In the last post I talked about what an old survival method is. Here are some steps I’ve found useful in finding and responding to old survival methods.
1. Have a means of combing through your psyche regularly.
Old survival methods crop up in the oddest places, and one of their greatest tools is getting you to deny their existence. You really do have to go looking for them. I use tarot, journaling, and dream interpretation. Some people talk things out with a therapist.
2. Learn to notice fear (often disguised as anger) without judgement.
Having an inappropriate fearful or angry response to a mostly benign situation is a pretty good sign of a survival method trying to protect you/itself. Take a step back, if not right in the moment, then after you’ve cooled down. Notice what set you off. You don’t have to figure it out right then and there, but you can start to make a trail of clues that could lead to why you responded the way you did.
3. Have compassion.
It is not productive to respond to your emotions, however inappropriate they may be, with more anger or frustration. It’s like getting angry at an abused animal for shying away from you – it just makes the situation worse. Have compassion on yourself. Be gentle.
4. Be patient.
Finding these things takes time. Developing healthier responses takes time. Putting fear to rest takes time. Think in terms of years, and be patient.
Fear-based responses do not – will never – understand logic. It is not in their nature. It’s like trying to explain to a stray cat that it doesn’t need to stuff itself because food will be continuously provided as long as it’s in your house. Of course it’s not going to understand your weird English words (or believe you if it could).
Survival methods understand feeling and experience, and those things are built over time. Telling yourself your circumstances have changed, and therefore your feelings should change, is pointless.
5. Be specific.
It is helpful to know the specifics so you can start to recognize old survival methods when they crop up. This is where that trail of clues you’re developing comes in handy.
Where in your life, exactly, were they developed? What situations trigger them? Why? What purpose did they serve previously in helping you cope? Why are they no longer necessary? What will happen if you continue to use them?
Let’s take trust issues in a relationship, for example. Say a partner cheated on you in the past and now you’re extremely suspicious when a new partner does not account for their time.
The suspicion was developed during your relationship with the unfaithful partner. It is triggered when your new partner is late for dinner or forgets to call because you suspect they may be with someone else, like your last partner.
The suspicion served the purpose of helping you sniff out bullshit and protected you from continuing in an unhealthy relationship. But it is no longer necessary because your new partner is faithful (if a little forgetful).
If you continue to exhibit suspicion, it will erode at the intimacy and trust of your new relationship, conceivably resulting in its demise. That’s why you need to find a way to let it go.
In the next post in the series, I’ll talk about how to start the process of letting go of old survival methods.