Part 1 of 6
The purpose of this study is to explore the behavior and motivation of people in a survival situation put there by a crisis such as natural or Human-made disasters, and now having to temporarily or longer fend for themselves. The study seeks to explore and analyze people in such environments and to understand what is going on within the psychological, emotional, behavioral, and analytical functions that keep them going or has them give up. The research will explore human behavior and motivation in a crisis as it relates to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, specifically survival and security needs, and the brain and psychological effects that positively or negatively affect a person’s chances of survival not only physically but mentally as well.
Psychology of Survival and Security: A Behavioral Analysis
Lundin states that about 90 percent of a person’s survival is psychology (2003). At times people might find themselves in life and death situations where they have to fend for their survival. Be it a person having to deal with being homeless through economically related issues, natural or human-made catastrophes, or just only lost in nature. What do all these things have in common? The answer is survival and the mindset that it takes to make it out alive both mentally and physically.
As the economy went crashing, businesses closed and some people lost their life-savings. I also was a victim of this global economic plague and lost almost everything. Not long after the financial crash, my partners and I lost both our business as well as our life savings, and soon after, I became homeless.
With the onset of depression and anxiety, I barely managed to hold on for dear life in a foreign land surrounded by a few friends who supported me as best as they could, considering their misfortune. One homeless day to the next, I found myself surrounded by people in similar situations trying to make it day-by-day. Of course, my predicament was not as unfortunate as most in this homeless crisis, given the fact I had education, training, and other skills to later get a few bucks into my pockets and food into my belly.
Coming from a background as an avid outdoorsman and had extensive survivalist training, and thinking I was well prepared to handle the situation. All my training did not prepare me for the psychological impact on self-esteem and anxiety that went along with being out on the streets as a so-called “dreg of society.” Nothing could have prepared me for the shame, depression, and the mental fatigue that went along with living like a rat trying to get by on a few meals a day without going mentally insane and killing myself.
Before I can even commit to getting out of this hell, daily needs had to be met, for the short-term as well as the possible long-term. This meant that attaining daily survival needs of eatable foods and drinkable water as well as maintaining a secure availability of these resources was paramount. Not only were the food and shelter needs challenging to attain, but nothing was as hard as the psychological impact it had not only on myself but also on the others in our group. This situation was by definition a full-blown crisis now, and I have to get out of it with my sanity and physical health intact.
The purpose of this exploratory research is to explore what people go through psychologically and emotionally and to analyze how it affects people’s motivation and attitude to survive the crisis. This exploratory study will examine the behaviors and motivations of people in survival situations as well as the challenges they face when needs are hard to meet. The external needs such as food, water, and shelter are evident needs, but what is not apparent are that prolonged survival situations bring on anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts as well as long-term stress-related illnesses in some cases.
The importance of the exploratory research is to analyze the psychology of survival using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a foundation, specifically survival and security, to explore what people are going to go through psychologically and mentally when faced with uncertainties. The exploratory analysis will research how the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system influences a person in a crisis and the effects it has on behavior, motivation, emotional state that will either help them or hurt them in light of Maslow’s needs in the context of motivation and behavior assessment.
This topic is important because it is vital to know what affects a person’s behavior in a crisis as it relates to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as people move from survival to security. The research also explores what neurological and hormonal processes that affect the mental state and how the neurological functions impact positively or negatively on behavior and motivation.
Also, an analysis of internal stressors plays a part in a person’s physiological states that cause a person to choose death as a relief and how to recognize and avoid it.
The results of the analysis may be used by trauma counselors, survival instructors and even the individuals themselves to have a sense of self-awareness as to what will happen to them and what paths to take in better aiding a positive outcome in the context of Maslow’s needs as a base. To take control of anxiety and panic, we must understand how we function mentally. Many people know more about the mechanics and technical workings of a car or a computer when they break down, but find that they cannot understand their mental breakdown and how to correct it. In my analysis of the psychology of survival and security from literature as well as my personal experiences, I will analyze what psychological issues motivated people to act in their best interest or frustrated their efforts.
Understanding the brain and its effect on psychology is vital to understanding what influences behavior, motivation, and emotions needed for survival and security.
Many individuals do not understand the brain functions and processes that lead to negative or positive behaviors in crisis. Moreover, by not knowing these activities within the brain, it is difficult to overcome obstacles and act appropriately to move up from the survival to security needs.
The analysis is essential to gain an understanding of what people who are in a crisis are going through psychologically and neurologically. By recognizing and understanding these psychological and brain functions, a person can have an insight on how to overcome challenges within themselves in addition to external problems. The hardest challenge for many to overcome is the one in their mind, brain, and psychology.
