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YELLOW CRISES

A crisis may be yellow.  In a yellow crisis, the individual is afraid, anxious, “really uptight.”  The crisis is yellow, like a blazing fire.  People in yellow crises are frequently crying; seem desperate, very nervous, and tremble; and sometimes make us feel very protective, as if we wanted to hold them and tell them things are going to be okay.  They seem like frightened, very upset children.  In a yellow crisis, individuals frequently tell us that they feel confused, they cannot think straight, everything seems to be falling apart around them.  All of their anxiety and nervousness may make us feel a little frightened, at a loss as to what to do, somewhat overwhelmed.

Yellow crises are the most typical crisis situation.  When the interaction between the individual and his total situation deteriorates or breaks down, he usually becomes somewhat apprehensive, frightened, anxious, and confused.

A young man calls you on the hot line.  His voice quivers and he sniffles as he talks.  “I don’t know what I’m going to do.  Things are falling apart.  I feel like running.  I can’t go home.  [You ask: What happened?]  My girl friend gave back my ring.  She doesn’t want to see me anymore.  I really love her.  I can’t get along without her.  I flunked my chemistry exam.  I feel like I’m going to explode.  I can’t stand it.  My parents will have a fit when they find out about my chemistry grade.  She’s with a friend of mine.  I don’t know where I’m going to get money for tuition next quarter.  I can’t live without her.  I’d be better off dead.  I can’t stand it.”

The now potential in a yellow crisis is that the individual may do almost anything to escape the hurt, the confusion, the pain of being so anxious and uptight.  He does not understand what is happening to him and frequently feels like he may be losing his mind.  A yellow crisis is, for the individual, an extremely uncomfortable and emotionally painful state.  It is like being in an emotional fire, and people will try anything that occurs to them as a possible way of escaping.  They are tempted to run, to kill themselves, or to do anything else that might make the pain go away.  The confusion, nervousness, inability to think straight, and extreme discomfort, of course, are powerful forces working against calm, rational, and sensible judgment and planning.  That is to say, the self-resolution factor in a yellow crisis is very low.  In crisis communication, our goal when dealing with a yellow crisis is gradually to calm and put out the fire.  If we are able to do that, the individual will be better able to think calmly and rationally about his situation, that is, the self-resolution factor increases.

Mrs. L is leaning over with her head in her lap, and her hands are clasped behind her head.  “Help me.  It hurts.  It’s the pain, I can’t stand it.  My head feels like it’s going to explode.  I don’t know what to do—I can’t eat.  I can’t sleep.  It seems like a thousand years since I’ve been to sleep.  If I could just go to sleep, I might be okay.  I’m going crazy—losing my mind.  I can’t stand the pain.  [She is still leaning over but looks up with an almost frightening expression on her face.]  Help me.  You have to help me.  [You say: I really want to help.  It scares me a little to see you so upset.  It must be awful to feel so terrible.  What can I do to help?]  I don’t think you can help.  I don’t think anyone can help.  It’s awful.  I can’t stand it. [You ask: have you been feeling this way very long?  I don’t see how you can stand feeling so bad.]  It’s worse today than usual.  Things are beginning to spin around.  Nothing makes sense; I can’t think because it hurts so bad.  [You ask: Have you had these headaches before?]  Yes, I’ve been having them lately.  [You ask: Have you talked with your doctor about them?]  He says they are nerves.  I can’t eat and I start to itch.  [She sits up a little in her chair and starts scratching her arms.]  I dig myself raw and feel like something is crawling all over me.  My stomach feels like it is tied up in knots.  [You ask: How do you deal with being so nervous and hurting so much?]  Sometimes I feel like I can’t stand it.  I’d be better off dead.  At least it wouldn’t hurt then.  [You ask: What do you think makes you so nervous?]  I wish I knew.  I can’t stand it.  I’m going to have to get something straightened out, or I’m going to go crazy. They should lock me up in a crazy place and put me to sleep.  I’m going to end up in a straight jacket if I don’t get this straightened out.  I’m going to end up in a straight jacket clear out of my mind.  [You say: I hope that doesn’t happen.  What kinds of things do you need to get straightened out?]  Everything.  My head, my marriage, my children, my life, everything is in a mess.  Nothing’s good.  I can’t stand the world, and it can’t stand me.  [You ask: What part of the world do you find the hardest to stand?]  Mostly me.  I keep screwing things up.  About the time I get it to where I can handle it and things are going okay without any hassles or anything, I do something stupid, and it starts all over again.  [You say: That must be a pretty bad feeling to feel like you are always screwing things up.]  I’ve done it all my life.  I am a walking disaster.  Anything I touch goes wrong.  [You ask: How is your head feeling now?]  A little better.  I have some stuff my doctor gave me for it.  I took some a while age, and it’s beginning to take effect.  I can’t spend all of my life living on pills, but I can’t stand the pain, either.  Do you think you can help me?  [You say: I hope so.  I can tell that you are really hurting, and I hope that I can do something to help get things better for you.]  I hope so too.  I’ve got to get something straightened out.  This can’t go on forever.  [You ask: What is it about your situation that bothers you the most?  Maybe we could start there.]  My husband.  I guess that bothers me the most.  If I could ever get that worked out, I think I could handle the rest of it.  That’s hopeless with him.  I don’t know.  If I could get that worked out, I could handle the other things.  [You say: Maybe we could start there.  Can you tell me a little bit about what’s going on with the two of you?]

Mrs. L was in a serious yellow crisis.  As you talked with her, you responded at first almost exclusively to her mood or yellow crisis.  As you recognized and acknowledged her feelings, she began to calm down, think a little more clearly, and the “pain” literally began to lessen.  Your blue response filtered the “fiery yellow” out of her crisis.  Had you not recognized and dealt with her feelings, she probably would not have gotten past the pain, discomfort, and confusion.  You combined your calm blue with a gentle urging to get her to focus on her situation and begin to define her “biggest problem.”  She felt that if she were able to resolve some of the difficulties with her husband she would be able to handle the remainder of her situation.  You assumed that this was a rational and “true” judgment and encouraged her to discuss her relationship with her husband.  It is your hope that you and she will gradually develop a “picture” of her crisis, develop some possible ways of dealing with it, and move to a point where she feels somewhat more competent to deal with her problems.  Your initial intervention hypothesis directed you to respond to and filter her intense feelings.  As she began to calm down, your hypothesis shifted to focus on her interaction with her total situation.  Gradually, your hypothesis may shift several more times.  But it is your constant purpose to move with her to a point where she can begin to think clearly about her difficulties and to plan ahead.

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