Category : Health
Author : Sana Rubiyana

Psychologist and RECBT Therapist

Survivor’s guilt is a response to an event in which someone else experienced loss but you did not. While the name implies this to be a response to the loss of life, it could also be the loss of property, health, identity or a number of other things that are important to people.

Survivors may question why they escaped death while others lost their lives. They may also wonder whether there was something that they could have done to prevent the traumatic event or preserve life.

People who may experience survivor’s guilt include:

  • war veterans
  • first responders
  • holocaust survivors
  • cancer survivors
  • transplant recipients
  • crash survivors
  • natural disaster survivors
  • witnesses to a traumatic event
  • family members of those who have developed a fatal hereditary condition
  • those who lose a family member to suicide
  • parents who outlive their child

When people survive a traumatic event, they may experience feelings of guilt about:

  • surviving when others did not
  • what they did or did not do during the traumatic event

People with survivor’s guilt can also experience symptoms of PTSD:

As with PTSD, survivor’s guilt may cause a person to see the world as an unfair and unsafe place. Survivor’s guilt occurs in people who have experienced a traumatic event. However, not everyone who lives through such an event develops feelings of guilt.

The reasons why a person might be at risk of experiencing guilt after surviving a traumatic event may include:

  1. a history of trauma (such as childhood abuse),
  2. having other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression,
  3. family history of psychiatric problems,
  4. lack of support from friends and,
  5. family and alcohol or drug use.


  • Accept and allow the feelings that surface. Take time to process the guilt, grief, fear and loss that accompany a traumatic event and the loss of life. If these feelings are overwhelming or do not begin to get more manageable over time, it is important for a person to seek help.
  • Connect with others. Share feelings with family and friends. Or look for a relevant support group. Both face-to-face support groups and online communities allow survivors to connect with others, express themselves and ask questions.
  • Use mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness can be beneficial for people who have experienced trauma, especially during flashbacks or periods of intense and painful emotions. Try grounding techniques, which may include focusing on the breath, feeling nearby fabrics, textures and noticing sounds.
  • Practice self-care. Survivors can benefit from doing activities that feel good, such as: taking baths, reading, resting, meditating, journaling, creating art, listening to soothing music and trying aromatherapy.
  • It is also important for a person to: get enough sleep, have a balanced diet and exercise regularly
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. These substances can cause emotional disturbances.
  • Involvement in helping others. People who survive a traumatic event may feel better if they help others in some way. A person may wish to educate about their experience, volunteer at a local charity, donate blood, make a charitable donation, lend support to others and or send a care package to someone.

When to get professional help?

  • People who continue to experience intense guilt, flashbacks, disturbing dreams and other symptoms of PTSD should consider getting professional help, such as talking to a counsellor or a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma.
  • Therapy is the primary treatment for PTSD, but some people may also require medication. Treatment can help people begin to regain control of their lives and experience relief from symptoms.
  • Survivors who have thoughts of death or suicide or have attempted suicide should seek immediate medical attention.


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