The Psychology of Survival-Part 3

In part 3 of our series The Psychology of Survival, we will explain some of the most common reactions to the stressors we identified in parts 1 & 2 of the series and how to deal with them.

The evolution of man.

The evolution of man.

Man is the most adaptable animal on the planet and we have been able to survive many shifts in our environment throughout the centuries, because of our ability to adapt both physically and mentally to a changing world. That ability has kept us alive while other species around us gradually died off, those same survival mechanisms that kept our ancestors alive can help keep us alive too! However, those same survival mechanisms that can help us can also work against us if we don’t understand and expect them. It should not be unexpected or surprising that 99% of people will have some psychological reactions in a survival situation.

Anger and Frustration

Frustration arises when you fail in your attempts to reach a goal. The goal of survival is to stay alive until you can reach help or until help can reach you, to meet this goal, you must complete most tasks with minimal resources. It is inevitable, in trying to do those tasks and reach that goal, that something will go wrong; that something will happen beyond your control; with your life, and perhaps those of your family, at stake, every mistake and failure is magnified in terms of its importance. Sooner or later, you will have to deal with frustration when a few of your best laid plans turn into a big crap sandwich. One thing that comes out of this frustration is anger, there are many events in a survival situation that can frustrate or anger you.

Getting lost, damaged, forgotten, or lost gear, the weather, the terrain, roving gangs of hood rats, and your physical limitations are just a few sources of frustration and anger. Frustration and anger encourage impulsive reactions, irrational behavior, poorly thought-out decisions, and, in some instances, an “Screw this! I quit!” attitude (if you hadn’t noticed people often avoid doing something they can’t master). If you can reign in and properly channel the emotional intensity associated with anger and frustration, you can productively act as you answer the challenges of survival. If you do not properly focus your angry feelings, you will end up wasting energy in activities and tasks that do little, if anything, to further either your chances of survival or the chances of those around you.


It is a very rare person indeed who does not get sad, at least momentarily, when faced with the privations of survival. As this sadness deepens, we label the feeling as “depression.” Depression is closely linked with frustration and anger, as you become more frustrated you become angrier as you fail to reach your goals. If your anger does not help you to succeed, then your frustration level goes even higher. Then a destructive cycle between anger and frustration continues until you become worn down-physically, emotionally, and mentally. When you reach this point, you starts to give up, and your focus shifts from “What can I do” to “There is nothing I can do.”

The expression of those hopeless, helpless feelings you’re having is depression. There is nothing wrong with being sad as you think about your loved ones, remember what life was like back when you were playing Dance, Dance Revolution and munching Cheetos,  all the cool stuff you had before the SHTF, or how bad you’d like just one more triple grease burger with cheese and curly fries. Where those kind of thoughts become an issue is when you allow them to consume you to the exclusion of everything else. Such thoughts, in fact, can actually  give you the desire to try harder and live one more day or walk that last mile to your bug out site. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to sink into depression, then it can sap all your energy and, more important, your WILL TO SURVIVE. It is imperative that you resist succumbing to depression.

Loneliness and Boredom

Man is a social animal. This means we, as human beings, enjoy the company of others. Very few people want to be alone all the time! As you are aware, there is a very distinct chance of isolation in a survival/SHTF situation. This is not necessarily a bad thing, loneliness and boredom can bring out qualities in you that you thought only others had. The extent of your imagination and creativity may surprise you, when required to survive, you may discover some hidden talents and abilities you didn’t know you had. Most of all, you may tap into a reservoir of inner strength and intestinal fortitude you never knew you had. On the flip side, loneliness and boredom can be another source of depression. Whether you are surviving alone, or with others, you have to find ways to keep your mind productively occupied, you must develop at least a degree of self-sufficiency. You must have faith in your ability to “go it alone.”


The circumstances leading to your being in a survival/SHTF scenario are sometimes dramatic and tragic. It may be the result of an accident or disaster where there was a loss of life. Maybe you were the only, or one of a few, survivors. While you will naturally be relieved to be alive, you simultaneously may be mourning the deaths of others who were less fortunate. It is not uncommon for people who survive these types of events to feel guilty about being alive while others were not, this is especially true if it was a close relative or child who didn’t “make it.”

This feeling, when used in a positive way, has encouraged more than one person to try harder to survive with the belief they were allowed to live for some greater purpose in life. Sometimes, survivors tried to stay alive so that they could carry on the work of those killed. Whatever reasons you give yourself, do not let guilt prevent you from living, the living, who abandon their chance to survive, accomplish nothing.

