Dealing with Survivor’s Guilt

“It Could Have Been Me”

I wanted to address something that has been on my heart that many have or are currently experiencing Survivor’s Guilt.  

Survivor’s Guilt is the idea of surviving a situation or harm that others did not, which leads to feelings of guilt. Psychology Today describes survivor’s guilt as “if you stayed safe while others suffered, you may feel you don’t deserve to be safe and should have been harmed as well. You question the fairness and justness of the world.”

Overnight, I have friends, family, and clients who have either lost their jobs, taken a pay cut, or kept their jobs but watched their coworkers lose theirs. To say this is really tough would be an incredible understatement, and while I am grateful for all the amazing articles on topics of unemployment, places hiring, and financial resources in our community, I wanted to address the population juggling the loss of coworkers and yet fear of their own financial security. Though nothing can take away what you’re going through, hopefully this little bit of information can help.

Feel Your feelings:

To me, this is the most important step of all. These were your team members and your friends! You probably were around some of them more than your own family and have experienced situations with them no one else can understand. Allow yourself to grieve and acknowledge how you feel even if it seems confusing. It is ok to feel sad one moment from this tremendous loss, thankful another moment for still having a job, and then happy another thinking of a funny office moment you shared. Change like this hurts! Find ways to express and process all the feelings because healing comes in working through them. “But avoiding the true emotion bubbling underneath the guilt makes things worse over time and stands in the way of moving on, accepting what happened, and feeling better.”

Don’t Take The Blame:

Despite wanting to or thinking “why them and not me” remind yourself of who is actually to blame. It could be someone or, to be honest, have no explanation at all. There will always be situations where we wish we could change the outcome if given the chance, but can’t. Sometimes focusing on the “should” or taking some type of responsibility can help us feel a false sense of control. Remind yourself of the facts and that no one knows the past or future. Remind yourself that you did the best in the moment (responsible or not) and accept the outcome.

Support Others:

Reach out to those you know hurting. No, like me, you may not know exactly what to say but you know something tragic happened and a friend might be exactly what they need. What if your presence alone helps encourage them to overcome this obstacle? Think of a situation where someone did something for you during a hard situation or what you would’ve wished. Could you do that?  

Fight Fear:

Just because they lost their job doesn’t mean they aren’t a good employee and because you have yours right now doesn’t mean you’ll lose it. Speak good into YOUR life and OTHERS. It would be easy to worry that “I’m next”, but we really only can control this moment. Guilt can have a way of pushing us away from others, but let it fuel you towards others and making a difference. Do something positive by directing your energy towards change and support instead of letting fear win and hijack your thoughts.

Right now we are living in a state of uncertainty, so it can be easy to accept responsibility or feel guilt for situations outside of our control that affected those close to us. Taking some of these tips to heart can help us embrace hard moments and support one another.

~Melissa Roach, Student Intern

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