“Wounded children have a rage, a sense of failed
justice that burns in their souls. What do they do with that rage?
Since they would never harm another, they turn that rage inward.
They become the target of their own rage.” ~Woody

Survival mechanisms are ways of being that we picked up along
the way to help us cope with what was happening in our reality.

Getting mad at ourselves for doing what we do only promotes
self-hate. We’re not bad or wrong; in fact, we’re pretty damn
intelligent. We found ways to help us soothe our traumas, hurt, and
pain and perhaps get love and attention. That’s pretty
intelligent, wouldn’t you say?

I should just stop eating so much, drinking alcohol, smoking,
exhausting myself through compulsive exercise, being busy,
people pleasing
, etc. Easy peasy—just stop, right? Not when
we have an “internal fight.”

What do I mean? Part of us believes it needs to do these things
in order to feel safe or be loved and accepted by others. That’s
why they’re called “survival mechanisms.” That part of us
doesn’t understand logic and reason; it understands emotions and

It has a need to be loved and feel protected and safe, and it
uses these things to get these needs met. Letting go is like
jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Pretty damn scary,

That’s what happens
the fear of letting go
us, and most often
appears as an anxious feeling
then we pick up our survival mechanism again to soothe that
feeling. It’s like running on a hamster wheel but not really
getting anywhere.

When I was little, I used food to cope with the environment I
was living in. I was constantly told I was bad and wrong, and food
helped soothe my feelings of
. It actually became an obsession and the only thing
I cared about.

My whole focus in life became how I could get food to comfort
me. I was teased for being fat from the popular girls,and I heard
it at home from my father calling me “fatty, fatty two by

I didn’t know what was going on at the time; all I knew was
that eating was all I wanted to do. Then, when I wasthirteen, my
doctor told me to go on a diet, and at age fifteen I entered my
first hospital for anorexia.

For the next twenty-three years of my life,
, my coping mechanism, became the only thing I cared
about, and I also had sub-symptoms like anxiety, cutting, and

I was existing but not living. My days and nights were consumed
by trying to cope with life through eating and exercise. What a
life, eh?

I thought I was protecting myself, but really, I was living in a
prison; I was the prison guard and the prisoner of my own creating.
But I couldn’t stop; it was like this ‘thing’ had a hold on

I cried and cried for it to go away, but it took control of my
life every day. I wanted someone to save me from this thing, but
the more I tried to let go, the more it had a hold.

Even after twenty-three years of therapy and hospitals and
treatment centers, it was still my savior.

So, how did it finally let go? I took my healing into my own
hands. I was determined to experience happiness, love, and inner

This was a process, not an overnight fix, but I started
healing the unresolved issues that caused me to not feel safe,
understanding my survival mechanisms’ purpose for
, and loving and accepting
myself unconditionally. By doing so
the anorexia, anxiety, cutting,
and depression no longer needed my
,and I released those

You see, that thing that a hold of me, it was really my friend;
it was my protector, and it worked until it no longer did. So
instead of trying to get rid of it, I integrated it. Now it
didn’t need to pick up another survival mechanism; instead, we
became loving friends.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms don’t free us; they’re just a
way to numb our trauma, hurt, and pain, but they also keep us from
truly living.

By understanding what we’re trying to cope with instead of
running or numbing, we’re able to see what we really need, get
those needs met, and experience inner peace. This is called loving
re-parenting. Because that’s what loving parenting looks like:
offering kindness, understanding, compassion, and caring instead of
judgment, criticism, and abandonment.

Trying to get rid of a symptom—like
, cutting, or smoking—is fighting against our own
biology. By making peace with it, by listening with compassion and
understanding, we can help that part of ourselves get its needs
met, and most often the symptom naturally goes away

This is how I’ve been able to free myself from the symptoms
that had a hold on me, and here’s a way for you to get started
today, if this resonates.

1. Move into acceptance of who you are and what you’re
Replace judgment with compassion, knowing
that you’re doing the best you can with what you know today, and
you’re learning and growing as you go.

2. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and
imagine you’re talking with your unhealthy survival

3. Ask it, “Why are you here? What’s your

4. Ask it what it needs so it no longer has to
get your attention through the symptoms you’re having.

For example, the part of you that’s binge eating may let you
know it needs a safe place to process and express your feelings,
somewhere that you’re seen, heard, loved, and accepted
unconditionally. It may also let you know that it’s time to learn
how to set healthy boundaries.

Or the part of you that’s experiencing
may let you know that it’s tired of trying so hard
to meet other people‘s expectations of how you should be, and
it’s time for you to honor yourself and find ways to get your
needs met, so you don’t feel so powerless.

For any “symptom,†it may also be helpful to understand
secondary gain. Ask yourself, “How is being this way getting me
love, attention, and someone to take care of me so I don’t have
to take personal responsibility or fail as a human being?â€

5. Find ways to get your needs met. Tell
yourself, “I give myself permission to take loving care of myself
and do good things for my body and health. I am loved. I am

6. Practice consciousness, which is becoming
aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. This allows us to see
what’s really going on internally that may be asking for
compassion, love, healing, and a new understanding.

When we ask ourselves, “Why am I thinking, feeling, and acting
this way?†we may become aware of core beliefs like “I’m
unlovable†or “I’m unworthy.†It’s because of these core
beliefs that we’re feeling, thinking, acting, and perceiving the
ways we are. Of course we’d treat ourselves badly if we believe
we believe we’re fundamentally bad.

When we understand what the driver really is, we can start
healing the childhood wounds that created those beliefs and then
shifting how we see ourselves. By doing so, we naturally start to
think, feel, and act differently.


This is a process and it’s different for everybody. The key is
to be compassionate and loving with whatever you’re experiencing,
and to remember that there’s nothing wrong with you. Even if
you’re experiencing “symptoms†that seem unacceptable to
society, the truth is you’re a beautiful, valuable, lovable being
who deserves to heal and is worthy of a wonderful and fulfilling
life journey.

About Debra Mittler

Debra Mittler
is a warm and compassionate healer with a unique ability to touch
people’s hearts and souls. She enjoys assisting others in loving
and accepting themselves unconditionally, feeling at peace in their
body, and living authentically. Debra is a leading authority in
overcoming obstacles and supports her clients by holding a space of
unconditional love and offering encouragement, effective tools, and
valuable insights allowing them to experience and listen to their
own inner wisdom.

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How to Be-Friend Our Unhealthy Survival Mechanisms
first on Tiny Buddha.