Crisis or Growth Opportunity? Seeing Difficult Situations As Gifts Towards Self-Fullness

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“Feel it. The thing that you don’t want to feel. Feel it. And be free.”

–Nayyirah Waheed

I want you to reflect for a moment on the following questions: What’s the first thing you do when you feel uncomfortable? And what do you do, or avoid doing, when shit hits the fan? Now I want you to ask yourself, how are those behaviors working for you? Are you finding the fastest way to safety and comfort, or do you actually work through the issue that arise? Do you throw a fit, or do you overwork yourself?

When things don’t go according to plan, most of us regress. We allow our emotions to drive us, and we engage in automatic, sometimes childish behaviors. We act on impulse to satisfy our wants, and we lose our minds when something stops us from getting what we want. The real challenge for us under such circumstances is to avoid dwelling on the negative parts of life and instead think about how we can more appropriately deal with life’s inevitable disappointments. How you perceive a crisis and decide to act in response to it can make the difference between effectively growing from the experience or regressing into old, not so helpful patterns.

Same Old Reactions, Same Old Results

“Crisis can be averted when one can find a person with the courage to define self, who is invested in the welfare of the family as in self, who is neither angry nor dogmatic, whose energy goes to changing self rather than telling others what they should do.”

–Murray Bowen

My client Jenifer—a self-proclaimed people-pleaser, overfunctioner, and perfectionist—knew exactly what she did when her anxiety was high and she felt things weren’t moving exactly the way she wanted them to. She went into fixing and lecturing mode, overstepping her boundaries and inserting herself in other peoples’ lives. When a difficult situation arose, her automatic reaction was to find ways to resolve the issue immediately, even if it wasn’t her issue to solve in the first place. This made sense to me, because people-pleasers tend to lose themselves in the process of automatically jumping into action to help others—especially when they assume something bad will happen if they don’t. Pleasers try to eliminate the possibility of a negative outcome by immediately disconnecting from their anxious feelings and running to the rescue. They don’t want to feel uncomfortable, and they don’t want others to hurt, so they go into fixing mode. But as Jenifer soon found out, this doesn’t work so well. That’s because, paradoxically, the more you try to run away from something unpleasant, the more you stay connected to it. Also, the reality is that nothing truly gets resolved when you impose yourself onto other people’s battles as a way to relieve your own anxiety. When you do this you aren’t acting for self, you aren’t acting for others’ benefit, and you aren’t growing; you’re just doing the same old thing in order to minimize the bad feelings you’re experiencing in the moment.

Helpful Tips to Remain Self-Full During Crisis

When a negative situation arises, instead of disconnecting from it immediately by going into thoughtless action, look within and ask yourself, “What type of person do I want to be in this situation?” Think about how your best self would like to respond, instead of how your impulse for comfort would prefer you act. Then do what you think or believe is right. Or, alternatively, do nothing. Sometimes it’s okay not to respond. However, always take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the situation instead of giving in to the urge to do something about it.

When you’re faced with difficult situations in life, try to see them as opportunities for you to decide who you are and see what you’re capable of. As Neale Donald Walsch says in his book Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Book 1, “. . . each circumstance is a gift, and in each experience is hidden treasure.” When you continue to act in certain ways just to gain approval and avoid hurt, you rob yourself of the opportunity to experience who you can be in different situations and circumstances. How you choose to behave, think, and feel are all expressions of who you want to be. When you observe your self without judgment or impulsivity, you’re making a decision about who you are; you’re being self-full. Situations in life, even negative ones, can always serve as opportunities. When you can start to see them that way, you’ll no longer need to engage in harmful behaviors to avoid them. Instead, you’ll be able to be more mindful and thoughtful in your responses. You’ll be an active participant in your own life instead of a leaf blowing in the wind.

There are a few particular ways that you can practice acting act self-fully when a crisis arises, allowing yourself to move through setbacks without creating more drama in other aspects of your life: 1) Make a real effort to have your feelings line up with your logical brain by looking at the facts of the situation; 2) Practice sitting with the discomfort that comes from your wants not being immediately satisfied; 3) Think about your personal values instead of imposing them on other people; 4) When people in your family system upset you or you don’t agree with them, try to stay connected to them rather than pulling away; 5) Remember that you are not responsible for other people’s problems, and they need to find their own way; 6) Have your own ideas, values, and thoughts even if others disagree with them; and 7) Look beyond your initial impulsive reactions so you can see your real intentions, and act in ways that better fit with who you want to be versus what your impulses dictate.

Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier

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