Recovering from Survivor Guilt
Survivor Guilt was first studied scientifically in its effects on those that lived to tell the horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi occupied Europe. As those amazing people resettled all over the world, Behaviorists had ample opportunity to determine origin, symptoms and treatment.
Survivor Guilt became the medical diagnosis, and then was applied to other similar behaviors. In the military, it was often referred to as Shell Shock. Those that survived other types of severe trauma were often described as zombie –like. They were alive, but devoid of feeling with little interaction with others.
These, and other psychological disturbances like them, have recently been collected under the umbrella of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The Medical community is just becoming aware of the millions of people, world wide, that suffer from it. They now recognize the urgent need to send a group of professional counselors to areas where trauma occurs. Untreated, this vicious condition steals an individual’s very personality. To make matters worse, it can be passed on to the next generation, and the next. But the most disturbing characteristic of PTSD is one that is nearly impossible to change.
People that have it won’t get treated for it.
Soldiers won’t talk about the war. Holocaust victims let historical accounts speak for them. Rescue workers and police officers don’t want to bring the job home. Medical professionals can’t violate confidentiality. Students are encouraged to get back to their routines. Princesses are memorialized annually a decade after dying. Better bridges are built to replace fallen ones. And a nation goes to war.
The very nature of PTSD is that the survivors feel guilty, unworthy of further attention, and think they’ll “get over it” in time, if they just toughen up. And so the vicious circle goes on in perpetuity.
Recovery begins with such a seemingly simple task. And yet the first steps toward it are nearly as devastating as the trauma itself. Recovery begins with talking.
Recovery begins with TALKING!
To a good listener, and to a professional. Definitely to a professional. Throw in a support group, and you are well on your way. You may need someone to physically get you to a counselor and to a group until you are stronger. There is no shame in this. It is part of belonging to a community. This is what we do. Reach out to us. Let us in.
Here is a list of other facets to recovery:
Faith. Candlelight vigils and memorial services help reconnect with your version of God. Accept that God is still there, still speaking, still loving, waiting for you to come back to be welcomed into open arms.
Reality. A counselor will help you see the trauma clearly, and analyze your actual involvement.
Self concept. You are a person grieving. You are not an executioner. You are not crazy. You are lovable. You have much to offer.
Decide to survive and heal. This means you make an actual, oral declaration that you will heal and live well from now on. It is vitally, extremely important to tell someone if you have suicidal thoughts or plans.
Do an inventory of your assets and strengths. What helped you in other tough situations? Make lists.
Get proactive. Get involved in helping other victims. Or do charitable work that benefits others.
Start making simple decisions about your environment – what to eat, what to wear. This helps take away the powerless feelings.
Comfort yourself. Note that drugs and alcohol make the problem worse. Lots worse. Try massage, music, former hobbies, laughing, vacation, exercise, going to a game, a movie, sleep with lights on. These activities raise endorphins, one of the ways your psyche heals itself. Get all the endorphins you can.
Let’s review. You are grieving. You are worthy of healing. You are allowed a good life. Joy is not bad. Laughter heals. God loves you. There is hope.
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