Psychological Survival Mechanisms: PARARA | Psych Survival 102
People-pleasing, addiction, righteousness, arrogance, rationalization, aggression, are the psychological survival mechanisms we will elaborate in this post.
Following on from Psych Survival 101: The 3 D’s of Psychological Survival, there are several other psychological survival mechanisms we will discuss in this post. It would be valuable to read the first post before going deeper here because many key concepts are covered there.
In this post we will discuss:
Righteousness (you got that right! Righteousness is a survival mechanism!)
PARARA is a meaningless acronym from the first letters of the above-listed mechanisms. It's also a sound I use to tell my dogs to stop when they are out of control, because in Portuguese, Stop is "Para!". Which is what a lot of us need when we are acting out these psychological survival mechanisms, not just someone to tell us "Para!", rather to find a way to heal so we can stop living constantly in survival mode.
So let’s get into it…
As mentioned in the earlier post, people-pleasing is closely related to the base survival mechanism of dissociation, only in this case a person dissociates from their authentic self in order to self-preserve/survive an environment in which they feel constantly rejected. In extreme cases you may also feel that being yourself is a threat to others so you modify and adapt your personality to be more pleasing.
This can happen due to criticism or punishment for behavior that is triggering others. When we are children adults often get triggered and react adversely to our authentic behavior, and then give positive reinforcement when we behave in ways which are acceptable to them. This way a child learns that they can get love and affection from their primary caregivers by behaving in certain ways. They also learn that they will lose the love and attract anger when they behave in unacceptable ways.
In early life our parents and family are our only source of support so it is inconceivable for a child to do or think anything that will make the parents not like them — because that would threaten their own survival. For a child, losing parental support can be or feel life-threatening. In this case, people-pleasing becomes a survival mechanism where we start wearing a mask that is acceptable to hide the parts of us that are unacceptable.
Today this has been exaggerated with dental work, plastic surgery, extreme diets, social media filters, and other extreme culture trends that make people feel more accepted. The intense fear of rejection or disappointing someone can be paralyzing and leads to people becoming disconnected from themselves, and even fearing their authenticity as being a threat to their survival.
Your authenticity becomes a threat to your survival
Symptoms of people-pleasing behavior include:
resistance to ask for or accept help
feeling like a burden
inability to say no and set boundaries
a fear or avoidance of confrontation
fear to express or feel your emotions
over-thinking to say or do the right thing
obsessing over situations where you disappointed someone or they rejected / criticized you
Those are just some examples, there are many other behaviors that pleasers adopt. When you enter in this state, deep down you are fearing your survival and so you employ the survival mechanism of being a people-pleaser. This can be extremely disempowering as we avoid our unique gifts to fit into the mold that family, friends, and society deem acceptable.
Learning to disappoint others, to accept rejection, to receive criticism, can be very empowering to embody our authentic self. Realizing that the very people you try to please have no problem disappointing you can also help you shift. There is a lot to be said on this topic which will come in another post — for now we can realize that being a pleaser had a purpose that served well to help us survive. Today we can begin creating a life where we no longer need to depend on this all the time. Today we can start creating space and start taking space where we can be authentic without the fear of offending others or being a burden.
Commonly seen appearing with the base survival mechanisms of Depression and Dissociation, Addiction is a widespread survival mechanism in our society, perhaps affecting most people in the modern world. Addiction is not limited to substance abuse such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco. Any behavior we use to numb ourselves is an Addiction. That can be TV, food, sex, relationships, people, adrenaline, busi-ness / busy-ness / workaholism, distraction of any kind, etc.
This is one with which I have a deep personal relationship as I dealt with major addiction issues and have recovered and healed over the last 8 years. It must be emphasized here that the common narrative is "once an addict, always an addict" — in my opinion that is because most people never work on healing the addiction, they simply find coping mechanisms, substitutes, or ways to control the addiction — without ever dealing with the underlying causes driving the addictive behavior.
Addiction is a symptom, it is not a problem, rather it helps cope with the underlying problem
When you learn to heal the underlying factors you realize that the addictive tendencies are transmuted automatically. Once we reconnect with our power and have compassion for ourselves, we are able to love ourselves and be ourselves once again — in that there is no need for addictions to save us or protect us.
Addictions rescue us by giving us a distraction and numbing us from the harshness of reality
Telling someone to just "grow up and deal with reality" is not a solution, it just makes things worse because you are shamefully reminding the person of how they feel incapable and inadequate. I can personally say that my addictions helped me survive, I wouldn't be where I am today if I did not have those substances to save me, no matter the damage they caused, I was able to get through and reach a place where I could heal and recover and develop myself much stronger than ever before. All I can say is that it is possible to heal whatever is underneath the addiction — the suffering can be released and healed.
