The average American today considers comfort their greatest need. There is no scientific research needed to come to this conclusion. Just look around you and you’ll see people worried about vacations, going out to eat, parties, and the list goes on and on. Before I go any further, realize I have nothing against any of those things; in fact, I enjoy those comforts as much as the next person. The difference between us– me and most likely every person reading this website– and the rest of the world is that we understand that all these niceties are fleeting, and we have chosen to prepare for the worst. In an instant things can change, and having the mental aptitude to adjust to hard times or a TEOTWAWKI event is essential. Although, saying this now when things are easy is one thing; actually putting that into action when the SHTF becomes much more difficult. I do not claim to be a psychologist or someone who completely understands the whole range of human mental capacity, but what I can give testament to is that throughout my life I have been under extreme duress, both physically and mentally, and I hope to apply these circumstances in future events.
I grew up on a small family farm in East Central Ohio with loving, Christian parents who provided for me, and I learned a great deal in those early years. I learned to shoot and hunt. I played outside, got dirty, and was disciplined accordingly when needed. This foundation led to getting accepted into college, where I thought I wanted to join the FBI or be a highway patrolman. Well, things don’t always turn out like we hoped. After graduating college there were no jobs, and the military came a calling. After learning that it would take one to two years for my officer package to be accepted, I chose to go enlisted Air Force instead. This would, in my opinion, get me on a path and open my eyes to the world of prepping. The recruiter handed me a pamphlet with the acronym S.E.R.E Specialist on it. Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape is what it stands for, and I was instantly hooked. I had never even heard of S.E.R.E. before, but for the next year and half I trained, anguished, and was driven to the brink, just for the opportunity to become a SERE Specialist. I could write for hours and hours on my training and every aspect of survival that goes with it. What I really want to impart on you is the mental side of survival and how it can be applied to any and all future life-changing situations. This is one area where most are truly lacking in their preps. What I want to do is look at some of the things to expect physically and mentally when the grid goes down and put you on a different thought process of what to expect when all well-laid plans are up in smoke.
In any survival/SHTF/TEOTWAWKI situation there are five basic conditions that affects survival. (See figure 2-1) At the onset of any situation these conditions can be considered neutral and should be looked at as neither an advantage nor disadvantage. You can choose to succumb to the conditions, or you can use them to your advantage. The five basic conditions are environmental, which includes climate, terrain, and life forms. Second, you have the survivor’s conditions, which are physical, psychological, and material. Thirdly is duration– short-term, moderate-term, and long-term possibilities. Fourth are your socio-political conditions– friendlies, hostiles, and unknowns. Lastly are the induced conditions– nuclear/radioactive fallout, biological agents, and chemical agents. These conditions exist in any survival situation, and they will have the greatest bearing on the survivor’s action or inaction. There are whole books on the five conditions effecting survival, and there are many great sources out there for just these things. What we will be focusing on is how these conditions elicit emotional reactions. These emotional reactions vary greatly, but usually one thing is constant– it’s usually not the event that does a survivor in but their reaction to said event that is deadly. There are many emotional reactions, but the following are most common and will be discussed in detail: apathy, fear, and anger.
These emotional aspects of survival must be understood completely, just like you train to understand your plans and equipment. Maintaining a positive psychological outlook depends on your ability to cope with many factors. Some of these include knowing your physical and emotional limits, exerting a positive influence on your group or family, and managing both physical and emotional reactions to unforeseen circumstances. Everyone has been endowed with biological mechanisms, which aid us in adapting to stress. (Think “fight or flight”.) During our first phase of SERE training, called Familiarization, we were task saturated for 12 straight days 18 hours each day, with little to no sleep and very little food. This is to inoculate you into making clear decisions when you are at your limit. There were plenty of times when I failed the task of building a fire or getting my shelter built to standards because I couldn’t think clearly. It was okay, though, because it was training. In a real life situation failing is not an option, because one failure could mean the difference between life and death. This is where your ability to mentally accomplish the task ahead of you becomes the most important aspect. Having the best laid out plans and stock-piled preps doesn’t mean jack, if at the earliest signs of trouble your head goes to mush. This is where identifying these emotional reactions and correcting the response is vital to future survival.
Apathy is defined as a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. I like to think of it as something someone feels when they can’t affect their own outcome. This condition usually builds on slowly, but eventually takes over, and the person or persons are left helpless. Physical factors can also contribute to apathy; these may include prolonged exposure to the elements, dehydration, fatigue, and injury. One must also recognize the signs of apathy in other members of the group. This becomes especially important to watch for in other group members that have not prepared for grid down scenarios. During my training there were many instances where you could see apathy taking place among certain individuals. The best cure for this was for other group members to pick that person up and include them in things like decision-making and getting them to open up about what the cause of their stress was. This will be of utmost importance when SHTF, because not one among us will be able to go it alone. Yes, things will be hard, and yes bad things will happen, but to let fear and apathy take hold will surely doom the group.
