The woman sitting across from me was living in crisis mode. Fifteen years ago, I was just starting out as a court and family advocate. Part of the job I loved was talking with the clients that came into our agency. After hearing the woman in my office speak for close to half an hour, I was greatly concerned. She was in a very vulnerable position. Her current relationship was abusive. And to make matters worse she seemed trapped in crisis mode.
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Are You Trapped in Crisis Mode?
She had come into our non-profit agency seeking support and advocacy. Her voice rising and becoming more urgent as she talked about the crisis she was facing. After listening to her tell me everything that was occurring in her life, I suggested a small action step or two that she could take.
She paused appearing to listen.
And then the moment I stopped talking she picked right up where she had left off almost as if I had never said anything.
I had experienced this before. She was trapped in crisis mode.
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The first few times this happened with a client, I began to wonder if they really could not hear me. A client would talk and talk without ever responding to any prompting to decide on an actual action step. It happened over and over with others.
What was going on?
Now, we all struggle to be a good listener, especially when we have so much on our mind. But some clients seemed unable to even consider another approach to their problems. They truly think if they could just solve their latest crisis that life will somehow get better. But sadly it usually doesn’t. Because tomorrow or next week there will be a new crisis.
A person in crisis mode becomes so focused on fixing that “one” problem, they ignore the dire situation they are in presently. Sometimes they are even in physical danger.
The primary concern of a person in crisis mode is often something seemingly unrelated.
One client, I worked with for months, continued to discuss her furniture. She couldn’t leave her furniture. We discussed numerous options, but she would block any action plan saying they wouldn’t work. And she therefore remained in a very dangerous relationship.
It’s like a lost person in a desert, miles from help, asking someone that drives by to give them just a cup of water, Meanwhile, they completely dismiss the offer of a ride. Yes, the lost person needs that cup of water now. But what they really need is to GET OUT OF THE DESERT!!
What are some signs of operating in crisis mode? How do we become trapped in crisis mode? And what do we do if we realize we are living in crisis mode?
Signs you are operating in crisis mode:
- You feel like you are always running around “putting out fires”.
- You often call friends to vent about the same things. The conversation tends to revolve around your hectic life.
- Your friends often mention being concerned about your physical or mental well-being if you remain in your situation.
- You wonder why all the “crazy stuff” seems to happen to you.
- You desperately look for a fix to your problems.
- Your friends sometimes get frustrated with you when you don’t take their advice.
- You feel it is your responsibility to fix “the problem”.
- When you face a crisis it is with a lot of panic and chaos, not order or calmness.
- Life does not feel stable. Someone is always losing their job, their home, their car, etc…
Why do people become trapped in crisis mode?
- Crisis mode can be the only way a person knows how to manage life.
For some, crisis mode is the only way they have seen modeled. Life pivots from putting off problems to full on sounding the alarm, bells clanging panic! Instead of deciding goals or the to do list for the day, life seems driven by urgency.
- A person may be facing a real crisis.
The actual crisis may be a present situation such as living in an abusive relationship. Or the person may have trauma from the past. The past trauma can cause them to continue to operate as one who is wounded.
Instead of dealing with the real reason for their pain, a person “hides” from the hurt by dealing with a crisis they can more easily see.
It can be easier to focus on trying to find a new job, than it is to acknowledge that you lost your previous job because your husband kept controlling your access to the car.
It is less painful to try to “fix” your current relationship than it is to face the fact that you have stayed in a dead end relationship for years because you don’t feel worth a better one.
How to Transform Your Life if You Realize You are Trapped in Crisis Mode?
Are you interested in your emotional health? Then this blog is for you. So if you realize in reading this post that you are managing life in crisis mode you are in the right place! Most of us have lived in crisis land at some point. The key is realizing you are living there and take steps to crawl, walk or run out of the place.
- First, make sure you have a healthy support person or team in your life (read more about the importance of a support team here and how to find one here). You may want to speak with a professional counselor or attend a support group with others in your same situation.
Before you try to make a major change in your life you should have some emotional support. Change is hard! So a wise friend or two can be just the helping hand you need to start making some positive changes in our life.
- Put a small action plan in place. Once you have healthy support team, create a plan. Do you need to think about your personal safety first? Do you need to allow another person to solve their own problems? Create a plan for yourself and work on the underlining crisis in your life.
A great book to read is Boundaries: When to say “Yes”, How to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It discusses the basics of working on your own issues and not taking on the problems of others
- Prepare yourself to be uncomfortable! This may sound odd, but anytime you step out of operating in crisis mode it will feel strange. When you decide to handle problems in a different way it can feel as if you are doing something wrong. You may experience panic or shame that you are not reacting how you “should”.
Some people in your life may even be mad at you for not “handling the problem” like you used to do.
Persevere and utilize your support team for healthy, realistic feedback.
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You don’t have to stay trapped in crisis mode. You don’t have to just talk about all your problems. Take action by finding healthy support, create a small plan and working past the old feelings of shame. You will begin to see actual results as you face the real problems.
Sometimes it can be a journey to walk away from operating in crisis mode. But you are capable and strong! And the results are so worth it!!
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From someone who has previously been trapped in crisis mode for quite some time more than once, I can look back and see how I fit into so many of those criteria and I can say that I wouldn’t have listened to much of what you tried to convey to me at that time. I had to laugh at the lady not wanting to leave her furniture because I know anyone in crisis mode can focus on such thoughts that later seem irrational and laughable, me included. Another great post, Miranda!
It is so true. When you are trapped in crisis mode it is hard to think clearly. Thankful that we don’t have to stay there:)
Matt Lamb says
Great column. Good info.
I used to work at an agency with people facing crisis situations and this happened all the time! My favourite solution you identify is ‘prepare yourself to be uncomfortable’. The weird thing is, being in crisis mode seemed to be some people’s ‘safe place’, so stepping out of it was like stepping out of their comfort zone. Thanks for this important post.
Thanks for sharing from your experience Lindsay. That is so true that sometimes our “safe place” really is NOT safe and we have to go against our feelings for a while in order to get to a healthy place in life.