From Surviving to Thriving

Who makes the decisions in your life, the “survivor” or the “thriver?”

For the last couple of weeks, I have been very interested in learning more about the set patterns that we live in as adults–especially if we had to survive challenging situations in our childhood.

I was a foster child and my parents dealt with depression and substance abuse. For years I would pride myself for knowing that I had developed great survival skills. In fact, I would tell people that if there was a war, or something very intense like war, I knew that I could survive. I have the ability to read my environment quickly, make decisions based on anticipated threats and take action promptly.

I am “wired” that way. My nervous system is very quick to respond to emergencies. We have all heard about the fight, flight or freeze response. Having this system in operation comes in very handy when there are life threatening challenges. However, our challenges become greater when we live most of our life from that perspective.

Over time, our health depletes; we may experience digestion issues, our immune system weakens, we have sleep difficulties etc.

On an emotional level we never actually feel “fulfilled” and satisfied because we can never relax enough to “take in the good.” In fact to quote one of my favorite authors, Rick Hanson, who is neuroscientist/psychologist, we are wired to remember the bad more than the good as a species.

It was once one of our primary survival skills. When we saw a tiger on a particular path, we “remembered tiger” so that the next time we saw it, we would take action faster (fight or flight).

If we have experienced stressful life situations as children we end up looking for danger and threats even if there aren’t any because we are “wired” that way. We are waiting for the tiger to arrive.

In this scenario there is no room for thriving. If we look closely at the Maslow pyramid of needs, survival needs are at the bottom and we need to climb 6levels more, before we reach self-actualization.

A lot of us don’t spend much time asking questions such as “what do I truly want to do in my life/career,” “what difference do I want to make into the world,” “what makes my heart sing?”This is because these questions and others don’t pertain to the world of survival they live in the world of thriving and self-actualization.

Now if you happen to know the answer to these questions, maybe you have tried to take action and learn what will make you thrive. You may have found yourself either stuck or blocked. Despite your best intentions to bring your “gifts” into the world, you have been met with internal criticism, judgment and intense emotions like fear. The intensity of those emotions have thrown you back into survival mode–and rightly so, you have decided or are about to decide to throw the towel because you cannot take the overwhelming feelings anymore.
If any of this sounds familiar to you here are a few tips:

1) Take the pressure off!

  1. Take a break and walk away! Whatever that pressure is, to know more, do more, to do it differently, do better or just plain resistance and procrastination create some distance between you and what is stressing you. When we are in “survival mode” aka stress, we lose perspective, clarity and ultimately our power—take a break and step away to find a viable solution or action that will be along lasting decision.

2) Do something that makes you feel good.

  1. If you have a hobby, go ahead and lose yourself for a while doing what you love.
  2. Do something physical. Take a yoga class, if you love the outdoors go for a walk, focus on your breath, feel your movement and bring yourself back to the present moment. If you are outside, look around and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings.
  3. If talking to people helps you, call someone and share with them what you are going through. Be sure to make an agreement with them that you really need/want to be heard and not “fixed.”

3) Once you are calmer, create a supportive environment—put on soothing music, light candles, create a sacred space inside and out then ask yourself this simple question “where am I stuck?”Be patient and listen for what comes up…without judgment. Listen for thoughts, notice feelings and body sensations. No judgment means that the answer doesn’t have to “make sense.” It can be sensory, a feeling tone.

  1. Maybe you don’t know how to proceed further
  2. Maybe you don’t believe that you can move forward
  3. Maybe you feel inadequate in making the next move
  4. Maybe you are plain scared and anxious and don’t know why (yet).

4) Ask yourself “If I can do or have anything I want to solve this dilemma, what would it be?”Again listen for the answer without judgments.

  1. Most of us know what we want/need and we don’t always listen because we don’t believe that we can have it.
  2. Record your answer somewhere–keep a “clarity” journal, a place to record your thoughts that you dedicate for keeping the thread of your momentsof clarity.
  3. Take action!
    1. i. Even if you don’t yet have all the answers, or the perfect answer, take action on what you are clear about. The next step will reveal itself.

5) Keep the conversation going.

  1. Keep spending time with yourself. One step at a time you will find your way to permanent solutions.
  2. Enlist others–find support, find a group of people who are on a similar path.
  3. Hire a coach! A coach is there to hold that “big picture” when you get stuck and revert into survival, to help you remember that who you are today is not who you were yesterday!

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