The Role of Crisis

I am taking a course currently that centers on human development and personal spiritual journey.  As a starting point, we are reflecting on some of the major developmental theories in psychology.  One of them is Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory.  Erikson believed that we go through 8 stages of development in our life span.  In each stage, we are confronted with a crisis that we don’t have the proper coping skills to handle.  By gaining new strategies we can successfully work through the conflict which transports us to the next developmental level.  

This theory led me to think about the role of crisis in our lives.  What does it mean to be in crisis?  How do we use crisis to push us forward?  And do we each have a natural set point of how we act in a crisis? 

When I think of crisis, my mind right away goes to negative and catastrophic events. While that may be true, conflicts are relative in their impact.  I have a friend whose birthday is a time of great anxiety, while mine generally comes and goes without too much of an issue (although hopefully some kind of celebration!).  Crises can also come in positive moments, like the birth of a child or the start of a new job.  These happy experiences can leave us feeling ill-equipped and unprepared.  

Times of crisis can be teachable moments and sources of motivation.  Great learning occurs during times of crisis, much like Erikson proposed, we are confronted with a challenge and we need to figure out a strategy to tackle it.  Even if our plan doesn’t work, we’ve learned something.  In times of crisis, the landscape is often changing and uneven and in that way it is motivating because you often have to pick one direction or another.  You typically can’t stay where you are or the ground on which you stand could fall away.  

I also believe we have a dominant tendency during crisis and managing change. Some of us lead change or are the first ones to try something new.  Most of us take a wait and see approach.  Others will change only when they have to or resist to the very end.  What is true for you? A lot of factors can contribute to our reactions, including our personality, our values and how much we care about the changing situation, our previous and most recent experiences with change, and what is going on in the rest of our lives.

Crisis has the power to unite.  I have seen teams pull together and achieve great things when a leader has left or funding has been cut.  I have witnessed individuals stand up and speak out like never before when their values have been challenged. Being in a constant state of crisis is not sustainable or advisable, but life is always going to throw us unexpected challenges and these create opportunities to find out who we really are and look at the world in a new way.