I found this description of what it’s like to live in survival mode by Chaitali Gursahani very fitting:
It turns out, I wasn’t overreactive or sensitive at all. I was in survival mode, and my body and mind perceived everything as a threat. My body tried to keep me safe from anything remotely different by putting me into a fight, flight, or freeze state. My mind was generally hyper vigilant of others’ moods and reactions. So, my body didn’t know how to relax, and it was exhausted over the years.
As I have gotten older and healthier, I find myself “overreacting” much less. (Yes, I’m putting quotes around it because while it may seem like an overreaction to an outsider, in our heads as survivors, there’s nothing over about any of it.) As I pondered that description, I realized there are places where the idea of having a sensitive or strong reaction seems very unlikely, and yet there are places where it still happens today. You may ask, what’s the difference between those places?
In a word, it’s safety. When I feel safe, I am not living in survival mode. When I do not feel safe, I am constantly in survival mode. At home with my wife, I feel safe. I don’t overreact, we rarely argue, and I rarely have a strong emotional fight, flight, or freeze reaction. I exist safely without the need for that.
The same thing happens at work when I feel safe, secure in my role, and confident about my abilities. However, when I don’t feel safe, feel like my job is at risk, or feel less confident about my abilities, I am more likely to react from my survival mode.
Maybe, instead of blaming people for overreacting, we should consider for a moment why they do not feel safe. And instead of beating ourselves up for overreacting, we consider how to ground ourselves and remind ourselves of our safety when the need arises.
As survivors, our healing depends on our ability to create a life where we feel safe. That means both being in a safe place and learning to recognize that safety to get out of this constant survival mode. That mode is not sustainable. It was never meant to be a constant state of being.