I remember when I heard the news of the father from Sand Hook, who had lost his young daughter to gun violence in the devastating shooting at Sand Hook Elementary, took his own life I knew this was going to be a topic I needed to blog about. Then around the same time the news of a young lady who had survived the Parkland School shooting had taken her life too. The thought weighed heavily on my mind – how do we address survivor’s guilt. It is part of the lifespan of grief. For those left behind and I felt compelled to write about it from my perspective.
Below I have provided some details around survivor’s guilt and some symptoms to watch for. The references are also listed for your use should you feel the need to review.
The lifespan of grief crosses over into many facets and timelines. Grief looks different at one day and one year; or 365 to 366 days; or birthdates, angel dates, or special occasions. If you peeked into the world of a griever you’d find a story that looks a little different at each point. If you peel back any part of the journey there may be a little bit of survivor’s guilt that looks a little different than the one referenced above and outlined below.
Personally, I asked God on numerous occasions why Brittany. Why couldn’t it have been me. She was a young and smart girl growing up into a beautiful human being, one that this world needs more of desperately. I was plagued by my own version of survivor’s guilt. It took me quite a while to get passed that. Many therapy sessions and talks with God to get my head straight. It was her time. It was not mine. A hard pill to swallow. God whispered I still need you here to do work. Still today I hear this faint whisper.
Wrestling with survivor’s guilt and grief is a daily, weekly, monthly and lifelong journey. It’s vital to get the support you need to find the space where you can breathe again. Where you can find purpose again. And you will. You can. The work is hard. Joy can return. And it will. I can promise you that.
Below are some excerpts from Psychology Today’s article on Survivor’s Guilt.
In a recent article from Psychology Today, Survivor’s Guilt was defined as: something that people experience when they’ve survived a life-threatening situation and others might not have. It is commonly seen among Holocaust survivors, war veterans, lung-transplant recipients, airplane-crash survivors, and those who have lived through natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, and floods.
Symptoms of Survivor’s Guilt can manifest themselves in several ways. A few examples are listed below:
- Having flashbacks
- Feeling irritable
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Feeling immobilized, numb, and/or disconnected
- Being unmotivated
- Feeling helpless
- Having an intense sense of fear
- Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and palpitations
- Having suicidal feelings
In truth, it’s not logical for someone to feel responsible for another person’s fate, but guilt is not something we necessarily have any control over. However, survivor’s guilt is a normal response to loss. Not everyone experiences this type of guilt, but it’s often a feeling that is difficult to shake. It’s been said that some people are more prone to it, such as those with a history of depression and low self-esteem.
Here are some coping tips if you (or someone you know) is experiencing survivor’s guilt:
- Give yourself time to grieve.
- Consider thinking about who was responsible, if anyone.
- Remember to take care of yourself physically and psychologically.
- Think about what those who are close to you are feeling about the situation.
- Remind yourself that you were given the gift of survival and feel good about it.
- Try to be of service to someone or something.
- Remind yourself that you’re not alone.
- Be patient.
- Share your feelings with those you trust.
- Try to stick to a daily routine.
- Consider journaling your feelings.
- Get professional help, as needed.
If you find yourself needing to talk to a professional, there are many sites with recommendations for therapists near you. Check your insurance website for a list as well. It’s important to talk about your feelings and help sort things out. You are NOT alone!
Until next time,