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A crisis is generally a climax or turning point in the dangerous development of conflict in a natural or social system, which has been preceded by a massive and problematic dysfunction over a certain period of time and which is shorter than longer lasting.

The decision-making situation associated with the turning point usually offers both the opportunity to resolve the conflicts and the possibility of exacerbating them. The fact that this is a turning point can often only be stated after the crisis has been averted or ended. If the development takes a permanently negative course, one speaks of a catastrophe (literally something like "decline").

The crisis is addressed in very different ways in the scientific disciplines: first in medicine and psychology , then in political science , in military science , in economics and sociology ( sociology as crisis science ) as well as in ecology ( e.g. as a climate crisis ) and systems theory .

Word origin and delimitation

Crisis is a Greek noun ( ancient and learned Greek κρίσις krísis - originally ' opinion ', ' judgment ', ' decision ' - later used in the sense of 'exaggeration'), which leads to the ancient Greek verb krínein , which means' to separate “And“ distinguish ”means. The noun “ criticism ” goes back to the same verb .

In German, the word was borrowed from the Latin crisis and has been traceable since the 16th century, only in medical contexts, especially febrile illnesses, where it denoted the most sensitive phase of the illness, which, if the infection progressed successfully (without the possibility of antibiotics ), defervescence followed within a day and heralded the final defense against illness (with Hippocrates during the so-called decision days), later also in more general contexts (see above).

The associated verb kriseln , on the other hand, is rather informal and not (still) used in high and written language .

The Crisis Navigator Institute for Crisis Research, a spin-off from the University of Kiel , describes all internal or external events that threaten living beings, the environment, assets or the reputation of a company or institution as a crisis . A distinction is made between three types of crises: accounting crises (“bankruptcies”), communicative crises (“scandals”) and operational crises (“disruptions”). According to the institute's surveys, around 25,000 to 40,000 balance sheet crises and around 250 to 280 (publicized) operational and communicative crises occur every year in German-speaking Europe.

The crisis manager Steven Fink does not see corporate crises as something necessarily negative. From an economic point of view, he defines the precursor of the crisis as any “prodromal situation” (literally “preceding situation”, i.e. a phase that contains warning signals for the occurrence of a crisis) which harbors the risk of

  • to become so acute that it is difficult to control,
  • to arouse suspicion in the mass media or the government,
  • to interfere with regular business activities.

According to Anthony J. Wiener and Herman Kahn, characteristics of a crisis are an urgent need for action decisions , a feeling of threat perceived by the decision-makers , an increase in uncertainty , urgency and time pressure and the feeling that the result will have a formative influence on the future. In addition, the decision-makers often have to deal with incomplete or falsified information. On an emotional level, it corresponds to despair or anger / anger . The subjective side of the crisis is its perception by the person concerned, the objective side is the (historical retrospective and) individual factors evaluating, distant view.

In the concept of the “critical situation”, not every critical situation should be equated with a crisis. However, crises generally consist of a collection of critical situations. Critical here means that these are decisive phases for the further course of the overall process. Critical situations can be planned, predictable or come completely unexpected.

Mental crisis

Characteristics of mental crises

For psychotherapy , clinical psychology and psychiatry, as in general in the entire psychosocial field, a psychological crisis (more imprecise also "psychological crisis") or a crisis situation is a painful emotional state or conflict within a person caused by a surprising event or acute occurrence (internal psychological crisis) or between several people involved. It arises when a person or a group is faced with obstacles on the way to achieving important life goals or in coping with everyday life and cannot overcome them with the usual problem-solving methods.

A crisis in this sense manifests itself as a sudden or progressive narrowing of perception, value systems and the ability to act and solve problems. A crisis calls previous experiences, norms , goals and values into question and is often threatening for the person. It is limited in time.

A long-term crisis without appropriate coping strategies on the part of the individual is often associated with psychosomatic complaints and / or mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder , personality disorders and depression and can in certain circumstances lead to avoidance , procrastination , suicidality , sleep disorders , eating disorders , stress , addictive behavior or other negative side effects.

