Much of America is currently trying to survive overwhelming natural disasters. Two category 4 hurricanes have hit land causing incomprehensible damage and as I’m writing this our country is remembering the attacks of September 11th. How do you think like a survivor? What is the difference between people who seem to fade away under the crush of overwhelming circumstances and those that seem to only grow stronger? This question that has always intrigued me. How do we resolve to think like a survivor?
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Recently, I taught a class to high schoolers on survival skills. As I put together a reading list for the teens to choose one book to read from, my list grew and grew. Country Boy just shook his head looking at my growing list.
Grab my True Survival Stories for Tweens & Teens List here.
OK, so maybe I have read about every book on surviving. Long before most people had even heard about the book, turned movie, Unbroken, I was gobbling it down. Since I am more of a thinker, my interests centers on what people thought in order to survive.
I enjoy learning some key “what to do” survival skills, but I’m drawn to studying those critical choices survivors made.
How did the survivors decide to move or stay when they were stuck in the snowstorm? How did they mentally persevere on a lifeboat after two weeks?
Resolving to Think Like a Survivor
So here are some things I have learned about resolving to think like a survivor. You may be facing a physical disaster or you may be facing a crisis in your family life. It takes many of the same skills to survive either.
Survivors Let go of “Why” and Take Action
Truth be told, part of the reason that I feel such a pull to answer the question of how to think like a survivor is the realization that I’m not what you would call a “natural survivor”. One of my strengths is that I feel deeply what is going on around me. I want to know what others are thinking and feeling and why. It’s like an interesting complex puzzle.
However, some of the same inward focus can be a killer to the survivor mentality. When what needs to be done is to get up and move and act RIGHT NOW, I’m mentally sitting there, contemplating how I got there. Anyone relating?
There is a time for thinking and a time for action. Sometimes you need to act. Move forward. There will be time for thinking later, but typically in a crisis you first need to make some quick decisions. Like quicksand, focusing too quickly and for too long on the “why” will pull you under.
You may be facing a huge circumstance right now. You just want to sit down and cry about being in this awful situation. It’s hard for your mind to even comprehend that you are here. But you are.
If you study survivors, they are quick to move through the denial stage and into the action stage. Many people, unfortunately, will be frozen unable to comprehend that we are even in a survival situation.
During the September 11th attacks, in the South Twin Tower, so many people ignored that nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong, and they went back to their offices after the initial plane hit the North Tower.
Despite the North Tower being on fire, those in the South Tower listened to the overhead broadcast and returned to their desks instead of heading for the exits. It felt “safer” to stay in what they knew to do instead of moving into action.
One of THE best books on understanding the survival mentality in a disaster crisis is Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes – And Why by Amanda Ripley. This book looks at numerous disaster situations and examines the choices that people make in those situations. It is a fascinating read as it speaks to the phenomenon of how we as humans often choose to keep doing the familiar over moving to safety. Amanda Ripley, in her book Unthinkable, shares so many real stories that the book is interesting to read just from a historic point of view. Great read!!
So be aware of our human tendency to rearrange our current circumstances to fit into what we know instead of heeding the danger that may be looming. Do you need to move into action? Do you need to get an odd physical symptom checked out? Is your teen’s behavior changed a lot recently, and you suspect something is wrong? Take a small action today! You can face this!
Survivors Stay in the Present
Resolving to think like a survivor calls on us to stay in the present. Once we realize the fight physically or emotionally we are facing we will quickly overwhelm ourselves if we think too far ahead.
When we worked on our second home, I knew more about all the stages that were coming in building a house. As I was carrying out loads of old drywall gutting our house it was hard for me to not allow my mind to jump ahead to everything that we would have to do before our house was ready to live in. Staying in the present helped me to just focus on the task at hand and the small difference I was making that day. If I thought too far in the future, I tended to feel hopeless.
Those that are facing clean up after the hurricanes face a long road. It takes such a long time to just clear the roads of fallen trees and get the lights turned back on after a hurricane. Those of you that have had to cut up a single tree know how long it takes just to cut up one tree and carry all the brush away! It takes one family of five most of the day, in case you were wondering! However, if a little work is done each day even the biggest job will be completed!
So resolving to think like a survivor must include staying in the present. As you journey through your circumstances you will become weary.
Set your intention for the day!
Decide on the next task to tackle. And stay in the present.
Give Yourself and Others Grace and Love
I have had the privilege of working with many grandparents that have suddenly been tasked with raising their grandchildren. They care for their grandchildren and don’t want to see them go into foster care because of a parent’s neglect or abuse. But they are overwhelmed. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. The grandparents feel at their wit’s end.
Occasionally, the grandkids are thankful and appreciative for the grandparents stepping in to raise them. However, most of the kids are not. The grandkids are emotionally hurting and struggling too.
So the grandparents face a choice like we all do when we are in an intense situation that won’t be resolved in a few weeks. What do you do with all the anger and bitterness over being put in this circumstance? Some grandparents get stuck in the anger and bitterness that comes from the unfairness of it all. It is choking them. They shouldn’t be there and it is totally unfair, but the person that should “pay” is not around. The bitterness seeps into their and the grandkids’ life.
You may be facing that choice today. Try to move through the “why” is this happening, stay in the present and give yourself and those around you grace.
This is NOT a perfect set-up. So it’s not going to go smoothly. But you are so much stronger than you imagined.
And those around you desperately need you to let go of all that anger and bitterness.
Because you can’t take hold of a new life weighted down, holding onto what “should have been”.
There will be good times ahead and things will gradually ease and get better. Today, just take care of yourself so that you can grasp hold of hope for tomorrow.
Don’t Settle for Living Forever in Survival Mode
One of the themes of The Reluctant Cowgirl is that we should never settle for living forever in survival mode. Being a survivor and resolving to think like a survivor has its place. Sometimes we are facing a tough year or two ahead and we need to put our boots on and get to work. However, we don’t want to get stuck assuming that just surviving is all we can expect from life.
Have you been living in survival mode for years? Why? What needs to happen in order to shift from a survive only mentality?
Do you need to grief a loss and take small steps to let go of your old life and accept your new life?
Are you in a toxic relationship hoping, wishing that other person will change and you’ve settled for just surviving? Is it time to accept that the person is not going to change and start making plans with that reality in mind?
Remember, survival mode helped you to get through a difficult time. It served its purpose. But if you realize it s time to move forward (or perhaps those that love you have mentioned it a few thousand time:) then be intentional to move forward.
There are so many things that are out of our control. But we can choose how to respond.
So where are you at in your life? Have you just entered a tough situation, and you need to buckle down and think like a survivor? Or are you in a better phase of life, and you should stop and take a deep breath, enjoying the place? I would love to hear. Share in the comments below:)
If you would like to give to the hurricane relief efforts, Samaritan’s Purse is an international relief organization that is very reputable. Samaritan’s Purse is one of the first groups on the ground in disaster type situations.
Julie B. says
What a very thought provoking article. I will definitely be rereading it.
Thanks Julia for the encouragement!
I am a survivor. I have lived in survivor mode and am so grateful that I’m not anymore. The lessons that I have learned made me strong and resilient. These traits allow me to live fully and more fearlessly. This is a great reminder of how to get through a crisis and how to move past. Thanks for sharing!
We do learn a lot during those hard times, but I’m glad to hear that you are not living in survivor mode presently! It is a challenge to allow our struggles to shape us and become part of our story, as you described, without crushing us.