May 6, 2013
Explore how people experience being in the middle of a crisis and how to respond to someone who does not seem to want support
In the post of April 29, I discussed an article from the Los Angeles Times called “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing” when a friend is dealing with a difficult situation.
This is the third and final post on that topic. Here I discuss how our personalities and experiences help determine how someone responds to the experience of a crisis. Also, I explore what can happen when someone does not want to talk about their crisis.
Just as our personalities and experiences help determine how we respond to someone who is going through a crisis, when we ourselves are in the middle of a crisis, we each respond in our own unique way.
When You Are in Crisis and in the Center of the Circle
There are thousands of things that would place you in the center of the circle. They range from the diagnosis of a terminal illness to the death of a child; from a request for a divorce that is totally unexpected to a house swept away by a flood, from sudden blindness to loss of a job in a bad economy.
Whenever life throws something at you that you weren’t prepared for, or don’t have the resources to handle, your life has been turned upside down. You want to grab onto anything that can help turn you right-side-up again.
In fact, in such circumstances it’s not unusual if you would want your mother. Not in the literal sense, of course, though that might sometimes be exactly what you would like. But you would definitely want someone who could take away your hurt, tell you it’s going to be all right, assure you that things will soon be better.
Why Has This Happened To You?
When you have been thrown into a crisis, you are overcome with all kinds of emotions: anger, guilt, grief, and a sense that life has betrayed you. You were good, weren’t you? You did what you were supposed to do. Why hasn’t life turned out the way you expected? And like many people, you may even be angry with God for bringing you a tragedy when you’ve done your best.
On the other hand, you may be one of those whose faith will pull you through. You assume that whatever has thrown you off your stride is part of God’s plan. You may not enjoy where you are, but you are comforted in believing where you are now is where God wants you.
However, if you are a person who believes you are the cause (or co-creator) of everything that happens to you — a perspective on life that has become popular with books like The Secret — you may be very hard on yourself. You might ask questions like, “Why did I create this?” “What did I do wrong in my past life?” The more rigidly you accept responsibility for your disaster, the more difficult it may be to step back and notice whether this is just something that happens to members of the human race from time to time.
No matter what your beliefs, you may still ask yourself whether there is something you could have, should have, done to prevent the situation in which you find yourself. If you have lung cancer and have smoked two packs a day for twenty years, the connection between your actions and your health is fairly clear. On the other hand, I knew a lovely lady who never smoked a single cigarette and died of lung cancer.
Perhaps the best way to approach illness (and other crises) is to recognize that there is a place between believing “illness drops down from the sky” and “I am responsible for everything that happens to my body.”
Your Reaction to Your Crisis
First of all, remember that how you get through your crisis will depend on many factors. For example, a happily married woman is likely to tolerate breast cancer better than someone who is looking for a husband. A wife without children whose husband had good life insurance will have less to worry about when her husband dies than one who has six children and no insurance. A fire that destroys a house will be more traumatic for someone who is thirty-six and has had a very easy life so far, than someone who is sixty-six and has successfully dealt with many of life’s trials and tribulations.
Nevertheless, no matter what has happened to you up to this point in time, you will deal with what you have to deal with and will find inner strength and resources you probably never knew you had. So hang on, take one step at a time, and do the best you can.
And when you have gone through the storms of life, tossed and turned in ways you hadn’t expected, you can empathize with others when the winds begin to blow.
How Your Friends and Family Can Support You
Your friends want to help. When they say, “Let me know what you need,” you may not know what to say. But be assured that they are standing ready to help. In your first days of dealing with your crisis, you may need to brainstorm with a friend about you can help with what when everything seems so overwhelming.
Then, be grateful for all those who show their support, and remember that your friends are doing the best they can.
However, not many of us suffer fools gladly and it is more difficult when we’re under stress. People can mean well, but also make life difficult for you at this time. If you don’t want a certain person to bother you because it will take more energy than you have to give, forgive her for being who she is and find a way to tell her to back off.
Beginning and Ending Each Day
Especially during times of crises, I have found a technique that seems to help contain each day’s quota of stress. It goes like this:
Begin the day by holding your arms above your head with your palms up and say, “I am willing to do whatever I need to do to get through today. I accept the support of others in the spirit in which it is given.”
End the day by holding your arms down at your sides and imagining the events of the day flowing off you as you say, “I have done my best and now I let go of those things I may not have done as well as I would have liked. I am grateful for the help others have given me. Tomorrow is another day.”
What Can You Do When the Person in Crisis Won’t Accept Support From You?
I have a very good friend who recently had an operation on a tumor that could not be completely removed and there are no other treatment options. Unfortunately for her friends and family, including her parents, she is not willing to share the results of the biopsy. If it weren’t cancer, we believe she let us know the good news.
Why isn’t she letting us know? I imagine it is simply a reflection of her personality. She is friendly, kind, talented, a great mother — and reserved: Not telling us about the diagnosis is consistent with her personality.
If she doesn’t talk about her emotions when she is not in crisis, it doesn’t surprise me that she is hesitant to share her feelings now. She may simply be one of those people who need to take time to absorb bad news before exposing herself to the reaction of others.
If I were in that situation, I would talk to people — my childhood nickname was “Breezy.” I would want to get support from friends and family and even the grocery clerk. That is not her approach.
So while I would like to talk with her about this, I think of how she must be feeling and my heart goes out to her. If she is having such a hard time dealing with this that she can’t even talk about it with family, who am I to say she must?
Therefore, I do exactly what the circle theory suggests. I send my love in to her at the center of the circle and stay away from conversations with her that might raise the subject of the elephant in the room before she is ready. And when I think about my sadness in most likely losing her sooner than I would like, I call one of my friends, either in the circle in which I see myself or in one farther out. They let me cry and I find comfort.
It is important that we don’t demand people be who they are not. It is important we don’t ask them to share or talk about something they are not ready to share or talk about. I accept her just as she is, not as someone I think she “should” be; someone who would let us into her emotional center.
She is doing the best she can.