Daddy’s lying on the couch.  Again.  Like every other day this week.  He didn’t used to do this.  He used to go to work.  He had a job fixing cars.  He took me to work with him when I didn’t have school and I’d get to help.  I got to make the cars go up on the lift.  Now he doesn’t go anymore.  I don’t know how to help.  I don’t like this.  He doesn’t seem like my dad anymore.  I miss my dad.

Our financial crisis, this Great Recession, is devastating to families.  Watching an out-of-work father or mother feel useless and worthless and lose all interest in life tears at kids’ hearts.  It’s really hard, devastatingly hard for them to watch something like this happen to the parent they truly love and care about.

This is a very demoralizing and undermining time for families, particularly for loving families of good people who are hard-working, caring, decent folks.  Seeing an unemployed spouse or parent deteriorate and lose the desire to engage in life is a heartbreaking thing to watch.  In a loving partnership, the other spouse is willing to help.  If they have a job, they’ll do whatever it takes to help provide for the family.  It’s not easy, but they find a way to survive and come through the hard times.

For families with unresolved problems or trauma, however, prolonged unemployment can precipitate a crisis.  The parents start fighting, the kids start acting out or hiding out – health issues, addiction, physical or verbal abuse, separation or divorce can all enter the picture.  Troubled families are taking tremendous hits these days.  The very fabric of our society is under assault.

What can we do?  At the institute, we’re encouraging our unemployed patients to mobilize their energies.  In last week’s post, I stressed the need to preserve your energy for positive, constructive action.  You must not waste your precious energy in self-defeating thoughts and actions.  You can’t give in to self-loathing, anger, frustration, misery, negativity, depression, discouragement, hopelessness, or despair.

At our core, humans are energetic beings.  The force of life within us enables us to assertively and aggressively meet the challenges of our world.  It mobilizes us, gives us momentum, and helps us engage productively and successfully at work and in our families and community.

When a discouraged, out-of-work person comes to me for help, I try to help them see that their life is not over.  Most of the time, they’ve lost their perspective.  I remind them that, as painful and difficult as life is now – and I don’t minimize or dismiss their suffering at all – this is a temporary situation for them.  Things will get better, we just don’t know when.  What they need to do now is harness their energy to reinvent themselves.

They may need to find new careers, new ways of working and providing for their families.  They may be entering a new stage of their lives and it’s time to develop, grow, and change.  They may not have a job, but they still have work to do – to find and then creatively tackle the opportunities in their path.

People who turn their energies inward in self-defeating ways will always feel tired, that it isn’t worth it to make any effort, that they’ll never get it together again, that they just can’t do it.  They feel trapped and victimized.  They can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  They don’t even want to open their eyes in the darkness.

But, for many of these distressed people, families are watching.  Their spouses are watching and getting more and more frustrated.  Their children are watching and getting more and more scared.  If this is you, this is your wake-up call.  Find your energy.  You have it.  Start using it to turn yourself around.  Begin to reemerge and reengage.  Discover some hope and start to find your resilience.

Don’t give in to hopelessness.  Leave a better legacy for your kids, for yourself, and for these hard times.  Let the world see that Americans are still independent, hardy, determined pioneers.  Strike out for new territory.  I know it’s not easy; believe me, I know.  But never, ever give up.  Your family needs you.