Heroes or Victims: Two Ways of Dealing with Personal Crises

Heroes or Victims: Two Ways of Dealing with Personal Crises
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

When it comes to personal crises, we can choose to do nothing and be carried away like a leaf by the wind, or we can be like stone resting on the bottom. We can ride on the strength of the river to rise to the surface, gleaming and beautiful. It’s clear that nobody comes out unscathed, but we can become heroes of our own stories.

Personal crises almost always include a loss. Sometimes we come to a crossroads where we know some aspect of our life must be left behind. We have to accept that we are no longer the same as we were.

Other times, we lose something or someone. Unforeseen events force us to change, struggle, and do anything we can to keep from losing ourselves completely and being carried away by the unfair winds of fate.

“Without crisis there are no challenges, without challenges life is a routine, a slow agony. Without crisis there is no merit.”

Albert Einstein-

This brings us to an almost obvious fact. In the face of adversity, we have two options: stay still or move forward. To be eternal victims of circumstance, or to rise as one deserving of new opportunities. It should be said, however, that it’s not easy. Nobody ever taught us how to be “heroes” or what strategies we should use to overcome the obstacles life puts in our path.

A pink flower in the sunlight: personal crises.

Personal crises: losing our balance

Losing a job, going through a breakup, seeing in the mirror that you aren’t as young as you once were, discovering that people you care about don’t care about you in the same way… They’re almost normative events in our lives. Yet no matter how common they are we will never get used to them.

There’s a reason for it: happiness is balance, a sense of security, the feeling we have things under control. Therefore, any alteration, however small, is interpreted as a threat. It’s an unexpected event we don’t know how to respond to.

Recognizing our helplessness is actually a good starting point. Experiencing confusion after a disappointment or loss inevitably forces us to be still and reflect. In fact, the very word “crisis” comes from the Greek “Krisis” and means I decide, I judge, or I separate. It is an invitation to become aware and take charge of our circumstances and decide what to do.

Colorful butterfly.

Something interesting that psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Larry Calhoun discuss in their book The Handbook of Posttraumatic Growth is that when we take the step to face our personal crises, we begin to speak a new type of language.

Almost without knowing how, we discovered that we have new talents. We see that we are stronger than we thought at first and that in the fight for our life we are our own heroes. What at first seemed an almost intolerable or impossible difficulty becomes lifelong learning.

We are all victims of personal crises, but we all have the resources to handle them

There are many types of crises: developmental crises associated with different stages of our lives, situational crises such as those related to accidents and natural disasters, existential crises related to our life purpose or values… They all have two points in common: effects on our mood and our behavior. 

It is estimated that almost 80% of us will go through one or several personal crises. We will be, in a sense, victims of destiny. Victims of circumstance or of events that we cause ourselves.

However, we all have the resources we need to move from this state of fragility and emotional instability to that other point where we can get a new perspective, empowering us to regain control and balance, and to grow.

Struggling: biting the forbidden fruit.

Gilbert Ross, a philosopher specializing in personal growth, says that all adversity is a form of natural selection. Only those who accept the challenge and change will progress. Only those whose self-esteem grows out of it and whose fears are overcome.

Personal crises, whether we like it or not, are are happening more in today’s world. We live in times of constant change and uncertainty. What today is secure could be insecure tomorrow. What defines us now could be gone tomorrow. Being prepared for change is an invaluable psychological resource. Let it be your engine of strength and know that behind every crisis is an opportunity.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.