Emotional crises: What are they and how to get through them?

Emotional Crises

In our life, it is likely that we will have to face traumatic or painful situations that will affect us deeply. The nature of these events is diverse, but they cause a break in our personal, family or collective history.

These can trigger what, in psychology, is known as emotional crises. It is a state in which the person feels completely unable to overcome the situation. 

In this note, we review what an emotional crisis is, what its effects are and how to treat it. Also, we will analyze how children and adolescents go through this type of situation and we will review some essential tips to accompany them.

What is an emotional crisis?

When establishing a definition of emotional crisis, José Luis González de Rivera speaks of acute stress syndrome. This is characterized by a sudden rupture, a significant and decisive change that provokes an active response in the sufferer.

Emotional crises thus constitute a state of disorganization resulting from the impact of a life-altering situation. This can be the death of a loved one, natural disasters, serious accidents or breakups in the couple, among many others. 

Traumatic events exceed the usual capacity of people to face problems, causing emotional crises. The sufferer loses the ability to respond as well as to adapt to the traumatic event.

Types of emotional crises and examples

Emotional crises can be divided into several types, depending on various factors. Among the most important, the specific circumstances in which they arose, their content and their formal aspects stand out.

In this way, in Psychology, emotional crises can be classified into:

  1. Generalized crises: They are characterized by affecting an entire group, community, family or organization. During these, personalities usually emerge who act as leaders, solving the problems of the community. For example, downsizing in a company or the death of a member of a school.
  2. Personal crises: These affect a person independently of social events. The origin of these crises is related to the character and opportunities of people, rather than to a particular event.
  3. Unexpected and unpredictable crises: These arise from unexpected catastrophic events, that is, there is no prior preparation. Among the most common examples are serious accidents, early deaths, natural disasters, etc.
  4. Anticipated or foreseeable crises: Contrary to the previous ones, these are crises caused by expected events. For example, the death of someone elderly or sick or emotional crises due to announced divorces.
  5. Normative crises: This is a special type of predictable crisis, related to the age of each person. These are universal since we all go through them, but, at the same time, they are non-transferable experiences strongly linked to the personality of each one.
  6. Transitions or important vital changes: This last type of crisis has as its main characteristic that they are changes generated consciously by people.

Effects and characteristics of an emotional crisis 

Each person is different and, for that reason, the reactions vary according to who goes through it. the consequences and external or apparent manifestations are multiple, which makes its characterization difficult.

However, we can mention some effects, depending on the area they affect. To start, we will break down the consequences of an emotional crisis on the person and then we will analyze how it affects him in his relationships.

Individual effects in an emotional crisis

Emotional crises cause a feeling of vulnerability and lack of control over events. But, in addition, this is manifested in alterations in various areas of functioning. Next, we distinguish them and review their effects.

1. Behavioral effects

  • Erratic behaviors
  • overarousal
  • Impulsiveness
  • Paralyzation
  • Avoidance
  • Consumption of alcohol or psychoactive substances
  • Isolation or reduced social life

2. Cognitive effects 

  • Difficulty in sizing up the critical situation
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty thinking and concentrating
  • Inability to fix problems
  • Difficulty deciding
  • Dispersion tendency
  • Critical event re-experiencing
  • Association of objects, people or situations with the traumatic event

3. Emotional effects

  • State of shock
  • Intense emotions (anguish, anger, fear, sadness, helplessness)
  • emotional overflow
  • Strain 
  • Irritability
  • affective flattening
  • Denial or minimization
  • emotional disconnection
  • Relive the emotional states of the event

4. Physiological effects

  • body aches
  • Headaches, dizziness, fainting
  • Tachycardia and blood pressure changes
  • Suffocation, shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disorders
  • appetite disorders

Effects on relationships

On the other hand, emotional crises not only affect individuals but also their relationships. The risk of this is losing the usual social sources of support due to the effects of crises on relationships. Among them, we can highlight:

  • Change in relationship forms.
  • Difficulty coordinating how to proceed.
  • Overlapping or diluted responsibilities.
  • Guilt.
  • Reactivation of previous conflicts.

Phases of the crisis

Many wonder how long an emotional crisis lasts. The truth is that this will depend on emotional intelligence, the person’s resilience and the success of their strategies to navigate and overcome the different stages of the crisis. 

