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Resolving Life Crises
      by Gail Carr Feldman, PhD
I believe it is out of the crucible of crisis that we grow ourselves into full maturity. That perception alone, that there will be a pearl at the end of the grinding-down, can help us as we persevere through the purgatory of life events that lay us low and sometimes feel impossible to cope with.
There are so many types of crisis: From a Murphy’s Law day, in which everything seems to go wrong, to the Job’s Law of Life, where there are deeply serious losses of life and limb, and close relationships. Our personal traumas, large and small, and the difficult road of recovering from them, constitute the developmental journey that eventually brings us insight, life skills, and even wisdom.
In my practice of clinical psychology, I hear people describe every kind of crisis, obstacle, trauma, tragedy, conflict, and disaster. From the resulting symptoms, we begin to understand the impact on the individual’s mind and emotions - how fear shows itself through the grief of depression, anger, obsession, and dissociation from triggering events and from other people. In these states of post-trauma, we lose our natural ability to be comfortably social and successfully engaged human beings.

"Regardless of the origins of the life crisis, you can become your own personal coach. Practice engaging your Higher Self or Observing Self."

Meg, a super scientist, survived an accident that caused numerous injuries. For the first time in her forty-two years, her life required a total focus on herself - a routine of rehabilitation that took precedent over everything else. Meg had chosen to live alone. She had few friends, and she had removed herself from any contact with her remaining family of three brothers. After hearing her history, it was apparent why she had chosen a rather isolated life: the brutality of the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse she sustained growing up was nearly incomprehensible.
Her military father had required that she stand at attention while he beat her and when finished, he would declare her “dismissed.” It failed to work once when she passed out, but overall, the tortures were administered with almost scientific precision. She left home as soon as she could.
The accident forced Meg to learn to care for and nurture herself in the most basic ways - eating, walking, sleep, and hygiene. And then, many physical and rehabilitative therapies had to be added. In her frustration one day, over having to pay attention to herself instead of her science, she said, “I have no idea how to put myself into the equation.” Years earlier, she had factored herself out and dissociated from life beyond her work. While on the surface it appeared that the accident was the crisis to be resolved, it was the split within herself that needed healing. It was time for her to “come home” to herself and be her own loving parent.
Jenny, a fast-minded CEO of a non-profit in Los Angeles, was at risk of losing the position she’d dreamed of having because of a hair-trigger temper with men. “I need a personal coach,” she said. In a situation where she felt a man was becoming dominating or dictatorial she would blow-up, and feel quite right in doing so. Neither she nor her husband could understand what was happening.
Jenny told me she had no history of abuse growing up, just teasing from her siblings. In hypnosis, she re-experienced an evening with her best male friend in college. They had studied together and then had a few drinks, after which he decided he wanted to “be my lover instead of my friend. I had to fight really hard to get him off of me, and I could never see him again after that.” After making this connection to her unconscious reactions to powerful men, Jenny could mourn the incident and integrate the loss. Because she had not been raped, Jenny had not realized that the incident was a traumatic marker for her, causing her to view certain men as dangerous. We worked on her ability to stay in her “observing self” and therefore be her own personal coach. She began monitoring the actual threat in any interaction and practicing, mentally rehearsing, appropriate responses.
Regardless of the origins of the life crisis, you can become your own personal coach. Practice engaging your Higher Self or Observing Self. Begin to notice patterns of reacting coming from the past. These are usually self-protective, defensive behaviors. Do you really need these any longer? Can you find the courage to let them melt away and allow buried feelings of grief to emerge? One young mother who could no longer keep secret a childhood molestation said, “I feel like I’m just going to cry forever because my childhood was stolen from me.”
The tears won’t last forever, but they may be intense and continuous for a time. Tears are a way of releasing and cleansing the past. They represent the compassionate self-care that could not be provided at the time of the wounding.
Forgiveness is a key ingredient in recovering from the pain of the past. I’m not speaking of forgiving the perpetrator. That can feel like acceptance of their behavior. You may only be able to pray for the person who harmed you. Praying for them is a serious act of spiritual power. In Aramaic, the language of Jesus, the verb “to forgive” means “to untie a knot.” So, as you forgive yourself for feeling weak or defective in some way, you release yourself from the tie to the person and the experience in which you were diminished.
As you forgive yourself and practice compassionate self-care, you are integrating the past and strengthening from difficult life events. You can claim greater understanding of the types of suffering that occur to all human beings, and in so doing, you actually come home to the wholeness of your Self.