How to Deal with Survivor’s Guilt

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There is a good chance that you survived corona because you are around to read this article. But there is an equally good chance you have some unresolved issues regarding your survival. It happens after every disaster, especially events where you lost someone close to you. The inexplicable fact is that you are here and they aren’t. Why them? Why you? What does it all mean? Some people turn to religion to explain random acts of survival. Unfortunately, that does nothing to explain why your prayer for survival was answered while the prayers of other good people were not. 

The ache you feel is a well-known phenomenon called survivor’s guilt. It is the feeling that you shouldn’t be here, either. It is not that you want to die, though unfortunately, that is sometimes the case. It is that you feel a sense of wrongness. Surely, it can’t just be random. That is a scary thought. We need to make sense of it, understand it somehow. We need to exert a sense of control. But such events defy control or understanding. Survivor’s guilt is no laughing matter that can simply be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders. If you are feeling the weight of it, here are a few next steps:

Get Professional Help

Something that people do in times of crisis is self-medicate in an attempt to overcome the emotional pain. That leads to the kind of superficial relief found in illicit substances such as heroin. All too often, that leads to overdose, then a desperate scramble by loved ones to figure out how to treat heroin overdose. At that point, the only thing a person can responsibly do is to remain calm, call 911, speak clearly, and answer all questions, especially the address. You would be surprised at how difficult it is to produce the most basic information in a time of extreme stress.

With survivor’s guilt, it is perfectly natural to feel overwhelmed. There is no shame in feeling this way. It is also natural for there to be a delayed reaction. The guilt might not be triggered until you start getting your life back to normal. That is the moment that it hits you that things are not normal. As we are now getting back to some semblance of normality, it is worth taking stock of your emotional state. Don’t ignore the uncomfortable feelings. If you find yourself turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, get help. You are not alone.

Seek Calm

Learning how to achieve calm is a good next step. Calm is not something you just naturally have, or accidentally stumble into. It is a state of being that takes a lot of work to achieve. It also is not the kind of thing that happens right away. If you are a practitioner of meditation, you might have to meditate for hours, or even days to achieve something like calm.

The trick to dealing with stress is to slow things down. When it feels like everything is spinning out of control, that is when you intentionally move slower. Don’t worry about the five balls you are juggling. Just focus on one of them. Achieve one success. Set it aside and focus on the next thing. It doesn’t have to be in the order of importance or even chronological order. Start with the easiest thing to fix and go from there. When you have achieved some calm, you can tackle the more pressing issue. If you allow yourself to get increasingly frantic, even the easy things become difficult.

Confide in a Friend

Our social structure provides more than a group to hang with when bored. It provides a support structure when we can no longer carry the load by ourselves. Before you go to a counselor, try calling a confidant and confide in them. Talk about how you feel. Rant, rave, go little nuts. That’s what friends are for. You will be surprised at how much healing you get just by getting some of your darker emotions out in the open and out of your system. 

Survivor’s guilt is a little like grief. It will always be a part of you. But you can learn to manage it. That is a natural part of the human condition. Seek professional help. Slow things down. And confide in the people who know you best.