This post was updated on Jul 22, 2020
Do you use survival patterns… and not even know it?
What Are Survival Patterns?
They are skills you develop to help you navigate your emotional pain. These patterns, often referred to as love styles, help you manage and tolerate the feelings you have.
Survival patterns tend to show up when you have some unresolved emotional trauma.
Unfortunately, survival patterns don’t always serve you.
How Your Childhood Affects Your Love Style
To help you see if you do have patterns and show you how traumas create negative patterns in relationships, let me share my story.
I was born into a beautiful family. My parents loved each other, and this love flowed to my older sister, Joy Ann and myself. For the first couple of years of my life, I felt loved, wanted and cared for.
I felt happy and secure, especially with my father.
Then, when I was a toddler, tragedy struck.
My father drowned in a canoeing accident at the coaching camp we attended together.
He was in a canoe with another coach and two basketball players. They were joking around, splashing water on each other. And then my father fell out of the canoe. He never resurfaced.
It took a long time to find his body.
That day changed my life forever.
From that moment onwards, my mom checked out due to grief. She shut down. Worse still, the doctors told her that she should start drinking a couple of glasses of wine each night, to help her sleep.
She started with two, but this quickly grew to eight glasses… and developed into alcoholism.
At the age of four, I essentially lost both parents.
My mother was a beautiful woman and soon after my father died, she met a man in a bar. She remarried within six months.
My stepfather had no idea what he was signing up for. He began to control our environment because my Mom had lost control. It felt like he took her away from me. For the first time in my life, I had feelings of jealousy.
To deal with this I started to develop survival patterns, or skills to deflect the emotional pain I was feeling. The survival pattern I developed was secretive behavior.
And one of the secretive habits was stealing my stepfather’s peanuts. This helped me feel in control when everything around me had been lost.
I wanted to feel like something was mine.
I was only five, and I remember taking six to eight peanuts at a time. I knew if I took more than ten, he would notice and yell at me. This level of detail was a result of the trauma that I had early in my life.
Stealing peanuts was a silent way to control my emotional pain.
It was my way of rebelling against someone who took away my mother and started her alcoholism – or so my five-year-old self thought.
Does Childhood Trauma Ever Go Away?
Survival patterns typically remain the same in our adulthood. When my inner child was activated in my adult life, then I would once again turn to my secretive behavior as a survival pattern.
I would secretly go out on a quest to obtain something that I could take and claim as mine.
I developed these secretive behaviors because I felt abandoned as a child and wanted to have something of my own.
When I was a teenager, I’d steal clothes, so no one would know how screwed up things were at home.
When I was an adult, I continued being secretive by hiding my feelings and trying to control the outcomes in relationships.
Today, when I work with my clients as a relationship coach, I see them incorporating survival patterns to manage and tolerate their feelings. Feelings that trace back to their childhood.
They continue using the same love styles to cope in their adult lives.
The result… the drama continues, and the past trauma continues to get activated, even in situations where it’s not reasonable to have intense emotions.
It’s important to consider how your survival patterns are still showing up today and to see how they negatively impact your adult relationships.
What Is Your Survival Pattern?
See if you recognize any of these patterns below:
The Avoider Love Style
If you’re an avoider, you’re probably sensitive to criticism, rejection, and failure.
You may try to escape getting hurt by making yourself smaller or invisible.
You live within your controllable comfort zone, but you criticize yourself before anyone else can do this to you. You are constantly on the lookout for signs of judgment, criticism or danger.
As an avoider, you remove yourself from relationships where you have the risk of getting hurt.
The Pleaser Love Style
As a pleaser, you may believe that to avoid getting rejected or abandoned, you need to please everyone, making sure that everyone is “ok” with you.
As a pleaser you may have a role, such as:
- The caretaker – you may feel very responsible for others;
- The chameleon – you can fit in everywhere;
- The joker – you try to win people over by being fun and the life of the party.
Whichever role you take, it’s all about putting others first.
As a child you may have grown up keeping the peace by helping. And as an adult you feel burnt out and unfulfilled. As a pleaser your sense of self-worth and safety depends on the approval of others.
The Controller Love Style
As a controller you feel you need to dominate people and situations. You may feel that you need to control outcomes in relationships, as well as every aspect of your life.
You may even take on the role of being the authority so you can enforce your ideas and rules on others, just to avoid feeling exposed, powerless and unsafe.
By controlling others, you feel more empowered and secure. However, underneath this you may have deep feelings of inferiority, vulnerability and pain, which trace back to traumas from your childhood.
The Achiever Love Style
Are you known as a go-getter, the one who achieves a lot? And who always exceeds everyone’s expectations?
Do you strive for the next achievement, never taking time to enjoy what you just accomplished?
Do you sometimes call yourself a perfectionist? And can’t accept mediocrity?
Your identity and self-worth are defined by your successes because your self-esteem comes through achievement. However, although you achieve goals, deep inside you may still have the fear of not being good enough, which motivates you to keep achieving.
This may lead to you feeling burnt out, empty, or unfulfilled. The result is that your relationships may suffer.
How Do I Overcome My Survival Pattern?
These survival patterns are your “go-to,” but you’ll see that most of the actions and behaviors no longer serve you. And they ultimately stop you from creating healthy relationships with other adults.
It’s not easy to change your behavior because it’s ingrained in your relationship dynamics. This makes it challenging for you to develop healthy emotional intimacy with your partner.
The first step is to be aware of your old patterns. See what triggers it. Early childhood relationships are the first place to look to identify survival patterns.
The next step is to know what your core wound is. Search your history to see what childhood trauma is unresolved. And GET HELP.
My core wound is abandonment and not feeling good enough. As a child, I constantly feared that I would be left.
The good news is that no matter what survival pattern you have, it doesn’t mean you’ve got this for life.
Let An Experienced Relationship Coach Help!
If you are committed to change, then you’re not stuck with your unhealthy love style forever. Instead, you need to be open to change and find a relationship expert to talk about the pain that’s inside of you and learn how to love yourself first.
Relationship coaching can also help you if you can’t seem to accept love or need help dealing with being ignored, as well as with a whole range of other issues. Remember you are worthy of happiness and love, and a healthy relationship.
Looking for a relationship coach online? If you are ready to create meaningful connections and overcome addictive relationships, then contact PIVOT. We offer effective relationship issues workshops at The Glass House, as well as transformative individual relationship coaching. We’re here to help.