumbling beneath us, and we do not know what to do. As we desperately try to hang on, we feel our fingers slipping as we white knuckle our way through the crisis. Sometimes everything we have worked for appears to be disappearing right before our eyes.
Crises come in many forms. They can be acute, or chronic. A crisis can mean the loss of employment, with the domino effect leading to the loss of one’s home, and general feeling of stability. It can be the loss of a precious relationship, which is frequently thought of as the most painful crisis of all. And sometimes, it can be a crisis of faith. The thought of everything we believed in, the afterlife, being with our family again when we die, and a loving, all-knowing God, seems to disappear right before our eyes. A loss of such magnitude can create a sense of fear and vulnerability we are not typically accustomed to.
When these crises are acute, they can level us to the floor. Losing a job, for example, can send anybody with bills to pay, a family to feed, and a mortgage on the line into a tailspin. We may ask ourselves, what is the value in this? Was that job taking us away from home too long? Was it keeping us from spending time with our families? Was it holding us back from doing what we really dream of? This job loss may lead us into a direction that we had been avoiding; Change. Going after that dream job. Starting our own company. Learning that money cannot buy happiness.
I cannot help but think of a friend of mine. She had a well-paying job at a local crisis center. This friend is very intuitive and, in my opinion, would have made an amazing therapist. It was something I often said to her, “Have you thought of going back to school? You would make an amazing therapist.” It was not long after that my friend lost her job. She had bills to pay and responsibilities to meet. This could have been a serious crisis for her, leading to detrimental outcomes. She eventually chose to move toward discomfort and low wages of part-time work, while going back to school for a master’s degree. She is now a therapist who amazes me often.
A dispute with a beloved family member, while painful and difficult to navigate, can help us learn that we need to have healthier boundaries. In my own life a fallout with my father led to a crisis—a crisis which led to the kind of growth I'd never known. A new ability to set boundaries, find my own self-worth and no longer feeling the need to have my father’s approval—which he never gave. I now look inward for approval, and I am able to feel proud of my accomplishments despite adversity.
Sometimes marriages wreak havoc, end in divorce, but ultimately create two people whose lives are happier in the long run. An affair? A chance to examine the marriage closer—to talk about unspoken emotions, and potentially moving into a more authentic space within the marriage.
Mel Schwartz, LCSW, describes crisis using the dictionary: “A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point.” If we focus on the phrase “turning point,” we might ask ourselves, “Toward where are we turning?” This turning point is the beginning of growth and change. The opportunity in crisis is difficult to see when we are in the thick of it. But it is there if we seek it. There is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Tammy Ellis, LCSW
Tammy specializes in working compassionately with individuals who experience out of control sexual behavior, addiction, LGBT+ related issues, paraphilias, fetishes, and unconventional relationships. She also works with people experiencing crises of faith, faith transitions, mixed-faith and mixed-orientation marriages, and anxiety. She offers both therapy and coaching services to individuals through online settings.