In my life and work I have come across many people who have gone or are going through what can expediently be defined as a life crisis. The word carries a lot of negative connotations of course since it is associated with very difficult life passages often brought about by circumstances beyond the volition or ‘control' of the person, such as: loss of loved ones, difficult family problems, financial loss or a health related issue. Sometimes crises are also brought about by drastic turning points in one's life where the person feels that he or she is losing solid reference points such as identity or life purpose. The classic middle life crisis is a pertinent example.
What I would like to talk about is the positive and constructive side of crises which is very often overlooked. When I was doing my research for my masters in Philosophy some years ago, I was looking into how intelligent adaptive systems behave. To cut a long story short, what I realised was that systems change and self-organise themselves by going into momentary crises – a shock to the system where it loses balance, integrity and identity for a brief moment. The result is that it changes and restructures itself into a system that is better adapted to its environment. Continuous change and evolution happens through big or small crises and ‘revolutions'.
An obvious analogy to the above is with the human life crisis. When we go through a crisis, we are not experiencing a fault which needs to be fixed but rather living through an opportunity to ‘restructure' ourselves and come out as stronger individuals more adapted to life's currents and problems. Here are some of the great opportunities offered by life crises:
Break the Illusions:
A crises very often shatters the ‘reality' of the individual. It can be so disruptive that the whole reality seems to come crumbling down. In many ways this can be a really positive thing. In our lifetime we build all sorts of beliefs, attachments and ideas which are illusory at best. Some of them grow stronger as they get reinforced by decisions we take and experiences we make. These fabricated realities or illusions can be so deeply ingrained that it can only take a ‘system shock' or crisis to pierce through them. In fact crisis makes the person feel bare and naked. Stripped away from his constructed illusions he comes to realise how deeply attached he or she was to something inauthentic and unreal.
Discover New Signs & Meanings:
When someone goes through a crisis it changes their perspective on life. Those things and beliefs that were once held sacrosanct are questioned. With this fundamental change in values and perspective, we are given the opportunity to discover new meanings and signs around us that symbolize these new meanings. We change our language of life which can make us fluent and conversant to experiences we never brought to our attention before.
Of course change is the obvious positive overtone of a crisis as pointed out in the idea of system shocks. A crisis can rock us hard to the core. But although its passage can be dark and painful it can resurrect us to new beginnings — the most positive and transformative change.
Opportunity to Overcome Fears:
In our darkest hour we face our biggest demons which ultimately translate to our deepest fears. Fears can persecute us throughout our whole life but without critical life passages such as crises, we would have no opportunities to come face to face with them – and this is where the biggest chance of overcoming fears lies.
Reboot your System:
By breaking illusions and overcoming fears you are going through a complete system reboot. Crisis in fact can be a very thorough cleansing process. Of course it feels nothing like that when you are going through it, but once the storm passes by you are left with new eyes and most of all a stinger heart. Sometimes a crisis can be considered a second death — or a death of the ego — and with death comes rebirth.
Peeling Off Old Skin:
Crises are not always totally disruptive. There can be minor life crisis which are not strong enough to reboot your system and build you up from scratch but tough enough to be able to peel off layers of old skin. It toughens you up, make you more supple and better adapted to many of those things that were grinding you down. You experience an opening, emotionally and sometimes spiritually, that syncs you with a deeper part of your being.
Come out Stronger:
Crises can most of all be testing. In those moments were one feels completely lost and hurt, there is opportunity to be tested. Remember that crises can also be seen as initiation of life — a test or challenge that can take you to a new level of being. It ultimately makes you stronger not because it would have ‘hardened your skin' as some suppose but oppositely because it makes you more supple and open to life's storms.
Getting in Touch with your Authentic Self:
The point about openness in fact points to another hidden benefit. I mentioned how crisis can break our illusions in the first point. Illusions can be both about our external life but also about the internal one. We can have many illusions about ourselves such as inauthentic self-images or identities. Breaking those illusions and being more open will lead us to a closer and truer aspect of ourselves.
Opening up to Love:
Even the toughest of characters can be softened up in the middle of a life crisis. We realise how frail and sensitive we are. We understand the importance of other people's care and love but more importantly we realise how important it is to give it out. A crisis can be a really big opportunity to come to terms with our past and ourselves. It shakes us to the core and often we fully comprehend how we were ‘stiff' and closing off ourselves to love behind the mask of our careers, our social personas or our self-images.
An excellent Opportunity to Trust:
The real challenge of a crisis is letting go and trusting. It is counterintuitive to let go and trust in the moment when we feel most battered or betrayed by life — hence the challenge. Yet, it is the greatest and most rewarding benefit of any crisis. The harder we resist, the more difficult the passage will be. It is a little bit like when you are floating at sea and waves come at you. If you struggle hard, your muscles stiffen, you lose a lot of energy and breath and you might eventually risk going under. By letting go and relaxing it is easier to stay afloat.