Survival Mode Reimagined - A Theoretical discussion on Survival

Updated: Jul 13

Despite the diversity of our difficulties, we are united in our experience of survival mode, which is triggered when we find ourselves in potentially life-threatening physical and/or emotional conditions. When in survival mode, we develop various coping mechanisms to get from one day, one hour or even one minute to the next. Whether you have isolated yourself from others or worn the scars of your self-harm on your sleeve; if you smoked to cloud yourself from your reality or drowned the voices in your head with alcohol; or you filled the voids in your heart with the lies of loose-lipped lovers, we have all done what we felt we had to do to survive. And if you’re reading this right now, it means you have succeeded despite the odds against you!


Survival mode is a phase that’s meant to help save your life. Ironically, the habits we tend to develop or adopt to survive tough emotional conditions are often unhealthy, counter-productive and self-destructive – they do not serve us well in the short- or long-term and they may even do more harm than good. We often feel powerless to our circumstances and so our survival modes entail us just accepting and absorbing our negative circumstances. But that is not what is or how things are supposed to be. To paraphrase my forever crush and first-year philosophy lecturer, there is a difference between what you think or feel and what actually is. This piece is to help us re-imagine our survival mode and survival tactics according to reality and how things actually are.


Image by Matthew Brodeur

Contrary to the connotation of the old adage, ‘fighting fire with fire’ is not an effective survival strategy, it is likely to only create a living hell. Fighting fire with water can extinguish the problems that plague you and give you fresh ground wherein the seeds of the life you choose to cultivate can take root. You can’t build or maintain a new positive life with old negative habits. Moreover, the fire is a necessary part of the process of cultivating new habits and supporting new life – the fields must burn to prepare for the new harvest.

We’ve all been there – riddled with anxiety, crumbling under pressure, drowning in expectations, depressed by debt, suffocated by grief, starving for certainty, dying for better days, feeling so much that we started to feel nothing at all, the incongruent cocktail of hypersensitive and numb that we become when times are tough. It takes immense courage to choose to fight the furnace of negativity that triggers going into survival mode with a fountain of positivity. But we have to. Our lives depend on it.


We wake up, we have a choice! We can choose to let our environments dictate our quality of life and thus absorb the pain, negativity and difficulties we face, or we can choose to use our environments and what’s at our disposal to live our best lives (which, contrary to popular culture, does not entail living in an intoxicated sexed up blur). Whatever energy you have, you have to use it to choose yourself, the best version of yourself, consistently. After all, your choices determine who you are, not your pain. Pain is always just a positive life lesson dressed in hideous make-up and a bad outfit. Choose to give it a makeover and pioneer pain’s glow up!


By Naledi Hopa

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