Crisis color tells us something about the individual as a whole person in the present situation. Communication feeling has to do with the specific messages conveyed back and forth between you and the individual in crisis. As we looked at the content within the communication loop, we saw that each message has a factual or objective meaning. Each message also comes with its own specific feeling. For example, an individual may be very angry—his crisis may be red. However, this does not necessarily mean that he is angry about everything and everyone. In fact, there may be some people, events, or situations involved in his crisis that make him feel good, smile, or feel pleased. A small child who is very upset or angry with one parent may have good and loving feelings toward the other. A teenager who is very upset and apprehensive as a result of her boyfriend’s going out with another girl may be furious with the girl but still have loving, caring feelings toward the boyfriend. Even though the individual’s mood may be predominantly anxious, afraid, angry, or depressed, it is not necessarily or usually true that he is upset about everything and everyone. Similarly, some things may be making him feel fearful while others make him feel guilty; some things may make him feel angry while others make him feel apprehensive.
Jerry, age seventeen, is in a red crisis. He has a very defiant look and sits rigidly in the chair beside your desk. You ask, “How are you today, Jerry?” “Fine. I didn’t want to come here. My father said he would take me to juvenile court if I didn’t come. I’m here because it’s better than going to court. [You ask: Did you get into some kind of trouble?] Yeah, I just got suspended from school. One of the big-shot teachers reported us. This is my first offense. The other two, it’s their second time. He found out we were passing a joint. [You ask: Passing a joint gets you suspended from school?] Yeah. I’ve been smoking for four years and had to get caught. [You ask: How did getting suspended go over at home?] Well, my dad—I was surprised—he just laughed, nodded his head, and said ‘That’s my kid.’ [You ask: How did your mom take it?] She had a fit. She may still be yelling for all I know. My uncle —he was really upset. Now, he’s real neat. I can tell him anything. I don’t really need you people. Any talking I do, I do with him. [You say: It’s nice you can talk with him. We know how your mom and dad and uncle feel about it. How do you feel about getting suspended?] Well, it’s nice in a way. I don’t have to sit in all those stupid classes, but it just gets me further behind. I want to graduate so I can go to college, but those classes are such a bore. [From Jerry’s red crisis and from his somewhat hostile attitude, you might have assumed that he would be quite negative toward school and education. He does not like school, but he is not particularly happy about being suspended. You say: Classes can be a bore sometimes.] They—those teachers—get me mad. I start cursing in class. This one overheard me and made me stay after class. He asked me if I like him, and I told him, ‘Hell, no!’ and ran out of the room. He hasn’t liked me much since then. [You are developing a suspicion that Jerry’s temper may be a problem to him, and you ask: Do you get angry often?] Yeah, I start cursing a blue streak, and when I do, it feels so good that —oh, I haven’t been doing nearly as much….My mom had to go to California for a while, and my dad and I had a really good time. We laughed and joked. My mom’s back. Everything is back to the way it was. [Jerry’s comment that everything is back the same way tells us that things are like they were before his mom left, but it does not tell us much about how it really is. You can tell that he does not feel particularly good about the situation, but you need to find out more about it. You ask: What do you mean?] Well, I just get mad. My dad screams at me for the stupidest things. I turn up the stereo to drown him out, and he just yells more. [You make a mental note of the fact that Jerry fights at home with his dad, but he does not mention any fights with his mom. From his earlier comments, you had suspected that it would be the other way around.] Sometimes, I get so mad I go out and throw rocks at the dogs. They really bellow, and I feel better. [Jerry still has not told you much about what the arguments with his dad are about. You ask: What caused the hassle with your dad?] Oh, getting up in the morning. There’s always a big fight about that. You can hardly get up at six o’clock when you don’t go to bed until one-thirty or two. [You ask: What do you do to such wee hours in the morning?] I sneak out. I’m supposed to get married to a girl down the road from me. She just got divorced. Another girl I met a couple of days ago—I really want to go out with her. God! I don’t want to get married. I’d lose my freedom. A friend of mine got married, and his wife aborted their child. I can’t see killing anything. [Trying to better understand the precipitating event, you ask: Was there anything other than the suspension that got your dad to have you come talk with me?] See my wrists? My doctor—he sewed me up for the fourth time. [You ask: Were you trying to kill yourself?] Yeah. I guess so. [Jerry’s feelings about his friend’s wife’s abortion and his trying to kill himself seem a little inconsistent. You ask: How do you feel about trying to kill yourself?] It feels good. I like to watch the blood run down my fingers. My uncle caught me last time and told me to quit it. I told him, ‘Hell, no.’ He took me into the house and to the doctor. [You say: You seem to value other people’s lives but not your own.] Don’t’ ask me why I do the things I do. I don’t know. [You ask: It’s confusing isn’t it, not knowing why you do the things you do?] Yes. My uncle helps a lot. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t talk to him. I used to have a dog I talked to, but he died. Animals are nice. They listen to me and love me. My dog gave me a kiss one time. [You begin to see that Jerry’s anger and casual attitude about things disguises deep feelings of loneliness and of not being loved. These feelings are so extreme that he seems to feel more comfortable with and loved by animals than he does with or by people. You recall some feelings of your own having to do with not feeling loved, getting attention from and feeling close to animals and so on. You say: My hamster—I like talking to him sometimes.] You have a hamster? I used to have one. It died on me. I’ve had all kinds of pets: dogs, cats, snakes, guinea pigs, but they all died on me.”
As we can see, Jerry’s red crisis gradually mellowed as it was filtered through your blue screen. He gradually calmed down, was less hostile, and began to relate to you. Throughout the softening of his red crisis, however, he presented many different kinds of messages about a variety of people and situations. As you sensitively noted, each of the messages had both a content and a feeling. Just as the content changed from message to message, the feeling also changed. You carefully and caringly responded to Jerry, sometimes to the content of his message and sometimes to the feeling.