Why Crises Can Bring Out the Best in Us

July 31, 2018

The word crisis derives from the Greek verb “krino“, meaning “I judge and choose“. This concept suggests a choice or moment in which we have to face different perspectives and opportunities (Onnis, 1900). We can consider crises as a process of natural homeostasis between a person and their environment. We achieve a balance by “changing the weights of our scales” or by re-connecting our frameworks. This can, therefore, offer us the possibility of producing changes that offer new forms of adaptation.

What differentiates the functionality of a person or a family is not the absence of crises, but how they have been dealt with. We can also look at how these crises have contributed to personal and family growth and development. There are also events that, because of their nature or when they occur, can simply be too much for us and cause us harm.

The types of human crises

Throughout their life, each person must face a series of critical moments that we can classify in different ways. Generally, we can classify these critical moments into two types:

  • Normative (Expected): These are specific to the normal life cycle and expected (marriage, looking for a job or house, retirement, etc.)
  • Non-normative (Unexpected): These refer to circumstantial, unpredictable, accidental, and unexpected crises, caused by one or more events. As these events occur suddenly, they require an immediate response.

So, a person or a family’s crises may or may not be predictable, but they all have one thing in common. The problem that has caused them is very difficult to solve. As far as mental health is concerned, the results of any given crisis are the same, but the personal experience varies.

Man looking at crashing wave

What determines a crisis?

We are not isolated people who have personal crises inside our own waterproof bubble. We can group the factors that determine the evolution of these crises into three types:

  • The seriousness of the events that have precipitated the crisis.
  • Family resources: flexible roles, social-economic and functional characteristics, care, emotional support
  • Social supports: family, friends, the community, or other people who can help minimize any harmful effects.

There are different theories that attempt to explain these crises by using different focal points. They are: the Theory of Vital Events, the Cognitive Theory, the Theory of Coping Mechanisms, and the Theory of Reactivation of Past Events. Novack (1978, cited by Slaikeu, 1996) suggests that the probability of an event producing a crisis depends on a number of factors. These include the moment in which it occurs, its intensity, its duration, and the degree in which it interferes with a person’s development.

Humans: a resilient species

The human race seems to have been constantly trying to recover from incessant wars, massive crises, disasters, and violence since the beginning of time. Crises leave their mark and pass from generation to generation. They also leave a lasting impact on our minds and emotions.

Why are some people who experience a crisis not seriously affected and others are? The reason is related to one of the biggest problems in mental health: their chronicity. In other words, the repetition of critical events in someone’s life, as well as them having few resources to deal with them.

Flowers representing hope in crises

Every crisis is a message for our lives

Everyone who experiences a crisis receives a message for their lives. The message may or may not be processed consciously, but it becomes a part of the “script” of a person’s life. Caplan wrote about his interest in what happens to the subject in the first three days of the crisis. He looked into how this combined with the description of the crisis and how it affected their cognitive functioning. Dyregrov also wrote about this subject. He realized that the combination of these elements can explain the variation in different people’s adaptation mechanisms.

How we assimilate the impressions of these critical moments is finally projected into the future “script” of our life. It’s impossible to escape from what we feel and what these events mean to us. Later, however, we can modify those impressions with new, more positive messages.

The different ways in which the basic needs of a person are attended to after these crises make it difficult to build a generalized negative script. It’s also important to consider the conclusion that the person has come to about any given crisis. When someone has a crisis, we shouldn’t think of them as victims. The “victims” of these crises had to deal with those events and keep going with their lives. We aren’t talking about victims. We are, however, talking about great survivors.

Bibliographic references
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The body keeps track: brain, mind, and body in the overcoming of trauma. Eleftheria

Góngora, J. N. Reflections on the crisis in Haiti: from the individual to the community.

Góngora, J.N. Crisis, concepts, and procedures.