The Psychology of Survival
No one can ever be fully prepared for a survival situation. If you are lucky, you may have access to a survival kit, a rifle, or an axe. If you are smart, you are already well versed in the skills and techniques that will be described in this manual. But no matter how lucky or skillful you might be, to find yourself suddenly isolated in a desolate area of the world is a shock to the entire human system--emotionally and mentally, as well as physically. It is important to understand the psychology of survival as well as its techniques.
THE WILL TO SURVIVE
Track and field athletes talk of "The Bear" that haunts middle- and long-distance runners. After going some distance the runner, in a matter of a few yards, will break stride, will pull up out of the running crouch, and will perceptibly begin to slow. Overcome with pain or cramps or fatigue, he has lost the will to win.
The same phenomenon often occurs in survival situations, only the stakes are far greater than winning or losing a track event. There are reported incidents of people who have been rescued and treated for all maladies, and who have then died in the hospital. They had lost the will to live. The experiences of hundreds of servicemen isolated during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam combat prove that survival is largely a matter of mental outlook. The will to survive is the most importantfactor. Whether you are with a group or alone, emotional problems resulting from shock, fear, despair, loneliness, and boredom will be experienced. In addition to these mental hazards, injury and pain, fatigue, hunger, or thirst tax the will to live. If you are not prepared mentally to overcome all obstacles and to expect the worst, the chances of coming out alive are greatly reduced.
WHERE THE MIND LEADS ...
Interviews with thousands of survivors of World War II German prison camps have demonstrated the amazing resiliency of the human body when guided by the human spirit. Our bodies are highly complex machines, yet even when subjected to the most harsh and degrading conditions, the will to live can sustain the living process. The body's demands for energy from food sources can, over a period of time, be reduced to practically zero. Survivors of German concentration camps have reported that life, even under inhuman circumstances, was worth living. In many cases, this spirit alone was credited for their survival.
Proper preparation can give the survival victim a strong psychological edge toward overcoming his or her survival situations. While no one expects to be in such a situation, one can anticipate certain conditions that dramatically increase the possibility. If you are preparing to go on a camping or hiking trip or to ride in a small plane or boat, the odds of finding your life in extremis are increased.
The following tips are not only sound advice but, if followed, offer strong psychological support under survival conditions:
1. Prepare a Survival Kit (see Appendix II) and take it along on any trip that offers even the most remote possibility of being stranded or isolated.
2. If you own or are a regular traveler in a small plane, pleasure boat, or recreational vehicle, keep a copy of this manual in your glove compartment or tool box.
3. If you hike or camp, take along a copy of this manual in your backpack or knapsack.
4. Commit to memory as much of the information in the book as possible. Knowledge of survival techniques builds confidence and confidence will lead to control of the survival environment.
PANIC AND FEAR
Almost everyone who has ever found himself lost, isolated, and cut off from civilization has experienced fear--fear of the unknown, fear of pain and discomfort, fear of one's own weaknesses. Under such conditions fear is not only normal--it is healthy. Fear heightens one's senses and attunes one to potential dangers and hazards. Fear is the natural surge of adrenalin, present in all mammals, that acts as a defense mechanism against hostility or the unknown.
But fear must be harnessed and properly channeled or it can lead to panic. Panic is the most destructive response to a survival situation. Energy is wasted, rational thinking is impaired or destroyed altogether, and positive steps to one's survival become impossible. Panic can lead to hopelessness, which can begin to break down one's will to survive.
Several positive mental steps can be taken to make fear an ally and panic an impossibility. As mentioned above, preparation and knowledge of survival techniques instill confidence and lead to control of one's self as well as one's environment. In addition, it is important to occupy your mind immediately with an analysis of the situation and the survival tasks at hand. It will help you to remember the word S-U-R-V-I-V-A-L and to use it as a memory device. The interrelated survival tips keyed to the individual letters of the word will provide you with an initial survival checklist. More important, it focuses the mind on the tasks at hand, sublimating fear and the danger of panic.
Size Up the Situation--Am I injured? What emergency first-aid measures must I take? What is the injury status of others in my group? What are the immediate dangers? Is there anything immediately preceding my present situation that tells me where I am or how best to survive? Am I near water? Food? What are the weather and terrain conditions? What is there around me that can aid my survival?
Undue Haste Makes Waste--Do not scurry about without direction or purpose. Until you are fully aware of your situation it is important to conserve energy. Under survival conditions energy is precious and time (except in medical emergencies) of less importance. Do not engage in any physical activity until you have a plan and specific tasks to perform. Wasted activity can foster a sense of helplessness that can ultimately lead to panic.
Remember Where You Are--Most likely you will be required to forage and to travel some distance from your initial location. Familiarity breeds security, and there is little that is more defeating in a survival situation than to "lose" your focal point or base camp. Note your surroundings, unusual topographic features, etc., and make a mental picture of them. When leaving your base camp, mark your path so that you can always retrace your footsteps. No matter how stranded or isolated you may be, you are "somewhere." Knowing where you are, even if only in reference to your immediate surroundings, increases your chances of being rescued.
