Survival Mode After Abuse : 6 Signs You’re Operating in Survival Mode

Survival Mode After Abuse : 6 Signs You’re Operating in Survival Mode survival mode after abuse : 6 signs you’re operating in survival mode
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

When you’ve been in an abusive relationship, you may find yourself doing unimaginable things to protect yourself from the psychological torture you’re subjected to in the relationship. This can be something like complying with their wishes to avoid arguments or reduce the potential for abuse. It’s quite understandable, actually. At that moment, all you can do is survive each day in any possible way. These are survival strategies you are well aware of or logically able to execute. Another thing that happens when facing a dangerous situation is that our brains enter “survival mode” to deal with the danger they’re currently facing.

What is Survival Mode?

During traumatic or stressful situations, our brains enter “survival mode” to address the threat. The responses can either be “freeze,” “fawn,” “flight,” or “fight.”

Let’s explain this by briefly looking at how the brain functions. So, our prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) is the part of the brain that contributes to a wide variety of executive functions, such as:

– Emotional regulation (managing emotional reactions or impulse control)
– Predicting and anticipating consequences of one’s actions and behaviors (critical thinking)
– Organization
– Decision-making
– Problem-solving

It’s more of the part of the brain that acts based on logic rather than emotions. It receives information about a situation or a perceived situation and uses those executive functions to come up with the best response and action.

All of this changes when you experience a traumatic or stressful situation. The thinking brain becomes foggy, and the survival brain kicks in. So, you lose the ability to logically analyze the threat. The survival brain reacts impulsively to protect you because it perceives that the thinking brain will take a longer time (critical thinking and problem-solving are not immediate) to process and get you out of danger.

So, when you’re exposed to constant stressful situations like being in a toxic relationship, the survival brain becomes the default, and you now enter “survival mode.” When survival mode is prolonged, the logical brain dims further, and you become maladaptive (unable to adjust appropriately to a current situation). That’s why even after you leave the abusive relationship, the survival brain still perceives that you’re in danger and puts you in survival mode in anticipation of a future threat. The brain doesn’t differentiate between an actual threat and a perceived threat to our safety; it just reacts.

It can be difficult to determine if you’re in “survival mode” or just facing daily stressors, but below are some signs that you’re in survival mode even after you’ve left the traumatic situation. The thing about survival mode is it prevents you from thriving in your life because you’re always on the lookout for threats, and you feel like you’ve lost control of your life.

Signs You’re Operating in Survival Mode after Abuse

1. Emotional Numbness

You don’t experience joy, and you don’t find things pleasurable anymore. You just do something because you have to, not for the joy of it. You may have difficulty experiencing intimacy or even genuine laughter, as everything feels forced. You’ve lost interest in the pleasures of life, and you’re just going through the motions without looking forward to it. Your life has lost its excitement. The brain is protecting you from experiencing those painful emotions again through numbness.

2. Easily Triggered and Emotionally Reactive

Most situations in life trigger you, and you can’t handle them. You may react or become upset about things that shouldn’t bother you. For example, the weather might turn gloomy, and you’re upset about it even though it’s not within your control. You may become grumpy or emotionally overwhelmed when things don’t go your way or for no apparent reason. You react in ways that are not typical for most situations in your life. You’re also on high alert most of the time, watching out for triggers or threats to your safety.

3. Impulsivity

Many things in your life are done impulsively without much thought or without analyzing the consequences. This can include binge eating, binge-watching, excessive shopping, overspending, or mindlessly scrolling through social media. You’re just doing things on autopilot without considering the impact they have on your life.

4. Neglecting Your Basic Needs

You struggle to take care of your basic self-care needs, such as working out, eating healthily, or grooming. You neglect yourself because you feel that you don’t deserve it. You even forget about these needs because you believe they don’t matter.

5. Fatigue

You feel exhausted most of the time. You wake up feeling exhausted, even when you haven’t engaged in any physical activity. You’re mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. You feel like your energy could run out at any moment.

6. Lack of Focus

You struggle to concentrate on certain tasks for an extended period. Your thoughts are scattered, and you often start something only to become distracted because your mind is all over the place. You may choose to procrastinate because you can’t focus clearly.


Living in survival mode for an extended period can have detrimental effects on your overall well-being. You may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like binge eating or alcoholism that can harm your body. Your mental health may also deteriorate because you’re constantly under stress. Something about survival mode makes your present life feel like you’re in immediate danger, even long after you’ve left the traumatic situation.

The first step you can take is to acknowledge that you’re in survival mode and that you want to get out of it and thrive. Pay attention to it and recognize the long-term impact it can have on your life. Once you acknowledge it, you’ll be able to take the steps necessary to regain control of your life. When you’re in survival mode, your past is running your life, not your authentic present self.

By working on resolving past hurts, your brain will understand that you’re no longer in danger, and you don’t have to live in survival mode anymore. You’ll be able to respond to present situations from your current perspective, not reacting based on the lens of your past painful experiences.

Note from the Author

If you’re ready and you’d like my help with healing, finding peace in life and breaking free from these toxic patterns (in less than 2 months) , then you can book a FREE BREAKTHROUGH CALL with me HERE. Happy healing 💙💙. Feel free to share and comment! Use this information with caution, it comes from my own thoughts & bias, experiences and research😊.

Share your love
Edwin Bii
Edwin Bii

I'm Edwin Bii, a trained advanced conversational hypnotherapist (ACH) and Mind Shifting Coach from Kenya offering mental health support, and life coaching to help you crush your goalsand overcome your problems. Together, we'll navigate challenges, build self-awareness, and create a happier, healthier you. Let's unlock your potential.

Articles: 831

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *