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Physical and Emotional Survival Mode – Suicide Prevention Month

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  • Shawna Burns
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Most people understand the concept of “physical survival” mode — that the human body has core elements that it must have to function and stay alive on planet earth, such as food, water and oxygen. However, most people aren’t aware of another form of survival mode that is just as real, just as powerful and can just as deeply affect a person’s entire life: emotional survival mode.

What is emotional survival mode?

Just as humans must have food, water and oxygen to physically survive on planet earth, there are seven core elements that we also must have to emotionally survive as well. We must know that we fulfilled emotionally in seven key ways.

The Seven Innate Needs:

  • Love
  • Value
  • Being needed
  • Acceptance
  • Belonging
  • Safety
  • Security
  • We need to be loved, valued, needed, accepted, belong, safe and secure. If any of these core emotional elements are missing, a human being will find a way to get this need met in one way or another.

    Let’s compare this to a person who may start to drown in a pool of water. If he does not have the oxygen in his lungs that he needs, he will do whatever he must do to in order to get to the surface. In the process, he may pull everyone and everything down with him in an attempt to get oxygen in his lungs … and survive. The human body will fight and do whatever necessary to stay alive; it is simply how we were made.

    Emotionally, the same thing happens.

    If a human doesn’t feel that they are loved, are valued, are needed, are accepted, belong or are not safe or secure, he will do whatever necessary to get these needs met.

    This is where we begin to see behaviors that are harmful to ourselves and even others.

    Struggling for Emotional Survival

    Think for a moment about a child who never had a family. His innate need to belong is so great that he will do whatever he must do in order to get that need met. He may join a gang just so that he can find a family and feel that he belongs. What happens when that “gang” requires him to steal and kill in order to stay a part of that family?

    What about the teenage girl whose father left when she was a baby? The thoughts of being rejected and feeling “unloved” are so strong that she constantly seeks love out in unhealthy relationships.

    It is important for each of us to find healthy ways to not only fill our children’s emotional tank up by meeting their Seven Innate Needs but by filling our own tanks, as well.

    Learn More About the Seven Innate Needs

    The Seven Innate Needs are truly food, water and oxygen to your soul. If you’d like to learn more about these needs and how to meet them, you can request free resources by emailing You can also learn more at

    About the author:

    Shawna Burns, LPC-S, LADAC-CS, SDP-S, is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor and Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor-Clinical Supervisor. She has counseled children and adults for the past 15 years and has created Seed Digging, a counseling approach that has helped hundreds of children and adults completely overcome mental health disorders and addictions. Shawna has written 4 books, mini curriculums, and has created live and online training programs, including the Seed Digging Trauma-Informed School-Based Health Model. She has trained in numerous school districts, mental health agencies, colleges, and at state and national conferences. One of her greatest desires is that children (and adults) will discover their amazing value and worth so that they can live a life full of joy and love.