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Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author, educational consultant, & speaker focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.


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What Is Survivor’s Guilt?

Survivors guilt is a particular kind of guilt that develops in people who have survived a life-threatening situation. Some survivors feel guilty that they survived when others died. Others believe sầu they could have sầu done more to lớn save the lives of others. And then there are those who feel guilty that another person died saving them.


While survivor"s guilt was originally used to lớn describe feelings that survivors of the Holocaust experienced, it has also been applied to a number of life-threatening situations, including car accidents, wars, & natural disasters.


Survivor"s guilt is also common in those who have survived medical traumas. For instance, those who lived through the AIDS epidemic have sầu described feelings of guilt related khổng lồ their own survival while others, including friends or family, died. Some cancer survivors also experience this guilt if they survive a diagnosis but others don"t.


In the current version of the diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, survivor"s guilt is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It may be viewed as one of the cognitive and mood-related symptoms of PTSD, which include having distorted feelings of guilt and negative thoughts about oneself.

It is important to note, however, that people can experience survivor’s guilt without having PTSD. They can also have PTSD without feeling survivor’s guilt.


Symptoms

The extent & severity of survivor’s guilt varies between people. Symptoms of survivor’s guilt can be both psychological và physical và often mimic those of PTSD.


Feelings of helplessnessFlashbacks of the traumatic eventIrritabilityLachồng of motivationMood swings and angry outburstsObsessive thoughts about the eventSuicidal thoughts

Survivor"s guilt can have a serious impact on a person’s life and functioning, suggesting that further retìm kiếm is needed to lớn explore effective ways to lớn help people khuyến mãi with feelings of guilt.


If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for tư vấn và assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


Regret, Rumination, & Hindsight Bias

Following a trauma, people may also experience feelings of regret. They may ruminate over the events that took place and think about things they could have sầu or should have sầu done that (they think) would have sầu altered the outcome. This rehashing of the events can further exacerbate feelings of guilt, particularly if people feel that their own actions (or inactions) may have sầu worsened the consequences.


In many cases, this rumination is influenced by what is known as the hindsight bias. People look baông chồng and overestimate their ability khổng lồ have known the outcome of an event. Because they feel lượt thích they should have predicted what happened, people may become convinced that they should also have been able lớn change the outcome.


There are times when guilt may have sầu a legitimate cause (such as causing an accident that led khổng lồ another person’s death or injury), but in a lot of these instances, there is little or nothing that a person could bởi vì to lớn prevent or change the outcome.

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Causes

Survivor’s guilt occurs in people who have experienced some type of trauma. However, not everyone who lives through such an experience develops these feelings of guilt.


A person’s locus of control might play a role in determining whether they will experience survivor"s guilt. Some people are more likely to internalize blame. When explaining events, they tover khổng lồ attribute causation to lớn personal characteristics rather than outside forces.


In a lot of situations, this can actually be a good thing for self-esteem. By taking credit for good outcomes, people are able to lớn feel better about themselves and their abilities. But it can be devastating when people blame themselves for events out of their control.


Low self-esteem: People with low self-esteem may place less value on their own well-being. When faced with the experience of surviving where others have sầu perished, they may be more likely khổng lồ question whether they “deserved” their good luchồng. This can lead lớn feelings of inadequacy and even guilt.

Treatments

Getting appropriate treatment if you are experiencing such symptoms is important. Not only can it reduce your mental well-being & unique of life, but it can also present serious risks, particularly if other symptoms of PTSD are also present.In fact, researchers have found that trauma-related guilt is closely linked to suicidal thoughts in veterans.


Cognitive sầu behavioral therapy (CBT) is one approach that can be particularly effective sầu. Through CBT, clients work with a therapist khổng lồ explore automatic negative sầu thoughts that contribute khổng lồ feelings of guilt. Examining unrealistic thoughts và replacing them with more realistic ones can help alleviate feelings of guilt and self-blame.


Other forms of psychotherapy, group therapy, tư vấn groups, và medications may also be helpful in the treatment of survivor’s guilt symptoms.


Coping

If you find yourself experiencing feelings of guilt following an aversive sầu sự kiện, there are things you can vị khổng lồ manage those emotions. Some self-help strategies that you may find effective:


Allow yourself to lớn grieve. It is important lớn acknowledge the people who were lost & allow yourself lớn mourn. Give sầu yourself time & take things at your own pace.Do something positive. Whether it is for yourself or for others, take those feelings and direct them toward making a change in the world. Sometimes just doing simple things for another person can help alleviate feelings of guilt.Focus on the outside factors that led khổng lồ an event. Shifting your focus on the external variables that created the situation can help you let go of the self-blame that contributes to lớn feelings of guilt.Rethành viên that these feelings are common. Experiencing guilt doesn’t mean that you’re guilty of doing anything wrong. Sadness, fear, anxiety, grief, &, yes, guilt are completely normal responses in the aftermath of a tragedy. It’s OK lớn feel happy about your own luchồng while at the same time mourning the fate of others.

Talk lớn your doctor if your symptoms are severe or your feelings of guilt are interfering with your ability lớn function normally.

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A Word From Verywell

Survivor’s guilt can feel overwhelming at times, but it is not uncomtháng lớn feel this way after you have survived a traumatic or difficult life event. It"s important to acknowledge your guilt & get help if these feelings become too difficult lớn manage on your own. Appropriate treatment can help you address feelings of excessive sầu or overwhelming guilt.