Sur­vivors’ guilt

Costa del Sol News - - FRONT PAGE -

AN aero­plane falls from the sky and of the hun­dreds of crew and pas­sen­gers, only a few sur­vive. Ob­vi­ously the sur­vivors feel lucky to be alive; ev­ery day they thank their lucky stars that they sat in the back row. Whilst there is a feel­ing of re­lief, many peo­ple also have other feel­ings which are not as easy to un­der­stand.

Peo­ple who sur­vive ask them­selves the ques­tion, “Why me?”

Sur­vivors’ guilt is the guilt a per­son feels for sur­viv­ing a trau­matic event while oth­ers did not do so. The event may not in­clude death, but will in­clude a threat to life. The term sur­vivors’ guilt was first iden­ti­fied in the 1960s and re­ferred to Holo­caust sur­vivors.

The trau­matic event can be any­thing but typ­i­cal events would in­clude: wars, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, sui­cide in the fam­ily, ter­ror­ism, air crash, job lay­offs, ill­nesses that most peo­ple die of, ac­ci­dents, sib­ling death or the death of a child. The im­por­tant is­sue is that the event is trau­matic, fright­en­ing, even hor­rific and with peo­ple’s life or ex­is­tence at stake.

Though it usu­ally arises when the sur­vivor is in­volved in the in­ci­dent, sim­i­lar feel­ings may arise if the per­son sees the event though not per­son­ally at risk. There are ex­am­ples of emer­gency ser­vices per­son­nel who at­tended the twin tow­ers in New York on 9/11. Some of these peo­ple were not at risk them­selves but felt sur­vivors’ guilt nev­er­the­less. They felt guilty be­cause they did not do more; they felt it was not enough.

Sur­vivors’ guilt ap­pears to be about three fac­tors:

1 Guilt about be­ing alive when oth­ers are not.

2 Guilt about what they did not do to help.

3 Guilt about what they did do to es­cape.

The third above was il­lus­trated when the MS Herald of Free En­ter­prise sank and 60% of sur­vivors re­ported sur­vivors’ guilt; many of them be­cause they sur­vived by scram­bling over other peo­ple.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note how sur­vivors’ guilt is very sim­i­lar to post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD). In fact sur­vivors’ guilt has been re­moved from the Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal Disor­ders ver­sion IV and now clas­si­fied as PTSD. With both con­di­tions, the fol­low­ing symp­toms are ev­i­dent: Fear, ter­ror, help­less­ness , re­liv­ing the event Dreams, avoid­ance De­tach­ment, in­creased emo­tional arousal flash­backs, dis­tress,

It is also in­ter­est­ing that be­reave­ment has sim­i­lar symp­toms. Where a death has been sud­den or trau­matic, or where it in­volves the death of a child or very close rel­a­tive, the fam­ily often feel guilt. The be­reaved often ask if there was some­thing more that they could have done.

A fairly well known char-

At the end of the film, Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan, Cap­tain Miller lay dy­ing and said to Pri­vate Ryan who he and his team had man­aged to save, “Earn this. Earn it”. The scene then changes to Pri­vate Ryan late in his life when he vis­its the grave of Cap­tain Miller. Ryan turns to his wife and pleads, “Tell me I led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” The movie is ac­tu­ally based on the Ni­land broth­ers, and is par­tially true.

Ther­apy for sur­vivors’ guilt is based on us­ing logic to re­train the un­con­scious mind to think in a new way. In­stead of feel­ing guilt, which is a very de­mand­ing and de­struc­tive emo­tion, the mind is taught a new thought process which en­ables the per­son to move on. Typ­i­cally, the fol­low­ing mes­sages are in­tro­duced to the un­con­scious mind:

There was no magic to your sur­vival.

There was no divine in­ter­ven­tion.

There was no univer­sal plan that you must un­cover.

It just hap­pened that some sur­vived and one was you.

There is no need to de­vote your­self to some cause to pay back. There is no one to thank. There is no one to whom you must apol­o­gise.

The prob­lem with this con­di­tion is that the un­con­scious mind likes to see or­der in things. It looks for a bal­ance which is why many sur­vivors go on to do chartable work. The sur­vivor feels a great need to re­pay but can­not see how to do so. They also feel that they do not de­serve their life and may go on to com­mit sui­cide. In essence they need to know “Why Me” and can­not find an an­swer.

When some­one sur­vives a trau­matic event, it is im­por­tant that the un­con­scious mind is given en­cour­age­ment to stop re­play­ing the event, to stop look­ing for rea­sons for why it all hap­pened. Many issues in life are so com­pli­cated that the sim­ple an­swer that the mind is seek­ing can never be found. Un­less the mind can agree to “let go” then the flash­backs, re­liv­ing and guilt will go on. For more in­for­ma­tion call Gra­hame on 96 678 6810 or visit the web­site www.San-Luis-Clinic.co.uk

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