It is essential to understand why we do the things we do and why we do not do the right things in a crisis. It is an important topic because many that do not understand the process of the brain and its effects on the physiology followed by correct survival actions tend to fall into depression, anxiety and suicide by thinking there is something wrong with them and it hijacks the emotions to rational thinking making way to frustration and death.
Global disasters and the psychological effect
Many people who find themselves having to survive a crisis and fend for themselves are trying to balance mental health and physical health during survival and security situation, as well as balancing the act of giving up or fighting to live. Lundin (2003) a well-known survival expert both by the military and civilian world reminds his students that when it comes to surviving a devastating crisis, that which can go wrong will go wrong. A crisis occurs when a person least expects it, such as a car breaking down, unpredictable devastating weather conditions such as hurricane Harvey and hurricane Irma that left much of the southern USA and its south of Florida island devastated with hundreds of thousands having to fend for themselves with basic government support.
According to Lundin (2003) and his wisdom regarding a person finding themselves in a crisis, it seems to come true for many people. He states that in recent times, there are vast and complex ranges of dangers both natural and human-made, that can turn a mundane event into one of a life-threatening situation. What may seem to be a storm or a holiday trip into the woods can quickly escalate into a deadly scenario.
An example of Lundin’s event that turned into a life-threatening situation is the events in Fukushima Japan, on March 11 to March 15, 2011. What started out like an earthquake out at sea, rapidly turned into a 15-meter high tsunami endangering only the coastline, that tsunami rolled like a domino effect into a nuclear reactor that caused an explosion resulting in a nuclear meltdown. That meltdown leaked out to sea affecting both animal life and human life for generations, followed by population displacement. According to World Nuclear Association (2017), 100,000 people evacuated their homes, cities, and well over 1000 deaths recorded to date, followed by 267,000 displaced refugees. The World Nuclear Association statistics back up Lundin’s observation that people at anytime and anywhere can find themselves a statistic in being displaced by natural disasters.
The psychological and emotional traumas
A study by Bromet Ph.D. an independent research professional reported that the devastation of the nuclear power plant left many in a socio-economic struggle that was associated with the psychological distress and continued suffering of the locals (2014). Tsujiuchi a professor at the Japanese department of Health Sciences and Social Welfare also backed up Bromets report and elaborated that PTSD suffering from a human-made disaster is greater than the numbers of PTSD suffering individuals from the experience of a natural disaster (2015). Psychological consequences for many people suffering in a crisis are not limited to the immediate crisis itself but also consequences for many years to come.
Disasters leading to a crisis can strike anyone at any time and in any geographical location, whether it is a natural disaster such as winter whiteouts, floods or hurricanes. Tragedy has a long-lasting impact on people mentally.
Pampel (2008) a professor of sociology, claimed that devastation could be a long-term or a short-term crisis-affecting humans and animals’ alike leading to large-scale deaths, suffering both mentally and physically that disrupts the everyday life in society, community or a large geographical area. A UNISDR report on a 20-year review shows that 90% of global disasters that have a high impact on society relates directly to weather conditions such as hurricanes, flooding, heatwaves, and snowstorms add up to 6,457 weather-related events.
Natural disasters are responsible for 606,000 deaths averaging out to 30,000 deaths per year. These natural disasters leave 4.1 billion people displaced and homeless as well as requiring emergency assistance. The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (2015) also predicts that natural disasters caused by weather conditions will grow and the fact that there will also be more people on the planet will add to a growth of displaced and homeless people as well as a higher death rate to follow.
In addition to natural disasters, there is also war-related devastation leading to a crisis in the affected areas that will increase the displacement of people who will fall into the category of asylum seekers, refugees who seek to ensure survival and seek out safety with lasting security.
What we see from these reports are that devastating events have a tremendous psychological impact on populations and it is clear that they will be affected with mental traumas as a result of going through such crisis and being displaced.
Displaced and crisis
According to research conducted by Speak (2003), people became homeless and displaced for a variety of reasons in addition to natural disasters or wars. Dr. Speak of the Global Urban Research Unit states that becoming homeless or displaced and having to fend for yourself can also come through social causes such as poverty, loss of a job, loss of a marriage, family death as well as other life events.
Yonatani of the Norwegian refugee council reported that since 2008, 26.4 million people became homeless yearly due to natural made disasters. Not only has this displacement have a devastating on people in the way of economic loss and death, but also the social and psychological marginalization challenges that come with surviving a devastation. The disruption to people’s lives by the destruction that caused psychological traumas affects how long people will stay displaced after a human-made or natural disaster (2015).
