Dealing With Survivor's Guilt

Overcoming a traumatic event should inspire feelings of gratitude, but it can also leave individuals with survivor's guilt -- the awkward, sometimes debilitating, remorse over the fact that this person survived when someone else (or lots of someone elses) did not. This can be especially intense during an accident, an act of God or a catastrophe, but it can also apply when beating a serious illness, like cancer, or being one of the employees who is not laid off. It's important that such a person find ways of dealing with survivor's guilt.

Symptoms of survivor's guilt include irritability, anxiety, withdrawal and depression. When survivor's guilt is not treated, it can lead to substance abuse and thoughts of self-harm. These should be addressed by a professional health-care provider immediately. For less severe cases, some common ways of dealing with survivor's guilt may apply, but it is important to not rely on a self-diagnosis.

Talking it out often helps

As with any negative events or feelings, talking about them is one of the most beneficial things a victim can do when dealing with this problem. Talking need not be limited to health professionals, however. A sufferer also should consider utilizing a solid support system of family and friends. Joining a support group can help, especially if family and friends are not as helpful as one would like. For victims who are immobilized, online support groups are a viable alternative.

Returning to a routine as soon as possible after the incident can restore feelings of stability. If the event left the victim with physical limitations, focus on activities that are still possible. Re-engaging in hobbies, exercise routines and work, if possible, may help bring back a sense of safety. Because fatigue is often a symptom of survivor's guilt, proper exercise under appropriate care can go a long way toward restoring a semblance of competence.

Grief vs. guilt

Sometimes feelings of grief and guilt become confused. Grief can lead to healing, but it needs to be dealt with so as to not turn into guilt. Learn to tell the two apart. Acknowledging grief and letting it run a healthy course can be constructive. Guilt, if not resolved, can affect the body, mind and spirit.

Untreated, survivor's guilt can lead to other problems, such as depression, dysfunctional relationships, delayed recovery periods from health issues and progressive traumatic reactions. It's always best to deal with survivor's guilt rather than try to suffer through it silently.

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