“The survival mode phase is meant to save your life. You should not live in survival mode.” ~Michele Rosenthal
Many people cherish childhood as the best time in their lives. But, no one makes it through adulthood unharmed. Everyone experiences traumas in relationships with family members, friends, or school that leaves them feeling emotional bruised or scarred.
My parents worked hard and raised three children, but I was left feeling neglected as a child. While they were not intentionally doing anything, my parents often left me feeling confused, alone, unworthy, inadequate, or not worthy.
It was only after years of people-pleasing, choosing a wrong master’s degree, and climbing the corporate ladder with a great job, that the suppressed feelings erupted like a volcano. It was a disaster. It made me physically sick with allergies, constant body aches, and rashes that didn’t allow me to sleep, pushing me to a complete breakdown.
That’s when I realized that my body was trying to talk to me. I had seen warning signs from it since childhood.
I used to be very emotional and would cry often. I was often sick, and my parents called me a “weakling.” I would scream and shout or just shut down and recede into my room. They told me not to be reactive in any way. The vicious cycle was that I felt overwhelmed, and then began to hate myself for not being more normal.
After my adult crisis, which saw me lying on the floor, sobbing, it was then that I made the decision to leave my job to study psychology. It wasn’t an easy ride from there, but nevertheless studying this subject helped me answer why I was the way I was.
It turns out, I wasn’t overreactive or sensitive at all. In survival mode, my mind and body saw every threat as an opportunity. I was put into fight, flight or freeze to protect me against anything even remotely similar. My mind was generally hyper vigilant of others’ moods and reactions. So, my body didn’t know how to relax, and it was exhausted over the years.
Our bodies were designed to respond to threats then transition back into relaxation mode. However, when our minds are unable to process, regulate, or tolerate huge emotions, it goes into an “always on guard” mode to protect us. However, the protection turns into our own enemy when we can’t turn off the alarm bells, and we end up living with anxiety.
It is possible to live comfortably and happily in the same state of affairs for many years. We crave drama. Then we attract partners and friends that can trigger us. However, this keeps us feeling emotional charged.
But there’s a way out. Although it takes courage and effort to change our brains and live more fulfilled lives, this is doable.
Everybody’s journey is unique, and we must all find out what works best for us. Here are some things that have worked well for me. These are my personal experiences and I truly hope you can find them helpful.
1. Keep in mind that everything is possible.
When we’re in survival mode, we create unhelpful stories in our heads and forecast the worst possible outcomes as means to keep ourselves safe. The key to releasing our fear-based need to protect ourselves is accepting that we can’t control everything. We can’t control everything.
All we can do is address what’s within our power and then consciously choose empowering thoughts. Remind that yourself that even if things don’t work out as you planned, you can handle it, and you’ll be safe.
2. Through awareness, you can rewire the brain.
You should ask yourself the following questions: Are your thoughts creating your emotions? You’ll be amazed to realize that our mind creates statements that cause us to feel a certain way.
For example, if a friend doesn’t respond back to a text/call, you might make up stories about how maybe you said something to upset them or that something is wrong with them, and that elicits emotions in you accordingly. If you think they’re just busy, you’ll feel differently. So practice becoming aware of your stories so you don’t go into panic mode over thoughts that likely aren’t facts.
3. Take a scan of your entire body.
The subtle messages your body sends are not obvious. To know what your true feelings are, you should always check in. Are you feeling tension, your heart rate faster or tightening your jaw? When you’re curious about your physical sensations, you’ll start to recognize when you’re emotionally charged from reacting to a perceived threat. This enables you to proactively calm your nervous system—perhaps through deep breathing, petting your dog, or getting out in nature.
4. Be compassionate toward yourself.
It isn’t an easy journey, and you must be compassionate toward yourself. You’ve done your best to survive, and now it’s time to become conscious so you can thrive.
Chaitali Chaitali is an Integrated Living Coach. Chaitali believes mental health should be as important as the physical. To grow, it is essential to integrate both. She writes on mental health regularly on her website www.themindcurry.com.
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