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What is self-preservation? 5 skills for achieving it

0 6 months ago

Without realizing it, you use self-preservation skills every day.

You’re feeling burnt out, so you take a mental health day off from work. You think you’re catching a cold, so you hydrate and rest. You’ve had some toxic interactions with a friend recently, and you’re taking space to consider what the relationship means to you.

When you manage your energy or otherwise protect yourself from harm, you’re preserving your own happiness and health. In these self-preservation examples, you’re acting off learned behaviors and taking action to keep yourself safe.

No matter how self-aware you are, there are lessons to learn about what self-preservation is and how it can improve your life. It’s always possible to get in deeper touch with the feelings and interactions that serve you (and those that don’t).

What is self-preservation?

The definition of self-preservation is protecting yourself from harm. In many instances, it’s instinctual, like pulling your hand back from a hot surface so that you don’t burn yourself. Neuroscientists cite biological instincts as driving factors behind this kind of self-preservation, like running from predators in a fight-or-flight response.

But it’s not every day that you need your instincts to save you from physical danger. So what does self-preservation mean in daily life?

This term can describe any action you take to protect your physical or emotional health. Something as simple and routine as eating breakfast to give you energy for the day is just as much an example of self-preservation as something more extreme, like not driving in dangerous weather.

Self-preservation in mental health

Self-preservation’s meaning is more than physical. It can also apply to keeping your mental health and emotional well-being safe, whether that’s setting boundariesmaintaining your self-esteem, or taking breaks. Avoiding toxic people and situations both preserves and protects your energy.

But self-preservation in psychology can also refer to social self-preservation theory, which is about appeasing others or submitting to their needs out of guilt or shame. Instead of getting vulnerable in your relationships (or even with yourself), you try to preserve the best image of yourself in a constant act of protection. This can keep you from being honest about your needs or feelings, instead being a people-pleaser that puts others first.

How to know if someone is struggling with self-preservation

You might use your sense of self-preservation to keep yourself safe, happy, and healthy, and that means those skills are a positive influence on your life. But if trying to protect yourself puts another person at risk or harms your ability to connect with loved ones, it might be damaging. And if you can never put yourself first, you might need to address a lack of self-preservation.

Take some time to self-reflect and try to spot healthy self-preservation in your life. Determine what you already do, or could do better, to protect your well-being. And at the same time,  pinpoint whether you practice potentially destructive behaviors, like overextending yourself even though you’re exhausted. These are indicators you might benefit from focusing more energy on self-care.

Here are some more signs that your self-preservation might be in danger or in need of improvement, according to Psychology Today:

  • You freeze when someone confronts you
  • You ignore your instinct to rest
  • You’re burnt out and irritable because you don’t know how to say “No” to extra work
  • You avoid doing chores and running errands
  • You’re often reckless or don’t think before you act
  • You keep toxic people in your life
  • You don’t have solid core beliefs to go by
  • You have poor financial wellness

    5 self-preservation skills

    To improve your self-preservation, you’ll want to focus on improving several skills that help you put yourself first and increase your mental fitness. Building a resilient mindset and prioritizing your health are the first steps to a foundation that protects yourself.

    In situations of acute stress or anxiety, your innate fight-or-flight response helps you stay out of harm’s way. The nervous system activates, putting your body on alert: your heart rate accelerates, and your hair stands on end. This is how you know there’s a stressor in your surroundings you should prepare to confront or avoid it. Your body may tell you to slam the brakes to prevent an accident or back away from a snake you see while hiking.

    But this sympathetic nervous system response won’t suggest eating a healthy meal or ending a relationship that’s full of red flags. These are ways to take care of yourself that you have to choose for yourself to improve your well-being and prevent stress from occurring. And when you learn self-preservation skills, you become better at assessing and prioritizing your needs.

    Here are some ways to get in touch with your self-preservation instincts:

    1. Get to know yourself

    Learning what makes you unique is the only way to determine your unique inner needs. For example, your colleague may thrive in high-pressure environments and churn out their best work, while these conditions cause you unhealthy stress levels. Recognizing that difference is the first step to preventing burnout and making decisions that benefit you.

    Use Inner Work® — the practice of looking inward to our authentic selves and experiences — to find out what makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened by exploring your mind and body. Journal at the end of the day and write about your experiences and how they made you feel. You might track patterns, like discovering that conversations with a particular friend leave you feeling emotionally exhausted. This can be a sign that you need to protect yourself from those discussions, perhaps by putting a boundary up on how much you and that friend talk.

    You can also learn about your body and mind through meditation. Get into a comfortable position in a quiet place, and try not to pay attention to your thoughts to let your body and mind relax.  To learn more ways to develop self preservation, click here to go to the orignal article.

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