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The 6 Core Survival Strategies

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

10 Understandings to Empower You, Your Life + Relationships


We could say that we grow up in a predominantly emotionally illiterate society. And so learning the emotions in context to our younger parts and our family history is the alphabet of a new emotional language.


Much of our human suffering is not necessary. It is created by old patterns of feeling and acting that helped us survive the woundings of childhood, but then got stuck in our bodies.

What we made up about ourselves, what we made up about the world, and what we made up about the way we needed to act in order to have our needs met or receive love.

These patterns have shaped us so deeply that now we can think that’s who we are.

But these patterns are not your true self.


In fact, they cover up your true self and prevent it from shining out into the world.


Fortunately, there is a map of these survival patterns, a map that helps you:


• Discover how you got stuck and how to get free

• Heal your core wounds

• Learn the skills you missed

• Communicate effectively with others

• Develop emotional maturity

• Become all you can be


Steven Kessler in his book The 5 Personality Patterns, lays out that map and shows you the path out of your suffering and back to your true self.


Once you know where you’re going, the inner journey becomes much easier.
Without a map, you may have been walking in circles for years. With a map, you can find your way home.

This is a groundbreaking contribution to support your life and relationships.

It gives you a map of personality that allows you to easily understand yourself and others.


It shows you what people caught in each of the five survival patterns want and fear and how to interact with them successfully.

And it shows you how to soften your conditioned habits of attention, return to presence, and develop emotional maturity.


This book lays out that map and shows you the path out of your suffering and back to your true self.


Once you know where you’re going, the inner journey becomes much easier. Without a map, you may have been walking in circles for years. With a map, you can find your way home.


10 Things You Need to Know to Understand People

1. Everyone is seeking safety. It's an inborn, instinctual need. Even when it's not obvious, this is the main motive driving most people's behavior, most of the time.


2. As children, we figured out two or three ways to feel safer. They became habits, then automatic patterns. As we grew, they shaped our personality.


3. Now those safety strategies run our lives. We go into those behaviors as soon as we feel distressed. It's involuntary; our bodies just do it automatically.


4. Many of us live inside our safety strategies. We do them almost all the time. We think, "That's just the way I am." They control how we act, what we think, and how we feel.


5. Being caught in a safety strategy distorts our thoughts and feelings. It even distorts our raw perception. While we're in one of our safety strategies, we're no longer fully present in the here and now. The past traumas that led us to adopt this strategy are coloring and intensifying our experience.


6. Different safety strategies distort our perception in different ways. Each strategy highlights what it thinks will bring more safety, so different strategies emphasize different aspects of the current situation.


7. People using different safety strategies live in different worlds. Literally. All the time.


8. But we see only our own version of the world. We never realize that other people are seeing something different. If we don't know about the five safety strategies, we can't understand why others behave so differently. So we judge them and think, "What's wrong with them? Why don't they see what I see?"


9. To regain control over your own life, you must understand your own safety strategies. Then you can recognize when you're caught in one, take steps to shift out of it, and return to being present.


10. To communicate effectively with others, you must understand their safety strategies. That helps you package and send your message in a way that works for them, and it helps you receive and translate their message so that it works for you. When you understand the five safety strategies, it's easy to understand people. Seeing people this way is like having x-ray vision.




The Leaving Pattern

"This place scares me. I want to go home."



Here, the wounding happened very early, most likely during pregnancy, when the baby’s incoming spirit did not experience the safety that it needed to complete its transition into the physical world. During this time, the developmental task is embodiment, the process by which the spirit re-orients itself from the spirit world to the physical world and bonds with the physical world and the physical body. Ideally, the physical body and the physical world feel safe enough to the baby’s spirit for it to settle into the body and claim it. Then her spirit can use the body as a reference point, a center to return to if it gets lost or shattered. As time goes on, her physical body then develops an energetic boundary that keeps out foreign energies and increases her felt sense of safety.


