Survivor’s guilt (or survivor’s remorse), is a term when someone feels they have done something wrong because they survived a traumatic event and others did not. This can occur in a variety of situations, including car accidents, robberies, an act of violence or terrorism, war, natural disasters, medical emergencies, etc. It’s the conflict of being thankful you’re still living while not understanding why you survived and others did not. Survivor’s guilt is often characterized by intense feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, mood swings, loss of motivation, intense grief, obsessing over the incident, flashbacks, and nightmares. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can be present as well.
If you find yourself reading this week and identifying with any of the feelings or issues we discuss, we encourage you to seek professional help. No one should go through this alone!
Talk about it
After you experience a traumatic event, your first instinct may be to shut down and isolate. Trauma has a way of making you feel very alone in the world—and it changes the way you view your life and your priorities. What was important yesterday no longer matters today. Instead of withdrawing, you have to engage. Talk about what happened and tell your story to people who are safe—therapists, clergy, family/friends. It’s ok to tell your story multiple times, if it means you are processing through it. Fight the urge to shut down!
Find a sense of normalcy
Trauma takes your normal and turns it upside down in an instant. Fight to establish some normalcy as quickly as you can. Start exercising, working, and doing household chores as you can. It’s amazing how the brain is wired to crave routine. Don’t push yourself but slowly ease back into it. Things that you once enjoyed may not bring you as much pleasure now, but it doesn’t mean that the joy is forever gone. As time passes, you will once again feel glimpses of happiness and joy. Regain your power as you can and have patience for yourself.
Please check back this week as we discuss more issues related to survivor's guilt.
Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW
Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. Christy enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, couples and relationship counseling. Christy also provides family counseling, child counseling, and adolescent counseling.
Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area, including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.