Part 6 of 6
Final thesis chapter includes:
- Maslow’s safety and security needs
- The psychology of negativity in a crisis
- The need to die, a final act
Maslow’s safety and security needs
The next level up from survival needs was security needs, as reported in Maslow’s needs pyramid (Maslow, 1943). With shelter, water, foods needs now met, a new set of needs became sought, which were safety and security.
Everything that drove us in the physiological needs in the way of motivation and behavior, now also applied to the safety and security needs, although currently not as desperately or vigorously as Maslow pointed out (1943). We indeed found Maslow’s concept to be accurate within our security seeking drive as well. Here in the safety and security needs level, we had more time to ponder our current situation as well as how we plan to move on in the future, but not only that, we also tried to imagine how the future will be. Will we have a home? Will we have a future? Will we have some form of normality after this crisis?
These questions floated in our minds and dominated some of the conversations throughout the night. Due to the fact that this was now the priority of our lives at the moment and for the unforeseen future. Maslow’s theory of human motivation regarding priorities once again came true. Maslow claimed that a person in this safety state is living for security and his safety (1943) as I have observed and analyzed the conversations, security seems to be the only thing on people’s minds.
The group now had the luxury to ponder, this pondering was a double-edged sword, it gave us time to plan, but at the same time, it gave us the idle time to think negative thoughts due to not having anything to do but seek food and water. Once we secured water and food, there was nothing to do all day but wait and ponder and philosophize, and in this safety and security mode crept in the feelings of anxiety and depression. Prelude to anxiety and depression, idle time was the killer.
Thoughts of the future once again activated the amygdala sending surges of emotions of sadness and fear. It was apparent and imperative that the group understands and recognizes what was happening in the brain and hormones to help reduce these effects on behavior, motivation, and emotions. Moreover, as time went by and when everyone had the cognitive abilities to comprehend what I was explaining to them, I attempted to tell what was going on in our brain that affected our psychology.
Secure source of water, food, and shelter
How do we secure a constant supply of water and food now that we had shelter? This lack of security yet once again brought on anxiety, but lower levels of stress that led more often than not to anger. Anxiety was more a result of the questions we all had, and that question being, what if we lose it all and have to start all over again speculation, and can we do it all over again?
Brain activity was once again in the fight or flight mode, thus producing an “adrenalin highjack,” regardless of the good fortune we had. The mental endurance of keeping your security, clear thinking, motivation, behavior, health, and food, as well as water intake, took its toll on many.
Motivations to secure, fear, anxiety, and dread of loss. To keep the security, we were striving for, in addition to securing a constant supply of food and water; we needed to be in a good mental health state. Security concerns regarding how we are going to ensure a continuous supply of water, as well as a constant supply of food as the weather slowly got worse. In addition, we needed to secure our shelter from the elements. Lastly, how do we secure our health both mentally and physically?
This ordeal of being homeless took its toll on the members, we all lost lots of weight due to a shortage of nutritious foods, low energy made motivation a big challenge to go out further in search of food due to the fact we had little energy to come back to the shelter.
Now stuck living in a structure that is more permanent, it was time to think, ponder, and plan. Some members, who had a positive outlook, had a slightly better overall mental health versus the negative members of our group.
I will address the issue of the negative members to see what was going on in their brain and mind as we were living in this makeshift shelter. A few challenges arose that reduced our health. Number one was food, not being able to secure food sometimes for a day or two, greatly reduced morale. The times we did acquire food, due to the size of the group, it was not plentiful. As a result, the mental health from deteriorating cells due to lack of nourishment took its toll.
The lack of full security brought on a whole plethora of mental health challenges. Anxiety, depression, fear, dread, hopelessness, and negativity ate away on the group like a plague. The group needed to feel secure, and that security did not seem to come right away.
Once we had food and water, even though it was trickling in as we came across it, it was not secure 100 percent. We just did not know if we would have enough the following day, week or month. Group members resorted to all types of behavior to secure their hard gained food supply and to keep a shelter over their heads. Once again, some group members would do immoral things to ensure this security, lie, steal, sell out their values such as prostituting themselves out or some even used their strength to force their will. All this just to keep things secure. Although other members did not give in to negative behaviors, instead, they resorted to planting, foraging and other items needed to ensure ample supplies of necessities.
