In the past few weeks there’s been a topic that’s been gnawing at me, ready to be explored, discussed, and, “attended to” in my own personal life. This topic is living in survival mode. For the past several weeks I’ve had discussions on the topic, I’ve read articles, and have even looked to psychological concepts to help me understand how one comes to live in survival mode, particularly in the land of “milk and honey” where, compared to other parts of the world, there is plenty.
Living in survival mode has a lot to do with a person’s mental state, their mental beliefs in particular. The act of actually living in survival mode is but one manifestation of a psyche that is inundated with false beliefs about an individual’s capabilities; surely, there are others. I’m going to take myself as an example, a “case study,” if you will. Let me preface this case study by disclaiming any authoritative expertise in regard to this discussion on living in survival mode. These are my thoughts and presumptions, and I would gladly accept any depth of insight on the matter.
I’ve already discussed how abandonment issues have presented themselves in my life, and if you didn’t catch that article, you can view it here. I’ll tie in how unresolved abandonment issues can affect a person’s mode of living later in this article. In my opinion, you either have an abundance mindset the majority of the time, as one of my mentors, Steve Pavlina, discusses, or you have a mindset mired in lack and scarcity. It is my assertion that many individuals who are living in survival mode possess the latter. But before I proceed any further, perhaps it would help for me to define what I mean by “living in survival mode.” To some this may seem like a necessity of life, but I would beg to differ.
Survival Mode as a Way of Life
A good friend of mine (we’ll call him Joe), one who has acquired a good level of professional success in life, explained to me the other day that living in survival mode is supposed to be reserved for “emergency situations only,” as opposed to becoming a way of life. Joe pointed out that financially successful people reserve their survival tool kit, stashed behind a shield of glass so to speak, for when they actually need it (emergency situations), and then break the glass in order to save themselves from a crisis. Others, Joe pointed out, use the survival kit that’s stashed behind the glass (limited by nature of its intended purpose) as an actual tool for everyday living.
Living in survival mode, for the successful person and according to Joe, means that he or she knows how to get by when faced with an unexpected hardship that wiped away their abundance of resources, but won’t use this type of mentality in their everyday living. A successful person isn’t focused on getting by; she’s focused on how to live abundantly. A person living in survival mode, however, doesn’t know how to live abundantly. It’s not that they’re incapable, they simply don’t know. They live in terms of one crisis to the next. Many individuals who’ve grown accustomed to living in survival mode may even view abundance as the absence of a crisis for a given (often short) period of time.
A crisis could be that a person’s weekly pay has been delayed for some reason, or that their car has broken down, or that their child has an emergency expense that was not previously accounted for. According to Joe, a successful person may not even view this as a crisis; this would be more accurately categorized as a setback or unexpected expense. A person living in survival mode may freak out during such an occurrence because they realize that they have no way of acquiring extra funds to pay for this type of setback. With the added stress of not being sure of how you’ll get to work if your car has broken down, or how you’ll meet your child’s unexpected extra-curricular, medical, or academic needs, this could qualify as a crisis for someone living in survival mode.
Survival Mode as Internal Deprivation
I’d like to take this a step further, however, and view this situation from beyond the scope of financial insecurity. Living in survival mode also represents emotional, psychological, and spiritual depravity. One could argue that as a result of living in emotional, psychological and spiritual poverty, many individuals live paycheck-to-paycheck or in survival mode as their physical reality. Perhaps this is true. Returning to this issue of abundance vs. lack, a person living in fear about things that are or are not adequate fears, such as a fear of abandonment, fear of loss, fear of *fill in the blank* could arguably live in emotional, psychological, and spiritual depravity and lack. Also, while a person may have a fear of being abandoned by a loved one, for instance, because this person was abandoned by their parents, their psychological and emotional scars may be so deep that they bleed over into their professional affairs, which appear seemingly unrelated.
Individuals living in financial abundance may also be mentally, psychologically, and spiritually depraved, giving off the impression that they are living a life of prosperity to others as a surface perception. While these individuals may have overcome lack and scarcity in their financial lives, they may still live in constant fear of one falsity or another, and may not necessarily live like others who have not been able to overcome their fears in the realm of their professional lives and/or finances. Lack and scarcity may look like hoarding of monies or miserly behavior in their lives. These individuals may have poor relationships with others, enacting the survival mode mentality with their belief that everyone is out to get them, no one is to be trusted, and therefore, having difficulty experiencing emotional or psychological security.
Colleen Swindoll Thompson, author of ‘Surviving “Survival Mode”’ on the website Insight for Living suggests that living in survival mode takes a toll on the human spirit. Considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I can see how this would be so. If humans are wired to self-actualize, or to realize the heights of their potential, then it must be a blow to the human spirit if it can’t reach these sorts of heights because the human being is trying its best to get by, meeting basic needs. Maslow stated that basic/lower level needs are food, water, shelter, sex, security, stability, and freedom from fear. If human beings have the potential to reach beyond these basic needs, but are unable to due to various hindrances, whether these are accurately perceived or not, then perhaps it is devastating to the part of the self, the spirit, that longs to ascend to higher heights.
