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Why Did I Get to Live? Survivor Guilt and Why it Happens

By HERWriter Guide
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

making the best of your life can be a tribute to your survival and to those who died
. take the opportunity to reevaluate the meaning of your life
. is your life all it can be?

• Recognize the reawakening of old issues
- survival may have triggered old feelings of worthlessness or unworthiness
- surviving may have amplified old messages that you received about not being worthy,
about being a nuisance, about not measuring up, and/or about not counting

• If guilt persists or disrupts life, seek appropriate therapeutic assistance

Self Help Magazine describes survivor guilt as a "phenomenon often experienced by those who escape from a disaster that seriously injures and kills others. An individual dealing with this particular type of guilt may believe that they experienced a good fortune at the expense of others and that by attempting to save their own lives, they intentionally harmed others. "

Americans have had many collective traumatic incidents in their lives in recent years, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, including the very recent Hurricane Irene.

Despite the fact that there was nothing they could have done to save others, the strong feelings of guilt remain that they survived and others did not, or their home was untouched while their neighbors' homes were destroyed.

Talk therapy (individual or group) is advised for anyone going through survivor guilt. And what many survivors interviewed around the world talk about is the highly therapeutic and meaningful work they go on to do, in memory of the injured or dead.

Fundraisers, awareness campaigns and hands-on help can help assure people that their survival was for a reason, and that guilt doesn't make sense when people change their lives for the better, after experiencing a traumatic event.


Gift From Within-PTSD Resources for Survivors and Caregivers. Survivor Guilt. Table 1. A Method for Processing Survivor's Guilt. Web. 9 Sept. 2011. http://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/Guilt-Following-Traumatic-Events.html

Why Not Me?

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EmpowHER Guest

The surfacing of old issues such as not counting or being considered a nuisance resonated with me. Would you elucidate on ways to effectively deal with these emotions as an adult?

February 12, 2015 - 2:10pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.