Emotional crises are not static, when someone goes through them, they go through various phases or stages. In psychology, we can distinguish four phases in this process. Next, we review what each one is about.

First phase: Skock

At this moment, the shock or impact that triggers the crisis occurs. This deeply affects the individual. Among the first reactions, anxiety, irritability and psychosomatic manifestations predominate. In addition, feelings of confusion, helplessness and helplessness appear.

Second phase: Critical disorganization

During this period, critical disorganization predominates. The tension increases because the individual cannot overcome the crisis with the usual problem-solving strategies.

Thus, it may happen that the person chooses to try to improve things or simply escape. In this way, psychopathic behaviors, drug abuse, self-destructive behaviors and sudden emotional episodes appear. In turn, he, too, will seek help—both appropriately and desperately.

Third phase: Resolution

In the typical development of a crisis, the resolution phase finally arrives, which constitutes the central nucleus of the process. During this period, the subject comes to form an idea about the situation and his position in it. 

In the best cases, the person discovers new coping strategies or finds sources of help. Otherwise, he can consolidate avoidance and withdrawal mechanisms. 

Fourth phase: Withdrawal

When the crisis is not resolved, the final withdrawal phase is reached. This can be total —suicide— or partial. 

Within the latter case, they can be divided into internal partial resolution —psychotic disorganization or delusional structuring— or external —a radical change of environment, activity, and name. In either case, the crisis is over.  

Emotional crises in children and adolescents

As we have seen, crises can occur both in individuals and in families or entire communities. However, children and adolescents are the most vulnerable to the effects of these.

This is due, in principle, to the fact that minors are physically and emotionally dependent on adults. They not only require your care and support during the crisis, but they also need you to understand the events around them. 

What do children need?

When going through a crisis, minors need the containment and support of the adults around them. Therefore, we review what children and adolescents need in these cases: 

1. Understand what is happening

  • Know the facts through a close person.
  • The information you receive must be appropriate to your age and developmental level.
  • You need spaces to talk about what happened, but not be forced to do so.
  • Adults should be attentive to answer their questions and clear up doubts and concerns.

2. Feel safe

  • Know that he is out of danger, under the care and protection of adults.
  • Stay close to your loved ones.
  • Learn about upcoming changes.
  • Have a predictable environment and routines that organize your day-to-day.
  • Knowing that, despite everything, it is possible to continue with your life.

3. Express your feelings

  • Being able to name their emotions.
  • That their way of feeling in the face of the crisis is accepted.
  • Know that it is okay to feel what you feel without guilt or shame.
  • Have ways of expression appropriate to their age.
  • Understand that you can laugh, play or have a good time despite what happened without thinking that it is wrong.

How to talk to them?

As we have seen, communication and support are essential when accompanying a child or adolescent who is going through a crisis. Therefore, below, we review some tips to keep in mind when talking to them.

  • Generate the right space (private and quiet) to talk and connect emotionally.
  • Remember that it is important to adapt the explanation to their age, but always provide the truth.
  • Appeal to concrete elements that the child has experienced.
  • Take the time to understand the child’s concerns and perceptions before answering their questions.
  • Allow him to tell his story or perception of events. 
  • Listen attentively, showing interest and concern.
  • Facilitate future conversations. 

Intervention and treatment

These situations require help both professionally and from the closest circles. Therefore, it is important to know how to help someone in an emotional crisis.

Crisis intervention

In the professional field, intensive and brief treatment is essential. That is why the crisis intervention procedure was developed. Its main objective is to modify the relationship of struggling forces that constitute a crisis and tilt them towards the positive side.

At this point, an empathic and sincere therapeutic relationship will be generated, where shows of compassion will be avoided. The therapist will work cooperatively with the patient, seeking to exonerate himself and favoring the recovery of feelings of competence and efficacy.

On the other hand, it will seek to release contained emotional responses and recontextualize the events in perspective. In some cases, it may be useful to complement psychopharmacological treatments to obtain better responses to psychotherapy.

How to get over it

As we have seen throughout this article, emotional crises have different characteristics, but the important thing is that they are transitory. Knowing this is the first step to overcoming them.

On the other hand, during a crisis, it is essential to seek and accept help, both from close circles and from professionals. This will allow us to talk about our conflicts and emotions and see them in perspective. 

We will all go through, to a greater or lesser extent, various situations that will put us in check. Therefore, it is key to train the ability to face them and overcome them in the best possible way.

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