Survivor’s guilt is when we live while others succumb to a traumatic or sudden death. This is never an easy pill to swallow.
While I’ve never served in the military and I was hundreds of miles away from New York during the 9/11 events, I watched my aunt suddenly collapse and die right in front of me. No, it’s not exactly the same as what others must have endured, but it’s my only way to connect with this topic. If survivor’s guilt feels anything like what I felt helplessly watching someone I love slip away, then maybe I have a tiny idea of what it feels like.
Understanding the depths of survivor’s guilt
Since I cannot be the trauma survivor or the one who barely escaped the jaws of death, I would like to explain what happens to survivors when guilt sets in. You see, the basic criteria for having this sort of feeling isn’t set in stone, hence, my somewhat feelings of guilt, but there are basic reasons why people suffer terribly from this.
Yes, many war veterans suffer from PTSD, holocaust survivors, transplant recipients, and automobile crash survivors can suffer like this as well. It’s never been just about being jumpy and having nightmares. These survivors actually wonder why they are alive while someone else dies. It’s as if some great force rolls the dice and that’s just where they land – you live/they die.
That’s just how cruel and horrible survivor’s guilt can be. So, in order to move past this, survivors must learn ways to deal with their guilty feelings. It’s the only way.
Ways to see past the tragedy
1. Acceptance is good
Before you can move any further with healing from this guilt, you must first accept what happened. If you were the only survivor in a crash, you have to move past feeling bad about yourself and be grateful for a second lease on life.
Not to sound selfish, but what good is your suffering when someone else had to die. You have to think about what happened, learn what you can and accept that it did happen. It cannot be erased and you cannot go back in time.
2. Physical activity
I guess everyone gets tired of hearing about how physical activity seems to solve problems, but it does help with many issues, including guilt. Yes, again, physical activity can help you alleviate some of the guilt you feel from being a survivor of a tragedy. It works by improving the condition of your body which is connected to your mind.
Chemicals change and moods improve, and even your focus in life becomes clear. Those who survive should take a few moments of each day to do something physical whether it’s walking, running, or just spending 20 minutes working out. Remember, you always need to stretch before exercise.
3. Eat well and take care of yourself
Right up there with physical activity is making sure you eat nutritious foods. Now, I know how hard it is to eat when you are depressed and feeling guilt or regret, but, you first have to force yourself to start eating better. When you do this, you stay strong enough to combat the depression. You see, it’s a cycle that must be broken, and the lack of nutrition will keep you stuck in depression for a long time.
Also, you will need to make sure you keep your hygiene in check. This isn’t being said to embarrass anyone. It’s just that depression and anxiety can make us feel so helpless and down that we don’t even care about taking a shower, combing your hair or wearing nice clothes. Don’t forget to make yourself look as good as you did before the trauma happened. It’s really important.
If you’re being more active and you’re eating better, then you need to add the act of being mindful of the regimen. The most common mindfulness technique is meditation. Using meditation, paired with aromatherapy, can greatly reduce the stress that comes with regret and guilt. Although meditation may not be easy for those who are unfamiliar with the process, even learning how to meditate can be therapeutic.
5. Help someone else
If you are down, sometimes the best thing to do is lift someone up. If you know anyone who is suffering, you can volunteer to help them fix their issues or just be there for them.
Even though you may have survived when others did not, this is your chance to help someone who does still have a chance at life. You can even donate to charity or donate your time to do kind things for the homeless. When you help, a bit of the heaviness from the survivor’s guilt will start to lift.
6. Remember the ones who love you
Yes, you may feel guilty about being a minority in the survival game, but it’s good you’re alive. Do you know why? Your loved ones are glad that you made it through and they will often find ways to show how much they appreciate your presence in their lives. Instead of dwelling in regret land, try thinking about the love of others.
7. Talk to someone
If you’ve never talked about what happened, now’s the time. First of all, you need to understand exactly what happened, and if there is any guilt that should rightfully be yours in the first place. If you have no part in what happened, except being a survivor, then you should think of that. If you talk to people who witnessed the accident or trauma, you can use the truth of what they’re saying to heal.
8. Professional help
If you cannot find comfort in any of the other options above, you definitely need to seek professional help. In fact, it would be a good idea to pair professional help with these options as well, especially the part of taking care of your physical well-being. A professional can get inside your mind, but you will need to pull yourself up and get moving again.
It’s time to stop beating yourself up
I can imagine it’s not that easy to heal from survivor’s guilt. I know the death of my aunt is still with me and makes me feel guilty for not getting her to the hospital in time before she died. But, in order to live a full life, I have to put that back and accept that she is gone. Remember, whatever happened, whether it was your fault or not, you have to move on, not just for yourself, but for the ones you love.
I know you can do this.
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