Survivor Mentality: Tactics For Psychological Survival

Published on February 10, 2021 by First Responder Wellness

The art of surviving starts with having a survivor’s mindset. If you look at the stories of survivors, their mental traits are a central part of what enabled them to endure their situations. If you have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event or have a cumulation of traumatic experiences, you are a survivor. However, sometimes it may not feel that way. After experiencing a traumatic event, it can be easy to adopt a victim mentality. You may negatively perceive yourself as a victim of tragedy and trauma. You may not realize the negative impact that having this kind of mindset can have on your well-being. 

First responders who are repeatedly exposed to stressful events may start to develop self-defeating emotions such as anger, resentment, guilt, or shame; they may start using substances to escape these feelings. On the other hand, adopting a survivor mentality and employing psychological survival tactics can be much more advantageous to a person’s health and well-being. 

Overcoming Victim Mentality

Carrying a mindset of self-defeating thoughts may leave you with a sense of powerlessness. However, something that happened to you does not reflect who you are. It does not define you. If you often express these thoughts or comments, it may be a sign that you are stuck in a victim mentality:

  • “I should have known better.”
  • “I deserved it, and I deserve to feel this way.”
  • “Why does this always happen to me?”
  • “I am to blame.”
  • “Bad things keep happening to me.”

While significant pain and distress often fuel these thoughts, this mentality allows the situation to not only impact us but define us. Dwelling on thoughts of defeat while merely wishing for things to get better does not nurture mental health or personal growth. Realizing that you are a survivor and that you have the power to change things can allow you to overcome those negative thoughts and move forward.

What Is a Survivor Mentality?

A survivor mentality is a frame of mind that promotes self-empowerment and a person’s ability to overcome a traumatic event. By focusing on your ability to survive rather than being a victim, you can prevail over life’s challenges instead of being held back and defined by them. This mentality recognizes and celebrates your resiliency and strength over helplessness. Developing a survivor mentality includes having thoughts such as:

  • “I am a survivor.”
  • “I am resilient.” 
  • “This doesn’t define me, and I can adapt.”
  • “I am a survivor of trauma; therefore, I know I can overcome future challenges.”
  • “I am proud of myself for making it through this.”

If you have experienced trauma or witnessed a tragedy, it can take some time to develop this mindset. However, by saying these affirmative words to yourself until you genuinely believe them, you can begin to heal. Acknowledging that you are a survivor and recognizing your resiliency is essential. 

Tactics for Psychological Survival 

The foundation of developing a survivor mentality and maintaining mental health is realizing you can do something and you have something worth fighting for. Staying focused on the present while accepting and working with the conditions you are in rather than wishing things were different is fundamental to having a healthier perspective. By remaining positive and setting manageable goals, you can not only survive but experience life more fully. Here are some tactics to acquire a survivor mentality:

  • A Positive Attitude – A key to staying positive is to focus on how you can get better rather than focusing on how hard life is. Although the idea of having a positive attitude may seem to be very basic, the sentiment behind it is valuable and a real necessity in the face of adversity.
  • Staying Motivated – Being driven to change, improve, and learn new things can help you realize the power you have over your own life and understand that you are not helpless. Figuring out what motivates you is essential. Whether you want to help others, go back home to your family, or achieve personal growth, having something that inspires you to keep going is imperative.
  • Self-Compassion – Treating yourself with the same kindness you would treat a loved one is crucial to overcome self-defeating thoughts. If a friend or family member you care deeply about was in your situation, how would you talk to them? 
  • Nothing is Permanent, Not Even Pain – Hardships will end, and you can make it out to the other side. Instead of focusing on the gravity and immense scope of it all, focus on the fact that it will end. Meanwhile, manage the smaller aspects of life as they come.
  • Mindfulness and Mantras – Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help ground you in the present instead of worrying about what happened or what is to come. Having a handful of mantras can help with this too. Some positive affirmations you can practice include, “this will pass,” “one day at a time,” “I am doing my best,” or “I am stronger than I think.” 


The mindset of survivors in all kinds of situations appears to share similar characteristics: having the strength to overcome a challenge and be resilient. For first responders, every day on the job can feel like a battle of the mind. Surviving traumatic events can take a toll on a person’s mental health. Because of this, it is critical for those on the front lines to be armed with the right tools for psychological survival, one of which is having a survivor mentality. Recognizing personal resilience and strength over helplessness is fundamental to a survivor mentality. At First Responder Wellness, we focus on empowering and encouraging those who are willing to put in the work toward better mental health. Those within the public safety profession are frequently exposed to stressful and traumatic experiences that make resiliency all the more crucial. If you or a loved one is struggling to cope with a traumatic experience, we are here to help. Call us at (888) 743-0490.