In the formation of the leaving pattern, however, something in the physical world repeatedly shocks the incoming spirit so badly that its attention fragments, causing it to flee back to the spirit world to protect itself. Being shocked out of the body this way interferes with the spirit’s process of orienting itself to the physical world and rooting itself in the physical body. These shocks leave the newborn baby’s delicate self so vulnerable that any intense energy directed at her can cause her self to once again shatter into fragments. And without a felt reference point in the body to return to, she finds it difficult to reassemble her self.

Such repeated shattering prevents a child from ever coalescing a strong sense of self, firmly anchoring it in the body, and creating the strong energetic boundary around her body that will make her less vulnerable to future shocks. This means that, even as an adult, she will be easily overwhelmed. Her self will tend to fragment under pressure, which may leave her unable to function because she cannot find a center from which to operate. Most likely she will maintain a strong connection to the spirit world and will be highly creative, sensitive, and aware of energetic phenomena. But she will doubt her right to exist in the physical world and will have trouble functioning here.










The Merging Pattern

“I can never get full. I’m not enough.”


Here the unfulfilled need was for nurturance. The deprivation happened during the first few years of life, usually in relation to feeding. The child didn’t get or couldn’t take in the nourishment and soothing she needed, so she never felt full and satisfied. The tension of being hungry or otherwise upset was not fully released, so some anxiety always remained in her system. This anxiety further inhibited her ability to take in and metabolize nourishment and she got stuck in a cycle of needing, not being able to effectively receive, and never getting full. This left her feeling hollow and empty inside.


There are two ways that she can handle this situation. She can identify with the need and wait for rescue, or she can project her need onto others and then try to fulfill their needs. The first method leads to the pure merging pattern, the second to the compensated merging pattern. These are fundamentally the same survival pattern, but in the compensated merging pattern the feelings of need and helplessness are covered over by a pretense of self-reliance and power.

A child in the pure merging pattern will be clingy, fragile, and need a lot of attention. A child in the compensated merging pattern will act self-reliant too soon by rejecting her own needs and focusing on helping others instead. While the second child looks more functional, the compensation is only a mask covering the unfinished work of this stage of development. In both situations, she practices referencing others, but avoids referencing herself. The gift of this strategy is that she then becomes skillful at sensing the needs of others and providing what’s needed.




Compensated Merging Pattern

"You have it, I need it, Let me do it for you"


This child could not stand feeling so needy. In their family having needs was shamed and helping others was praised they may have been told “don’t be so selfish” “take care of your brothers and sisters”

They developed an additional layer of defense against their own neediness by

shifting from the playing of the infant to playing the mother

Instead of being a helpless baby with needs, she can be the helpful giving mother.

Rather than denying or condemning her troublesome needs she simply projects those needs onto somebody else now.

Instead of feeling that she needs something, she feels that you need something


something that goes like...I need you to give it to me—

I can give it to you!

Now she can feel big and strong instead of small and needy.

She has shifted from the role of rescuee into the role of rescuer.

as the giver, she no longer experiences herself as deprived and needy.

Now she experiences others as deprived and needy and herself as the one who can fill those needs


Feels responsible for keeping everyone else happy, gives more than she can afford and drains their self dry their service is not being supported by Good self care

He's ignoring his own needs more strenuously than a person in pure merging.

It's very difficult to ask for help or even except help when it’s offered

In an attempt to grow up and practice the strength and will needed to become a capable adult, this person does not have the foundation needed and they create only the pretence of strength. They will present themselves as very competent and self-sufficient saying things like “I don’t expect anything “and “I don’t want to be a burden” but inside they often have an annoying feeling a falseness

Culture usually applauds self-reliance and self-sufficiency and shames people for being needy and dependent

so usually the child in a pure merging pattern is encouraged by her culture to shift into the compensated side of the merging pattern.








The Enduring Pattern

“You can’t make me, leave me alone


At around the age of two, a new need arises in the child. He is now walking and talking and grappling with the discovery that he is separate from his mother. This discovery of separateness brings with it the need for autonomy — the need to be in charge of his own body and actions. He begins to say “No!” and to oppose any attempt to control him.


