Survivor Personality: Short of Compassion

In his 1996 book, The Survivor Personality, Siebert addresses the ways in which people can help themselves by recognizing and utilizing their own survivor instincts. Siebert claims that people either thrive or suffer depending on their own ability to survive difficult and challenging situations without becoming overly victimized and worn down. In this way of thinking, each individual has the personal responsibility to care for oneself and to survive difficult life challenges.

Siebert rejects the idea that other people, such as negative or destructive people, are responsible for changing in order to make another person’s life better. By depending on the change of another person, Siebert sees the suffering person as a victim or oppressed individual who is unable to assert the courage of self reliance and the ability to make personal and better life changes.

In complaining or whining, supposed victims are only underscoring their lack of ability to survive and thrive, the resistance to carving out new personal life paths and possibilities. Although Siebert’s theory holds some allure, it must be said that he does not take into consideration the idea of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. By rejecting the need for negative people to change for other people, Siebert effectively condones their behavior and makes them irresponsible to the people they harm.

No person is completely divorced of another person, it could never be so. In cases such as a child needing parental care, a wife needing a husband’s care, a husband needing a wife’s care, an elderly parent needing a child’s care, an employee needing an employer’s care, or a customer needing a service provider’s care, it is obvious that familial and interpersonal relationships are always affecting and being affecting by the relationship between two people, whether at home, in the office, or on the city streets.

The radically extreme independence and survivor theory proposed by Siebert does not lend well to the idea that every person deserved consideration and care from other people, and he ignores the idea of the unity of humanity and human systems, whether the group of people interact within a marriage, a family, a town, a state, a country, or a entire global world. There is never a way to completely disengage with other people on the planet.

With the increase of transparency and free trade, it becomes increasingly more clear that the best initiatives for the individual correspond with the best initiatives of the group and that generally no person is unaffected by the actions of other people. In coming to a compassionate understanding of mental health and treatment of the harmed and suffering, it is essential to remember that people hurt for valid reasons. As a human community, there is no other option but to try to help the people in need and to aim to bring joy into the lives of both the selfish and the oppressed.

Siebert discusses the idea that some people are good copers and that, because of their refined survivor skills, they are able to adjust to harmful situations and to protect themselves. While it may be true that some people are able to effectively slip past the negativity and destruction of harmful people, creating barriers or escapes which keep them safer than they would otherwise be, it is not enough for health care providers to encourage the potential victims of negativity and abuse by congratulating their survival.

Siebert seems to have distaste for the people who are not able to escape being victims or who fall prey to the harm of abusers, the nonsurvivors. If health care providers were to simply shake their heads in pity at the plights of clients, like onlookers at a football team when their team in losing, they would be completely disengaged from their responsibility to help their clients. It can never be the case that clients are sectioned off into the survivor versus nonsurvivor types of people.

This casts a huge blow to the idea of humanism in counseling and removes responsibility for the health care provider to help one’s clients as best they can. Clients who enter into the health industry are looking for help, they are looking for answers and direction, and if health care providers cannot provide effective guidance and compassionate engagement, then they may as well hang their name tags and coats and quit charging money for the lack of services rendered.

Only when radically extreme philosophers such as Siebert are stopped in their tracks will the world be safer from the harm inflicted by the idea of the necessity for people to survive whatever abuses are thrown at them. The correct focus would be to consider how the human community can effectively harness and help to change the people who are inflicting the most harm on others. By shifting focus from the survivor or nonsurvivor to the people who are actually causing the problems in the world, then society truly takes action in trying to prevent furthers abuses to the human community.

The negative person, destroyer, or abuser may not always be an easy person to handle, but this type of a person definitely needs to be confronted with firm and focused challenges and care, in order to best help them and the people who they affect. There are so many people who suffer from mental illness, many of them are abusers, many of them are victims, and almost all of them are both.

By devoting a sense of unity and comradery to the impulse to help other people, human being are able to be genuine and sensitive in their goal to actively help other people to find solutions for their lives. Only when society is able to shed its negative ideology that some people are survivors and other people are not will people be able to join hands with their neighbors in a heartfelt missions to stop the violence and abuse which disintegrates the human body.

Through liberal and creative thinking, communities need to acknowledge all their neighbors, rich and poor, greedy and deprived, and help each person to take steps in the directions which can provide them with the best sense of security and the most feelings of friendship, building up the body of humanity for future generations with a concerted effort to leave no one behind.


Siebert, A. (1996). The Survivor Personality. Perigee.