Going through a distressing crisis at the moment? People offer various kinds of psychological and spiritual guidance, counselling, or therapy for personal issues and problems.
All of these people will have a limited number of tools in their box. Some may even do more harm than good if your difficulties don’t match their approach.
Here are four questions that can help you choose where to get help.
Is my distressing crisis anything to do with unmet basic needs in my past?
A recent event may have triggered painful half-forgotten memories of past experience causing current distress which is not understood. Mistrust of the world can be triggered if we lacked a consistently nurturing home life as a child. Self-doubt can arise if we have been hindered from exercising autonomy by controlling people. Unwarranted guilty feelings easily crop up if we experienced punitive parents or authority figures.
Ego strengthening forms of talking therapy can help uncover hidden feelings, facilitate self-insight, and also the learning of healthy ways of thinking and acting. In this way our psychological wounds can start to heal so we become less vulnerable to their recurrence.
Is my distressing crisis anything to do with having to face the basic questions about life?
When things go wrong, sometimes badly so, the issues that face us challenge our assumptions. Perhaps a death of a loved one or loss of what we thought was our means of livelihood. Or maybe a diagnosis of a debilitating or life-threatening illness. Alienation from life, meaninglessness, or fear of death may then occur. Watching someone else go through loss and trauma. sometimes triggers such feelings.
A common childhood assumption is that bad things happen to bad people, not to good people. Thus we think that if something bad happens to one, it is deserved. We get upset and confused when something tragic happens to a person we know is good. Such events can be very unsettling and can be emotionally traumatic. They may involve struggling and wrestling with fundamental issues. Calamity challenges us to examine our beliefs.
There is thus a need to re-orientate our lives in terms of what is of lasting value and the meaning of our existence. There might be some interest in searching for new ways of thinking. We might look for help to better understand innocent suffering, or the purpose of one’s life. Some seek out organised settings which deal with human potentiality for growth or religious faith. Some settings encourage values such as spontaneity, autonomy, authenticity, holistic living or generosity.
Is my distressing crisis anything to do with strange psychic or mystical experiences?
A distressing crisis can arise when a psychic or mystical state suddenly arrives in our consciousness. Having unusual states of consciousness like clairvoyance, an out of body experience, poltergeist phenomena or hearing inner voices, can be very puzzling and troubling if they are not socially acceptable in one’s culture. We might imagine that we are going mad.
One might say ‘I am in touch with everyone’ but this does not amount to the crazy fantasy ‘Everyone can hear my thoughts’. Neither does the idea that ‘I am both supreme and insignificant’ equate to the religious delusion ‘I am the Christ and the Devil’.
If we are still in touch with day to day reality, are not irrational in our thinking, do not feel compelled to act on the demands of any experienced inner voices and do not disturb others, then it is safe bet we do not need to see a psychiatrist.
The emergence of some mystical or psychic experiences can be illuminating, showing new realms of consciousness. But we may need some support from others who know about altered states of consciousness. They can help us adjust to and perhaps appreciate what we are newly experiencing. And do this without our continuing to feel so bothered by what is going on within our minds.
Mystical and psychic experience sometimes, in revealing a whole new order of things, can lead to a new direction in life. One example is a bereaved person, who sensing the presence of a deceased loved one, can feel comforted. Another is the near death experience. This often changes the aim of the person’s life.
However, we need to be discerning in our choice of which aspects of an unusual experience we choose to follow. Does it bring any awareness of the moral aspects of our spiritual growth?
Is my distressing crisis to do with higher conscience and spirituality?
A distressing crisis can occur if we begin to doubt what we once had held sacred about life. Perhaps it was our highest ideas, our hope in the goodness behind the universe, or our religious faith. One might fear losing one’s trust in providence as a hidden force offsetting some of the evil in the world. Losing a previously developed trust in divine forgiveness and acceptance can be very troubling.
It may be that we have offended against our deeply held principles, and then a struggle may ensue between on the one hand our self-centred desires and the spiritual side of our life. A distressing crisis can arise when life obliges us to face our own moral lapses. We may need the genuine support of sharing prayer and faith to privately work on our repentance and perhaps re-discover a sense of divine forgiveness and acceptance.
What we are going through may lead us to feel profoundly depressed. Spiritual thinkers have written about a distressing crisis in terms of ‘the dark night of the soul’. Once our higher mind has found a direct experience of the Divine, with perhaps a degree of elation and that experience begins to fade, which it may well do at first. then the soul may temporally suffer a profound feeling of abandonment.
Conclusion about a distressing crisis
From the viewpoint of spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, distressing crises are an assault on what we have come to love. For some people such distressing experiences test and thus potentially strengthen what the higher mind has come to value. A distressing crisis is something that feels extremely bad from which something good can result if we respond in the right way.
Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems