Devising Strategies that Address the Ongoing Catastrophes in Life

No one likes to think that their reality could be shattered in the blink of an eye—but last Friday night’s terror attack in Paris proves just that. Now, I hate to focus on such a tragic situation, but we need to talk about it. The reality of our world has become increasingly terrifying, and while I am not a person who focuses on fear-based thinking, what must be realized is that day-to-day life is fragile. Change doesn’t have to relate to a terror attack—it can come in the form of a car accident, a health diagnosis, really anything. Accepting this conclusion makes life that much more valuable, but it also spurs another course of action: Developing a strategy and honing your thinking in a way that makes potential catastrophes less overwhelming.

What is Hero Syndrome?

Superheroes born on the pages of colorful comic books have become a part of our pop culture experience. Batman movies, for instance, feature big name actors and actresses, rake in the dough, and become a part of our societal dialogue. My personal favorite, The Avengers, is the number 1 box office leader of all the superhero movies, and the recent introduction of “Batgirl” has caused an uproar since she is termed a “girl” and not a “woman.” Yes, this is the stuff our society talks about!

Of course, while there is a certain level of avant garde mimicry about life imitating art imitating life in some situations (maybe not via Tony Stark’s IronMan suit—at least not yet), few would debate the heroism of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. There are so many true heroes in our world, these brave individuals who emerge during times of stress, chaos, and calamity—that we should be inspired.   Think of the soldiers who leave family and loved ones behind to protect our freedoms, rescue workers who rose to the challenge presented at the World Trade Center after 9/11, or my favorites reported on The of Temar Boggs and Chris Garcia of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They pursued a car on their bicycles to save an abducted five-year-old girl Jocelyn Rojas. And did I mention that Temar and Chris were only 13 themselves?

I believe that in our core, we all want to be heroes, and on a daily basis we most likely are when we think about the impact we make on our friends and families. It is natural to desire to be the person who is admired for their courage, achievements, or noble qualities. After all, being called brave is considered to be an honor and privilege. However, realize that there is also danger in the title of hero as it means that one can suffer harm or put themselves in the line of unnecessary risk.

The Hero Syndrome has been defined as an unconscious need to be needed, helpful, and appreciated. It also shows up in the belief that each of us can be a superhero—that we can do it alone, that needing support or help is for the weak, and that it’s not necessary to burden others.

During a catastrophic, life-changing event, such as that related to the death of a spouse or child, the diagnosis of a disease in yourself or a loved one, or even in the case of divorce, the Hero Syndrome can pose a threat to healing, to regaining a balance, and to realizing daily coping strategies. It is during these times when it is necessary to bring the help in, and to seek support in your personal life as well as your business. I know from personal experience that this can be a journey through darkness—and although it is yours to walk, having a flashlight, a compass, and a trusted guide will make the journey easier and help you avoid pitfalls that hinder progress and healing.

Keeping the Hero Syndrome in mind, and realizing that none of us can do it alone, means seeking support and allowing other people to be a hero to you. Consider these tips:

  1. Make a list of friends, family and colleagues who can hellp    Who are your trusted advisors? Do you know anyone who has gone through a similar situation with what you are faced with? Take a few minutes and list out the people who come to mind who are willing and able to offer support. Dig deep, as oftentimes, some of the best advocates for us are found just outside of our peripheries.   What skills or experiences do they have that could be helpful? Will they be a support for your business or your personal life? Realize that no help is too small, be it picking up groceries or giving your child a ride home from school, and can also be complex—reviewing the office meeting you missed or helping you handle a current client. Send an email to everyone on your list, request their support in this difficult journey, and know that your actions with this will bring in an outpouring of heroism, oftentimes complete with suggestions of ways those people dearest to you can help and how they are willing to help.
  1. Don’t be afraid to get professional help. The range of services available to you is large, and the pool is expansive. Medical facilities are a good place to begin. There will be lists of support groups, specialized physicians, and targeted therapists who specialize or have the ability to assist with caregiver responsibilities. When you start talking about your experience you will quickly discover that you are not alone. There are many professional blogs and bulletin boards that provide great information on coping, surviving, and thriving, that do not require you leaving home—and should you so choose, they can also point you in the direction of a professional who knows how to help you.
  1. Enlist professional support.   After a catastrophe, life continues on and so does work responsibilities. The skills that are necessary to engage in high-level business functions such as instinct, time management, and leadership are all conflicted during highly stressful times. Moreover, new responsibilities emerge as emotional conflicts related to uncertainty, loss of productivity, and concentration tend to be present.   Managing personal catastrophe and chronic stress are not discussed during any business school curriculum that I know of.   Therefore, connect with your HR department for resources. Consider hiring a professional coach to help you prioritize your personal and business needs and set strategies that provide you with the opportunity to continue moving forward while remaining conscious of your current condition and complementary to the complexity of your life.

In closing, realize that no man is an island. This situation that you are facing in your life will create an opportunity where others are allowed to become the hero. You will have the chance to lay your sword down and retire from being the only warrior on the battlefield—realize that your personal war will be fought with the benefit of a skilled and passionate army who definitely “has your six.”

Mary Ellen Wasielewski