Maslow’s observation that everything seems less important in life than safety, even food needs seem to be ignored when the security drive kicks in (1943). Therefore, I observed this also to be a phenomenon in our group as they sought survival and security.
Due to anxiety which drove fear, basic foods began to be neglected, this anxiety that generated fear cause the brain to be overloaded with adrenalin which paralyzed some to inaction that in fact food supply and water supply was getting low. The anxiety of losing it all again froze some and made them waste precious time and energy as well as hydration by overloading the brain. The brain signaling stress responses caused effects on the physiology and started to inject loads of cortisol into the person, causing more physiological stress responses.
Our main enemy at this stage once again was fear, anxiety, depression, and stress, due to the luxury of the shelter that we can now actually ponder our situation, and not in a good way. This cycle seems to be repeating itself constantly.
Need to feel safe and not feeling safe. The lack of feeling safe did not come strictly from not having a lock on a door or a proper permanent structure such as a home or apartment, but more from negative self-talk. By negative self-talk, as observed in some people, started with silence and moments of contemplation and the processes in the brain such as cortisol release due to anxiety.
The observation of this negative self-talk, such as doubt and self-defeating topics such as the thought that we will all die and so on, ended with destructive self-harming behavior in a few of the group members. Once again the fight or flight response system of the brain kicked in to deal with the perception of an unknown threat called the “what ifs.”
Behaviors expressed. Due to not having a constant supply of food and insecurity for approximately 45 days of living homeless, some members gave in to extreme stress and anxiety. They could not effectively workout sorting physical objects such as tools, and even had a harder time doing tasks as the demand increased. Anxiety and stress hurt the group’s ability to think things out with clarity, and the mental processing of information. Solutions to basic problems were hard to come by, overreaction, lack of perception of real threats and perceived threats caused many to overreact.
However, I observed in some members of the group that the more the crisis threatened their survival, the more imaginative and creative they became to survive. For some members, stress and anxiety impeded their creativity while in other members it was a great motivating factor to survive. However, when I observed that hunger and thirst reached extreme limits within the members, Strickland also observed that even creative people reached their limits to keep motivated and be creative (2006). Maslow’s theories of motivation in this matter also had mixed result to a degree; I also have witnessed this mixed result in practice.
When the crisis was prolonged, the creative people became less and less creative due to stressors on the brain stemming from the amygdala and constant supply of cortisol which affected their physiology, emotions, behavior, and motivation the same as the non-creative group. However, the creative members of the group’s longevity to survive were much stronger due to a positive behavior as well as having hope, even in the midst of external problems as well as internal psychological challenges.
The psychology of negativity in a crisis
Brain physiology in negative thoughts. Negative memories do to negative experiences, have a direct impact on the amygdala, and when a negative experience gets recalled from memory, it produces a negative aversive response, which is connected to the flight and fight response to threats (Whalen & Phelps, 2009).
The thalamus perceives stress and sends sensory and motor messages throughout the body (Harvard health publication, 2016). However, the thalamus does not distinguish between a real threat and a perceived false threat or negative thoughts. It does not know that those negative thoughts are not real threats, but the signals they send out to the body are the same as real threats. The thalamus, in turn, prepares the body for action to a threat by either running or fighting (Harvard health publication, 2016). With this fact, I witnessed that the body started the process of physical stress reactions such as higher blood pressure, high arousal stimulation, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and sweating within many of us. Even though there was no threat, the thalamus put the body into auto drive symptoms of a real threat, thereby causing a panic attack in some of the members.
These negative thoughts in the shelter full of food and water caused a stress response, and when this continued, it had an adverse long-term effect on our mental health and overall physical health.
Cortisol and stress. Long-term traumatic stress that contributes to the releases of cortisol causes changes in the brain that can create the potential for developing some mental disorders if this goes unchecked. These disorders can be depression, mood disorders, anxiety, aging, hypertension and even death (Hannibal & Bishop, 2014).