Models of mental crises

The psychoanalyst Verena Kast presented a crisis model that focuses on the creative potential of the crisis process. She assumes that there is a typical course of the most varied types of crisis ( growth crises, maturation crises, grief crises, etc.). This can be presented in several phases and enables the therapist to make a quick diagnostic assessment to initiate a crisis intervention . Kast differentiates - in this episode - following the crisis situation, a preparatory phase in which the person concerned collects all material and opinions that could be helpful for him; an incubation phase in which the problem and the material collected would be unconsciously processed; an insight phase in which the previous development is first understood in retrospect; and a verification phase in which the insight gained so far can be further shaped and tested. As with all phase models, the person treating / accompanying the index person must be aware that phase models only ever allow an idealized approach to the observed situation. The person affected will not go through the phases in his crisis process in a linear sequence, but will also experience regression.

The American social psychiatrist G. Caplan has also set up a model for the life crisis. He divides this into four phases: In the first phase, the person concerned fights against his or her discomfort and discomfort, but each time delves deeper into the personal conflict. In the second phase he notices what state he is in and that general problem solving does not lead to the hoped-for goal. These two phases are very similar for most people in mental crisis. The way out, however, is more differentiated, the third phase. There the person concerned can take two paths. In one variant, the person concerned withdraws completely and distances himself from people as well as from his expectations and goals so that he can no longer feel disappointment. The other variant means that the person affected strives for exactly the opposite and mobilizes all remaining forces in order to find a positive way out of the crisis. He can develop unknown skills and thus cope with the crisis. The fourth and last phase occurs if the previous step does not bring about any improvement in the situation. Here the person affected is completely in a crisis, despite sporadic lack of signs. Internally, the personality is on the brink of collapse. This ultimately leads to disorientation and helplessness.

In crisis situations it is advisable to seek support. This can be talking to confidants and friends, or getting professional help. This is indispensable if the person concerned no longer sees a way out of his situation and he is unable to develop a new strategy for solving the problem.

The sociologist Ulrich Oevermann has presented a crisis-theoretical foundation of sociology in which the opposing pair of crisis and routine is central. The approach sees itself as a practical theory in the tradition of structuralism as well as pragmatism . A distinction is made between three basic types of crises: 1.) "Brute fact" crises that strike a subject directly, such as B. in a car accident. 2.) Decision-making crises that are much less immediate and are tied to a certain time window in which the existing crisis-like uncertainty as to which action would be the right one has to be ended with a decision for a limited time, whereby a non- Decision actually amounts to a decision. 3.) “Crises through leisure”, which arise without any external control or external constraints, simply because one deals with an object for its own sake without any purpose and when engaging in the object details are discovered that contradict previous modes of perception , so that the latter get into crisis. Oevermann generally understands a crisis to be the questioning of routines of perception, the breaking of fixed predications of an object, the emergence of questions, the emergence of uncertainty. While in a routine the object X is firmly connected to a predicate P and is thus determined in a specific way, in a crisis the object returns to its unpredictable "X" character, to its indeterminate peculiarity, which it only applies to the Bringing a term applies. From the point of view of this crisis theory, there are not only crises perceived as negative, but also positive ones, such as an overwhelming orgasm, to name just one example.

Gerald Caplan described the change crisis (or transition crisis) in 1987 as a crisis that occurs when the person becomes aware of a change and thereby shows behaviors such as withdrawal, resignation or fear of the future and feelings of failure. It is usually temporary until the person gets used to the change. In 1978 , Johan Cullberg described a crisis as a traumatic crisis (also known as “Schicksalskirse”) , which can also be traced back to a traumatic event and usually a sudden "stroke of fate", which causes people to feel shock and / or to grief, anger, despair, suicidality or addictive behavior leads.

In psychoanalysis, the crisis is seen as an important part of psychosocial development. The psychoanalyst Erik H. Erikson describes in his step model of psychosocial development 8 life phases in which the individual has to face certain crises that have an impact on the future of the individual. Even Sigmund Freud sees the crisis as an important part of development in his model of psychosexual development at. In his structural model of the psyche he also illuminates the inner psychic conflict or crisis between the ego, the id and the superego.

Personal crises can also be subdivided into the existential crisis when basic needs are at risk, the identity crisis when one's own personality is questioned, and the creative crisis when there is a strong creative block. In a philosophical sense, personal crises can also be divided into the sensory crisis , the existential crisis (when questioning one's own existence) and the knowledge crisis . This can e.g. B. be strengthened due to the insults of humanity . An internal moral or ethical crisis in which both possibilities lead to an undesirable or reprehensible result is also referred to as a dilemma or dilemma .