Vanquish Fear and Panic--Reminding oneself consciously of the debilitating force of fear and panic can diminish their danger. Take an "attitude check" and objectively analyze the results.
Improvise--No matter where you may find yourself there will be something, probably several things, within your immediate range of activity that will aid in your survival. The more inventive and creative you are, the more comfortable your circumstances will become. You must alter your frame of reference. A tree no longer is a tree but becomes a potential source of food, fuel, shelter, and clothing.
Familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Like an optical illusion, the mind will miraculously transform objects of nature into instruments of survival.
Value Living--The urge to survive is basic in man and animal, and underlies most cultural and technological revolutions throughout history. Under extreme conditions the will to survive can be severely tested. If the will is lost, it renders all knowledge of survival techniques useless.
Do not take unnecessary risks. You are the key to your own survival, and foolish gambles resulting in injury or some form of incapacitation limit your effectiveness.
Act Like the Natives--In many areas of the world remote from civilization you may discover human inhabitants. Primitive natives andtribal groups are usually not hostile; however, approach them with caution. They know the country: available water, shelter areas, food, the way back to civilization. Be careful not to offend them. They may save your life. To enlist native help, use these guides:
1. Let the natives make the initial contact. Deal with the recognized headman or chief to get what is needed.
2. Show friendliness, courtesy, and patience. Do not show fright; do not display a weapon.
3. Respect their local customs and manners.
4. Respect their personal property.
5. Most tribal cultures are male-dominated. As a general rule, try to avoid direct contact or communication with the female members of the tribe.
6. Learn from the natives about woodcraft and getting food and drink. Seek their advice concerning local hazards.
7. Avoid physical contact without seeming to do so.
8. Paper money is usually worthless, but coins--as well as matches, tobacco, salt, razor blades, empty containers, or cloth--may be valuable bartering items.
9. Leave a good impression. Others may need this help.
Learn Basic Skills--This volume will tell you how to perform basic skills. But learning is doing. The more you repeat basic tasks and skills, the more adept you will become at performing them.
Survival is a positive mental attitude toward yourself and your surroundings. By memorizing, then analyzing, the survival tips keyed to the letters of the word, you will have already established a direction for your survival actions and some worthwhile tasks to perform.
LONELINESS AND BOREDOM
These are the stepsisters of fear and panic. Unlike the latter they do not come upon one suddenly and savagely, but quietly and unexpectedly, usually after all the basic survival tasks have been performed and the basic survival needs--water, food, shelter, and clothing--have beenprovided for. Loneliness and boredom can lead to depression and undermine the will to survive.
The psychological antidote for loneliness and boredom is the same as for fear and panic: Keep the mind occupied. Set priorities and tasks that will minimize discomfort, enhance the possibility of rescue, and provide for survival over an extended period of time. Consider unexpected yet possible emergencies as contingency operations and devise plans and tasks to deal with them.
Set a schedule. A schedule not only provides a form of security; it occupies the mind with the business at hand.
Set large tasks, such as building a "permanent" shelter, and establish tasks that must be repeated every day, such as keeping a diary.
Loneliness and boredom can only exist in the absence of affirmative thought and action. In a survival situation there is always plenty of work that needs to be done.
SURVIVAL IN GROUPS
Group dynamics can be both a help and a hazard to individual survival. Obviously, there are more hands to perform the necessary tasks, and contact with another human being can be psychologically supportive. Still, a chain is as strong as its weakest link, and the survival difficulties encountered can be multiplied by the number of people encountering them. Group survival also introduces an additional potentially destructive factor: dissension. Dissension must be avoided at all costs.
As individual reactions to survival situations become automatic, so must those of the group. Groups (such as squads or platoons) that work together and have leaders that fulfill their responsibilities have the best chance for survival. If there is no designated leader, elect one. If your group considers the following factors, the odds of returning to friendly control are greatly improved:
1. Organize group survival activities.
2. Recognize one leader. The leader should delegate individual duties and keep the group appraised of overall survival activities.
3. Develop a feeling of mutual dependence within the group.
4. When possible, the group should make decisions under the direction of the leader. Otherwise, no matter what the situation, the leader must make the decisions, and his orders must be followed.
Finally, know that the greatest test of your will and stamina will occur after you are almost rescued--when you see the plane or ship, but no one aboard sees you. You will feel an inevitable backlash of depression and despair. But don't succumb. Where there is one aircraft, there will be more. If it is flying a search pattern, it means someone is looking for you. Now is the time to direct your energy and survival techniques toward being seen next time. And there will be a next time.
The theme of survival is: Never give up.
THE SURVIVOR MANUAL. Copyright © 1980 by John Boswell. Introduction copyright © 2001 by Survivor Productions, LLC. All rights reserved. The SURVIVOR LOGO is a trademark of Survivor Productions, LLC. Used under license from CBS Consumer Products, CBS Enterprises, a division of CBS Broadcasting Inc. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.