Emotional Crisis: Why Does It Happen And What Are Its Symptoms?

A crisis always involves making an important decision and accepting that everything has changed.

The word “crisis” is used in various senses. First, it is necessary to mention that it comes from the Greek word krisis (decision) and krino (to separate); thus, it entails rupture but at the same time hope and opportunity. In turn, in China, many people use the term “wei-ji”, a word made up of two ideograms: danger and opportunity.

Thus, it is possible to simplify that every crisis alludes to a danger due to the suffering that entails the loss of what has been lost or what is about to be lost; meanwhile, “occasion” (opportunity) refers to the means of restoring a new reality from the crisis experienced.

Next we will see what exactly it means to experience an emotional crisis.

Crisis definitions

The crisis (be it political, religious or psychological) can be conceptualized in various ways, but there is a word that objectively condenses its meaning: imbalance; an imbalance occurred between a before and after.

A crisis event always infers a contextual deviation in which it takes place. It supposes a threat of loss of the objectives achieved (be these economic, social, religious, psychological, etc.) that appears surrounded by anguish. A crisis episode takes place in time, and that time is relatively short (unlike stress), which is marked by a short-term beginning and end.

The triad that shapes every crisis is: imbalance, temporality, and the internal capacity to move forward or backward. The emotional crisis, therefore, always forces a decision.

A drastic change

No crisis is neutral in nature. It always involves an advance or a retreat; it never goes unnoticed by the affected subject, her family or society itself.

Every crisis has the same sequence: conflict, disorder and adaptation (or maladjustment as the case may be).

What originates it?

The generator of the crisis is not the conflict itself, but the response of the subject to this eventuality. That is, the problem is not the problem but the response expressed to the event. Therefore, it is totally natural and understandable that before the same event one subject creates a crisis and another does not.

By way of synthesis, it is possible to define the crisis as “a transitory ego disorganization with the probability of change”. That is to say, in a crisis situation the “unstable balance” that makes up the mental health of the individual is broken, but temporarily not permanently.

But this imbalance is not infertile, since it can further strengthen the individual, giving rise to new forms of behavior or activating various mechanisms as well as possibilities that until then have been unknown even to the affected person.

Thus, the crisis, by itself, is not negative, but everything will depend on the approach taken by the subject in any eventuality.

Phases of the emotional crisis

From a synchronous perspective, the crisis can be a concentrated form of distress. This phenomenon can be easily decomposed into three different elements: stupor, uncertainty and threat.

1. Stupor

The stupo is an element that is always present: it is identified by the fear and inhibition of the individual before the emotions experienced, which are incomprehensible, paralyze him.

The subject in crisis does not react, does not seek a way out of his discomfort. All the energy of your being is used to smooth the gap opened by the crisis itself; This is done in an attempt to quickly regain emotional balance. In turn, the manifested imbalance is the origin of the psychic disorganization.

Despite everything experienced, stupor provides protection to the person from total decompensation and cushions, in a certain way, the serious consequences of the crisis.

2. Uncertainty

The “uncertainty” is the reflection of the amazement experienced by the subject and is translated as a struggle between opposing forces: choosing this way or the other, choosing “this” or “that”. This dichotomous experience serves as an alarm to a real danger or a latent fantasy.

The conjunction between stupor and uncertainty is defined as “confusional anxiety”, which is an experience in which mental chaos predominates due to not knowing or understanding what is happening both inside and outside of oneself.

3. Threat

The third element is the “threat.” Any presented imbalance implies fear of destruction. The “enemy” is outside oneself and defensive behaviors appear in the form of mistrust or aggression. The crisis, at this point, represents a danger to the integrity of the person’s psyche.

Characteristics and symptoms

From what has already been stated, it is possible to affirm that the crisis is not self-explanatory, but rather needs the antecedent of the past in order to be understood.

It is necessary to remember that every crisis has a before and after. An episode of crisis involves facing something that changes suddenly and unexpectedly, and the ideal way out in such a situation is to find emotional balance or to continue in confusion and mental disorder.

The evolution of the crisis is normal when the “unstable equilibrium” is achieved in a prudent time, which cannot be determined or pigeonholed. Just asking for help to overcome the episode of discomfort is a way to facilitate emotional stability. However, it is possible to point out, as common characteristics to every crisis, the following:

  • The main factor that determines the appearance of the crisis is the imbalance between the difficulty of the problem itself and the resources available to the individual to face it.
  • External intervention during the crisis (psychotherapy) can compensate for the imbalance produced and guide the individual towards a new harmonious emotional state.
  • During a crisis episode, the individual experiences an intense need for help. Similarly, while the episode lasts, the subject is more susceptible to the influence of others than in periods in which his emotional functioning is balanced or in total disorder.

Bibliographic references:

  • Gradillas, V. (1998). Descriptive psychopathology. Signs, symptoms and traits. Madrid: Pyramid. 
  • Jaspers, K. (1946/1993). General Psychopathology. Mexico: FCE.

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