A midlife crisis describes the psychological state of insecurity in the period of about 30 or 40 to 50 years.

Coping with mental crises

For more intense psychological problems, many doctors and psychologists recommend what is known as crisis intervention . Especially with minor psychological effects, crisis management can only be supported by family and friends and otherwise one can rely on self-healing powers. This is also the most common type of crisis management. As described in the second variant of the third phase from Caplan's crisis model, new abilities can be discovered or “revived” in crises. A popular example is artistic work through which those affected can express themselves. Among other things, this is done through music, such as in Herbert Grönemeyer's single Mensch zur Processing the death of his wife or Eric Clapton's song Circus Left Town , which deals with the grief over the death of his son Conor. The effect of processing through musical engagement is also used through music therapy . After successfully coping with the crisis, a meaning can possibly be found in the triggering event . Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur as a follow-up reaction to a crisis that has not been adequately managed .

The ability to cope with and endure crises is also known as resilience .

Crisis service

A crisis service that is available day and night is e.g. B. the telephone counseling with nationwide uniform free phone number

Germany 0800 111 0 111
0800 111 0 222
0800 111 0 333 “Number against grief” for children and young people
Austria 142
147 “Advice on line” for children and young people
Switzerland 143
147 Telephone advice for young people

There you can also find addresses of local advice centers. In many cities there are special crisis services for psychosocial problems that the person seeking help can also go to at home. Corresponding direct assistance is also available for violence and threats of violence ( domestic violence ) and for rape. There are special crisis services for the mentally ill, for alcoholics, for women, men, children, young people and for many other groups.

International (political) crises

Escalation levels in international relations

The term escalation was only defined in its international context in the 1960s, as the US political scientist Herman Kahn noted. In the literature, escalation refers to the transition to a higher level of intensity in international conflict situations.

Opposing interests and needs create tension that can develop into external conflicts at a certain level . This is how international conflicts must be described, the sharp form of which is referred to as an international crisis as soon as there is a latent or acute threat of armed conflict.

In practice, the “measurement” of the respective degree of escalation will depend on the criteria used. According to Kahn, in the sense of an escalation spiral, these can be: the degree of the identified threat or the threat that is intended; the extent of the (expected) use of force; the damage that has already occurred; the determined and / or ruthlessly demonstrated own will; the precedents exceeded, the degree of provocation; the likelihood of a violent outbreak; the obvious distance to the outbreak of an armed conflict (war).

Features of the international crises

According to Anthony J. Wiener and Herman Kahn, characteristics of a crisis are the uncertainty and the intensity of the confrontation, "at which the various participants believe that it is a significant turning point in the historical process. [...] The result will reach a certain level Considered uncertain; if it were certain, there was no need to take emergency measures. After all, there are usually serious decisions to be made at critical times. "

A certain uncontrollable element belongs to their character, which cannot be calculated because many factors and the multipolarity of the political interests of those involved (affected) are difficult to assess. With this unpredictability, Carl von Clausewitz already dealt with the use of external elements of violence in the 19th century. “Here, then, the activity of the understanding leaves the realm of strict science, logic and mathematics and, in the broader sense of the word, becomes art; H. to the ability to find out the most important and decisive ones from an immense number of objects and circumstances through the tact of judgment. "

In addition, the decision-makers often have to deal with incomplete or falsified information.

  • The international crisis represents a sharp, confrontational form of dealing with political contradictions and contradictions between states (groups of states), in which non-violent and increasingly violent means and methods are used without resorting to extreme means, namely armed struggle.
  • The emergence of a crisis indicates that the international conflict has developed to a culmination point or to a dangerous border from which a violent armed conflict between the states (groups of states) threatens.
  • The international crisis describes on the one hand a certain state of tension (status) and on the other hand is characterized by the political processes (course forms) in the present and future.
  • World political crises are only those that have an impact beyond the circle of those directly involved and carry the risk of global escalation.

Winston Churchill used the term crisis (en. Crisis) for the period immediately before the outbreak of World War I (the week of July 24-30, 1914): the strategic deployment of the army and navy is complete and in the tense days before the outbreak of hostilities, the decision about peace and war is on the knife's edge. In this situation a turning point had been reached at which one side or the other had to decide whether to surrender or armed enforcement of asserted interests.

