What are unexpected life events

Critical life events

Table of Contents

1) What are critical life events
a) Definition of terms
b) Normative vs. non-normative events
c) Research focus
d) Significance of critical life events

2) event parameters of events
a) objective parameters
b) objectified parameters
c) subjective parameters

3) Recording of critical life events (analysis units)
a) Antecedent Features
b) Personal characteristics
c) Situation characteristics
d) Event characteristics
e) process characteristics
f) Consequential features

4) Risk and protective factors

5) Coping options

6) Counteracting and acting on critical life events
a) Prevention
b) intervention

7) Example of a life event with regard to threat or experience of loss, expectation of profit and coping strategies

8) Problems of recording critical life events and their effects

9) Conclusion

1) What is meant by critical life events


Spatio-temporal, selective compression of a course of events, which leads to a disruption of the person-environment fit that is stressful for the person and leads to a reorganization of homeostasis. (after PHILIPP, SIGRUN)

- stressful because challenging (+), overwhelming (-)
- not every life event experienced in the same way by every person

1. Spatial and punctual (can be localized in the course of life) condensation of a course of events ("it comes stick-thick")

- externally and internally

2. represent relative stages of the imbalance (between humans and the environment)

- Balance must be restored = development opportunity
- By changing the environment according to your own needs
- Change your own setting
- Develop new skills

3. always characterized by a high degree of affectivity ("emotional unaffectedness")

4. harmful influences? - but also positive life events

- mostly delayed effects of critical life events (psychosomatic disorders after ½ - 1 year)

5. Influence of protective (protective) life events

6. Always associated with subjective evaluation processes

- objective influencing parameters = effort for restoring the equilibrium

b. Distinction

i. normative life events

- to be expected regularly through biological changes or through social norms in a more or less limited age segment (e.g. job entry, retirement, grandparenthood)
- predictable * preparation possible, plannable (marriage etc.)
- affect many people (no dispute, often questions about causation, avoidability, justice - "Why me?")

ii. non-normative life events

- unexpected (e.g. illness, unemployment)
- Question about causation, avoidability, justice in events that affect the masses (in the case of natural disasters)
- Often unpredictable, random

Non-normative life events that affect an individual rather than a group of people are usually processed worse.

c. Research focus

- Effects of critical life events
- Effect of previous life events on later ones
- Who learns what in which life crisis - individual impact of previous crises
- Predictability of the intensity and strength of an event
- Effects on exercise capacity when similar events are repeated
- Finding conditions for good or bad coping
- Possibility of converting a stressful event into a benefit

d. importance

- Model of lifelong development:

Dealing with life events = motor of intra-individual change / change

- Explanation for multidirectionality: different people affected by different events - different development
- No binding definition of coping goals possible - different reactions to the same event possible
- No universality: different perception and coping with events

Example: Designation as critical or as an opportunity from different people

- Life events meet different preconditions
- No sequentiality: different occurrences of the same events at different times are possible

2) Event parameters of the acquisition

a) Objective event parameters

- time of occurrence
- sequence of life events (density)
- Possibility of repeating the event

b) Objectified event parameters

- Survey, by assessing the effort of the individual for coping, by experts

1. Degree of exposure
2. Degree of controllability (possibility of prediction by subject - preparation possible?)
3. Degree of desirability from an individual's point of view

c) Subjective event parameters

1. Strength of the perceived stress on the person
2. Strength of controllability from the human perspective
3. Degree of desirability from the person's point of view

3) Recording of critical life events

a) Antecedent characteristics:

Characteristics of the life story at different intervals from the critical life event * Vulnerability concept; Dealing with comparable critical life events; anticipatory socialization, e.g. antenatal classes

b) Personal characteristics:

E.g. vulnerability acquired in earlier life history - multiple victims of violent crimes, currently also illness * Influence on subjective perception of critical life events. Depending on the event, demographic characteristics are also important, e.g. birth / social issues more for women; Age, control conviction - even after accidents! * Combinations of characteristics e.g. as a construct of resistance)

c) Situation characteristics:

E.g. social support (partner; parents, ...), social context ("epochal-standardized critical life events" such as wars, but also changes in the law * term of cohort) ®Micro-Macro-System according to Bronfenbrenner

d) Event characteristics:

objective (Date, duration; beginning - birth vs. end of a process - divorce) usually on more dimensions than the "burden", eg universality, standardized: "contextual purity", ie to what extent critical life event is limited to one area of ​​life or all radiates or from critical life events in others

Areas of life is influenced;

objectified (generally assigned meaning - through expert ratings; surveys with Q-Sort or similar - * stress, desirability / valence; control; predictability); subjective = effective meaning: problem - should if possible be recorded in-situ = online, because the condition changes. Negative events are more likely to be forgotten, and all dimensions that also appear in the objectified features are operationalized more individually if necessary. e.g .: desirability = congruence with personal goals; Experience critical life events as a challenge

e) process characteristics

= Forms of dealing with the critical life event depend on a) - d), e.g. coping (Def .: Sum of all problem-solving efforts - cognitive, behavioral, ... - of a person who is in a situation that is significant for them, yet overwhelms their individual adaptability) - however, not all critical life events are "traumatizing" / emotionally flooding like the typical critical life events from coping research * Thomae, Daseinstechniken

f) Consequential features:

In research, mostly only considered retrospectively anyway: Syndrome Y measured, checked for critical life events, but otherwise, for practical reasons, concentration on normative critical life events is necessary. In addition, effects depending on a) -

e) different; Investigation only makes sense with existing concepts there -

also: what should be investigated and what is desired and until how long after the event is measured (retrospective change in meaning!)

