Crisis Management – The Pacifier Model

If you have kids, you know what a pacifier is. If you don’t have kids, chances that you do know what a pacifier is are still pretty high, because you may already have used one as a child. But if you don’t know what a pacifier is, I’m gonna tell you anyway: it’s a rubber, plastic or silicone nipple given to an infant to suck upon.


When Bianca, my daughter, was an infant, she had a pacifier too. She seemed to be soothed by the use of it. As a matter of fact, she had more than one pacifier. Before putting her to sleep I was making sure that she had at least 3-4 pacifiers available, all spread around her baby bed. It wasn’t uncommon for her to wake up over night, without her pacifier, and just feel around with her hand until she found a new one.

We’ve all lived a pretty happy life with that. For a while. After all, we, as parents, always knew that we had to let it go at some point. It wouldn’t have been good for her. Most likely, if she continued to use it, her teeth would have been affected. And with them, of course, her smile.

So, one day, we decided it’s time to let it go. We didn’t threw it right away. Instead, we chopped the head of it and let her have it. But, without the rubber head, the soothing effect was gone. Even worse, it created an obvious sensation of discomfort. She cried. For weeks. She was unhappy, because now she had to find ways to soothe herself without the pacifier. Which, alas, became not only obsolete, but downright dangerous for her.

After a while – and a good bit of real suffering for her – she eventually learned to live without it. And then her teeth grew. And now she has an amazing smile. If we wouldn’t got rid of the pacifier at the right moment, she wouldn’t have had this amazing smile.

Crisis As Teacher

I often refer to this metaphor whenever I go through some major crisis.

Every time I experience a major discomfort in some part of my life, I know the pacifier that I used to have there has been removed. Or, even worse, it has been chopped, and now, instead of feeling soothed by what it used to bring me comfort, I feel annoyed, tired or even hurt. And I know it’s time to learn to live without it.

It doesn’t happen right away and it’s not simple or easy. It takes some time and it hurts like hell. But, since I managed to go through a moderately high number of crisis, I learned that the sooner I start the process, the better. The more I delay, the longer the suffering process.

And there’s also a very important thing that I learned: the pacifier is always inside of me. It’s not an external circumstance, a thing or a person. It’s an internal way of reacting to reality that needs to be changed. It comes most of the time in the form of a fear that must be solved, or an attachment of some sort.

Over time, this realization saved me from many mistakes. Because, almost always, the crisis in our lives are generated by relationships. But the pacifier, as hard as it is to accept, is inside of us, not in the relationship. So, instead of focusing on the other person, or on the relationship, it’s better to look inside, see what needs to be solved inside of you, solve it and then re-evaluate the relationship that ignited the change in the first place. If it’s ok, something magic will happen: it will pick up even stronger than before.

But if you do mistake the relationship with the problem, you risk a very annoying outcome: you think you solve the problem by getting out of the relationship. Which, of course, is not true. The pacifier is still inside of you. You felt annoyed by the relationship, as if you got a chopped pacifier and then, like Bianca in the middle of the night, you start to feel around, searching for another relationship, and, most of the time you find it. But the problem wasn’t solved. Because the problem means getting rid of the pacifier altogether and learn to live without that fear or without that attachment. The new relationship will quickly follow the same pattern.

Your Amazing Smile

As I said, the suffering process is real and painful. I remember that once I had to get rid of the fear of being abandoned. It was tough, because that fear was rooted deep down into my early childhood. Many times, at the first sign of fragility from my partner, I felt like I was going to be dumped, so I went ahead, getting out from the relationship first. Of course, the fear was still there. Pretty soon I was entering another relationship, which proved again to be “chopped” and made me feel threatened.

It wasn’t until relatively late in my life that I learned to cope with it. At some point, when I started to feel the same symptoms, I knew I had to change something. So, instead of running away, I just put the relationship on hold, focused on what I had to solve inside me, solved it through a rather tedious process and then got out of it, lighter, cleaner and happier. After that, I came back again to the relationship, which proved to be really solid, and, surprise, it worked.

To be honest, it was more than “it worked”. After I got rid of my fear, something very interesting happened. I gave room to my own evolution. I let my “new teeth” grew up healthy and, without even knowing, just like Bianca, one day I realized I have a great smile.

Which, in other words, means I enjoyed the new level of my relationship thousands times more than before.

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