History and Political Science

In historical research and political science , one speaks of crises mostly in the sense of an intensification of conflicts that can lead to rebellions , revolutions or even wars . A prominent example from contemporary history is provided by the Wikipedia article War in Ukraine since 2014 , which began as the “Crisis in Ukraine 2014”. The refugee crisis in Europe from 2015 onwards is not over either. More permanent examples can be found in the book "Quantitative Sociology" by Wolfgang Weidlich . Furthermore, against the background of the global economic crisis from 2007 and other related crisis processes, there is also talk of a multiple crisis .

Legal definition of the crisis in the European Union

The term crisis is legally defined . The award Regulation defense and security (VSVgV) of the European Union is defined in Section § 4 a crisis as any situation in which a harmful event has occurred which clearly exceeds the dimensions of harmful events in everyday life.

A crisis also exists when there are concrete circumstances that mean that such a damaging event is imminent.

Armed conflicts and wars are crises in the sense of this EU regulation.

Other subject areas

Economy and finance

The economic theory deals with the crisis of the economy apart. According to Gottfried Haberler , the economic phases consist of expansion ( prosperity ) and contraction ( depression ), the latter being initiated by a turning point (crisis). (The inflection point property with the disappearance of both the first and the second derivative of the function under consideration, d 1 f / dx 1 = d 2 f / dx 2 = 0, is also important in the sense of a general decision theory because the decision-makers decide at this point whether it should go “up” or “down.” The decision often depends on little things that are difficult to control.)

The Marxist theory of crisis in turn assumes that a capitalist economy is periodically hit by crises, and attempts to explain this crisis cycle. Depending on the scope and extent of a crisis, a distinction is made between global crises ( world economic crisis or the global financial crisis from 2007 ), economic crises limited to one state such as the Greek national debt crisis , the structural crisis limited to a market or branch of industry , the corporate crisis or the banking crisis . Financial crises, in turn, can be limited to one country or have global effects.

The recession itself is not yet a crisis in the strict sense of the word. In a major economic crisis, sales volumes fall, production falls, prices rise , investments are no longer profitable , bankruptcies , mass layoffs and unemployment occur . Modern business cycle theory sees the causes of endogenous crises in the interaction of various factors, whereby monetary influences can be of particular importance. By economic research , policy of central banks sharp cyclical swings are toned down, intervention of the state and international cooperation and large endogenous crises are avoided in the future.

mathematics and physics

In mathematics and physics , the term critical points or, more generally, critical phenomena or critical exponents has a fixed meaning that describes more general structures based on the concept of the turning point of a function, such as B. the so-called renormalization groups , which u. A. be used in the theory of phase transitions and critical phenomena or in quantum field theory . The occurrence of large fluctuations at the critical limits is characteristic of these phenomena. If this is exceeded, phase transitions occur that have predictable consequences. These consequences are not limited to the quantitative, but mainly concern the relevant qualitative properties.


Climate crisis describes the ecological, political and social crisis in connection with man-made global warming . Similar to climate catastrophe , it is increasingly being used in public discourse instead of more harmless-sounding terms such as climate change in order to clarify the significance of global warming.


There is also an energy crisis in which the available energy reserves become scarce and negative economic and social consequences arise from this. When there is a severe water shortage in a region, there is also talk of a water crisis .


