Never waste a crisis!

Wir hatten die Begegnung mit uns selbst aufgeschoben. Nun erklingt aufs Neue die grundlegende Vibration unserer Existenz. 

Felwine Sarr, Süddeutsche Zeitung 14.4.2020

In his notes from Dakar, Felwine Sarr suggests using this period of enforced isolation to listen to the fundamental vibration of our existence as we resume our long postponed encounter with ourselves (his article in full under https://sz.de/1.4875023).

Resilience is a concept well known to most of us. It describes the skill (or aptitude) of individuals to gain well-being and stability after severe trauma or deprivation.

I still remember how excited I was at university in London in 1985, as I heard Garmezy explaining this concept. At last,I tought, psychology investigating protective factors! The question Garmezy and his team in Chicago were posing seemed so necessary to me at the time: which factors can we identify in the lives of severely underprivileged children that help them stabilize and lead happy, succesful lives?

In my work as a couples’ therapist, I still find it very helpful to explore resilience. When I ask my clients about the skills they have had to come up with when overcoming difficult times in the past, the conversations opens up, addressing ressources, competences and successes .

And by adding another model, namely that of posttraumatic growth, Tedeschi and Calhoun have pushed the discussion even further. Posttraumatic growth implies that some of us not only survive but actually thrive through adversity.

So what does that imply for the couples I work with?

For couples who want to thrive (rather than just muddle through) these intensely challenging times, I have rounded a up a few questions. They can be helpful in exploring together whether the state of crises we find ourselves in is actually an opportunity for a couple’s collaborative growth.

  • Which of the ressources we have as a couple help us to grow under the present circumstances?
  • Which new opportunities are we descovering right now?
  • Which skills are we learning (and which are the skills we’ll want to keep in the long term)?
  • What are we grateful for at the moment?
  • What aspects of the curent situation lead us to investigate more existential questions in our lives?

Two more things (as a note of caution). First: I do not believe that what is happening to most of us here right now, qualifies as traumatic in the clinical sense of the term. Second: if you prefer to merely muddling through it all and screw growth … that is perfectly fine, too! (in fact, my next post on this blog will be all about muddling through…)