The Whys & Wherefores of Survival Mechanisms & Why You No Longer Need them (not all of them anyway)

Survival Mechanisms. Who needs ’em?


Well, all of us do to some extent or another! Particularly when we’re kids. We develop them to ensure our survival. However, we tend to hold onto them way beyond the point that we need to.

Kids are vulnerable. Utterly dependent on their adults. That’s great if their adults are dependable and stable individuals who have a clue about how to be nurturing parents and meet their children’s emotional, as well as physical needs.

Unfortunately, many don’t… Have a clue I mean. Consider the plethora of parenting manuals lining the shelves in the book shop. It’s as if humans have lost sight of what once came naturally! (A topic for another time, perhaps.)

What they are


They’re strategies/adaptations we employ to ensure that we continue to exist. After all, continued existence is the ‘Prime Directive’ for any living organism. (Except in circumstances where life has gone seriously wrong.)

When there’s a threat, whether real or perceived, organisms will employ strategies to overcome it.

For example; when a tiger sneaks up on you at your local park, unannounced. What happens? You’re pretty likely to experience some level of fear right? Your threat system is activated, enabling you to decide whether you fancy your chances or to get the hell out of there. Pronto!

All perfectly normal under the circumstances.

Fear is a survival tactic. If you weren’t afraid of the tiger, you just might end up being its main course. The ability to feel fear keeps you alive.

Ok, so fear is hardwired into that oldest part of your brain. Often endearingly referred to as the ‘lizard brain’.

In more recent times, possibly hundreds of thousands of years ago, a new kid arrived on the block. We’ll call it the ’emotional brain’.

It’s said that this part of the brain evolved alongside mammals. Mammals realised they needed other mammals to ensure their survival, so they learned to develop emotional attachments with other mammals of their species. (Sorry for the massive oversimplification of what are extremely complex processes. Which are way beyond the scope of this post.)

Therefore, attachment became a survival strategy.

Now back to that species known as humans, and onto one of my favourite subjects, ATTACHMENT. One of the most basic human needs. And, in my humble opinion, the driver for the majority of our survival strategies and adaptations.

According to Attachment Theory, children are biologically pre-programmed to form attachments/connections with others. Experienced as being loved, belonging, accepted and so on. Their survival depends on it. They can’t survive on their own.

If attachments feel threatened,  the child experiences fear and emotional pain, and begins to adopt survival strategies and make adaptations to themselves and their behaviours as attempts to ensure the formation and maintenance of those attachments.


Some examples

  • Being the good girl/boy
  • Perfectionism (as long as I’m perfect, I’ll be loved and therefore safe)
  • People pleasing (if I can please people they will like me and want me around. Therefore I’ll belong and be safe)
  • Suppression of authenticity/true self (another of my favourite subjects) because it gets me in trouble. Then I might be rejected and therefore not safe.

This is just a tiny sample of survival strategies adopted by humans to ensure their continued existence.

I wonder how many of your behaviours are linked to your need for the attachment you never got?

A lack of any secure attachments can set people up for a life filled with anxieties and pain.

For me, It’s one of the saddest parts of the human condition, and I see it over and over again in my practice.


Now the good bit.


When you were a child, attachments were essential. Literally a matter of life or death.

But, not anymore. Once you’re an adult, you can take care of yourself. Fortunately, you can form a secure attachment with yourself or selves. Especially those parts of you that experienced the fear and rejection of childhood.

It may seem like a strange concept, but I’ve done it myself and witnessed countless others do the same. It’s amazing, transformational, and the most loving thing you can do for yourself. Because you deserve it.

My cats Maz n Moosh

By Jules

When I’m not busy with clients, keeping up with the latest therapy techniques  or writing blog posts, you can usually find me avoiding housework by cuddling with my cats, diving into audiobooks, or taking leisurely walks outdoors . Ideally towards a pub for a nice cold pint or a Mocha.

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