Where apathy can result over time from worsening conditions of survival, there are other emotional reactions that overcome you instantly; take for example fear. The definition of fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. Not one among us can say we have not felt fear in our life at some point or another. These feelings could be caused by irrational thoughts or an actual event where our lives have been threatened, causing us to be afraid. Part of being a prepper is rooted in at least some fear of the unknown and actively preparing for future events to combat this fear. Take for example my personal fear of failing while going through SERE training. During the year and half of training I had many moments of fearing failure. My fear resulted from not wanting to disappoint my wife and family. Also, I feared the unknown of what my career would look like if I failed out of SERE. I knew my own abilities, but the fear of not living up to my own abilities was detrimental. When the time came to perform though, I was at my best. Did I always do things right? No, but I bounced back from the failures and finished my schooling. That experience has taught me that how a person reacts to fear depends just as much on the person as the actual event. Was my fear of failure somewhat irrational? Maybe, but this didn’t make a difference to me. The point was I used that fear in a positive way to advance the outcome I wanted. It isn’t always the physically strongest who survive but the ones who can demonstrate remarkable coolness in the face of adversity. When fantasy distorts a minor danger into a major one and vice versa, your behavior can become abnormal. There is a general tendency to under and overestimate fears, which leads to reckless behavior one way or another. It becomes necessary to constantly check your emotional behaviors and maintain proper control. The following symptoms can result in those who are afraid: quickening of pulse, dilation of pupils, increased muscular tension, fatigue, perspiration, nausea, and faintness. Along with these physical symptoms, a person may exhibit the follow psychological symptoms: increased hostility, confusion, inability to concentrate, feelings of unreality, panic, and/or stupor. Throughout history people have coped with these symptoms, successfully, by adapting to the fear. In adapting, they have found support in prior training and experiences. You must take action to control fear because you cannot run away from it. Some appropriate actions should be to understand the fear, admit that it exists, and accept fear as a reality. Using prior training, survivors should learn to think, plan, and act logically even when afraid. By using training opportunities, you can increase your capabilities by keeping physically and mentally fit. Know what equipment you have and how to use it, and learn as many new things as possible, because you never know when that knowledge will be needed. Also having a strong support system will lessen the psychological load you have to endure. Another thing that has prepared me for the unknown is trusting in the Lord our God.
Isiah 41:10 says, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” He also says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
The above verses speak clearly and have helped me in many past endeavors; they should let you know that ultimately God is in control. Although fear can be generated by many things, learning to control it, being prepared, having a support system, and having faith in God will clear your mind in moments of fear.
Another emotional reaction that will be felt in a survival situation is anger. You can also attach hate and resentment to this emotion and create a trifecta of unstable responses. In a survival situation people will become angry when they cannot fulfill the basic necessities of life. When anger is intense and cannot be relieved, the survivor loses control over the situation, which results in impulsive and often times destructive behavior. Anger is a normal response, which can have a purpose when carefully controlled. I know during SERE training there were many times I got angry for being unable to do the simplest task in an appropriate time or breaking a piece of equipment that was needed. These reactions could have led me to make more destructive decisions, if not for having support from teammates and “cooling off” in my own way. I would then learn from being angry to focus my efforts in a more constructive way. Just think, in the future, where you’re angry that a barter deal is going bad or maybe your survival garden is not producing. Are you going to become so angry that blood is spilled or are you going to destroy your garden in a fit of rage, or are you going turn that anger into a more focused thought process and fix the problem? Some individuals become angry quicker than others, and it is important to be able to self-identify these reactions. While anger can come on and subside quickly, it can be the one emotional reaction that causes the most harm. When a survival scenario, whether it be short-term or extended, occurs you should know what sets you off, where your anger limit is, and how to control it. Have stress relievers in place or be able to confide in someone who can calm you down in the heat of the moment. We all get angry sometimes, but being able to control this emotion will allow us to think clearly when ours and our family member’s lives are on the line.
My hope is that after reading this you not only think about the physical needs for future prepping but also the mental grind that is sure to take place. The mind is one of your greatest assets and being able to control the mental ups and downs will go a long way in any future survival situation. You can have all the preps and skills in the world, but how will you react when looters steal everything you have or your survival retreat is not reachable. Are you going to feel sorry for yourself and just give up, or are you mentally tougher than that. The will to survive is a must in any conceivable scenario, and recognizing that you are afraid, starting to feel apathetic or angry is the first step in fighting for your life and others around you. I pray that each and every one of you preps earnestly and keeps a sharp mind for the future.