You might have heard the term ‘survivors guilt' but what it is, how does it impact you and what can you do about it?


The term survivors guilt generally refers to a situation where a person who has survived a life-threatening situation feels guilt at surviving. It can also apply to someone who feels they could or should have done more to prevent someone from dying, or someone died saving them and they feel guilty someone died to save them. It could also be someone who feels they should have died first, a parent outliving their child for example. 




Survivors' guilt can manifest itself in physical, and psychological symptoms. A person can have difficulty sleeping, experience nightmares or flashbacks, have stomach issues, tension headaches or a racing heart rate. They may experience feelings of helplessness, despair or have suicidal thoughts. 


It can be a symptom of PTSD but can also be experienced without having PTSD, consult your GP in the first instance if you feel you may be experiencing PTSD. 


How would I recognise survivors guilt?


Firstly, are you experiencing any physical or psychological symptoms as listed above? There may be themes in terms of your thinking. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you spending time ruminating over events and thinking what you could've/should've done differently? Do you feel personally responsible and remorseful that you should've known, tried harder, done more? Has the event led you to see yourself as a bad person, not deserving of life and blaming yourself? If yes, you may be experiencing survivor's guilt.


Coping with survivors guilt


There are a number of things you can do to help you process this. Feeling guilty does not mean that you have done something wrong. Feeling sad, anxious, fearful and guilty are normal responses to grief. 


Give yourself time to grieve, acknowledge the loss. There is no right or wrong way to grief so do not compare yourself to others. Try to practise self-forgiveness, sometimes events occur completely out of our control that you could never have predicted, prevented or prepared for.


Look after your physical and mental health. Sticking to a routine can help as well as making sure the basics are covered, eating well, exercising, getting good sleep. Finding meaning and using your survival as motivation to help others can bring feelings of fulfilment.


If you have been struggling for sometime, consider whether to seek professional help either through your GP or therapy. Talking can help you process your feelings and shift your perspective. If this resonates with you and you would like to explore therapy please get in touch.