A 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- our marital status, job title, relationships with family and friends, health, or financial security- 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 not 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. Think of the child who has trouble moving into adolescence or the father or mother who cannot accept the responsibilities of parenthood. Another example is the adolescent who cannot make the move into working adulthood. 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, a financial setback, the loss of a job, the death of a family member or friend (or a pet), a house fire, a serious accident, an illness (including terminal illnesses), violence (including rape), 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 fore- like, “Am I really happy in the work that I do?” Or, “Do I have the chance to express my spiritual life to the degree that I want to?”
How Do We Define Our “Self”?
Answer a question- “Who are you?”
If you’re like most people, you probably answered in terms of the work you do. You may have answered in terms of who you are in your family or other relationships.
If your answer included your work, what do you do when that work is no longer part of your life? What if you retired or 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 feel utterly lost. If your definition of self includes your work and nothing else, and that work is now gone, you could very well end up in a swirl of a life crisis, feeling that you have no resources for working your way back to 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 spouse, a parent, kind, fun, a good socializer, quiet at times, a dancer”- and the list can be anything at all that describes who you are.
When you know that you are more- much more- than your narrow definition, the crisis becomes more bearable. You know that you have 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…
…To Be Continued