Survival is the core of your life story because your survival-focused brain
creates your story. We like to think we're focused on higher things, but our brain was naturally selected to seek rewards and avoid pain. You don't like to think of yourself as a reward-seeking, pain-avoiding creep, so you edit your story. You risk editing out the core of who you are unless you understand your primitive brain. Here are some strategies for honoring your primal self:
1. I'm a Mammal, You're a Mammal
When you're ashamed of focusing on your own survival, remember that others are focused on theirs. We each have the limbic system common to all mammals. It releases happy chemicals when you promote your own survival, and unhappy chemicals when you see a survival threat. Everyone is trying to get more happy chemicals from their mammal brain. When you understand your mammalian motives, it's easier to avoid acting on them. If you refuse to acknowledge your primitive impulses, you may end up disguising them with fancy philosophy and letting them rule you. So accept your brain's survival focus, whether others do or not.
2. Stay in Your Own Head
People are always telling you to focus on others, but your brain evolved to focus on you. When you ignore yourself and focus on others, you are likely to end up frustrated and blame it on them. You cause your own frustration if you try to live your life in other people's heads rather than your own. People have trouble understanding each other because each brain wires itself from its unique life experience. Your brain built its own survival model, and relies on it as if your life depended on it. Others often fail to understand your survival model, but when you try to give it up in favor of someone else's, your brain balks as if your life is threatened. Your story is the survival truth your brain has lived.
3. I'm OK, I'm OK
Your brain is good at scanning for threats. The more good you have in your life, the more your brain worries about losing it. You don't want to think that way, but that's what a survival- focused mammal brain does. These threatened feelings are easier to live with when you know they're fueled by ancient neurochemicals rather than hard fact. This brain of ours evolved to rush through the good times so it can get back to monitoring threats. Your story will focus on threats unless you constantly remind yourself that you are OK despite those primitive survival alerts.
Happy and unhappy chemicals make real physical changes in your neurons. Your life story is electricity flowing through the neural pathways you've built. Don't be ashamed of your brain's focus on survival. Shame cuts the guts out of your story. Instead, be proud of what you've done with your primitive survival-focused limbic system.
More on your mammal brain in my books I, Mammal, and Beyond Cynical: Transcend Your Mammalian Negativity. Plenty of free resources on the subject can be found on my PT bio page under "Research Papers," and at my website, InnerMammalInstitute.org.