A Case Study
I’ve recently undergone many different changes in my life and am largely unrecognizable to myself (which is honestly a good thing). I’ve made significant dietary changes, fitness changes, changes in overall lifestyle, and even a sincere commitment to my personal development, growth, and transformation. These changes have only occurred during this year, a few of which I can say I actually orchestrated, most of which were orchestrated by the universe, the divine, the All That Is that knows the depths of what I want in life. I’m largely unrecognizable because I’ve been praying for “happiness” without being “married to” what happiness would necessarily look like.
Prior to this year I was living in what I would call somewhat of a living hell. Without going into too much detail (I will at a later date) I was living in a way that was out of alignment with what I truly desired in life. Survival had become a way of life because I didn’t know any better. I had been living out of the perspective of some perceived, imminent threat, ready to defend myself at a moment’s notice, ready to be attacked. Relationships, as you could imagine, were difficult to maintain under these conditions. It was difficult for me to find internal happiness and satisfaction because I couldn’t see beyond my basic needs, and the maintenance of these basic needs, to live out higher levels of being that would reinforce the happiness that I already possessed inside.
I struggled with both emotional and physiological needs in a sense. I knew that I could meet my physiological needs on a consistent basis (food, clothing, shelter, etc.), but became comfortable with meeting these needs as if doing so was some major accomplishment. I struggled with feelings of stability and security and was wrought with various fears of things that generally never happened. As a result of my inability to establish a sense of security, stability, and freedom from fear, I struggled with self-esteem issues. Meeting my basic needs also became a way for me to strengthen my self-esteem, until I realized that this was something that I could do effortlessly (because I had mastered living in survival mode) and was no longer cause for celebration. All the while there was this little fire in me that kept the tip of its flame pointed towards higher modes of living. Anxiety, depression, and an overall poor quality of life became the norm because I knew I could do better, but didn’t know how.
In other words, I was too busy surviving for me to live abundantly. I was too ready to use the survival kit behind the glass instead of positioning myself to be prepared for setbacks should they arise. My overall perspective of lack and scarcity manifested into feelings of unworthiness, incapability, short-sightedness, and impending danger. These feelings were more like beliefs, and were the basis for how I operated in life overall. Living in survival mode, living life as if there is some imminent, immediate threat implies a lack of freedom from fear, a lack of stability and security. According to Maslow, if this basic need is not met, then one struggles with some of the higher levels needs such as self-esteem, belonging, love, and of course, self-actualization.
There is so much more that can emerge from such a discussion. This is by no means an exhaustive exploration into the depths of how living in survival mode can impact the ability of a person to realize their greater potential. This is merely the beginning of a much-needed conversation that I’ve been meaning to have with myself, and share with others. I also wanted to post this as a blog topic to give others the courage to discuss how they’ve been living in survival mode, so to speak, and how this has manifested in their own individual lives. Of course “survival mode” doesn’t look the same for everybody. It does, however, have a tendency to eat away at the souls of individuals who know that they can and sincerely desire to live better.
Also, the point of these discussions is to remain solution-focused, realizing that although a problem has been identified it doesn’t have to define who you are. The goal is to do better. Get the necessary help you need for your particular issues. For instance, it’s helped me tremendously to surround myself with uplifting texts, video clips, quotes, films and other media, scripture, and other forms of positivity in order for me to reprogram false beliefs that I’ve held for most of my life. I don’t listen to music that is degrading to people if I can help it because degradation does not promote abundance and prosperity. Also, check my reference list for things that I used to create this article as these are helpful resources to addressing the issues discussed in this post.
It has also helped me to commit fully to my personal development, personal growth, and personal transformation. When attempting to reprogram false beliefs from your mind, sometimes you have to refrain from previous associations that no longer serve you; this is part of the commitment. If you recognize that you need to do this work alone then give yourself the solitude that you need to properly self-care. It is important, however, that once a problem has been identified, a solution is sought. Even if you come across hurdles in this respect, continue to be solution-focused.
Let’s do better. 🙂
K. Nola Mokeyane
Boeree, C. G. (1998). Abraham Maslow. Retrieved from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/maslow.html (visited on September 26, 2012).
Ewan, Trudy-Ann (n.d.). How Living in Survival Mode Blocks Our Emotions. SelfGrowth.com: The Self-Improvement Community. Retrieved from http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/how-living-in-survival-mode-blocks-our-emotions (visited on September 26, 2012).
McLeod, S. A. (2007). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html (visited on September 26, 2012).
Thompson, Colleen S. (n.d.). “Surviving ‘Survival Mode.’” Insight for Living: The Bible-Teaching Ministry of Charles R. Swindoll. Retrieved from http://www.insight.org/library/articles/special-needs/surviving-survival-mode.html?t=Special_Needs (visited on September 26, 2012).
- Abandonment Issues? How have these issues shown up in your life? (knolamokeyane.wordpress.com)
- Judging vs. Creating (stevepavlina.com)