Survival Mechanisms

Last week, we talked about breakdowns and breakthroughs, and I briefly touched upon the fact that we often avoid having our breakdowns and, in doing so, prevent our own growth and breakthroughs.  Why would someone deliberately avoid their breakthrough this way?  The fact is, most of the time, we don't even realize that we are doing it. Our survival mechanism represents our automatic ways of being.  Let's start with a short exercise.  Close your eyes, and think back to the last time you were triggered.  An event that upset you, made you feel scared, or made you feel vulnerable.  (Seriously do this, it will benefit you as you read the rest of this post).


Now that you've got an event in mind, think to how you were being while that event was happening.  Not what you were doing, but how you were being (see this post if you're confused or having trouble distinguishing the two).  If the event made you feel scared, what showed up along with that fear?  Anger?  Withdrawing yourself?  Protecting yourself?  Panic?

Our survival mechanism is represented by these automatic go-to ways of being that we have.  Here's the pattern that occurs:

  1. Something happens around us that triggers us.  Maybe someone yells at us.  Maybe someone yells at someone else.  Maybe we need to have a conversation with our boss that scares us.  Whatever it is, we're triggered by something that sits outside of our current comfort zone.
  2. Our survival mechanism jumps to the rescue.  Without us even being aware, we go to a default way of being.  Anger, rage, withdrawal, silent judgment, resentment, overly-talkative, inappropriately funny, etc.
  3. Our default way of being causes whatever triggered us to go away.  Maybe we act really nasty, and that causes the person that triggered us to leave.  Maybe we withdraw from an opportunity that frightens us, and that causes the opportunity to pass us by.
  4. The thing that has triggered us leaves, our survival mechanism has done its job, and we go back to acting within our comfort zone.

Tragically, our survival mechanism has become so automatic that we generally have no awareness that it occurs.  Without an awareness of what's going on, there is very little room to generate change.  It is nigh impossible to be intentional without awareness.

Practicing awareness creates a space to act with intention

Over time, the things that currently triggers us will catch us off guard, and we may "forget" to go into survival mechanism mode.  During these moments, we gain the gift of simply being ourselves, in our essence, and of learning to be with whatever triggers us.

Think back to when you first started a new job.  Everything is frightening, you feel like you're always making mistakes.  As time goes forward, you gradually learn to overcome certain areas of fear (generally the things that are simpler and trigger you on a shallower level).  Although you haven't been deliberately working to avoid going into survival mechanism, you will have managed to simply be through some of this stuff.

The things that trigger our deeper fears take much more effort to overcome our survival mechanism.  Sometimes, gaining that awareness will not be sufficient.  We may be well aware that we are going into survival mechanism mode, but still too scared or triggered to do anything different.  Over time, we will inevitably experience moments of self-actualization, and move forward with our own growth.  This point is crucial - you will continue to grow, in the direction you are moving, with or without a coach.

The power of working with a coach is having someone that is able to see when you're going to survival mechanism and point it out to you.  Not only that, but a powerful coach will presence you to what a breakthrough might actually look like and allow you to focus on what you want to do, rather than solely looking at what you don't want to do ("I want to have a breakdown in connection and intimacy in my romantic relationship" vs. "I hate that I always go to survival mechanism with my partner!").

Coaching allows us to speed up the process of awareness and intentionality by immediately bringing us present to what is going on underneath the surface, and to quest deeply to find out what it is that we actually want as an outcome.

Perhaps ironically, the very notion of working with a coach often triggers people and sends them into survival mechanism.  For many people, the story is that if they start to work on themselves, they may have to do something that is uncomfortable or scary, or change things in their life now that they've gotten it just the way they want it.

This perspective is of course self-contradicting, as if people really do have things just the way they want it, there's no reason why they would want to change.  If someone is telling themselves that they are comfortable and don't want to change that, then perhaps the growth for them is realizing that their commitment is actually to comfort, rather than success, wealth, health, or whatever else they are beating themselves up for not having.  Simply gaining awareness of this fact is a great value to most people, but being made present to it can be confronting.

Realize that growth is confronting.  When we avoid confronting ourselves, or situations that we find confronting, we sabotage our own growth, and do ourselves a disservice.  Trust yourself that you are capable to be with whatever shows up, confronting or not.

As a practice awareness, take on putting yourself in situations that trigger you, and notice who you become.  What shows up?  What automatic patterns of behaviour are generated?  Build your awareness, so that you may then become intentional.

Are you interested in discovering more?  Do you have a project that you are committed to, but are either stuck, or want to move forward in it with more power and momentum?  Go here and request a complimentary session.  I promise that in doing so, you provide value to both of us.