Knowing that the grey matter is where information processing by the neurons takes place, and white matter is the network area where all the neurons are connected, aided in understanding what was going on within the brain that was affecting our communication skills. Long-term stress has effects on both gray and white matter, changes in the circuits, and has a significant impact on the verbal declarative memory and causes a deficit in learning and processing new information (Bremner, 2006).
I observed this lack of ability to not learn from mistakes throughout the homeless situation within the crisis, and at times due to prolonged stress. Due to constant fear and worry, communication skills such as listening and trying to articulate ourselves to one another became a task in itself, and so, the group resorted to simple sentences. Long drawn out thoughts and articulation was not productive due to the lack of patience we had for it.
Motivational expression. Negative emotions have a significant impact on brain connections within the neurons and its activity; it also had a very significant effect on observed motivation just to get through the day. This negative impact had a noticeable effect on the motivation to continue the positive behavior to seek higher aspiration needs. Extreme and extended negative emotions had a high impact on such things as sexual intimacy, family, belonging and such, in addition to physical actions that must be taken to ensure safety and security moving forward such as establishing sustained food and drinking resources.
The lack of motivation in some group members was expressed in a “why bother attitude,” we are not going to make it, so why work so hard? What is the point? The brain and hormonal impact on motivation were devastating to some.
In the context of analyzing motivation, the group fell into two types of motivation. One kind of motivation was that group members acted on a constant drive to go out and seek-out things to give us more security, in addition to survival necessity items. The group became highly motivated by scavenging for necessities; the second types of group members avoided unnecessary energy loss as a motivation to feeling secure. The less they did in addition to their gathering of survival necessities, saved valuable energy and fats that were important to survival. They viewed survival as not burning energy, while the other saw survival as continually trying to improve their situation.
The two psychological motivational theories at work were attachment behavior, which dictates happiness as having things, and aversion behavior that seeks to avoid things to feel secure (Strickland, 2006).
Emotional expression. Emotional expressions of anger, sadness also led some of the group members to give up. Giving up is the final act of a desperate move to alleviate the pain and suffering that takes a toll on the person psychologically and emotionally as was observed the longer we were out there trying to survive.
I have observed the steps of this despair and sadness, first as stress that led to anger as to why this tragedy has happened, and second, as anxiety that led to sorrow. Questions such as why did this bad thing happened to us, followed by depression of not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and finally death as a means of freedom from this suffering.
Emotional stimulus creates within a person a short-term chaotic state; research shows that there are three basic emotional expressions, love, anger and fear (Strongman, 2003). Within the context of loss and having to fend for our survival, the emotions of anger did not turn into a rage, which would be the extreme expression. However, I did see sadness turn into the extreme expression that manifested itself as depression, to eventually hopelessness and finally to thoughts of death as an escape.
In regards to the pathology of emotion, an extended anxiety-producing crisis can lead to neurosis and psychosis because of having to be in this heightened state constantly for prolonged periods of time (Strongman, 2003).
I also observed that emotions did drive others to act when a person was sad; it motivated others in the group to comfort them and be a helping hand, or just to listen. In time as the group got to know each other well, they developed a dynamic of reading each other’s emotions and helping out. Emotions seem to be a response that is adaptive to the situation and therefore aid in survival (Strongman, 2003), and many times emotions motivated the group to act for the betterment of the group as a whole.
Emotions played a prominent role in motivation and behavior. Emotions either calmed the brain by releasing endorphins, norepinephrine, and serotonin (Sanderson, 2012) or excited the brain by releasing hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline (Brannon et al., 2014), thereby contributing in gaining pleasurable feelings and calm down or the opposite creating excitement that added to the frustration.
Brain activity in memory also played a significant role. Memories of failures led to the brain ingraining this failure into its memory neurons and had to be rewritten with successful outcomes to rewire the long-term failures of the past to aid in positive behaviors in the current situation.
