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RED CRISES

Crises come in red, yellow, or black.  An individual in a red crisis is angry.  He is really angry, he may be yelling, he feels the world is unjust, he is indignant, he declares that he will show them.  The person in a red crisis usually appears tense, ready to strike out, about to explode.  In other red crises, the individual may appear to be calm, but we can pick up the anger, frustration, and hurt from things he says, the way he describes situations, the kinds of things he is thinking about doing.  The individual may be clenching his fists or pounding on the arm of his chair.  You may notice that he is gritting his teeth or talking in a very angry, cutting tone.  Frequently, such a person sets off fearful feelings in us, and we find ourselves worried about the possibility that he might hurt someone or something.  For example, the parents of a young girl are divorced, and the girl is very upset.  She tells us, “I called Daddy.  That woman answered the phone and said Daddy had taken her little girl swimming.  I hope she drowns.  I don’t ever want to see him again.  I hope he drowns, too.  I hate him!  [The little girl jams a pencil into the arm of her chair.]  I don’t care.  I don’t need a daddy, anyway.”

The now potential of a red crisis is that the individual may act out his anger, really hurt someone else.  This now potential combines with the act that the extreme anger disables the individual and makes the self-resolution factor quite low.  In a red crisis, then, our goal will be to reduce the now potential by softening the anger and allowing the individual to “talk it out” enough to begin to look at this feelings and at alternative ways of dealing with them.  As he begins to think and feel with us, the self-resolution factor will increase.

Glen is in a red crisis.  “Who do they think they are!  Not renewing my contract.  You ask any kids at that school, and they’ll tell you I am one of the best teachers they have ever had.  Some of those old ladies there have been teaching for forty years and don’t know anything about kids.  They just let them go on teaching and never say anything to them about that.  I really teach the kids something, and they relate to me, and then they do this to me.  I told that bastard, and he didn’t like what I had to say.  I told him.  I told him that I was going to sue them, him, the board, the whole damn school if I have to.  I don’t have to put up with this.  It’s all politics—who you know if you happen to be from this damn town.  There is no sense in it.  If I were the football coach or something, they wouldn’t treat me this way.  Those jocks get everything, and you try to teach a kid to appreciate art or some of the other nice things in life, and they think you should lick up the scraps like a little puppy.  They can’t handle someone who is willing to speak up and take care of himself.  No one is going to take up for those kids if they get rid of me.  That’s what they really want.  I tell the kids how it really is, and they get all uptight.  They are so insecure and place such value on their silly dumb jobs that they won’t stand up to anyone.  [You say: I guess it seems like you have gotten a pretty raw deal.]  You’re damn right.  I’m going to sue the bastards.  [You ask: How did you learn about not getting a new contract?]  The word was out.  I heard it in the teachers’ lounge.  I just blew up and went straight down to the office and told him what I think about it.  I said to him, I said he could take his job and stick it.  Who does he think he is, not renewing my contract!  [You ask: What was his reaction to that?]  He said he didn’t know what I was talking about.  He tried to play dumb.  I told him, I said, ‘Don’t play dumb with me.’  That’s the way they do things.  Act so sweet and innocent and as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, and then they stick you.  [You ask: Are you sure they weren’t going to give you a new contract?]  Yes, I’m sure!  I guess I’m sure.  [You ask: You guess you’re sure?]  Yes, I’m sure.  He told me that it was true.  I’ve seen it coming for a long time.  They’ve talked to me about it a few times and said that I would not get a new contract unless things changed.  [You ask: What did they say needed to change?]  It’s my temper.  I just can’t seem to control it.  Bad tempers run in my family.  My father was this way.  [You ask: Does it get you into a lot of difficulties?]  Yes.  I’m going to have to do something about it, or I’ll never be able to be a teacher.  My big mouth gets me into more jams than my head can get me out of.  I’ve really blown it this time.  [You ask: Is the decision not to renew your contract final?  Or might they reconsider if you were to do something about your temper?]  I don’t know.  I never thought about that.  [You say: It can’t hurt anything to ask them about it.  If you’re fired, you’re fired, so asking them if there is any possibility to their reconsidering can’t do anything to hurt.]  You might be right about that.  I don’t know.  I doubt if it would do any good.  I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t teach.  It’s my life.  [You say: It sounds like teaching is really important to you.  It might be worth doing something about your temper.]  I don’t know.  Do you have any ideas?”

As you read about Glen, you may smile to yourself and say, “Yes, but it would never happen that way.”  The fact that your calmness takes the red out of a red crisis is, at first, not very believable to most newcomers to crisis intervention.  As you talked with Glen, you calmly absorbed his anger and did not respond to it directly.  You maintained your blue orientation to his red.  Your questions and comments focused around his real problem and gradually moved him toward thinking about possible solutions.  As you talked with him you recognized and acknowledged his anger but did not respond to it with any similar emotion.  You were gradually able to absorb his anger and enable him to use your planning and reasoning skills to deal with this very serious life crisis.  Obviously, had he followed his angry inclination, he would have gotten a lawyer, told someone to “go to hell,” or done something else destructive to his professional objectives.  Through talking with you, he cooled down and began to think about how he could work things out so he could stay in the teaching profession.  Had he followed his angry impulses, he would probably have ruined any possibility of teaching in the future.  To some extent, then, you have saved him from himself, and have made an important contribution to his future life.

Will he recognize this fact and express his appreciation in proportion to the value of your effort?   Probably not.  The satisfaction comes from your knowing the potential importance of what you have done.  As you work with people in crisis, never underestimate or minimize the importance of your help to other people.  You understand what the now potential of the crisis is.  You understand that your intervention has reduced the likelihood of the now potential actually happening.  This lets you know what you have been able to prevent.  For Glen, you have made an important contribution to his life, whether or not he realizes it.

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