One thing we can be sure of in life is that if you haven’t experienced circumstances that knock you off balance, hold on, it’s only a matter of time.
My husband’s death changed my family’s life as quickly as flipping a light switch. On many days since, I’ve wanted to bury my head under the covers and never come out. But I learned something through counseling and my graduate work that has piqued my interest in people’s approaches to stress and crisis. How a family or individual perceives a stressor can have an effect on the impact of the stress.
For example, I’ve experienced stressors with the attitude that it is a challenge I could overcome, but I can count too many times that I took Chicken Little’s view and ran around like my hair was on fire exclaiming that the sky was falling (some of this behavior has been in the not so long ago last 18 months) I don’t have to tell you how unproductive this was or how much energy it sucked out of me (and those around me). How we choose to view a stressor can actually be one of the indicators of whether or not a stressor goes on to become a crisis and whether or not we get back up and reorganize after being knocked off balance by an event.
Family theory researchers R.S. Lazarus and R. Launier have suggested that what individuals think about or how they interpret the stressor is as important as accessing resources when determining how a family will react to a crisis. Other family stress theory researchers J.R. Angell, R.S. Cavan and K.H. Ranck showed that a family or individual who is unified and interdependent as well as flexible in talking about problems and making decisions, fare better through the stress of loss.
Don’t mistake this to be an exercise in the power of positive Pollyanna, slap-a-smile-on-your-face and keep moving forward, thinking. A sturdy perception doesn’t mean you can will a crisis to not happen or even that you can see the silver lining in it. We know that tragedies, loss and illnesses come our way and that we go through anger, grief and disbelief as a result. Perception, though, determines how we reorganize (access coping skills within ourselves and resources within our family and faith communities) after being knocked off balance by an event, hopefully coming out the other side of it intact and strong enough to move forward in our lives.
Do we see ourselves as someone who can come through a stressful event or do we see ourselves overcome by the event?