Memories of past failures had a detrimental impact on motivation if the memories produced memories of defeat, stress hormones were activated just thinking of the failures, which created a visible physiological reaction such as heavy breathing, sweating, slower of faster gestures, as well as facial and body language cues. Whereas memories of positive past successes expressed emotions that led to visible body language displays such as smiles, laughter and an overall calmer demeanor.
The emotion of fear also had an impact on the group’s motivation. The fear of running out of water and food, as well as our shelter falling apart, motivated the group to secure food and water as well as keep the shelter in livable condition. Fear unmanaged on some of the group members had the opposite effect. Unmanaged fear produced feelings of dread and inaction, and these members resorted to thoughts of giving up altogether. The fear of more pain and emotional struggle drove some to act and ensure their survival, whereas others sought a way out of their misery with thoughts of suicide.
The emotion of fear evolved in humans through a form of adaptation, to ensure the survival and self-protection, and so it serves as a mechanism based on the survival instinct (Strongman, 2003).
The need to die a final act
The final phase of a crisis perceived to have no end is the seeking of death. In some members who did not see hope for normality and only saw a constant and continued struggle to maintain security, took comfort in discussions of death.
A person that sees no hope and is so completely discouraged, thoughts of suicide seemed to be the best option to escape the misery (Kastenbaum, 2000). One group member, who was chronically depressed and talked about death, appeared to have a calm demeanor, as though talking about death and the release of pain activated the release of dopamine that calmed him down.
When asked, what do you get out of speaking of death? He replied, “I feel good knowing I could just let go and stop all this suffering.” Therefore, the talk of death produced a calm feeling and a sense of happiness to their emotions knowing that this misery will not last.
To a few, the final act of choosing death and just get it over with, reduced intrapsychic tension for a short while. The constant thinking about death and suicide mixed in with risk-taking behavior had a paradox effect and reduced the tormenting stress of the psychological hell they were in, and the fear of death itself was overcome (Kastenbaum, 2000).
Freud’s death instinct theory of Thanatos
Thanatos brings us to a position when one chooses to give up on life, when a person goes through grief, despair as a matter of daily experience and situation; death itself becomes a sort of neurotic symptom. This death instinct is a controversial theory; nonetheless, this theory is essential because seeking death to escape misery is a behavioral fact for some as well as within some honor cultures that live as honor societies such as Japan. When some people can no longer take the pain and stress, they commit suicide as reported in hospice care (Kastenbaum, 2000).
During stress, some group members continually experienced cortisol release, and it seems they were living in a negative stress-producing loop of hopelessness. When they thought about nothing but death and escaping the turmoil, they experienced the feeling of euphoria as they experienced the dopamine release.
I also observed that when seeking food and water where imminent death was the most plausible outcome, and prolonged lack of water and food would have ensured death. Death did not seem to be on the mind as a constant thought. Strangely, these negative thoughts of death seemed to have only surfaced once we had the food, water and shelter and all items were secure.
It seems that talk of the past and how it was at home, and how good we had it motivated the suicidal thoughts and risky behavior as well as depression even further in the individual that sought a way out by death. This member seemed to be looking for a way out or a path back to times before the struggle and pain.
Freud in his death instinct theory put forward an argument where people want to restore a condition that a person experienced earlier in life, and that state was a time of no pain and form of gratification. The fact this specific group member did not see a positive future end to their misery, they hoped that suicide would take the pain away and gain peace. The more accurate description of death instinct is the death-drive (Kastenbaum, 2000).
A war neurosis is the constant talk of death and seeking death by soldiers in wartime that experienced trauma (Kastenbaum, 2000). In addition, research shows that soldiers within the safety and security of their homes started to have dreams of what they saw and did in wartime. As a result, they had recurring nightmares of the events psychiatrists called posttraumatic stress disorder, due to the flashbacks nature of the stressful event (Kastenbaum, 2000).
As time passed, some members of our group seemed to be developing war neuroses type symptoms and started having nightmares about the devastation that caused the crisis we found ourselves experiencing. The constant insecurity even in the state of safety and the thought of life and death took its toll on many of the group members. As the group watched each other lose weight, lose hope, lose health and lose mental faculties was enough to drive anyone to end it all.
