From Breakdown to Breakthrough – How a Crisis Can Serve Us

Catie at kitchen table with empty ice cream cartons

As painful as a crisis is to go through, and this pandemic is a doozey, with just a slight shift in perspective you might be able to find something positive from having gone through this experience.  Maybe that’s hard for you to do right now, but let’s try anyway.

To start with, did you know that breakdowns within the ecosystem happen in nature on a regular basis? Isn’t a forest fire a kind of crisis?  If you look at the bigger picture, forest fires are nature’s way of clearing out and thinning out the dead underbrush, which in the long run makes for a healthier forest.  In addition, the new growth of some species of trees can only take place when there is intense heat from a fire. Fires are often necessary for the ecosystem not only to survive but to thrive and maintain a natural balance.

Could what we are going through with this pandemic be, in some strange way, a necessary event to force us to clean out some of our own personal and collective dead underbrush? Might this be a catalyst that lights a fire under our potential that, in the long run, might actually benefit us? if we’re willing to ask the right questions and dig for the answers, maybe there is a valuable lesson hidden in this experience for us to discover.  

Let’s take a closer look at how going through a breakdown can lead to a breakthrough.

First, breakdowns often force us to get clear about our priorities and determine what is really important. Whether it’s clarity about some aspect of our health, how we’re spending our money, or how we’re allocating our time, there is nothing like a crisis to help shine the light on where our energy is going. How enlightening that information can be!

For example, before the pandemic what were you spending your money on that you now realize you can do without or get by with a lot less?  What are you now unable to purchase that you previously took for granted?  How have you been wasting your time and energy—on activities, or with people who don’t add any value to your life?  You  may have unconsciously been going through life taking much of it for granted —not appreciating and utilizing wisely the people, resources and opportunities you were blessed with.  This pandemic has forced all of us to cut to the chase of what we deem “essential,” important, and vital to our health and wellbeing.

The pandemic has also exposed our vulnerabilities. It has revealed where we need to do more work and be more mindful when it comes to our personal lives. For instance, the virus is much more of a threat to those with underlying health issues such as obesity and hypertension, two conditions that often correlate with personal behavior and lifestyle. It has also brought to light relationship issues that have been ignored and allowed to fester unresolved. Think of all the couples who have just been going through the motions of marriage, and who are now forced to come face to face with their issues. There’s nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. It has forced families to be together, for better or worse, and either take the opportunity to get to know and enjoy one another, or root out their differences and confront them. We’ve been forced to look in the mirror, both personally and/or collectively, and face the results of who we have become. It has revealed our shadow side – that part of us that is not all that pleasant to look at. There is nothing more humbling than being confronted with your vulnerabilities and breaking down into an “ugly cry.” You know, the kind of cry or melt down you do only when you are alone, because it is so intense, so painful and so ugly to watch. Just know that tears are often a necessary part of the process of breaking through to the other side where the breakthroughs can happen.

When a crisis forces us to confront who we are or what we have become, we usually do that kicking and screaming.  Facing our shadow side is usually not done voluntarily. In fact, it is more often done with a lot of resistance and pushback because it is so uncomfortable from the perspective of the ego.  Even though we can easily feel victimized by a crisis like this pandemic and feel justified that we didn’t cause it or bring it on ourselves, there is a certain amount of realization of how unprepared we were and how vulnerable we allowed ourselves to get.  But sometimes the only way we can be motivated to change our ways is to be forced to go through an experience like this. It is during difficult times when our true character is either revealed or it is shaped.

Breakdowns typically interrupt patterns, whether it is patterns of behavior or thought or emotions, and this pandemic is no different. It has also led some people to create new patterns of behavior that are not healthy such as eating or drinking too much or to partake in any  number of self destructive coping behaviors. One thing is for certain.  It has disrupted the status quo. From a commercial perspective it has forced people to rethink how they do business, educate students and provide healthcare to their patients. In each one of these industries they have had to evaluate what is essential and important in order to provide their product or service and where they may be able to cut back or do things differently.

When basic priorities and needs are forced to the forefront, it gives us an opportunity to learn about ourselves and grow from the experience. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge, and breakdowns can help reveal where we’ve made a wrong turn. They give us an opportunity to see where we need to correct our course.

Breakdowns also can become the catalyst that gets people to turn to God and their spiritual side for comfort and guidance. In a recent poll, more people say they pray for their families, for the first responders, for healing for themselves or a loved one, for spiritual guidance and for their country as a whole.  When all else fails it might be time to, as the saying goes, “Let go and let God.”  There is nothing more freeing than that moment of realization where you can take your hands off the wheel and know at some level you’ll be ok. When you’ve hit rock bottom letting go is very liberating. You’ve come face to face with your fear and guess what? You’re still standing. You confronted your personal demon and you made it through.  

Getting to this point is not easy.  Resistance to giving up control can be too strong.  There is a twinge of a control freak somewhere in all of us, and experiencing a crisis is one way of slapping that need for control out of us. It forces us to turn to another kind of power, one that is greater than  us. For many a crisis is the birthplace of faith. It can also be the motivation that leads to self-forgiveness. For some it is only during the dark night of the soul when they can finally see the light of God. It is then that they can surrender to the experience, ask for forgiveness and change their ways.  

It’s amazing, but so often once a breakdown is over there is a period of rebirth, a period of rejuvenation. It’s as if the dead underbrush has been cleared out. There’s a purging of the old ways of thinking, feeling or acting. It gives rise to new ideas and new ways of approaching old problems and situations. Opportunities might open up. New people suddenly show up to give you guidance. Breakdowns give you a whole new perspective that you wouldn’t otherwise have had, which gives rise to breakthroughs you never thought possible.

As we’re all processing this pandemic and experiencing our own version of a breakdown, try to notice what it is revealing about the life you have created thus far. Are you going to make different choices in the future with regards to your health, your finances, your relationships? What have you taken for granted that you will cherish more going forward? How can you do things differently to be more efficient? More productive? How have your priorities shifted?  Take some time to be still, quiet and listen to what your inner self has to say about this experience and be open to getting in touch with a part of yourself you’ve been ignoring.

I’ll leave you with two questions you might want to ask before our lives return to normal. The two questions are:  Where’s the gift? Where’s the lesson? And then open your heart to hear the answers and watch for a breakthrough that might not be far away.

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