Crisis as a Turning Point
by Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D.
Many a modern day Alice finds the wounded self trying to fit into someone else’s mold, into a world that makes no sense or meaning.
In my marriage, I was physically and emotionally abused, but I kept going back for more because I felt I had to prove that I could take it, and that I was doing everything I could to save our relationship. But things just got worse. The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was the night we were arguing and he ripped the phone off the wall. That was it. That was when I knew, “I’m done!” That was all it took. I realized that in order to save myself, I had to walk away.
Psychologists have spent a lot of time researching what motivates change in human behavior. This can be a difficult challenge when the people involved have gotten to the point where they are living in a state of perpetual crisis, confusion, and fear. Crisis has become an ongoing way of life. Individuals who accept perpetual crisis may be doing so because they are replicating the non-communication, rage, trauma, or frustration they witnessed growing up. Because it is so familiar, it becomes a comfortable shoe. Accepting crisis as “my lot in life” is am unconscious choice; it is a learned behavioral reaction -- but it need not be a forever way of life. Ideally, somewhere along the way, there will be a turning point, a path of awakening and self-reflection which is a golden opportunity for growth and individuation. Turning points can lead us to create changes so that our lives become more joyful, more meaningful, and more worthwhile.
As a psychologist, I see change as a two-fold process: external and internal. External life crises can (but don’t always) provide opportunities that can lead to turning points, but are not turning points in themselves -- divorce, illness, death of a spouse, etc. What such life crises can do for us, however, is push us against the wall, or force us out of our comfort zone and demand that we take action. We must look in the mirror of self reflection, question our beliefs, and face ourselves to the depths of our soul.
In The Wizard of Oz, a tornado knocks Dorothy unconscious. Dorothy and her dog, Toto, travel the yellow brick road in a metaphorical search for awareness and “home.” Dorothy is not the only heroine traveling on an identity-forging series of adventures in search of the lost or unknown parts of the self. She, like many others who get hit over the head by an external crisis, or are uprooted by inner turmoil, go searching for a cure-all, a magical wizard to make things right. The magical wizard, however, lies buried within. So now they must begin the internal journey, the struggle to “know thyself.” Each of us experiences life-changing crises, although at the time we may not recognize them as such, or appreciate them as opportunities for growth and change. At the time, these events merely feel painful to the point where we are compelled to act to stop the pain.
There comes a time in all of our lives when we need to make some really hard decisions. Understanding the emotional bond, the invisible ribbons, and the internalized messages that we digested growing up which connect us to unhealthy relationship choices is one step in breaking free from emotional slavery. If we are listening to our hearts, we are finally able to stand up and say, “I don’t deserve to be treated like this.”
It’s empowering to be in touch with this kind of inner strength, to think one’s own thoughts, to say what needs to be said, and take action on behalf of the self. When we can do that, the result is an internal paradigm shift in our way of thinking. It’s a clean sweep that impacts all aspects of our lives: work, friends, family, and intimate relationships. The end result is more than a behavioral change, more than learning another way of doing the same thing; it is a true, second-order change, a clarity of mind-set, a change in the way one sees the self; identity. There is no turning back!
In simpler words: change your thinking, change your life! When we experience crises in our lives we have a choice: take action or return to the status quo. The external painful event is often the kick in the pants we need to get going. Ask yourself, “Do I fold, or am I challenged to stretch, learn from my experience, and grow?”
Crisis opens a doorway. It is an opportunity to address short-term goals or issues that swim across the surface. Direct, honest, open communication is a huge step out of being stuck. Long-term therapy, however, shines the spotlight on deeply embedded, destructive beliefs that function to keep one stuck in the muddy waters of resentment, fear, or victim positions. Walking that “yellow brick road,” “leaving home,” and leaving a “comfortable shoe” of toxic emotional environments turns continual life crisis from a life style into a healing event.
In long-term therapy, what we are being asked to do is change our inner story, our perceptions, reverse the wheel of history, and evaluate deeply embedded belief systems, there-by radically transforming ourselves, and our relationship dynamics. From a psychological perspective, crises become transformative journeys. Welcome to the journey!
In my private practice, I work with individuals, couples and groups to evaluate those beliefs, and tease out the weeds of shame and blame that block us from achieving our full potential. Regardless of the mode of treatment, I recognize this work takes courage, consistency, and support. I offer new tools in a caring, supportive environment to work through individual, couple, and family issues while developing healthier coping skills.
"Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."
~ Harriet Beecher Stowe
To read more about Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D. and her private practice in Encino, CA please view her profile here.