The mental health impact of people who try to survive and find security become at risk to short term and long term mental health problems. According to the Norwegian Politician and the 1993-2003 Director General of the World health organization, Brundtland (2000), they are making an intense effort to meet the mental health needs of those displaced by war and become refugees. WHO claims that there is a global awareness of the psychological impact that refugees must face as well as long-term mental health devastation and long-term treatment.
From what we know survival and trying to attain security in the face of a devastating event leading to a crisis, has psychological effects indeed. But written literature dealing with such topics neglect to explain the inner mental workings of how it affects people such as the effects on the brain, hormones, and neurotransmitters to aid others in recognizing these effects and deal with them pre-crisis or during a crisis.
Survival and security
Maslow (1943) states that a living thing in order to survive need to seek survival followed by security to continue living. Living things start finding basic survival needs such as homeostasis needs of the body such as water, salt, sugar, proteins, fats, calcium, and oxygen as well as temperature regulation of the blood as the most basic of needs to sustain life. Homeostasis needs are what humans need to survive physiologically and by having these needs met or not met will determine the motivation and behavior of the person. Lacking in homeostasis needs will determine the adverse outcome of the person’s behavior and motivation.
Maslow (1943) stated that when the basics of physiological needs go unmet, the person is only motivated to meet these physiological needs and no other motivation exists and becomes merely last of their needs. Maslow (1943) goes on to say that, if the person is hungry and thirsty, all motivation and behavior goes to fulfilling the need to eat and drink. When a person is hungry or thirsty to the point of danger, nothing exists to him in context of motivations but the motivation and behavior that will lead to having food in his belly.
A professor of psychology, Buss (2016) points out that in a survival situation hunger and eating takes up more time and energy than any other needs seeking behavior. Also, Buss (2016) points out that interest to psychologists in context of two motivational issues are hunger and thirst. The feelings of hunger and thirst become active when there appears to be a shortage of food, and thirst becomes triggered when there seems to be a shortage of water. It is evident that people need food, water and shelter to survive, but what is not so obvious is the buildup of anxiety when one does not find these needs met, and the negative effects it has on motivation and behavior.
Security needs. Maslow (1943) in his research claims that once the physiological needs are satisfied then comes the next set of needs, which may be called security, or safety needs. A human is a security and safety-seeking creature and within the intellect starts the safety-seeking behavior such as the motivational drive to be safe. Security like its more base needs called survival needs once fulfilled, the seeking of security now becomes the dominant driver to reach the security goal. Like the behavior pattern of physiological needs being the prime importance over everything else, security and safety now become the motivating factor in behavior, and everything else becomes less important and less critical. Maslow (1943) continues stating that a person in a constant security mode of living is doing it out of a chronic and extreme need for safety.
Maslow (1954) explains that when the survival needs have been met, such as the physiological needs are fulfilled then precedes a new group of needs such as security, stability, dependency, protection, freedom from the anxiety of chaotic events, and finally structural stability of sorts. Seeking out other people during a crisis for support only adds to the security feeling, and if people feel insecure, it is hard for people to move up the needs base ladder and get themselves out of the dangerous situation.
Associate Psychology Professor Starratt (2016) found that seeking out groups lets people attain protection from the environment, threatening people, or animals as well as a chance to have access to resources that they would be hard or unable to acquire alone. Moreover, Starratt supports Maslow’s idea that basic safety need adds to the peace of mind reducing anxiety, stress, and fear (1954).
Psychological impact of devastation leading to crisis
Lundin (2003) claims that Survival is 90 percent psychology and if you become emotionally broken during devastation that leads to crisis, and you must survive and fend for yourself, your chances of surviving the disaster gets reduced significantly. Lundin adds to what the US Army already teaches its Army recruits about survival.
According to the US Army (Department, 2016), the key to surviving a disaster, which leads to a crisis, is the attitude and mental stability of a person. Although having skills to survive crises are essential, having the will and mental fortitude to endure is the primary force towards survival. If the psychological capacity during a crisis fails, then knowledge and skills one acquires from training become useless.
How does a person manage his or her mental stability without understanding what exactly is going on in the brain to disrupt the balance in the first place? We cannot control the devastation or the crisis, but we can to a degree control the mental stability by understanding what is going on within us.
Understanding how stress and anxiety activate the brains stress response is a step closer to understanding how it will eventually affect a person and how this effect will have a controlling influence on their emotions, behavior, and motivation.
Impact on emotion, motivation, and behavior. A professor of psychology and neuroscience, Wagner (2006) points out that scientists and scholars are conducting discussions worldwide about the study of the brain to understand the mind, and the overwhelming majority of scientists and scholars believe that understanding the brain it is crucial. Neurobiologists are also asking the question if we need to understand the mind to have a better understanding of the brain. In addition, Wagner (2006) adds that if we are to understand human behavior, we must in fact study the human brain, and brain data provides a wealth of information about the mind that not even a lengthy study of human behavior can provide. Therefore, it is his opinion that brain activity and insight into the working of the brain offers a much more detailed picture as to human behavior. Human behavior and motivation are keys to survival, but they are not complete without the emotional aspect that is evident in a crisis.
