The Number One Mistake Families in Crisis Make

And 3 Steps to Get You Out of the Crisis

The first thing you must understand about the crisis you are in: the crisis is not the cause of your pain and anguish. The crisis is the symptom.


Your crisis is like the “Check Engine” light in the dashboard of your car. The crisis is an indicator of the issue or issues that have been at play for some time. The reason it’s evident now is that the long-term issues have hit a threshold. The volcano has been lying dormant but ready to erupt. All it needed was a tipping point.

Therefore, it does you little good to focus solely on how the crisis started. That’s a short-sighted focus. It’s a microscopic perspective and won’t help you. You need to start looking at your family from a macroscopic point of view. Look at the big picture.

It also does you no good to focus on whom the crisis started with. Placing blame on an individual distracts families from focusing on how the crisis interconnects everyone in the family.

When you pull back and look at everything—your family history, which may include trauma, loss, or transitions; important events; repeated problematic behaviors—you can start to see patterns. Noticing those patterns are the key to getting out of this crisis. But, your vision, your ability to look at the big picture and notice the patterns of behavior in your family, is obscured when, like I said before, the focus of your attention is fixed on how the crisis started or whom it started with. Focusing on an event or individual will only hold you back from moving forward.

So I want you to do three things.

  1. Take your focus off individuals. Stop blaming yourself or some other person, and ask yourself, how is everyone involved in the problem? Hopefully you will see that, as a colleague of mine has said with families, “no one is to blame, but everyone is responsible.” Everyone contributes to the problem in one way or another. Some more. Some less. But regardless of who you are, you’re involved. So stop blaming one person, and let’s focus on dynamics in the family.
  2. Take your focus off how the crisis started. Stop looking for an event, that is, a single cause. Families reach a crisis point, depending on what the crisis is, over a period of time. Problems don’t spring into being overnight. It takes a lot of practice to get things wrong. Therefore, you need to readjust your perspective. You need to start paying attention to patterns of behavior and stop focusing on individual behavior.  
  3. Finally, your family will never escape this crisis until you start being honest with each other. Families can fall anywhere on the honesty spectrum. Some families are so afraid of conflict, they never address the 400-pound gorilla in the room. And maybe, if someone challenges the status quo, even if it’s awful and needs to be changed, the family will silence that person. Or the family might hold a strong belief that one person is the cause of the issue, yet never able to admit to their own roles in the problem. Other families fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

The goal for your family ought to be honesty. The status quo, your ego, the egos of others, and your fears of conflict can no longer stand as excuses. Something has to change. And the only way to get different results is to do something different. If you can’t commit to this step, then stop reading. Put your focus where it ought to be, on the family dynamics that have played out over time—everyone’s participation in the problem. The life of your family depends on all of you committing to this new focus.

It is essential that everyone shift the focus onto their own self and to the relational dynamics in the family. Stop blaming each other. If everyone makes an honest examination of their behavior, responses, habits, and intentions, you’re on the right path.

It is essential that everyone start listening to each other. The only way you are going to get out of this crisis is with each other. You can’t run away from your family—even though you may be mad or hurt or scared. Cutting your family out of your life doesn’t cut their influence from your living. Unresolved family issues are sticky. They don’t just go away because we don’t like them.

The crisis you are in is like a pit. And everyone is stuck at the bottom. Individually, you’ll never get out. But, if you work together, you have a chance to reach freedom.

It’s the same process with a crisis. Turning on each other is like trying to get out of the pit by yourself. But when you listen and try to understand the other person’s point of view or feedback, even when you disagree, then you have a fighting chance. It took all of you to get into this mess; it’s going to take all of you to get out of it.


Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10 (NIV)

Next Steps:

The article is an excerpt of: Family Crisis Guidebook: Practical Steps to Work Through Difficult Issues by Counselor Dan Bates. Keep an eye out for the release at

Other books by Counselor Dan:

Even a Superhero Needs Counseling

Learning to Live—20 Lessons from a Therapist on Learning to Live a Better Life

The Modern Mystic

When Parenting Backfires

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