Reality Check: The Meltdown

A thousand miles away, my usually sunny friend—she who chooses the most positive possible interpretation of everything—had a meltdown.

It’s understandable. She’s been living with the reality of several family members diagnosed with cancers. Then, her mom took a tumble and broke a bone.

Pulled every which way and unable to do everything that needs to be done, we can feel like we’ve completely lost control. Thus, the meltdown.

And although “meltdown” is associated with women, such reactions are not confined to us sweet, delicate flowers. Reactions may be different, even when emotions are similar. What happens?

Choice theory suggests that when our “what we want” world matches our “what we perceive we have” world, our needs are met and we are reasonably satisfied.

When needs are not being met, however, there’s an imbalance—a pain. It’s not necessarily a physical pain, although it might be.

What’s out of balance? Right now, all of my friend’s basic needs may be going unsatisfied.

For example, the basic survival need is threatened. If your family member is diagnosed with cancer, might you wonder about your own health?

Love and belonging may be at risk. There’s a great big elephant in the room now. Depending on how the family reacts to the diagnosis, it may become difficult to have a conversation about even the most mundane of topics. Everything has changed.

Freedom may be out the window, too. With new demands on time, perhaps with a perception that you must always be available, your freedom to live as you are accustomed may have disappeared.

Fun can also go down the tubes, with no time left between helping out and care-giving. Besides, how dare you have fun when someone close to you is in pain and fear?

There’s also the loss of power. Your family member may be feeling powerless over their life, and you may feel powerless to help. Even when doing all you can, you may perceive that it’s not making any difference.

Even if it seems to have come “out of the blue,” a meltdown may be associated with a culmination of frustrations. To get back in balance, releasing some of that tension with a good cry or a good thrashing (of the punching bag, not of each other) may help in the short term.

What about the longer term?

Keep an eye on how you are satisfying your needs. Do something toward each daily, even if it’s a 5 minute phone call with a friend (love & belonging), a quick romp with the dog (fun, freedom), organizing “to-dos” into priorities (power) and discussing your own health concerns with a professional (survival.)

Realize you don’t need to do everything yourself. It’s tempting to believe it’s easier to do it yourself than ask for help. However, asking gives someone else a chance to do something that is truly useful. This is not such a small thing.

If it made sense for me to courier a comforting cup of tea and a blankie to my friend across the miles, I would. But it doesn’t.

What I can do, however, is let her know that I recognize the valuable contribution she is making.

When we see someone do the extraordinary (or ordinary, but helpful) we can let them know. “I appreciate what you are doing,” doesn’t take long to say, but can have a big and lasting impact.

How do you give/receive recognition?

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