“As the morning sun back-lit our tent’s thin canvas shell, we sat shivering together, eyes wide and nerves shattered over the previous night’s ordeal. Hesitant fingers unzipped the tent flap a few inches from the top, but frosty breath blurred my vision as I pushed my forehead through the flimsy opening, hoping to see what might be out there, before it saw me.”
Oh, …it’s okay. It’s just that darn March Lion still circling our encampment. It’s minus eleven degrees this morning on the frozen tundra that used to be our yard. Now that’s just nasty. And those tracks in the snow overnight, ….must have been the neighbor’s dog again.
However, I’m using the melodramatic lion reference to stage a perceived threat that is indicated between the post title and the quotations, to set the mood for our minds to create more precarious expectations to follow.
We do this all the time—perceive a possible threat to ourselves. Usually, it’s unintentional, and often it’s created by the subconscious program within us that learned how best to keep us safe and secure in unsafe environments. Some psychologists refer to those learned responses to perceived threats as “coping strategies.” We adapt to what we repeatedly experience, or in essence, we cope.
Since I’m not a psychologist, I can only offer my opinion, but I think that we develop self-protective coping strategies early in childhood when we are at our most vulnerable stage. These modes or manners of perceiving and deflecting threats to our personal well-being become solidified over time into actual personas (mini-personalities or roles) that we adopt.
The persona’s intentions are to keep us safe and secure, where we receive all the love and nurturance that we so deserve, because when we have all those early needs of childhood met, we are capable of facing each new moment and each new day of our lives with confidence and self-acceptance.
But when those basic needs for safety and security—including feeling loved and wanted by those closest to us—are NOT met, we hide in that tent above, fearing the lion’s breath on our neck, …when there is no lion. Even the neighbor’s dog can send us into anticipatory turmoil when we feel this unstable and uncertain about our perceived fate.
And that’s the problem. Because how we perceive our environment and our proper place in that environment, is crucial to how we live our lives—with confidence and assuredness that we can handle whatever we need to handle, or with constant fear amidst the expectation of a sudden attack—cringing in the shadows, looking for a place to hide when someone looks threatening to us.
High-stress societies tend toward the latter interpretation. That’s why coping mechanisms are so prevalent (alcohol, drugs, medications, addictive behaviors, etc.) .
I would prefer that we stop “coping” and start examining why we feel the necessity to cope. Perhaps our coping strategies that developed from our childhood situations onwards are the very reason that we find ourselves in whatever challenging situations that we do at present.
We may be the unwitting victims of our own out-dated survival tactics: Perceiving the immediate environment around us a certain way that it may not be. Trying to mold ourselves into someone else’s idea of what we should be, by trying to be too perfect, or too accommodating, or too exciting, or just too much like someone else that we aren’t.
Maybe we need to stop and ask ourselves some basic questions such as: What do we really want from life? What do we really need in our lives? And what (or who) are we willing to draw a line in the sand for, before simply “settling” for something less?
Self-awareness is essential to charting that enigmatic path between our inner motivations and our outer behaviors. To better understand ourselves is a crucial first step to better understanding each other.
Journaling and meditation are good starting points to increasing that self-awareness.
Discovering who we are at the core of our being is a key to understanding how we view life and assume our place in it—whether with confidence or with fear.
So let’s take that first step toward throwing the tent-flap open and facing down the dog that’s hiking its leg on our holly bush.