We do not know what the future brings, though in the survival community there is no shortage of speculative events that may occur. This article is a brief primer on psychological techniques that can be used in a TEOTWAWKI scenario to help prepare for and stave off psychological fatigue until a time at which you can properly cope with the situation at hand. Also, it provides some coping techniques to help get you back on track after all has settled.
Why are we so driven to preparation? The answer is death. It is inevitable, and we must all face it when it is time. Freud, whether you like him or not, posited that there is a death drive (later dubbed “Thanatos” by his follower, Stekel) which is innate in all humans. This drive, whether figurative or literal, can be used to explain our compulsion to survive and the reasons behind post-traumatic stress disorders and the recurrence of traumatic imagery. The idea is that we all have a drive inside of us that compels us toward our own end and that this drive acts contrary to our usual motivation, which is to seek pleasure. Being a more basic drive, it overrides the drive to seek pleasure and instead focuses us on our demise. In terms of Evolutionary Psychology, it is more important to survive and continue to propagate than it is to experience pleasure. In more general terms, this conflict between our expectation of death and desire to live (seek pleasure) creates anxiety in us.
This anxiety produces stress, which we tend away from and want to relieve. In order to do so, we begin to prepare to negate the fear of death. Preparation of the mind, body and local resources give us a feeling of security and reduces our anxiety.
Can I prepare too much?
In some, this becomes compulsive–almost to the point of [clinical] hoarding. “I can use this when TSHTF,” would be a common phrase that many survivalists and “preppers” have used when picking up secondhand items. Even if it is for a very unlikely survival situation, “You never know….”
Preparation for future unknowns in and of itself is not a bad idea. In fact, it is recommended by our own government to a certain extent. (Imagine them actually giving good advice!) However, it should be cautioned that when survivalism rises to a clinical state of obsession and compulsion, one should be cautioned that what may be occurring is a psychological reaction to fear instead of logical and rational preparation for future events.
So how do you know if you are a survivalist or engaging in unhealthy behaviors? A good rule of thumb is to honestly evaluate if it is causing distress or interruption of your everyday routine and relationships. For example, if you cannot make rent payments or buy groceries because you are stocking up on survival supplies, then you may need to seek professional help. Likewise, if you have sacrificed personal relationships with friends or loved ones to prepare for TEOTWAWKI, it may be time to speak with a professional. Any counselor worth their salt will be able to assist in setting healthy boundaries when preparing. Further, if you are constantly questioning whether or not you are going too far, then it is okay to speak with a therapist. It is better to alleviate your fears than to stress whether or not you are psychologically well adjusted.
This is all said with the acknowledgement that survivalists are usually independent and want to be self-sufficient, both psychologically and physically. If you know of someone that meets the aforementioned criteria, talk to them about it. Getting past the stigma of counseling is the hardest part of it all.
The most important point
If there were to be one point in particular that was the most important and the most helpful in securing psychological security, it would be this: Get yourself right in whichever religious tradition you subscribe to. In the end, the ultimate goal of survival is just that- to survive and not to die. However, as I mentioned above, we all must die, and we all must ultimately face death alone. Whether it comes in a disaster or in our sleep when we are old and ready, it comes. Much of the fear associated with the unknown future comes from the fear of passing away, so much of the stress can be relieved by learning how to not fear death. Whether in Christianity by acknowledging that one goes to see Christ or in Atheism by acknowledging that one lived a full life and did what they could to further the wealth of the human condition, that is the ultimate defense against psychological stress during TEOTWAWKI; To know that ultimately one has done all they could for their fellow man and [to please] God.
Preparation (pre-crisis) – Plan ahead
Psychological imagery is one of the best ways to prepare for an event. However, it can be also just as traumatic as the event itself in some instances. Keep this in mind as you play through scenarios in your mind. For instance, it is one matter to acknowledge that loved ones may pass away during a worst-case scenario. Do not dwell on this fact, however. Acknowledge it as a possibility and if necessary, focus on what you must to prevent it or to cope with it after the fact. Learn from your loved ones and make sure that you are spending quality time with them now. That will help to assuage the pain if the worst does happen, later on. This applies not only to survivalism, but in day-to-day life as well. Spend what time you have available now, wisely.
Run through your action plans and have them down pat. Just as a peace officer or martial artist uses muscle memory in a fight or crisis situation, so too will you use your plan of preparation when crisis strikes. Know what your action items are and have them prioritized. Make a list if you are unsure you can remember everything. This can assist in keeping yourself calm and collected when everything else is falling apart around you. Just as it is important for you to assign one person to one job after a major accident (for example, you need to go call 911. Another person needs to perform chest compressions, et cetera). You need one task: follow your list of action items one by one.
Also, make sure that you are steeling yourself for major fatigue and emotional turmoil. This can be accomplished by setting milestones for success. For example, one could set goals to gather the family, round up supplies, get out of town, make it to the safe area, unpack all necessary supplies, set up a security perimeter, and hold a family meeting. After each is accomplished, check it off your mental (or physical) list. This gives a sense of progress and accomplishment so as to provide a sense of direction and progress. Otherwise, one may feel that nothing is getting done and a sensation of becoming overwhelmed may set in.
As for the emotional fatigue, plan to have a few games packed with your survival gear along with some personal effects. This will tie you into a sense of normalcy and provide respite from an otherwise terrible situation. By occupying your mind with something other than the situation at hand, you give your mind time to rejuvenate and process information. By the time crisis occurs, you shouldn’t have to think of “what do I do now?” This is why planning is so important. When disaster strikes, follow your plan and achieve your pre-determined goals. Have contingency plans already thought out. This will help from overloading you with excessive planning after you have entered a crisis situation.
