D. Sumathi

epgp books






Each family is unique in its style of living. While some characteristics of the family are fundamental some keep on changing through different phases. But when the changes are sudden, causing disorganization and disruption in the structure of the family and its functions, there is a ‘crisis’.


A crisis is something unusual, sometime that makes one strive for a different and unusual solution of the problem. Any rupturing of family relationships which forces reorganization of the family pattern not only constitutes a family crisis, but also a threat to family units.


Foster classifies family crisis into two types 1. Loss of economic support, death, several and prolongs illness and the like. 2. Crisis which involve social stigma and major social calamites like war, economic inflation and depression.




The objectives of this lesson are:


1.      To study the types of family crisis

2.      To give clear cut idea about the impact of crisis in family management

3.      To acquire knowledge on measures to overcome crisis



Sources of trouble


Crises differ in their sources. Some originate within the family (intra-familial) and others out-side (extra-familial). Crisis which arise as a result of economic depression or other calamities which are beyond the control of the individual family are extra-familial. Problems arising out of interpersonal relationship with the family are intra-familial. The first affects a number of families at the same time, while the latter, the members of a particular family.


Types of disrupting events


Family crisis which threaten to disrupt the family can be grouped as (a) a sudden change of status (b) conflict among family members in the conception, and (c) loss of family members by departure, desertion, divorce or death.


Crisis-proneness in families


Three variables help to determine whether a given event becomes a crisis in any given family.


I.The hardships of the situation or event itself.

2.The resources of the family: its role structure, flexibility and previous history with crisis.

3. The definition the family makes of the event that is, whether family members treat to their status, goals and objectives.

4.  Stamina or endurance of the family.


It is not what the event is, but rather what happens as a result of the event. For example an economic depression is not a ’cause’ of family crisis, although it may have brought about the loss of job and a sharp decrease in the family’s income; it is only a precipitating factor. There must be something else present, which, interacting with the precipitating event, produces the crisis in a given family.


There are two resources family integration and family adaptability. By the first is meant the bonds of coherence and unity running through families’ life, in which common interest, affection and a sense of economic independence are most prominent. Adaptability refers to the family capacity to meet obstacles and effect adjustments as a family.


Causes of family crisis:


For example, a girl from modern Christian culture, with independent views on women’s education marries gentle man from an orthodox Hindu family. There is deep clift between the outlooks of both and when the bond of love and affection binding them together lossens, their dissatisfaction arising out of conflicting ideals increases. Eventually, inadequate interpersonal relationships, class membership pressures, economic another stresses result and take from a crisis and disorganization of the family.


Any crisis is a blow to the family. All members are affected collectively. First there is disbelief of the event, and then of the members. This is followed by intense reactions which are expressions of sorrow, anger or aggress. There is tension everywhere. Members are down castand their interpersonal relationships are strained. They play their roles with enthusiasm. But when the lowest point of organization is reached, things begin to improve. Members learn to accept the inevitable and take up new responsibilities through the trial and error method. They arrive at routines by thoughtful planning and sacrificing and make agreements for the future. The general pattern of adjustment to crisis is in the direction: Crisis —disorganization-recovery-reorganization.


Crisis has short and long-term effects upon the family. Previous experience in the handling of a similar type of crisis increases the family’s ability to adjust to the new one. Had they try to adopt the same method of adjustment again and again, and if they had faced defeat, it would have led to demoralization and more sensitivity to future exposures.


Stress Management


Stress is not a new concern. The ancient Chinese symbol for stress was composed of two characters — danger and opportunity. Both pleasant and unpleasant condition causes stress.




Stress is an imbalance in the transaction between an individual and the environment manifested by specific biological reactions. Stress is a automatic and universal response to overcome causes of discomfort. Sometimes stress creates energy which the body uses to overcome causes of discomfort. Sometimes stress creates energy which the body uses to meet unexpected or threatening condition.


Stress is a physical, emotional and psychological response to a person or family to a stressful event, condition or demand. The physical response is the same for all people who experience stress. Emotional and psychological responses may vary. Too much of stress can be harmful particularly when it lingers. Harmful stress is called distress and beneficial stress is called eustress.


Stress refers particularly to the residue of tensions generated by a stressful situation which remains unmanaged. The emotional state of family members, interpersonal conflicts, or financial hardships are indices of family stress. The stress-producing event, condition, or demand is called a stressor. In family literature, stressors are life events or occurrences of sufficient magnitude to bring about change in the family system.


