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One of the most common things that people come across after experiencing something traumatic is what is know as “Survivor’s Guilt”. This is a mental condition that quite often will occur after a person has experienced and survived a traumatic event when others do not.


This can also occur to someone after experiencing trauma, and they realize that other people are experiencing or have experienced much worse.

That is where my survivor’s guilt came from.


I have been through a lot of hard times. I have lived through mental manipulation and verbal domestic abuse. There were times when things were scary, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to experience the wrath that furniture seemed to get. After I was removed from that situation, and I began to deal with the processing the trauma I experienced, it came to my attention that other women, other people, have been through much worse than me.

How could I be this upset, and this affected by it, when what I went through is nothing compared to Person X or Person Y?

The answer is this:

Yes... Person X may have been through worse, and yes, Person Y may have had a harder time getting out of that situation. Both of the those are traumatic. But just because your experience was different, it doesn’t discredit, or diminish, the trauma you have experienced.

Survivor’s Guilt can be experienced from all types of situations, not just from a domestic violence situation. Other situations / groups of peoplethat can cause survivor’s guilt are as follows:

  • “Military Veterans

  • First Responders”*1 (ex. Doctors, Nurses, EMS, Paramedics, Firefighters, Police Officers, etc.)

  • “Cancer survivors

  • Transplant recipients

  • Survivors of Natural Disasters”*2 (ex. volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, famine, tsunami, etc.)

  • “Someone who has lost a loved one to suicide

  • Parents who outlive their children”*3

  • Childhood trauma

  • “Holocaust Survivors

  • Airplane Crash survivors”*4

  • Car accident survivors

  • Refugees and survivors of war

What you need to remember, is your story is your story. You cannot compare your story to Person X or Person Y. Everyone experiences trauma differently, and everyone processes, grief, guilt and trauma different.


Survivor’s Guilt is also a common side effect to those who are suffering from PTSD. I will go further into PTSD in a later post. For now though, I want to focus on what Survivor’s Guilt is, how you can determine if you have it, and what you can do to learn to cope and release the feelings of guilt you carry around.


Some common questions that people who experience Survivor’s Guilt will ask themselves are this:

“Why am I the one who survived?”

“Why was I the one who got away?”

“What if I had done this, instead of that? Would that have changed the outcome?”

“What if I hadn’t done this? Would things be different now?”

It is not uncommon for survivor’s to have “false beliefs about their role in an event, which can lead to feelings of guilt”*5. They will try reflect back trying to come up with alternate solutions they could have done to try and change the outcome. I know I have personally done this, even in something smaller.


After my first car accident I spent days and weeks imagining what I could have done differently if I had go through the intersection 2 seconds sooner. Or what would have happened if I had been paying more attention, and not dealing with the thoughts of my marriage ending.

This is something that we all do as humans. We all sit there and try to rationalize our behaviours, or beat ourselves up if we do something wrong. We constantly live in a “What if” type world. Another topic, for another day.

All of this said, what can we do to try and cope with the unending feeling of Survivor’s Guilt?


It is not uncommon for people suffering with Survivor’s Guilt to have the symptoms naturally resolve over time. That amount of time can differ depending on the person suffering, but generally it can resolve in as little as one year, and if you seek treatment that amount of time could be reduced.


One of the first steps in dealing with survivor’s guilt is acceptance. We have to learn to accept the trauma that occurred, feel the emotions that come along with it, and accept that it is now in the past, and nothing we do can change the outcome that occurred. Be open to sharing your experiences. Talking to someone professionally with an unbiased opinion on your situation can greatly help in the understanding of the situation, and in the process of dealing with the emotions.

If you are not open to speaking to someone professionally, or you do not the means for that to be an option, then be open with someone that you trust. A friend, parents, sibling, partner, someone that you trust who will not offer judgment. Sharing your experiences can often allow you to feel a sense of relief. Do not keep these things bottled up. This can a prolonged bout of guilt, that is not healthy for anyone.

Try mediating, this is one thing that I found truly helpful in allowing me to accept and move on from the guilt and grief I was feeling while dealing with trauma.


My overall experience with survivor’s guilt is this:

For a long time I was in denial about my situation. The first time I experienced domestic abuse I was only a teenager. I didn’t understand the extent of what was happening. When I was older and I went through my truly traumatic abusive relationship, I was yet again in denial of my situation. I knew I was experiencing fear. I knew that I wasn’t allowed to talk or say something without receiving verbal backlash. I walked on eggshells constantly. I lived in a fear that I had never known, but never truly realized was there until leaving the relationship.


I suffered through the trauma, learned from it, handled it. But what I wasn’t expecting was afterwards to experience an overwhelming amount of guilt.

Yes, what I had been through was terrible.

Yes, what I had been through was hard, and life changing.

And yet, all I could think of was the other people out there who experienced worse. What about all those people who were stuck in their situations still? All those people who were overwhelmed, and tired of living through a constant trauma, but with no way to get out. What about those people who had to think of their children? What about the people who were forced to leave with nothing but the clothes on their back?

How can I sit here, and feel bad when I got out relatively unscathed. No children to worry about. All my possessions with me. How could I honestly feel so scared and so scarred over something that wasn’t as bad as another person?

Trauma affects everyone differently. Just because my trauma wasn’t as “bad” as Person Y’s, doesn’t make it any less traumatic. I can’t honestly say whether Person Y’s trauma was worse than mine, since I never actually experienced it. All I can do is base my perception of trauma off of what I have experienced.

If there is one thing that I want you to remember, its this: just because someone may have it worse than you or have had harder times than you, it does not diminish or devalue what you are going through, or what you have experienced. Your trauma is your trauma, and your are allowed to feel that.

Allow yourself time to grieve. Be patient, as recovery does take time. Just remember that you have truly been given a second chance. A second chance at survival. A chance to turn life into lemonade, and start again.

*References:

  1. Jayne Leonard 2019, Medical News Today, accessed 15 June 2020, <https://medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325578>

  2. Jayne Leonard 2019, Medical News Today, accessed 15 June 2020, <https://medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325578>

  3. Jayne Leonard 2019, Medical News Today, accessed 15 June 2020, <https://medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325578>

  4. Diana Raab PhD 2018, The Empowerment Diary, Psychology Today, accessed 16 June 2020, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-empowerment-diary/201801/what-everyone-should-know-about-survivors-guilt%3famp>

  5. Jayne Leonard 2019, Medical News Today, accessed 15 June 2020, <https://medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325578>

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