Lastly, surplus your preparations by 10% or more (excluding the surplus you intend for personal use). The 10% surplus is for charity, which will be discussed next.
During the crisis – Bottle your emotions up if necessary. Survive.
Crisis, depending on how severe, may push you past your breaking point. I often wonder if I could pass by a child standing on the side of the road alone and crying during a crisis situation. Would I take them with me? Leave them with some supplies? Look the other way? This type of situation is more than plausible, and one which I have found difficulty in preparing for. This enters more into the realm of speculation in American psychology, as studies are lacking on the best course of action. Minimizing incongruent feelings during a crisis is key (i.e., I want to live, but I want to help others too.), though it would be unwise to expend all of your resources. This is where your 10% surplus will play a major role. Charitably give out supplies to those in dire need as you see fit, though judicious disbursements will be a necessity. Know what your criteria will be, such as giving to those who appear unable to provide for themselves or within savable limits (not critically wounded). Though it is likely there will be much pain and death in a major disaster, providing for others and potentially saving lives will give you a sense of accomplishment and a morale boost that you have managed to do some good in spite of bad circumstances.
As a word of caution, there may be need to distribute your charity anonymously. As we see in many disaster stricken countries, any time aid is distributed, word spreads quickly and crowds become angry when they feel as though they have been shorted. Giving charitably may be done best in the dark of night, through a local church, or by proxy.
If violence erupts and self defense is necessary, make sure that you only engage in legitimate self defense. Consider whether you will engage in self defense by proxy (protecting others that cannot protect themselves). One man cannot defeat an army, so you must show some discernment when choosing your battles. We see this all the time in Third World countries where [untrained or lightly-trained] militias rule. If it comes down to it, the natural instinct is to protect you and yours. I am a firm believer that we have these instincts for a reason, and that we should follow them when we have no other frame of reference or guidance to work from. You must set your mind to an idea and stick to it under great stress. Unless you have military combat experience, taking a life may be the hardest thing you do. Under this stress some men have broken down in the most vicious battles (specifically in the two World Wars). Advancements have been made in combat preparations by shooting at silhouette targets and now through virtual reality games, which may be something to consider if you have firearms in your preparations. Remember what you are fighting to protect and let that be your guiding force.
In all circumstances, if it comes down to your survival or someone else’s (assuming you are feeling altruistic at that point in time), you can focus on one goal. (For example, to make it to a certain waypoint, survive to the next day, etc…) and push everything else from your mind. Ignoring the rest of your environment will allow you to escape indecision long enough to get you secure, at which time you can deal with the emotional fallout.
Also, consider these suggestions for the duration of the crisis event (especially when protracted):
Create chore lists on rotating schedules so that people do not become burnt out doing the same thing over and over again.
Play games. Have fun. It is important to have social interaction during this time. Play games like “I Spy” or make up riddles. Keep the mind occupied so that it does not wander into depression or anxiety.
Sleep. This is a very important component. If running a security detail during a time of crisis, make sure that the person appointed to security gets relieved and has a few days off to relax.
Make social connections. If possible, make social connections with like-minded individuals and groups (which you may have done in the preparation stage). Social support systems are necessary in disaster situations. However, stay guarded against situations that may jeopardize your security.
Engage in spiritual activities. Pray. Make peace with yourself and God.
Post Crisis- Let it out.
In this stage, professional help may not be available. You may have suffered great trauma or still be undergoing insufferable hardship yet need to cope with your emotional turmoil. Unfortunately there is no magic fix to dealing with guilt and grief. We have emotions for a reason and need to allow ourselves time to go through the grieving process after tragedy. Allow for yourself to feel the emotions and to be sad. However, counter irrational beliefs as soon as they pop into your mind. We all would do things differently had we known then what we know now, but that is the nature of our human existence. We do the best we can with what we know at the time. No one can ask for more than that.
Do not allow yourself to play the [past tense] “what-if” game.
It would be silly to believe that you will ever fully recover from a terrible tragedy, so do not expect too much progress too soon. Do not rush the process.
Do not dwell on what you could have done, but focus on your successes and the fact that you have made it as far as you have. Stay upbeat about the future and the difference you will be able to make.
Do the best you can to relive the traumatic images over and over. Allow yourself to visualize them as a life-sized picture in your mind, but then shrink them down until the images are very small. Then visualize them being filed away in your mind. This is a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique for reducing the emotional magnitude of the memory.
Create a tribute to those who you’ve lost so that you can remember them and celebrate their lives. Take solace in your faith that they are in a better place. Do not allow the question of why they are gone, but instead ask how they lived. Use their memory to create in you a better self.
If suicidal thoughts enter your mind, remind yourself how you have survived thus far and the irony that you would take your own life after preparing to live for so long.
Talk to friends and family about your emotions. Let yourself express how you feel. By not doing so, you risk making yourself emotionally unstable. If you experience anger, sadness, violent outbursts, sleeplessness, nightmares or other similar symptoms, make sure that you keep talking to others and keep confronting irrational beliefs and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
It will never be the same as it was before, but you can grow from any tragedy. Keep the faith and finish the race.
The preceding article is based on several psychological studies and adapted to specific [societal collapse] scenarios relating to the absence of all professional mental health assistance. It draws from multiple psychological theories and practices with several techniques mentioned. This text is not meant in any way to substitute for, replace, or amend proper psychological evaluation or treatment. All individuals who believe they may need psychological treatment are strongly encouraged to seek assistance from appropriately licensed mental health professionals. This advice is not provided for any reason other than informational and entertainment purposes and is not intended for personal implementation except in the absolute absence of any other form of mental health assistance.