What Is Survivors Guilt and How To Cope With It

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Sometimes a tragedy might hit the people who are close to you, and you will be left unscathed. Yet you end up feeling guilty. Most people will ask themselves why not them or was there something they could have done so as to prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place? These are some of the hallmark statements/thoughts of an individual who experiences something termed as “survivor guilt.”

Sometimes an individual might believe that they have done something wrong after surviving a tragic event whereas others have succumbed or died. It is then that survivor’s guilt comes into play. This will commonly occur after a big catastrophe but can still pop up in some unexpected ways.

Many people have tried to overcome the traumatic events, such as people who have faced long-term illness that seemed irreversible, but they ultimately survived in the end. The guilt might come in the form of blame, sadness, regret, and depression. It causes symptoms such as loss of motivation, irritability and sleep difficulty.

It’s easier said than done, but if you can let the feelings go (somewhat), it will help to improve your ability and well-being in coping with life after the tragedy. Here are some of the essential strategies that can help to cope with survivor guilt:

Remembering that the incident was not your fault – you will need to verbalize and acknowledge your feelings of guilt. Therapists often listen, validate and empathize with you, and there’s a reason for that. It’s to show that these feelings, while normal, are largely irrational. The most important thing is for you to let all your mistakes go and then forgive yourself.

Knowing that the feelings of guilt will go – you may have faced other difficult emotions in the past, and the current recent one is bringing guilt. You have to let it go because the feelings will change with time. Everything will come to pass.

Sharing your feelings – You need to look for a friend or a therapist to talk about your feelings. The person you decide to share your feelings with must be someone you can trust like a member of your family, a close friend, a social worker or a counselor.

Joining a support group – Such groups help people to realize that other people are surviving, yet they were in similar situations as you; they also experienced similar guilt and feelings. You can find an online support group or a local one easily.

Focus positively – the other essential factor for coping with survivors guilt is to focus only on the positive activities that help you relax. Make sure you are doing things that you enjoy like watching funny movies or visiting a friend.

Finding healthy ways for expressing emotions – you need to consider the way you express your feelings through various creative activities, like art or music. The positive emotions that come from this will help you live a better life.


When you find that these guilty feelings are affecting your ability to function normally, follow the above steps. Similarly, you should let your doctor know. The doctor might recommend you look for a professional counselor to help you manage your emotions. Remember that while it may be difficult, you only live one. You need to live your life to the fullest and put the past behind you, especially situations which were out of your control.