Stress is not inherent in a stressor but is a person’s or a family’s response to the stressor. The amount of change required by the stress factor determines whether it will produce stress in a person or family.


Some stress in life may be beneficial. It is generally concluded that it is not the pressures of life but, rather, how people relate to stressors that makes the difference in their feelings of well-being.


Stress varies in intensity from hassles, which are bothersome but not disruptive, to crises, which are incapacitating and cannot be managed with the normal resources and routines of a system.


Level of stress is related to the perception held toward the event, particularly its perceived solvability versus its perceived insolvability. Stress, then, is interaction of a particular type of event with the perception of it.


The degree of stress felt may be due to the vulnerability of the person or family to stress. The amount of time during which stressful events are anticipated, the frequency of potentially stressful events encountered, and previous experience with stress management all influence vulnerability to stress.


The degree of stress encountered is related to the abnormality of the hardships it imposes. Hardships are either an inherent part of the stressor or the adverse conditions imposed by the stressor. For example, the hardships of illness may be identified as cost in money and time, disruption of the routine of other family members, severity of the illness and its incapacitating effect on the ill person, or even the role changes required to manage the illness.


Assessment of stress in a family system may be made by a series of comparisons, including: internality versus externality, pervasiveness versus boundenness, precipitate onset versus gradual onset, intensity versus mildness, and transitoriness versus chronicity.


Stress pile-up is an accumulation without resolution of individual stress responses. In an effort to manage a crisis situation, such as the family’s sole earner being fired, a family may experience a pile-up of stress triggered by the breadwinner’s physical and emotional response to being fired and expanding to the hardships associated with the family’s conditions as result of the unemployment.


Stress Regeneration — level of recovery from stress is related to the integration and adaptability of the family system. Stress can be created or reduced by systems external to the family and by the family’s internal managerial behaviour.


Coping up of stress is recognized as cognitive and behavioural efforts to master conditions of harm, threat, or challenge when a routine or automatic response in neither readily available nor a natural part of the individual’s or family’s basic repertoire. Coping underscores the importance of both personal and family resources in the management of stress. Both the cohesion and adaptability of the family and the self-confidence of individuals are resources thought to be a particular importance in coping with a variety of stressors.


The output of stress management is adaptation-the degree to which the family system alters its internal functions (behaviours, rules, roles, perceptions) and/or external reality to achieve a “fit” between the family or individual and the environment.


Causes of Stress


Stress is caused by different events for different people. Like pressure from superiors managing our career and household for a housewife etc. But we may notice that stress is usually acknowledged particularly when a number of things go wrong one after another in one day or in a series of days.


For example: If our child is stick at home we have an important meeting at the office and we miss our bus. Then we may remark, “Wonder whose face it was I saw first thing in the morning” or “This just isn’t my day!” But we do come across people who have a reputation of being ‘cool’ in the face of any situation and we also wonder how they can be that way. This proves that “stress” consists largely of how we respond to events, not the events themselves. So if we change our behaviours it is possible to have less stressful lives. There are 2 ways, our body reacts to stress. Learn to recognize both: physiologically and psychologically. Physiological reactions are muscle aches, stomach aches, an overall feeling of being upset insomnia, increased heartbeat, rise in blood pressure increased breathing rate.


According to one psychologist Hans selge there is a set pattern of physiological mechanisms that are activated in response to any stressor. This pattern is called “General Adaptive Syndrome”.

Psychological speaking stress has the following effects:

1.  Attention and perception are restricted due to pre-occupation with stressor.

2.  Memory is affected (forgetting is more frequent).

3.  Interference in judgment, problem solving, decision making.

4.  Arouses fear, anger, jealousy and discouragement more easily.

5.  May cause depression.


But the most familiar psychological reactions are defense mechanisms like depression, fixation, displacement etc. But this is not healthy as it involves self-deception and distortion of reality.


Rational Encotive Therapy developed by Albert Ellis is used. Here we use self-statements for coping with our stress.


First is preparation: I can deal with the situation (No negative self statements) worrying will not help me.

Confrontation: One step at a time. It’s normal to feel anxious. I’m in control (Take a deep breath).

Coping: (when fear comes, pause) focus on the next course of action. (You cannot eliminate fear totally. So just try to keep it manageable) it’s not the worst thing that can happen.

