For some people, the automatic reaction to a bone-jarring shock or fearsome event is to retreat or hunker down alone. While that is a very normal initial response, research supports that isolation during a crisis, is associated with significantly worse outcomes than those who chose to to others.
Resist the urge to handle the crisis by yourself. Pull people into your life who will support you. You probably will not be operating optimally during the initial shock. Having other people around who will can be vital. As the crisis continues, having friends, family and others who can help you navigate the many obstacles, hold onto your hope, remind you of who you really are, despite how you may currently feel, give wise advice, or help you think through important decisions is invaluable.
Based on personal and professional experience, there are five characteristics that seem to be most helpful to have around you, when finding your way through a serious life upset. Pick the ones that resonate with you and then start making a list of those people who naturally exude that trait. Don’t expect to find all five in one person but if you do, you’re lucky!
Supportive in the ways you need: Most of the people who show up to help in a crisis will want to be helpful to you. Unfortuntely, their idea of how to help may not match your own. Do you need someone to get stuff done around the house, take care of logistics? Then having someone who wants to just hug you and talk about how awful it may not be what you need. If you need peace and quiet to find your way through this rough patch in your life, the neighbor who bursts into tears everytime she sees you may be more of a drain than a help. Take some time out to think about what feels like support to you and start limiting your time with those who don’t or can’t offer that support.
Emotionally mature: By this, I mean someone people who have a solid base of self esteem within themselves. You can spot these people because they take responsibility for their own emotions rather than blaming others for their unhappiness or anxiety. This is particualary important during a crisis because you may be dealing with a lot of your own emotions and constantly changing circumstances. If you are abrupt, don’t call, or are consistently inconsistent during the height of the crisis, you want someone who can roll with those punches rather than taking them personally. My friends who could still find me, beneath my frazzled, whiny, or anxious appearance were on my speed dial when the logistics of having a son and husband seriously ill became too much to handle alone.
Objective: This trait is especially important when you have important decisions to make as part of the crisis that you are facing. It is invaluable to have someone who can help you think through both sides of an option, ask tough questions that lead you to fully explore the alternatives, and then support you when you take action on your decisions–without letting his or her agenda pre-empt the discussion. And, as comforting as it may be to seek out only people who will agree with you, once the emotions of the crisis have subsided, you will be glad that you approached your decisions from a more balanced place. More than one client, debriefing after a personal crisis such an unwanted or messy divorce, has talked with shame about decisions they made out of anger that overwhelmed their best selves.
Wise: Wisdom comes in many flavors—good judgment, expert knowledge, life experience, or by being connected strongly to one’s inner guidance and heart. Depending on circumstances that you are facing, you may seek out one or more of these qualities. When my husband was in ICU, rapidly losing all control of his body due to Guillain Barre, a neurological disease, I desperately needed the expertise of my medical community as well as the reassurance of a church member whose husband had faced the same temporary and scary physical devastation.
A sense of humor: It really helps to have someone in your corner who can make you laugh, at the situation or yourself, when everything else seems impossibly complex, sad, or undoable in your world. Researchers credit humor with increasing the number of endorphins released by your brain, decreasing tension, helping improve both your mood and your immune system, as well as easing pain. So, with a friend who can bring humor into your life, not only will you get a break from the often relentless stress of the crisis, you may find your head getting just a bit clearer.
What would you add to this list? Drop me a line in the comments section. I’ll post the responses in my next blog on “How to Develop a Community of Support that Rocks!” Thanks!