Another word for survival mode is stress. When stressed, we tend to become something we don’t really want to be: self-absorbed. There is a way out.
An associate brought me up to date on her project. I offered a particular level of assistance. Here’s what she wrote back: “You’re so sweet to even care. In these times it almost feels like no one cares; everyone is so self-absorbed.” She did add that she might have been feeling sorry for herself at the moment. But, her comments reflect what goes on for all of us at one time or another—both on the giving and receiving ends, and especially during this time when so much is changing and fairly often.
Here’s some of what Adam King, creator of The Tessera Method, explained about survival mode.
When you feel threatened, your survival mode kicks into gear. Survival mode focuses most of your attention on helping yourself out of the threatening or potentially threatening situation. In survival mode your ability to show altruism or even love is diminished, and you push people away—literally and energetically. The thing about feeling threatened is that it can either be a real threat or it can be something you fear might happen.
If you’ve had a lot of stress in your life, for an extended interval of time or long-term, you may have an over-active stress response. You always feel anxious. Perhaps your stomach stays upset, or you gain weight, or you have frequent headaches. Maybe you don’t go out of your home, except to work. An over-active stress response causes you to bypass creative thought and reflection, and go right to response mode, which leads you to jump to a conclusion and believe your conclusion is true, when it may not be.
I spoke with someone who’d had cross words with an associate. For days, she’d been replaying what each of them had said, each time stressing herself more and more. She’s mentally engaging a problem she desires a solution to, which is why she keeps replaying it. Solutions would be to end the relationship (not desired) or to mend it (desired). Since two people with hurt feelings are involved, both have to want to mend it and in a way that satisfies both. But trying to solve this in her mind by replaying the problem on a non-stop loop will not create a desired result, only an ever-expanding perceived threat. Only right action will resolve this, one way or another.
Many of us today do not take time to reflect on what we see or hear. We pass information through our own (often) distorted filters—meaning we pull up past memories of experiences and convince ourselves what happened then must be happening again. We literally experience all sorts of trials and battles in our minds, when we aren’t actually engaged in them, whether that’s at all or just in the moment we’re in.
This leads to what King calls Automatic Negative Processing, where we try to find an answer for a problem or question that doesn’t exist—or a real problem that does exist, but we filter suggested changes through our survival mode and ignore them, because processing is a more comfortable place than changing is. When we are in an immediate situation, we take some kind of action. But think about how often it’s really happening mostly in our minds. When we do that, we have two problems: the one that needs a solution and the one we’ve created by feeding the stress we feel about an actual or possible situation or outcome.
If you’ve ever wondered why you replay and replay the same junk thoughts over and over in your mind (stressing yourself even more), it’s because your brain is designed to tell you when a problem is solved. You can solve a real problem, but you cannot solve an imaginary one. So your brain reminds you repeatedly that an imaginary problem—which has no solution—is still unsolved. You stay in survival mode. Your stress increases. You enter into suffering, and you expand your self-absorption. You go into what King calls “lock-down,” where you are stuck in place. Your physical, mental, and emotional expressions become all about you. You do have to look out for your best interests, but there’s a big difference between appropriate self-interest and being self-absorbed.
Any time you feel uncertain—about an outcome, a solution, how you’ll perform, etc., this causes you to put yourself first in your mind and energy expression; although, you might pop out of this in an emergency or if your help is really needed. This causes you to not allow anyone else to come first (before your feelings) and it puts pressure on you to attempt to perform in a situation you don’t have a solution for. If you feel pushed or pressured in any way at such times, your level of stress can go “through the roof.”
Feeling this way can cause you to say and do things that won’t create outcomes you truly desire. Or, it may cause you to be stuck in inaction. What helps? Do something positive or beneficial for someone else. Being able to see beyond ourselves and our self-interests will cause us to feel better, but it also allows us to act the way we prefer to act. When you focus on being of benefit to others, you exit survival mode; the two cannot fill the same space. This doesn’t mean you become a servant or start doing a lot of things for others that aren’t appropriate for you (or them). You want to feel good, not like a martyr. It means that you look for ways to create win-win scenarios and environments.
When you’re in survival mode—and you probably can nod your head about this—clarity, focus, and purpose go out the window. It’s a simple but not necessarily easy fact that our Good flows to us when we are relaxed, when we are enjoying life and what we do and who we do it with, and when we do what results in our feeling fulfilled—that we made a valuable contribution or made a real difference for one or more others.
With all the changes that have gone on and needed restructuring still being figured out, many people have slipped into survival mode. It’s understandable. The fact is that we all slip into this mode at times; it’s getting stuck there that we’re talking about now. The way out of this mode and how it affects us and others is to focus on win-win solutions for issues that need attention. It can also be as simple as making a friendly connection to someone providing a service to you, holding the door open for someone, letting someone with fewer items go before you at the checkout register. It doesn’t always require a grand gesture.
Here’s a small step in the right direction: Instead of thinking about what you HAVE to do, maybe think about what you GET to do, while you’re still here.
Practice makes progress.