Self reinforcement: I was able to do it. It wasn’t as bad as I expected I’m pleased with the progress, I’m making it.


Long term strategies for stress management:


Modify our environment


a. Assertiveness :Sometimes simply letting the persons concerned know that a certain behaviour or situation causes you stress may alleviate your stress. For example: you may let your boss know that lack of delegation of your weak and untimely delegation leaves you in a fix as t what work has to be completed and makes you rush through certain jobs since they were delegated at the last moment.

b. Withdrawal: This is to be used with discretion. Example: A stressful situation may be avoided if the subordinate withdraws when his short tempered boss is in a bad mood.

c. Compromise : Involves conformity, negotiation, substitution

d. Laughter as a means of readings stress: There are several lines of evidence to suggest that humour is used by children to handle stressful home life. A longitudinal study examined the development of humour in children during the first six years of their life. The elementary school children who laughed the most were those who had been exposed to tough and potentially hazardous situation and whose mothers had withheld help in solving problems. In contrast children who had been babied and protected from conflict have a less developed sense of humor (McGhee 1979). This finding supports the view of Feeud 1905/1960 that human develops humour as a means of coping with stressful or anxiety arousing circumstances. Also, a study revealed that comedy writers tend to come from family background filled with tension. So if a stressful childhood can promote the development of humour, may be laughter can work to reduce adult stress in later stages.


Norman cousins, a former editor of the Laternday review USA, such reasoning to help him recover from a serious illness. He was hospitalized for a rare disease of the connective tissue which was crippling him and from which he was told he would not recover. Working with a co-operative physicans, he was chucked out of the hospital into a hotel room where for several months he supplemented massive injections of Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) with a steady diet and old candid camera (comedy) films and other belly laugh including movies. He completely recovered from his “incurable disease” after few months. Fifteen years later, a high pressure schedule of travel, speaking and deadlines lead to a heart attack and diagnosis of damaged heart muscle and congested coronary arteries. Cousins was able to avoid a bye-pass operation by again taking charge of his recover. Following a regimen of diet, gradually increasing exercises, amateur photography and HUMOUR, he was able to resume full time work within less than a year after his attack.


e. Altering our life-style: Since we have more control over useful than our environment, we may choose to modify something about ourself as a better way of managing stress.


f. First build up a greater tolerance to stress : Stress tolerance is defined as, how much of stress we can handle without acting in a disorganized or rational way. It can be built up by


1.  Keeping in good physical shape.

2.  Selecting reasonable goals to accomplish

3.  Adjusting our expectations to match the reality of the situation.


g. Change the pace of our life: We bring a lot of stress on ourselves by rushing around and trying to accomplish too much in to less time. Frequently we can reduce stress by better time management.


h. Practice centering: Centering is a breathing technique that helps us to relax and eliminate problem thoughts; breathing low down in our abdomen so that the abdomen extends when inhaling and collapses when exhaling. This is the martial arts procedure that emphasizes thoughts control a particular way of breathing and muscle relaxation. The technique derives its name from the fact that if done properly, it lowers one’s centre of gravity. While centering we should consciously relax and drop our neck and shoulder muscles letting our arms hang down our side as low as possible. It can be done standing or sitting and breathing should come from very low down in the abdomen.


i. Seek out close relationships


It is not surprising that we manage stress more successfully and enjoy better health when we have the support of a spouse or close friend why? Close relationships give an opportunity to share painful feelings which may become burdensome if kept to ourselves. Therein understanding and support bolsters self-esteem. They may provide information and advice that may help us reach more effective solution to over probs.


Ways to cope with stress in our weakening environment


1.     Become  aware  of  our  style  of  coping  with  stress.  Avoid  unnecessary  stressful situations.

2.   Be aware of the politics at our workplace. Don’t allow our self to become a victim of rumor will get the real facts.

3.  Maintain interpersonal relations.

4.  Ventilations of concerns with others help relieve stress.

5.  Watch our physical health and nutrition.

6.    Don’t let our jobs overflow into other areas of our life. Learn to separate work problems from our social life and home. Example if we are unable to speak up against a domineering boss, do not come home and let the steam out on our wife and kids.

7.  Schedule regular variations.

8.  Avoid over commitments or tasks we cannot complete.


Finally instead of waiting for stress or illness to come and then reacting to it, we need to set goals and structure our lives and life-styles in ways more likely to bring us what we want. Take an active role in taking charge of our life.