To analyze the behavior and observe rational people motivated in contemplating suicide over their grief was a heartfelt moment. It is difficult to believe that being reasonable does not control actions during a crisis; most would want to think that we all have free will and that our behaviors are rooted in rational thinking and behavior. It soon becomes problematic to digest when we observe sensible people doing irrational behaviors (Gonzales, 2003).
Now, of course, this was not the case with the majority of the struggling survivalists in our group, many of the members, even those thought to be the weaker ones had no such suicide inclinations, strangely, the more sophisticated and better-educated members within the group sought death, specifically one member.
It is difficult to comprehend that survival is unpredictable in scientific terms because we all know that science demands levels of predictability (Gonzales, 2003). The answers to how and why people survive are observed through the way the brain functions (Gonzales, 2003).
Even though after many weeks of survival and gaining shelter with security, the fact remains that survival equipment, training, and experience can fail a person whose willpower and a keen mind is ill equipped in stress management stamina.
Although the danger of starvation, thirst, and shelter has passed, the feeling of safety and security needs were now satisfied. Maslow research claims that needs that are satisfied, no longer become a motivator (Maslow, 1943) as was the case of our group lacking security assurance. It was somewhat puzzling that the motivation to go on living for some members was no longer important due to prolonged insecurity and anxiety. They merely wanted death, not the next level of needs.
In a sheltered situation, motivation to move up for some was no longer a motivator, and it seems that in the luxury of the shelter, boredom caused thoughts to wander and so the onset of negative emotions followed by anxiety and depression consumed the day.
The members of the group that exhibited these behaviors were drinking less than usual, sleeping less than the rest of us, and eating more foods high in fats and sugars. From an analytical perspective, it seems that the luxury of sitting around with our foraged foods containing junk nutrients had a negative effect on the brain, body, and mood.
These junk foods high in sugar and fats or better known as comfort foods were a self-medicating to the group members. The person’s brain in this depressed state has its root once again in low serotonin activity a diet high in sugars, fats, and carbs raise the level of serotonin that elevates mood (Ross, 2004). For the short term, these foods seemed to have worked to calm a member down and give a brief burst of pleasure and energy. However, once consumed for long-term appeared to have a less positive effect on mood, and started to have an adverse effect on health and loss of energy. Due to depression and cortisol in the system, the cycle of eating the self-medicating junk foods to gain the benefit of dopamine started the cycle once again.
The self-medicating foods also affected proper nutritional food consumption. The group members that took part in self-medicating binge eating now ate less healthy foods, and thus it affected motivation and behavior by the fact that lack of proper diet has taken a toll on the brain hippocampus. With the constant release of cortisol and effects on the metabolism, now affecting the overall body, and this high level of metabolic activity, has a dire impact on hippocampus cell, making them vulnerable to overstimulation and kill the neurons within in the hippocampus (Kalat, 2009).
These harmful hormones once again affected negative emotions, thereby reinforcing the drive for self-destructive behavior. Depression had a significant impact on motivation, and the motivation to eat and keep hydrated did not seem to be appealing when the person was in a state of worry and hopelessness. These group members simply lost apatite due to constant anxiety and worry. The shelters comfort, and time to ponder reminded the homeless members of their prolonged stress situation, and yet once again as many times before, the cycle continued.
The long-lasting stress drains the body as though one had a lasting illness, and the elevated levels of cortisol focus the energy by raising the metabolism and lowers the energy from the synthesized proteins as well as the immune system (Kalat, 2009), causing a secondary problem.
It seemed to defy all logic that once we had water, food and shelter with the constant feeling of anxiety and stress now developed a new motivation, a dark motivation, some had the energy and motivation to seek death. Therefore, it seems correct that human beings are a perpetual wanting being (Maslow, 1943), even when it is self-destructive.
The key to survival is dependent on the coping ability of a person trying to survive in a wide variety of environmental challenges. For survival, animals, as well as humans, are equipped with a wide range of mechanisms to aid in survival, such as the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA) and the sympathetic system within the autonomic nervous system (Steckler, Kalin, & Reul, 2005).
