In the last part of our series on guilt, we will explore survivor guilt—the type of guilt that arises when you are doing better than those you care about. Survivor guilt is most common in those who have survived a traumatic event when their friends or family members did not. The most common case is in the case of veterans. They may feel guilty because they lived while their fellow troops died. Similarly, a daughter who survived a car crash in which her parents died may feel this guilt. She might think, “Why did I survive and they didn’t?” “How is that fair?” “Why them? Why not me?” While this type of survivor’s guilt is common, you also don’t necessarily have to have survived something in order to experience it. You might just be doing better than someone else at something—maybe you’re living in a million dollar house while a close friend’s on the brink of homelessness due to financial struggles.
Whatever the case may be, someone struggling with survivor’s guilt tends to think that they did something wrong by surviving the traumatic event or for doing better than someone else. Sometimes it may arise as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a mental condition that can arise from experiencing trauma. Survivor’s guilt may come with an influx of emotions such as joy, relief, grief, sadness and gratitude. You may feel happy and relieved for surviving but sad and burdened because others did not. It is also common to feel like you’ve been given a second chance and you, therefore, respond by taking a huge burden upon yourself to live life to its fullest. While it is good to have this heightened sense of purpose, these emotions and self-imposed burdens can get very overwhelming.
In order to overcome survivor’s guilt, it is important to realize that there are people out there that genuinely care for you and love you. What happened isn’t your fault and you didn’t do anything wrong by surviving. While it’s so heartbreaking to deal with a loss, remember that whoever you lost would probably feel happiest if you used the experience to build a better you. Make them proud, but don’t overload yourself with expectations. While nothing you do can bring them back, use this new, broader vision of life to your advantage and to others’ advantage. Make them proud, but more importantly, make yourself proud!
If you or a loved one live in Manhattan or Bergen County New Jersey and are having trouble dealing with guilt, PTSD, self-criticizing thoughts, or self-esteem issues, the psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling can assist you. Contact our Bergen County, NJ or Manhattan offices of psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. Visit http://www.acenterfortherapy.com for more information.
Written by Kassandra C. Sources: Krauss, Susan W. (2012, Aug. 11). The Definitive Guide to Guilt: The five types of guilt and how you can cope with each. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201208/the-definitive-guide-guilt