Saturday, June 09, 2018

People in crisis

Over the years I've seen lots of friends, acquaintances and colleagues in various kinds of emotional turmoil and crises. I'm talking about the kinds of things that happen to all of us, but only very rarely. Relationship turmoil would be one example, where one needs to break up with one's boyfriend/girlfriend, or where they break up with you. Another example would be being made redundant from one's job, or some kind of work crisis that means that one has to change jobs. Other examples include serious illness such as cancer, or the death of a very close relative or friend.

Talking to people as they go through these crises, all of which are completely different, I've noticed one common thread. Most people in these difficult situations won't listen to any fresh ideas on possible courses of action. I don't know what causes that attitude, perhaps it the shock of the situation that they find themselves in, but I'm always amazed at how closed people's minds will be when anyone makes a suggestion. It seems like people in a crisis somehow instantly decided what they need to do when the crisis first hits, and the only role of everyone else is just to listen to what's happening, and listen to the explanation of why the course of action that's been chosen is the right one.

One recent concrete example was a close friend called T who had been diagnosed with cancer.

"Actually I've been very lucky," says T, "it was caught very early. And the operation to remove it was a complete success :-)."

"Wonderful news :-)," I say, "so presumably you won't need chemotherapy after all."

"Actually I'm still going to have chemo," replies T, "and after chemo there'll be a course of radiotherapy too. For people in my situation, I've been told that the long term survival rate is 72% if I don't have the treatment, but 82% if I do."

"Really, you're still going to have chemo?" I ask. "Chemo has some terrible side effects".

"And regarding those statistics," I continue, "do they take account of the fact that you're a diabetic? It may be that for diabetics, the stress that all the treatment puts on your body actually ends up lowering your survival rate."

"But I'll cope," says T affirmatively, "I'll be starting the treatment before the end of the month."

The tone of voice made it was clear to me that the merits or risks of the chosen course of action were not up for discussion, which seemed odd to me. This was a real life or death situation, so surely one would want to consider everything. However, it became clear to me in subsequent conversation that the idea that the statistics might be different for diabetics was actually unwelcome, even though if true it would be very relevant.

Luckily, I'm not posting this because I'm in any kind of crisis at the moment. I'm still happily coupled with boyfriend K :-), and these days I'm happily retired from banking too. But the older I get, the more of these situations I've seen, and tonight I suddenly realized that there was a common thread.

P.S. Even though I'm now a retired banker, I'm not going to change the name of this blog!


close encounters said...

i think you're probably right - i've seen it happen in my own family.

i suspect that it's some sort of defence mechanism.

an ex of mine used to say that when put under pressure, i would retreat to my "cave".

GB said...

Interesting idea close encounters. Although I can't see the evolutionary advantage of a defence mechanism which stops people absorbing or analysing information during a crisis, can you?

GB xxx

Bill said...

I presume your friend has decided to follow the professional medical advice and options he has been presented with.

close encounters said...

GB - maybe we shut down our ability to analyse and process information in a crisis, because our neural networks wouldn't be able to cope if we fully aborbed the true horror of a situation ?

GB said...

Yes Bill, indeed he has, and everything seems fine so hopefully he'll have a long life :-). All the best for now, GB xxx

Yellow said...

I've been discussing with a lot of crisis situations with my boyfriend lately and because in fact I am in one at work. He advises me to stay calm and be kind to myself and not to be sucked up by it... And I tried... very hard. I find that in most cases, also in mine, it is very uneasy. I usually find two outcomes - One will be in a tunnel vision who is oblivious to what is happening around him and believe in his inner voice (his gut); or one asks as many people's opinion as possible and still get stuck at square one.

We hear all these crises all our lives. But when it hits you hard, especially friendship, relationships and work all at the same time, life becomes too hard to make rational decisions.

@GB - happy to see you write around this time =)

GB said...

@Yellow I just looked briefly at your blog The Yellow Man. The last time that you blogged in April 2017 you were dating, so glad to hear in your comment here that you've got a boyfriend now :-). I also saw from your post dated 7-Aug-2013 that you've had various career problems in the past. Hope the crisis that you referred to works itself out satisfactorily.

GB xxx

RB said...

I've seen this behavior too. My ex-bf engaged in a relationship that everyone could see was a really bad idea. Many of his friends told him this nicely. Then more directly.

We were all right. It ended very badly. he called us all crying and devastated. We could have said "I told you so" but again we were nice.