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Dealing with internal crisis takes courage, support

December 7, 2009

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“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, ‘let it be.’” — Paul McCartney

“I just need cou-cou-courage.” — The Cowardly Lion

Most of our clients come to us when a struggle has become a crisis. It is important to consider that the actual external trigger to the crisis — illness, death, financial struggles, relationship struggles — is not the crisis itself. The crisis is internal. The words one may use at the time may be “I feel like I am going crazy” or “I can’t take it anymore.” The internal strife may be more accurately expressed as a spiritual crisis and a crisis of spirit.

Typically, as a result of our conditioning, we want to run and hide when a crisis occurs, or we want to do harm to someone or something. Frequently we seek out ways to distract ourselves, with drugs or alcohol, or other behaviors that are intended to self-medicate. Since the crisis is internal, we cannot run from it or around it, and we can only numb it for a short time. Unfortunately we are only making the “crisis” worse by avoiding or masking the feelings.

When faced with a crisis, we are alone with our internal process. No one can take the pain away. It is a time when we need to summon great courage to meet the challenge of facing our feelings of anger, fear, sadness and grief. Our need for support during this time increases; however, it is important that the support is not offering solutions or an escape. Instead, a supportive person should only be there to bear witness and reassure you. A close friend or a therapist is there to support you as you walk through the feelings and help you stay present. Staying present is an essential skill that will enable you to walk through the discomfort rather than finding unconscious (and mostly unhealthy) ways to deal with it.

Our clients, and we personally, have found two books that are incredible companions for those in crisis. They are Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart” and Michael Brown’s book “The Presence Process.” Practically speaking, Chodron’s book may be best-suited for the initial stages and Brown’s as a follow-up once the crisis has passed a bit.

“When Things Fall Apart” will help you stay present and conscious with your experience. Brown’s book can help quite a bit in overcoming childhood conditioning that has led to destructive patterns. Both books are helpful in creating a more conscious lifestyle that will help in avoiding unhealthy behaviors. Both books are useful and applicable regardless of your religious beliefs.

Ed Bloch, LSCSW, and Jena Bloch, LCMFT, are directors of the Life Enrichment Center in Lawrence.

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