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Life crisis is one of the inevitable features of our lives. Learning how to survive a crisis is a crucial skill and one that we will probably need more than once throughout our lives.
A crisis can occur when things begin to fall apart around us. The things that shape us, such as our marital/relationship status, job title, relationships with family and friends, health, or financial security, which have disappeared and we find ourselves adrift without any clear guidelines that tell us what to do next.
We feel lost.
Do we hide? Do we deny this is happening? Do we rage? Do we fear the world? The answers may be obvious.
Nobody ever told us that the world would turn out this way. But one thing is clear, this is a crisis.
We all experience life transitions, such as the move from childhood into adolescence or the transition from working adulthood into retirement. Both involve substantial changes in the way we and others define us and the way we conduct our everyday lives.
While these normal and expected life transitions can cause us some stress, we at least know what to expect when it is time to move into the new life stage. Our culture provides us with ample guidelines. If we fail to make our adaptations to the new stage, then we experience difficulty.
Most of us adapt to new life stages fairly well, however because we see others around us who have made the move successfully. We know what to do.
A life crisis is different, however, because it usually hits us unexpectedly and we feel unprepared to adapt to a set of circumstances that we never thought would happen. A life crisis can occur when there is a divorce, breakup, financial setback, the loss of a job, the death of a family member, friend, or pet, a house foreclosure, a serious accident, an illness, violence, or a natural disaster. The list seems endless.
A life crisis can even occur when a problem we have been sitting on for years finally comes to the forefront. For example, “Am I really happy in the work that I do?” Or, “Is my relationship happy and am I satisfied staying in it?”
Ask yourself, “Who are you?”
If you are like most people, you probably answered first in terms of the work you do. And you may have answered in terms of who you are in your family or other relationships.
What if you lost your job? What if you have a serious illness and are now disabled? What now is your definition of yourself? You may very well fell utterly lost and in a crisis.
If your definition of self includes your work and nothing else, and that work is now gone, you could very well end up in the swirl of a life crisis, feeling that you have no resources for working your way back to a normal life again.
If you are in a crisis, answer the “who are you?” question but this time list all of your positive personal qualities. Get down to the core of who you really are.
For example, your list might say, “I am caring, a good friend, creative, a hard worker, trustworthy, a good partner/spouse, a parent, kind, fun, a good socializer, etc.” The list can be anything at all that describes who you are.
When you know that you are more than your narrow definition, the crisis becomes more bearable. You know that you have the qualities which give you the strength to endure your crisis and define your new self.
Your new sense of self can be whatever you choose it to be. Now ask yourself the question, “Who do you want to be?” The answers to this question can be one of your roadmaps to the future.
A life crisis can be a blessing in disguise because it forces us to respond to what we really need in our lives. It gets down to the root of who we really are.
The crisis allows us to let go of our old life and to create a new one that can be more fulfilling. Yet we resist the change because it forces us to challenge our definition of who we have always been.
We need to let go.
But we resist letting go because we feel the need to hold on to the illusion of control.
We must let go of those parts of our lives that are no longer appropriate for us to hold onto. They no longer work for us. But we can hold on to those things that we truly need and that will define who we want to be in the future.
J.M. Evosevich, Ph.D., LMFT, CADC, BCBA is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Palm Springs. He works with individuals and couples helping them deal with the stress that life brings so they can have happier, healthier relationships. If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, call (760) 778-4929 or e-mail at email@example.com.