Preparing Yourself

Your only goal in ANY survival/SHTF situation is to stay alive. You are going to experience an assortment of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, that can work for you, to keep you alive, or they can work to kill your ass, it is all up to you.

Fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, guilt, depression, and loneliness are all possible reactions to the many stresses common in a survival/SHTF situation. These reactions, when controlled, help to increase your likelihood of surviving. They prompt you to pay more attention in training, to fight back when scared, to take actions that make sure sustenance and security, to keep faith with your family, and to strive against the odds. When you cannot control these reactions they can bring you to a standstill, because instead of rallying your internal resources to work for you, you listen to your internal fears, which can kill you.

Long before your body dies you will have “died” in your head. Remember, survival is natural to everyone; being unexpectedly put into a survival/SHTF situation is not. Don’t be afraid of your “natural reactions to this unnatural situation.” Prepare yourself to rule over these reactions so they serve your greatest interest–staying alive!

It will involve preparation to make sure that your reactions in a survival/SHTF situation are productive and move you towards your goal (survival), not destructive and move you away from your goal. The challenge of survival has produced countless examples of heroism, courage, and self-sacrifice, these are the qualities it can bring out in you if you have prepared yourself.

Below are a few tips to help prepare you psychologically for survival. Through study and attending survival training you can develop the survival attitude.

Know Yourself

Long before you find yourself in a survival/SHTF situation you need to take an honest moral inventory of yourself and what kind of person you are.  Are you a sheep, who needs everything handed to them on a silver platter? Are you a wolf, who will do anything to make sure their own survival, even if that means harming others or walking away from loved ones? Or are you a sheepdog, who will do whatever it takes to make sure that everyone stays safe and makes it through? You should work to strengthen your better qualities, drop your bad ones, and develop the areas that you know are necessary to survive.

Anticipate Fears

Don’t pretend that you will have no fears, as I said before those who say they have no fears are either liars or window licking, need to be heavily medicated, nuts. Begin thinking about what would frighten you the most if forced to survive alone (or with your family). Train in those areas that frighten you and reduce those fears to the greatest extent possible. Your goal is not to eliminate those fears, but to build confidence in your ability to act despite your fears.

Be Realistic

You have to be able to make an honest appraisal of situations. You have to see circumstances as they are, not as you want them to be. Blowing sunshine up your own tail because you won’t see how bad things really are won’t do you or your family any good. Keep your hopes and expectations within the estimate of the situation. When you go into a survival/SHTF situation with unrealistic expectations, you are laying the groundwork for bitter disappointment and death.

Follow the adage, “Hope for the best, expect the worst.”, it is much easier to adjust to pleasant surprises about an unexpected good fortune, such as finding a berry patch, than to be upset by unexpected harsh circumstances.

Adopt a Positive Attitude

Learn to see the potential good in everything. Looking for the good not only boosts your morale, it also is excellent for exercising your imagination and creativity.

Remind Yourself What Is at Stake

Failure to prepare yourself mentally to cope with a survival/SHTF scenario leads to depression, carelessness, inattention, loss of confidence, poor decision-making, and giving up long before your body does. YOUR life is at stake, and perhaps  the lives of your family who are depending on you to do your share, keep that in mind.


By reading, attending a survival training school, practice, and your life experiences, you can begin, today, to prepare yourself to deal with the rigors and challenges of survival. Practicing your skills in realistic training sessions will give you the confidence you will need to call upon them should you find yourself in a survival/SHTF situation(if your plan is to walk out-of-town to your bug out site if TSHTF and your pudgy ass can’t make it half a block with your gear on your back, you’re not being realistic). Remember, the more realistic the training, the less stress in an actual survival/SHTF situation you will have.

Learn Stress Management Techniques

People under stress have been known to panic if they are not well-trained and ready mentally to face whatever the circumstances may be. While you often cannot control the circumstances in which you find yourself, it is within your ability to control your response to those circumstances.

Learning stress management techniques can significantly enhance   your ability to stay calm and focused as you work to keep yourself and others alive. A few good techniques to develop include relaxation skills, time management skills, assertiveness skills, and cognitive restructuring skills (the ability to control how you view a situation).

Remember, “The will to survive” can also be considered to be “The refusal to give up.”

In part 4 of our series The Psychology of Survival we will cover the importance of planning for your survival and how planning figures into the psychology of survival.

I look forward to seeing your comments and as always, Train to Survive!


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