Once in a way realize that it is O.K. If someone else has their own way, it is 0.K, if a person doesn’t look at an issue from our point of view; it doesn’t matter, if someone else has won the argument even if we think we are right. Let’s go with the issues as stress is trivial.




Bereavement is the dismemberment in the family resulting from the death of a member. The loss is permanent. Even though the deceased person’s role may soon be taken up by somebody else, the personal less of the member to the family remains forever.


Bereavement may be the loss of mate, parent, child, sibling or other close relatives or associates. Its effect varies with the age of the bereaved, his emotional involvement with the family, the manner of death, the relationships of the bereaved, and the degree of emancipation of the bereaved person.


The degree of loss felt by the bereaved varies from individual to individual. If the deceased is the head of the family and earning member, his loss is felt by all the family members intensely, especially if there is no other member who can take up his role. The bereavement is more for a young man’s death that for one who dies at ripe old age.




Divorce is merely the undoing of a marriage, a process of unmarrying people who have been married. It is an official recognition that their marriage is a failure and therefore has more cause for being terminated rather than continuing (Baber, 1963). However, though divorce indicates the failure if a particular marriage, its absence does not indicate success.


Effects of divorce


Effects of divorce vary from family to family. Both personal and general losses are involved. Loss of former love object affects the whole situation. Each party blames the other and there is general yearning, frustration and a sense of emptiness. But for some, divorce is eagerly awaited in the hope that it will pave way for a newer type of life. For them divorce is an escape from one situation to another.


Children are the worst affected by divorce. There is too often a pulling and hauling at the child from both sides. While children are affected severely by divorce, childlessness itself acts as a reason for a divorce. But if the couple are rally and truly bound by the bond of love and affection, the question of divorce is not likely to arise under any circumstance.


Seperation and Single Parent Families


Seperation is the willful leaving of one mate from another. It is one of the most common reasons for broken homes. Marital instability produces more single parent families. Single-parent families have encountered phenomenal growth. Most of the families were headed by women who were divorced, separated, widowed and single parent families.


Measures to overcome Crisis


  1.  Each day make a list if things we want to accomplish
  2.  Arrange the things in the order of priority with the toughest things first and the easiest last when we are low on energy.
  3.  Arrange work schedule to take most advantage of the hours when we work the rest.
  4. Always set aside a time when we can work without interruptions.
  5.  Be flexible about changes in our schedule. So that we can handle unexpected events. Plan for some leisure activity during the day.
  6. Set aside some times each day a week in which we always do some planned leisureactivities.
  7. Central decisions can be made, such as revising short and long range goals, establishing new roles and responsibilities, and implementing instrumental and expressive tasks to foster personal growth and development.
  8. Comprehensive patterns of management also include decisions about changing the level of consumption as the family adjusts to changes in income and economic conditions. This stage allows families to adjust their values, goals, and standards to meet the needs of their family members with the least amount of disruption.




Family adaptability, family integration, affectional relations among family members, good marital adjustments between husband and wife, companionable parent child relationships, family counsel type of control in decision making, participation of wife in activities outside the home and previous successful experience with crisis are all important factors in enabling families to adjust to crisis.


A majority of these crisis and problems are not under the control of the family. They must be endured with patience. Thoughtful planning, maturity and ability to adjust to new circumstances will help. It is not a task to be accomplished by a single individual. The whole family needs to be rest, as a co-operative endeavor with the motto ‘united we stand and divide we fall’.

you can view video on FAMILY CRISIS


Web links

Suggested References


  •  Adapted from and used with permission of the 12 Step Organization. www.adultchildren.org
  • Cycle of child sexual abuse: links between being a victim and becoming a perpetrator The British Journal of Psychiatry Dec 2001, 179 (6) 482-494
  • David Stoop and James Masteller (1997-02-10). Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves: Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families. Regal. ISBN 978-0830734238.
  • Forgiving Our Parents: For Adult Children from Dysfunctional Families by Dwight Lee Wolter c. 1995.
  • Kate Millett (1998). Classic and Contemporary Readings in Sociology: Reading 22 The Theory of Sexual Politics. ISBN 978-0582320239.
  • Nancy J. Napier (April 1990). Recreating Your Self: Help for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families. ISBN 978-0393028423.
  • Whiteman, Shawn D.; McHale, Susan M.; Soli, Anna.”Theoretical Perspectives on Sibling Relationships”, J Fam Theory Rev., 2012 Jun 1; Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 124–139