What if someone close to you passes away from COVID-19?
Sometimes the knowledge of others’ suffering makes you feel like you could’ve done more. This is called “survivor’s guilt.”
Even if we do everything we reasonably can—if we do everything health experts say, donate money or supplies to healthcare workers or call to check up on vulnerable loved ones—we might still feel at fault.
Why is this?
Rumination. Sufferers of survivor’s guilt dwell and obsess over what they might have done differently. It’s a repeated compulsion – running through scenarios time and again is the brain’s way of trying to find solutions, to get a good result.
Problem is, that mechanism is faulty. Dwelling on “would have, could have, should have” takes a heavy toll on emotional wellbeing.
People often experience depression from the cyclical process of rumination and self-blame. Symptoms like flashbacks, irritability, acute anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts arise.
It’s hard to see light through the darkness, but survivor’s guilt is treatable and more common than many realize. So if you find yourself in this cycle you are not alone.
First, realize that what happened is not your fault. We try to make it through this pandemic safely. Sometimes, however, the tragedy befalling loved ones – and the world at large – is unavoidable. The most we can do is use common sense and follow what the health experts advise.
Then we must acknowledge and accept our guilt. Aversion to bad feelings may seem good in the short-term. But to truly find relief we must honor the reality of our experience. Patience is key here. Like all mind states, survivor’s guilt will pass.
Speaking up to trusted friends and loved ones is a great help for many. Social connection is known to be good for mental health. Plus, talking through your problems can lead to new perspectives and less emotional strain.
If coping with survivors guilt is too challenging yourself please reach out for professional mental health treatment. Survivor’s guilt is not a new condition. Many psychiatrists and psychologists have experience on this subject.
Please stay safe, stay home, and stay positive. We will make it through these uncertain times!