A life crisis is a psychological problem in the biography due to serious stressors. This generally requires psychotherapy and, if necessary, medication.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Crisis  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See Manfred G. Schmidt: Dictionary of Politics. 3rd, revised and updated edition, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-520-40403-9 , p. 443 f.
  2. See Klaus Schubert, Martina Klein: Das Politiklexikon. Concepts, facts, connections. Federal Agency for Civic Education (Ed.), 5th, updated and expanded edition, Bonn 2011, ISBN 978-3-8389-0174-9 , p. 173.
  3. ^ A b Margaret Gredler: Designing and Evaluating Games and Simulations. A process approach. 1992.
  4. ^ Annette Mülberger, Thomas Sturm (ed.): Psychology, a Science in Crisis? A Century of Reflections and Debates (= Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. 43). 2012, pp. 425-521.
  5. ^ Hans Uske, Dankwart Danckwerts: Sociology as crisis science: Festschrift for the 65th birthday of Dankwart Danckwerts. LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 1998, ISBN 3-8258-3676-2 .
  6. ^ Hermann, 1969 after Margaret Gredler: Designing and Evaluating Games and Simulations. A process approach. 1992.
  7. a b Kluge: Etymological dictionary of the German language. 23rd, extended edition, Berlin / New York 1999, p. 487 f.
  8. Georg Sticker : Hippokrates: The common diseases first and third book (around the year 434-430 BC). Translated from the Greek, introduced and explained by Georg Sticker. Johann Ambrosius Barth, Leipzig 1923 (= Classics of Medicine. Volume 29); Unchanged reprint: Central antiquariat of the German Democratic Republic, Leipzig 1968, p. 116 f. (κρίσιμοι ἡμέραι).
  9. ^ Pschyrembel Clinical Dictionary. Version 2002 (electronic version of the 258th edition)
  10. Frank Roselieb, Marion Dreher (Ed.): Crisis Management in Practice: Learning from Experienced Crisis Managers. Erich Schmidt Verlag, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-503-10090-3 , p. 5 to 6 .
  11. Ferdinand Knauß: The scandal is everywhere. In: Wirtschaftswoche. Handelsblatt publishing group, August 2, 2012, accessed on July 31, 2016 .
  12. Steven Fink: Crisis Management. Planning for the Inevitable. 1986, p. 15.
  13. 1962 after Margaret Gredler: Designing and Evaluating Games and Simulations. A process approach. 1992.
  14. ^ Margaret Gredler: Designing and Evaluating Games and Simulations. A process approach. 1992.
  15. a b Wolf Ortiz-Müller, Ulrike Scheuermann, Silke Birgitta Gahleitner: Praxis Krisenintervention: Handbook for helping professions: psychologists, doctors, social pedagogues, nursing and rescue workers . Kohlhammer Verlag, 2010, ISBN 978-3-17-022760-6 , pp. 282 ( [accessed September 30, 2019]).
  16. Verena Kast: The creative leap. dtv, Munich 1987, 7th edition 1997, pp. 24-28.
  17. Heimo and Susanne Gastager (eds.): Help in crises: ways and chances of a personal crisis intervention. Herder / Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Vienna / Göttingen 1982.
  18. Jakob Landolt: About Fate: A Matter of Faith? BoD - Books on Demand, 2017, ISBN 978-3-7431-9401-4 , pp. 146 ff . ( [accessed September 30, 2019]).
  19. Lea Riedl: Retirement as a Crisis: Causes of the Mental Imbalance and Possibilities of Psychosocial Care . Diplomica Verlag, 2012, ISBN 978-3-8428-8856-2 , p. 41 ff . ( [accessed September 30, 2019]).
  20. Hella Schick: Developmental Psychology of Childhood and Adolescence: A Textbook for Teacher Training and School Practice . Kohlhammer Verlag, 2011, ISBN 978-3-17-028146-2 ( [accessed September 30, 2019]).
  21. Werner Kraus: The healing power of music. Munich 1998.
  22. ^ Herman Kahn: Escalation. Politics with the spiral of extermination. Berlin 1966, p. 53 ff. Amerik. Orig .: On Escalation. New York 1965.
  23. ^ Anthony J. Wiener, Herman Kahn: Crisis and Arms Control. Hudson Institute HI-188 RR, 1962-10-9. Trans. A. d. Engl .: Wilhelm G. Grewe. In: Information for the Troop (IfdT), Bonn 1972, June, p. 18.
  24. See Carl v. Clausewitz: About the war. Left work by General Carl von Clausewitz. Verlag des MfNV, Berlin 1957, p. 702 f.
  25. See Rainer Böhme: Conflicts, Crises, Armed Forces. Study of international conflicts and crises, their prevention and settlement as well as effects on the armed forces mission. HAAG + HERCHEN, Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-89228-669-8 , 180 pp.
  26. Winston Churchill: Weltkrisis / 1911-14. Volume 1, Chapter 9, German translation H. v. Schulz, Berlin / Leipzig 1924. Orig. (En.): The world crisis.
  27. ^ A b Z. BW Gebhardt and U. Krey: phase transitions and critical phenomena , Wiesbaden 1980, ISBN 3-528-08422-7
  28. N. Bogoljubov, D. Shirkov: Introduction to the theory of quantized fields , New York 1980, ISBN 0-471-04223-4