While this assertion of his autonomy is exactly what he needs to do to complete this developmental stage, this is also a distinctly new behavior, something a baby doesn’t do. If a parent or caregiver cannot tolerate his budding autonomy, a conflict will arise. As the parent tries to suppress his autonomy by controlling and punishing him, he will feel humiliated and enraged.

He will actively resist the parent’s domination for as long as he can, but will eventually conclude that he cannot win and will switch to resisting passively. He will withdraw deep inside himself to protect his last shred of sovereign territory and, in a last act of autonomy, turn his will against himself to suppress his own desire to act and even to express himself. He will hunker down and limit his opposition to “You can’t make me.” This method of relating to the world is the core of the enduring survival pattern.

To make this survival strategy work, a child must have the will and strength required to silently persevere, even while enduring hardship and mistreatment. He does this by sending his life energy, even his very self, down into the ground and hiding it there. The difficulty is that he gets stuck down there, unable to move and act in the world. The benefit is that people who do this survival pattern are typically more grounded than others and often have great stamina.




The Aggressive Pattern

“There’s no safety anywhere. It’s a jungle out there.”

Here, the unmet need was the need to feel contained and protected by something larger and stronger. This child won the battle for autonomy and felt proud of his strength and will. But then, in what felt to him like a life or death situation, he discovered that what he loved and trusted was not there to protect him. So he faced his fear alone and survived by summoning all his internal resources and willing himself through it. He felt betrayed, and it was his trust in others that was shattered. The unfulfilled need was once again safety, but here the focus was on the interpersonal, emotional safety of being able to depend on others.


This feeling of being failed or betrayed by what he thought was protecting him can be created in several different ways. In the simplest scenario, the child simply has such a big energy that his parents are not able to energetically contain him. He wins all the battles, but discovers that he faces the world alone.

In another scenario, one parent seduces him into a coalition against the other. In doing this, the seducing parent is ignoring the child’s needs and using the child to meet his or her own needs. The seduction may include sexuality, but is often purely emotional. When he realizes that his love for the parent was used to manipulate him, the child concludes that loving is dangerous and that it opens the door to being used and betrayed. He closes his heart and unconsciously resolves, “You will never do that to me again.”

The child who develops the aggressive pattern has developed a cohesive sense of self, a strong will, and the ability to defend his own personal space, but he is always a little guarded. He finds it hard to trust or depend on others, or even to let them have their own space — space that he does not control. He still harbors a deep, unconscious terror that he will once again be used and betrayed. Dominating every situation becomes his only way of creating a sense of safety for himself. He does, however, become skillful at making things happen in the world, and this becomes one of the gifts of the aggressive pattern.






The Rigid Pattern

“I am my performance. So are you.”

The injury here was that the parents could not value the child’s inner experience. Having lost contact with their own inner life, they could not nurture their child’s inner life. Instead, they focused on the child’s appearance and performance, on things like manners, posture, correctness, and grades. They taught her to follow the rules they followed, and to obey the authority they obeyed. They could love their child for her achievements and performance, but not for her feelings and beingness.


Each of us needs our inner self, our being, to be seen and valued. If our parents see only our appearance and performance, we tend to lose contact with our inner experience and come to believe that our surface — our performance — is all that we are. Without contact with our inner self, we are unable to find our own inner guidance, so we have to rely on an outer form of guidance to help us make decisions.

A child who suffers this injury becomes focused on the forms and rules of life and loses touch with life’s essence and substance. She tends to experience the world indirectly, through words, rather than directly through sensations and feelings. Rules replace personal feelings in her decision making process. She may use language well and become a terrific performer, but for her, doing has replaced being, and the map has replaced the territory. In new situations, her plea will be, “Tell me the rules,” because without the rules, she has no way to navigate.

When extra energy hits their system, they will attempt to contain it so that it does not affect or interfere with her performance. Instead of allowing it to emotionally move her, she will shunt the energy into activity — she will get busy and do something. People who go into this survival pattern are often very successful on the outside, living in model homes with perfect lawns, but without much feeling, creativity, or color in their lives.



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