Survivor's Guilt & Coping with Grief

By: Matthew Funeral Home
Monday, May 22, 2023

After a traumatic or sudden passing of a loved one, it is common for people to experience Survivor’s Guilt. Survivor’s Guilt is a type of grief that creates feelings of wrong-doing surrounding the loss of a loved one. It is often observed in war veterans, cancer survivors, and survivors of tragic events. This article will explore the signs associated with Survivor’s Guilt, and how to cope with it.

Survivor’s Guilt and Grief

Grief can sometimes be unbearable, but it is how the body and mind process tragic loss and pain. Unlike grief, Survivor’s Guilt does not help you process this pain in a healthy way. Dealing with this guilt is important to begin the healing process of your grief. The first step is to accept that you don’t have all the answers. Those dealing with Survivor’s Guilt will often ask themselves:

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why did I survive?
  • What else could I have done?
  • Why couldn’t I save others?

It is important to understand that you won’t have all of the answers. Accepting that there is nothing more that can be done is the first step in overcoming these feelings of grief and heartache. 

Misplaced Responsibility

Overall, misplaced responsibility can be a major part of Survivor’s Guilt. Could you have done more? You may find yourself replaying the events in your head, and trying to see what more you could have done. This is rooted in irrational thinking. You must accept that there is nothing more that can be done. You can’t turn back time. Trying to find ways you could have done more will only deepen feelings of guilt.

Survivor’s Guilt and PTSD

One common symptom of PTSD is Survivor’s Guilt. Many people suffering from this ask themselves why they survived when others did not. It can be challenging to accept that you survived a tragic event, and suffered the way you did. When others' lives are lost in the same event, it can seem easy to question why you survived. But, it is important to see your survival as a positive, as difficult as that may be. 

Survivor’s Guilt and Life-Threatening Illness

Many survivors of life-threatening illnesses feel some level of Survivor’s Guilt. Survivors of cancer, and now even COVID-19, feel this way. They may question why they survived when so many others lost their lives. They may also feel guilty for all of the grief their loved ones felt during their fight. But the important thing to understand is that you are overcoming something deadly and that you have another chance to do more in life. 

Consider Seeking Professional Help

Survivor’s Guilt can be a painful process that can take a lot to overcome. It is ok to ask for help. Consider seeking professional assistance from a counselor or therapist. Just like any form of grief, Survivor’s Guilt won’t go away overnight. Working with a therapist that you can trust can help you work through these feelings.

The author of this post is not a professional therapist or counselor. For assistance in finding a grief counselor that is right for you, there are a number of resources out there. For our Grief Resource center, written by Dr. Bill Webster, click here
For almost 50 years, Matthew Funeral Home has been serving the Staten Island community. We can help with almost every aspect of your loved one’s memorial service. Our family is here to serve yours, every step of the way.

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