And that is the main point here — we have to work on healing whatever is being masked by our addictions, and that is possible with the right help, with compassionate help from people who have experienced and gone through the journey themselves rather than theorists who think they know what you are going through and come up with strategies they think will work but have negative consequences many times. Experience of healing is a key factor in guiding others to go through the same. This is even a requisite in many addiction programs. Find the right help and know it is possible to heal not just the addiction — all parts of you can be healed.
Righteousness + Arrogance + Rationalization
I have cobbled these 3 mechanisms together because they are strongly related to the base survival mechanism of Denial as explained in the first post. When we are in denial of the reality, it is because the reality feels overwhelmingly dangerous and we feel ill-equipped to deal with it. This is when the survival mechanism of denial kicks in — when we do not acknowledge the danger, psychologically we can feel safer and calmer. This works very well when the danger is not an immediate physical threat and we have no other resources or techniques at our disposal. Consequently, we develop and employ additional mechanisms to keep the Denial active, which includes Righteousness, Arrogance, and Rationalization.
While Righteousness is seen as a holy virtue, it is much more present in our world as a toxic behavior or psychological survival mechanism. In this case Righteousness is not about being right, it is about needing to be right, which can be very different from actually being right. When we need to believe we are right, it is because being wrong feels like a danger. If we are wrong, perhaps we could be wrong about other things too, and that is where our illusions that mask our denial come into threat.
Being wrong becomes a threat to dispelling our illusions that are protecting us
Arrogance can be seen with the same lens — it is a need to be better or superior or know more than others. This works the same way, and we can see that both stem from the root of insecurity. A deep insecurity in which being wrong or less feels like a threat to our existence. In arrogance we tend to dismiss information that may threaten or undermine our worldview. And it is important to realize that
Our worldview is based in denial
Rationalization is complementary to everything we have been discussing. In this case we deem "irrational" everything that doesn't fit into our denial-based worldview. Considering information that is foreign to our way of thinking feels like a threat because it may shake the very foundation of our illusions.
When Righteousness is met compassionately in an environment where we feel safe, where we are feeling held and guided to deal with the underlying reality which feels threatening, then it becomes easier to let our guard down and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
On the other hand, if someone inadvertently or deliberately impedes on our worldview, we can see how we or others may become aggressively defensive when we feel our beliefs are being attacked. And this is the lens with which we can go to the next and last survival mechanism in this post:
Aggression may be active or passive, and non-physical, so it is complementary yet different from the "Fight" instinctual survival mechanism.
We see people who are aggressive, mean, or disparaging, as "bad people". Such people are usually demonized and labeled in all kinds of ways to indicate that they are the problem — they are the oppressor and if they just behaved better things would be ok. We all have the tendency to switch into "mean-mode" in some moment or the other. The difference is that
When we are aggressive we always feel justified.
And guess what, so does everyone else! We all feel justified in being aggressive. And that is because we cannot bear the feelings underneath the aggression.
Fear drives aggression — the fear to feel a repressed emotion, the fear of our illusions being disqualified, the fear of being our authenticity being exposed, and other fears.
Disparaging behavior is a survival mechanism because in that moment when we feel too much pressure and stress, we do not know what else to do other than lash out at the stressor, or redirect it towards whoever is in front of us if we cannot directly address the stressor. Underneath that meanness and hostility is a vulnerable wounded person who was never taught to deal with their emotions, who was never protected and loved, who never felt empowered to deal with reality, and was treated perhaps in the very same way that they are acting out.
When we are hostile, we can stop and recognize that underneath that we are feeling vulnerable and scared. Once we can see it in ourselves we can see it in others. And instead of lashing out, or entering the sacred dance of arguments and fighting, we can recognize the need for safety, protection, and above all — compassion. Those who learn to incorporate these skills become excellent guides in complex stressful situations.
Putting Theory Into Practice
Knowledge cannot substitute action. And doing it yourself only works so far as you can see yourself. Having a space where you feel safe and guided, where you have others going through the same journey, where you can reflect with others what you cannot see in yourself, are all essential components to self development.
Participants of our Study of Self course find our groups to be an ideal setting to uncover the veil of these psychological survival mechanisms in a safe and vulnerable space where they can heal the underlying traumas to reconnect with their power and compassion. Our next cohort for the Empowering Yourself & Others course starts this week, you can send a message or schedule a 1-1 call if you are interested in participating. You can also view a demo and preview on the course page linked above.
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