4) Risk and protective factors


- Stress experience, experience-based self-confidence in coping with critical situations, self-efficacy, internal control conviction, broad repertoire of problem-solving strategies.
-Social support as a protective factor; however, it can also interfere with the development of beliefs about self-efficacy.
-Negative social reaction to the victims of critical life events is a risk factor.

5) Coping options (Ferring & Filipp, 1989)

- Search for meaning and explanation
- Positive illusions
- Emotional dampening comparisons with others
- Seeking help and support
- Concrete efforts to solve the problems
- Creation of a multiple possible self-image in order to adapt to the situation more quickly

Special strategies: Techniques of existence by THOMAE (1952/1958)

1. Performance techniques

- Commitment to solving the problem on a factual level through demonstrable performance

2. Customization technique

- change in one's own experience or behavior; Objective: compliance with environmental requirements

3. Defensive technique

- Defense / postponement of an urgent problem situation that cannot be dealt with at first

4. evasive technology

- Temporary abandonment of the conflict and tension field

5. aggressive technique

- harm to others

Forms: oppression / subjugation of others; direct aggression

Which option is chosen also depends on the respective event and the associated expediency.

Brandstädter and Renner (1992) * Older people in particular, who made flexible accommodation of goals to the circumstances, showed fewer depressive symptoms after critical life events than people who tenaciously stuck to goals that had been chosen once. Important adaptation strategy: shaping the self-image

6) Counteracting and acting on critical life events

a) Crisis prevention: Prevention less with regard to the prevention of critical life events (which is often not possible), but rather empowering the person to deal with them constructively. * Growth opportunities: creating social resources or empowering the person to benefit from them. e.g. preparing old people for placement in nursing homes.
b) Crisis intervention: needs norms e.g. about when grief becomes pathological etc .; "Differential indication of coping behavior" + training.

Many perspectives, all linked

- Difficulty in making properly operationalized statements,

which can then be checked.

- Case centering (also because of the idiographic-subjective meaning of the critical

Life events), but then difficulties with nomothetics / generalizability

7) Example of a life event with regard to threat or experience of loss, expectation of profit and coping strategies


- A drastic life event with far-reaching consequences

- Transition from dyad to individual existence

- Is experienced differently (crisis or liberation)

Threat / loss of life

- personal stress
- Worries about your financial situation
- reinforcement of one's own fear of death; Confrontation with the problem of death
- Loss of social contact
- Increasing dependence on the environment
- helplessness in case of illness etc.
- Increasing concern for offspring

Profit expectation

- If necessary, exemption
- Own design of life (LOPATA, 1973)
- Revival of dead contacts

Coping Strategies

- Dealing with requirements for overcoming difficulties and generating the feeling of being up to the task - positive self-esteem
- coping = process of constructive adaptation (OLBRICHT; 1984)
- coping - behavior necessary for new requirements that cannot be mastered with practiced and familiar behavior

- Either new behaviors in the form of constructive ideas, further development of existing skills, discovery of new possibilities of

own person, proxy control

Three ways of developing new behaviors for adaptation processes ß

- Consolidation of proven behaviors that are stabilized in the face of new requirements
- Further development, triggered by not satisfying usual behavior in a new situation
- Dissolution and restructuring of corresponding behavioral programs


a) primary, cognitive assessment of the situation
b) Assessment of one's own possibilities including assistance from the environment to cope with the task
c) 3. Assessment based on failures and new information
d) favorable ending: coping with the situation

- Phases can merge or influence one another

Risk variables that can negatively affect widowhood

- Lack of social support system
- Physical or psychological need for help
- Joint long-term plans
- Positive quality of relationships
- Young age
- Kind of death

Results and findings

- Different results in examinations, depending on the different quality of relationships and interaction between personal, situation and environmental characteristics
- The normal behavioral reaction is grief (FREUD, 1915)
- Usually complete disorganization, initially physical and psychological chaos
- Older people show less grief after widowhood than younger people (WORTMANN & SILVER, 1990)
- When widowed, the ruminative coping style disrupts coping (PARKER & LARSON, 1994)
- Widowing has the greatest impact on people whose worldview is shaken by it (WORTMANN & SILVER, 1992)

8) Problems of recording critical life events and their effects

- Longitudinal studies are seldom feasible, especially when examining critical life events in older people
- Often unforeseen loss of test persons
- For some events (e.g. widowhood) mostly only post-hoc investigations
- The environment as a decisive factor in coping can hardly be standardized
- Measurable effects of critical life events can appear at different times after their occurrence
- High inter- and intra-individual variability of success through coping

9) Conclusion

Critical life events are to be seen as a normal part of the human development process. They can have both a positive and a negative character and are characterized by the fact that the affected subject is unable to cope with the event with his repertoire of usual behaviors. Sometimes critical life events are brought about consciously (marriage, etc.), sometimes they occur unexpectedly (sudden death, etc.). There are a variety of coping strategies, but priority should always be given to approaches that give subjects the opportunity to develop competencies, protective qualities and beliefs that will help them better cope with future crises and problems. Coping with a crisis should sustainably strengthen self-confidence, and having several coping strategies should work in the sense of immunization. Older people need more support from their environment to cope with critical life events than is the case with younger people. Also, especially in old age, too much concentration on a negative event can lead to chronic stress and everyday stress (daily hassles). Successful selection and compensation efforts are an expression of successful aging with regard to critical life events.