The primary need of everyone is to survive; above all else, we have a survival instinct that we can’t ignore.
If the first years of your life were less than perfect, and let’s be honest, they probably were; your emotional needs weren’t met. You might have been the victim of physical or emotional abuse, neglect, bullying, absent parenting, strict upbringing, poverty, war, or general unconsciousness and probably live in survival mode with survival emotions such as fear, uncertainty, doubt, stress and anxiety, at the forefront of your mind.
Everyday things that didn’t affect your siblings might have affected you. Your parents unfavourably compared you to them. Comments were made about how much they sacrificed. Maybe they were absent, caught up in their own life and you had to fight for their attention or worse, you didn’t get it when you needed it badly. Maybe they were fearful and said you’d never amount to anything if you didn’t work hard enough.
No one likes to feel negative emotions, especially kids. Fear is terrifying to a child, so they find ways not to feel it, usually by making up stories in their head to make them feel safe. They tell themselves mummy didn’t mean it, or daddy is busy, and the habit continues in adulthood, but you don’t make up stories anymore; you do one of two things to make you feel safe.
Turn to alcohol, drugs, food or other addictive tendencies to suppress your emotions, temporarily feel better and distract yourself from negativity, or decide your positive sense of self is ‘because of something’ and create a survival strategy.
Your beliefs about yourself are negative and untrue, and when confronted with difficulties and dilemmas in life, you make decisions based on these beliefs. If you believe, albeit subconsciously, that there is something wrong with you or that you’re not good enough just as you are, you will implement a survival strategy to make you feel better, important, or worthwhile. The following phrases are survival strategies.
They will like me when…I’m skinny, more prosperous, successful, pretty etc.
I’m good enough because…I have a nice house, car, a good job, a designer handbag.
I’m worthy because…I’m pretty, have a great body, I live in a nice neighbourhood.
I’m important if…I don’t need help, I’m successful and can buy expensive things.
I’ll do it when…I’m bulletproof and perfect.
My life means something if…I make them laugh, I take care of everyone, over compliment, mirror their pain.
I’m not saying if you live in a nice neighbourhood, you’re living in survival mode, but if you live there to compensate for negative self-beliefs, you might be. If living there makes you feel slightly superior to your friends or validates you in some way – you are. If whatever you’re doing is at the expense of your authenticity, you’re using survival strategies.
Before you disagree and tell me I’m mad. You’re not doing it consciously, but if you feel tired, anxious, lonely, unhappy, scared or lacking in direction, you’re likely living in survival mode.
Start observing your behaviour. What do you do to compensate for your beliefs about yourself? If you are not 100% authentic and comfortable with who you are, can speak your truth without confrontation, have healthy boundaries, are unconcerned with what others think of you, can let things go and flow with life, you’re living in survival mode.
Next time you go out with your friends, if usually, you’re the entertainer, the carer, the storyteller, the joker, or whatever mask you wear – don’t. Try to be yourself without making too much effort, without trying to impress, and without filling in conversational gaps. Observe how you feel; if it makes you uncomfortable, measure your level of discomfort on a scale of 1-10 and get an indication of how strong your survival strategies are.
If you believe you’re not good enough or worthy enough, or lovable enough just as you are, no amount of survival strategies will work long term. You will constantly need compliments, praise and reassurance from others to feel good about yourself. Positive self-esteem is being okay with who you are. It’s unconditional, you’re good enough and loved enough, not because you have something, do something, or are something. You’re good enough and loved enough simply because you exist.
You can’t earn self-esteem from someone else, it’s free, and the only person who can give it to you – is you!