Therefore, the successful survival and security of our group in a homeless and survival situation are that the members adapted well to harsh natural environments without any of the group members falling by the wayside as a statistic of suicide.
The need for safety is a dominant activator of a person’s mental and physical resources such as natural disasters, wars, crime waves, social collapse, physical or brain injury, and a no end in sight from a terrible situation (Maslow, 1943).
However, some group members did develop a neurotic behavior like constantly being on the lookout for dangers and situations perceived to be threatening. Some group members perceived other group members to be hostile, and at times looked to someone in the group as a protector. With the delusions of threats unseen, they began selling out their morals for this so-called protector.
Maslow commented that this neurotic behavior to search out safety and security takes on a behavior pattern of someone that is compulsive-obsessive neurosis (Maslow, 1943). In fact, with some members, I did find this to be the case.
The result of the exploratory followed by analytical reflection had shown that brain functions did play a part on influencing motivation, behavior, and emotions when it came to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it pertained to survival and security.
When it came to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs of survival and safety, the group members seemed to be following it almost instinctively. When I brought it to the attention of the group that what we were going through had a biological impact on our behavior, motivations, and emotions, the group took the time to self-analyze and reflected on these scientific neurological and psychological facts and change the course of their reactions to the situation.
When the group members felt depressed or even suicidal, I proceeded to discuss with them how the brain functions and how the hormones contributed to self-destructive feelings. I advised them how they should also consider the facts before continuing down the path of self-destruction. Once I informed the group members on what was going on inside of our brains and how it was affecting our mood they took a U-turn in their behavior as they reflected on the fact that the group members were not weak people, but in reality were controlled by hormones that they permitted to hijack their emotions.
When the group members did not know, what was happening to them in context of how the brain is affecting the outcome of the chances of survival, the people seemed to fluctuate in unmanaged emotional outbursts and unpredictable mood swings that affected emotions and motivations.
Nevertheless, once I explained to them what was going on inside of their heads and psychology, this knowledge did have a positive impact on how they interpreted the situation and the positive or negative reactions they exhibited.
Knowing that knowledge is power, and to a significant degree, it indeed was. When the group knew that the brain activity and hormones were affecting their behaviors and emotions to an uncontrollable event such as a crisis, they took positive measures to reduce the cortisol release. They did this by using techniques to calm them, such as breathing to supply oxygen to the brain, talking and laughing to aid in the production of dopamine to counterbalance the negative cortisol effects.
Another key to ensuring survival and security was the group’s adaptability. Some group members adapted to the crisis longer than others did. Motivation and behavior was a constant balancing act depending on the emotions expressed to having to adapt to uncertainty and change. Those that adapted the fastest psychologically to the situation had the least issues when it came to the event being traumatic, such as developing PTSD symptoms throughout the crisis event. Boundaries of the exploratory research in the event crisis were limited to adult males and females between the ages of 30 to 45 who were forced into a survival situation due to a variety of events from a natural disaster followed by socio-economic factors. The exploratory research was the result of actually being in a crisis event, and the behaviors, motivations, and emotions were being explored real time as well and analyzed to better aid in survival.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can only be fully appreciated by understanding the effects the brain, as well as hormones, have on motivation and behavior. In addition, by understanding emotions that lead people to a positive outcome when living in a crisis while trying to survive and secure themselves we can guide a person to an understanding of what is going on within their emotions to aid in having a positive result.
There is little doubt that the brain functions have a great deal of influence on the flight or fight response controlled by the brain. This information would effectively help homeless people or survivalists affected by a devastating event, to understand why they do the things they do in a crisis.
Knowing and understanding the brain and the hormonal effects on emotions, behaviors, and motivation is key to understanding why we behave as we do, and to realize that there is a certain amount of control we can have that affects our chances of survival. Knowing the effects of dopamine and cortisol, for example, will guide us and give us an edge by recognizing its influences on our mood, behavior, and motivation, this way we can manage its negative and controlling effects so we can adjust our behavior through this recognition.
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