Psychology Professor Strongman (2003) adds to support Wagner, that emotion is a vital part of life and affects our lives in things we do and things we say. Emotions become manifest in our physiology, how we express ourselves as well as our behavior. Just as we feel pain physically, emotions give us information that is vital to our mental and physical health when it comes to our survival and security amongst other things. Strongman (2003) adds that emotions having an enormous impact on survival are rooted in evolutionary history, and this idea became developed and first talked about by Darwin and promoted by McDougall who in turn connected emotions to motivation. Psychology Professors Whalen and Phelps (2009) explain that the study of human emotions and its effects stemming from the brain has a bright future in the study of psychology.
Professor of Psychology Plotnik (2013) illustrates an example that when seeing a rattlesnake crawling by your head as your laying in the grass causes instant reaction of fear. Understanding and explaining exactly where this fear comes from have taken a variety of approaches. 1. The peripheral theories of emotions focus on how a person changes in the body physiologically develop emotional moods within a person. 2. The cognitive appraisal theory of emotions focuses and promotes the concept of how people interpret situations around us and thereby developing emotion and moods. 3. Neuroscience approach evaluates the foundational neural bases of emotion. By taking into account the brain’s neural circuits, as well as how the brain takes in a person’s experiences, the brain expresses emotions back to the person as emotional reactions.
When it comes to human behavior motivation in the context of survival and security, emotions play a crucial role, but Neuroscientist Ledeux (1996) points out that when it comes to emotions, people know what emotions are, but they do not seem to understand how to define it. As observed by professor and psychologist at Harvard Medical School, Cannon (1922), fear, anger, pain, and hunger are experiences we all share with animals, and they are the most potent expressions that influence behavior and motivation of both humans and animals alike.
According to the research done by the Harvard Medical School (2016), fear, anxiety, and stress causing situations such as loss of job, bad economy, war, or natural disasters cause chronic stress. Moreover, the domino effect of chronic stress affects a whole host of stress hormones that in turn bring on a wide range of physiological changes. The main culprits that we must understand are the amygdala, hypothalamus, and the cerebral cortex.
Knowing and understanding the functions of these areas of the brain can guide people to understanding how external events affect these parts of the brain. These results, in turn, cause physiological changes such as high blood pressure, muscle tension, and sweating of the body leading to behavior and motivational issues such as fight or flight response. We must understand that to have a general understanding of these fundamental processes in the brain can have a positive effect on managing it and counter the stress response.
Wagner (2006) claims that by understanding these basic facts on what is happening in our brain, we can better understand and manage how we perceive the dangers and understand what motivates our behavior as well as emotions that the situation produces within us.
According to Kalat (2009), a professor of Psychology states that the sympathetic nervous system followed by the adrenal cortex becomes stimulated by stressful events, and prolonged severe stressful events bring on similar bodily reactions that illnesses bring on. Therefore, by understanding these small but essential facts about our inner working may genuinely have an impact on the survival and security of a person.
According to survival and disaster management experts such as Lundin (2003), understanding the psychological impact of a crisis, and how to mitigate its harmful effects on people, is a vital component in aiding a person in positive behaviors that lead to positive motivations that aid in survival and security. Security and survival expert Lundin observed and reported that survival is 90 percent psychology, and therefore survival and security must be understood from not only a physical aspect of preparation but mainly from a psychological perspective (2003).
It is well documented by psychologists, survival experts, disaster management organizations as well as the military, that crisis produced by disasters both natural and human-made have a direct psychological impact on people for the short term and long term. Understanding what is happening to us will aid in the positive outcome of a security and survival situation.
Crisis and disasters defined
The definition of a disaster as defined by learner’s dictionary is “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention” (Merriam-Webster, 2017).
Likewise, the definition of disaster is a “sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss or destruction” (Merriam-Webster, 2017).
When it comes to people and how they are affected, Merriam-Webster defines a person under a crisis as an “emotionally significant event or a radical change of status in a person’s life. An unstable or critical time or state of affairs in which a change is impending; especially: one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome (Merriam-Webster, 2017).
It is within these parameters that the people who find themselves homeless fighting for their survival as well as attempting to ensure their survival, by seeking out security that the exploration and analysis of our group’s survival take place.
The biology of a brain in crisis. The brain in crisis. Continued next post...
The biology of a brain in crisis. The brain in crisis. Continued next post...