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The Psychology of Survival - Part Two

The Psychology of Survival - Part Two

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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Marc Giauque, KSL NewsradioWhether it's a some kind of disaster, a plane crash or an armed shooter, there are those who believe certain people posses personalities that help them survive. Many others are trained to overcome some of their natural mindsets in order to win a fight for life.

At Utah's Police Officer Standards and Training, would-be cops are taken through realistic scenarios, sometimes even absorbing blows to help them learn to fight through a hit. Most of the time, trainers say the few who won't fight are weeded out here. But Lt. Steve Winward remembers at least one rare occasion, when a new officer in the field did not. "Just kind of stood there and watched the officer get beat up by someone else and just stood there kind of frozen," Winward recalls. The officer was terminated.

But in life, experts say freezing is one of the common reactions people have to extreme situations. "But the survivor is just there quickly reading the new reality to see, ‘Is there anything I can do to help pull us through this?,'" Dr. Al Siebert explains.

Dr. Siebert says even survivor personalities initially have to be lucky enough not to simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He calls it "surviving the toss of the cosmic coin." The options boil down to fighting through, fleeing or submitting. Siebert believes a survivor is one who throughout life is always learning.

"These are folks who admit that asking questions has gotten them into trouble sometimes," Siebert says. And he claims that deciding quickly, remaining calm and being creative plays a big part. "This curiosity, playfulness, creativity of doing new things in new ways really pays off."

Siebert believes everyone is born with such traits, but that over time they're often replaced with trained behaviors.

Unless you're talking about a different kind of training. Dave Burnell's company, Ops-gear, trains police and military groups in an urban warfare center. They purposely expose people to high-stress environments to help them think through distractions. Short of joining a special-ops group, Burnell has more practical advice: "Get to know yourself well so that you can have more control, and clear the fog away a little quicker, so that when you make that decision, you'll have the best capacities to do right."

He says if the choice is to fight, one should never assume that any situation is hopeless. Siebert agrees, saying "People with far more serious injuries will survive sometimes, when people with lesser injuries actually die."

Whether it's a fire, natural disaster or a human act of terror, the experts say one big key is situational awareness.

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