Riding the Storm: What Crisis Has to Teach Us About Accepting and Offering Help

What is going on around here? The last week has been wreaked with havoc – at least for people around me. I’m so grateful to be the calm in the storm for so many of my friends and family right now.

From wee hour phone calls from jail, to hours on the phone listening to heartache and sorrow, to the passing of parents, people’s worlds are being rocked and shifted. My time and attention has been scattered as I not only help others with their plights, but also process what it all means for me. I’ve gained some powerful insights through it all.

Surely there are times in our lives when we’re on both ends of this scenario. At times, we might be caught in the storm as life throws its curveballs and unforeseen circumstances. We get bad news, we get caught doing something we know we shouldn’t be doing, or the intensity of many layers of undealt-with issues bubble up to incapacitate us. Whatever it is that catches up to us serves to teach us, but often we are steeped in the intense emotions we are experiencing – such as fear, anger, and pain – and unable to see the lessons right away.

While emotions are there to give us information, they also tend to slow us down or stop us…give us pause. And that’s not a bad thing at all. In that stillness, we have an opportunity to experience and allow what is happening to happen. But intensity can be difficult to sit with. We get uncomfortable. We wonder if it will last forever. We hope there is a way out and that others (and ourselves) will be there for us through the process.

But one thing that happens, I’ve noticed, is that our tunnel vision kicks in. Our rational thoughts leave the building and our survival mode kicks in. We feel threatened, therefore we act accordingly. And that often looks a bit strange from the other side. As someone who feels threatened, we might act in a number of different ways: from reaching out to people feverishly in an attempt to save ourselves, to isolating ourselves in an attempt to protect ourselves, to forgetting who is really there to support us, to doing and saying things we don’t really mean because we’re just so mired in the intensity.

If you are in the position to help someone who is in the eye of the storm, remember:

  • Listen. Just being a sounding board might be the best course of action. People who are going through crisis need to vent.
  • Resist the urge to fix the problem right away. It is so tempting to want to offer solutions and fix what’s wrong because being on the calm side of the coin, we can clearly see what would be helpful. But the crisis isn’t about you. The crisis is about someone else and what may work for you may not work for them. When we offer advice, others may hear the message that they are broken, in need of fixing, and this can do more harm than good. Instead, listen, and ask questions to lead them to their own conclusion: What would be helpful for you right now? How can I support you? What do you need or want me to do?
  • Offer suggestions only if the give you permission to do so. People in crisis sometimes come to you because you are good at coming up with solutions. So it can be appropriate to offer suggestions. Just be sure to ask them first if that’s what they want. Then, be prepared to listen. Often people in crisis, with their tunnel vision, will shoot down many ideas because they just don’t know how to implement them. They are frozen, stuck in intense feelings, and unable to think clearly or act in ways they normally would.
  • Take action when appropriate and with permission. Sometimes there are things you can do to support someone else in crisis – things that, to you, seem small and easy, but to them may seem monumental and overwhelming. Again, always ask if this is the kind of support they need.
  • Think of how you would want someone to treat you if you were in a similar situation. The Golden Rule always applies here. If the shoe were on the other foot and it was you going through the crisis, think of what you would want others to do for you and say to you. This can help you figure out what may or may not be appropriate.
  • Trust your gut. In the end, it’s necessary to trust your instincts. Every crisis and every person in crisis is different. Take their cues, verbal and nonverbal, as well as what you already know about them, and make decisions on how to help based on that.

There is a delicate balance in this world. Sometimes we are in the storm and sometimes we’re outside of it. Each place provides opportunities to either offer or accept help. Which side of the storm are you on today? And what are you going to do about it?

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