Survivor's guilt, a mental condition commonly linked to PTSD, can occur after experiencing a traumatic event, such as war, a mass casualty assault or even a fatal car accident. Feelings of why did I survive?, what could I have done to save them?, maybe if I wasn't there they would they have lived?, can be just as painful as physical injuries. But unlike physical injuries, survivor's guilt is an invisible wound to the psyche that can take months or even years to heal.
Understanding Survivor's Guilt
Survivor's guilt is as it sounds: it is an unshakable guilty feeling associated with surviving a traumatic event in which others died. Those with survivor's guilt, especially following a fatal car accident, often harbor feelings of resentment and shame for living while others had to die. These feelings can affect everyday living, such as loss of appetite, inability to sleep, feelings of depression and anxiety, and loss of motivation.
While not everyone who has survived a fatal car crash will experience survivor's guilt, it is important to be aware of symptoms and how to help yourself or someone you know cope with these feelings.
Coping with Survivor's Guilt
Coping with survivor's guilt is a process. There will be days that you will feel completely free from intrusive, negative thoughts and other days when it can feel all-consuming with no relief in sight. With self-care and a good support network, you can survive survivor's guilt.
Focus on Your Needs
- Take time to yourself. Taking the time to fully process your experience can help you come to terms with survivor's guilt after a fatal car accident. Give yourself as much time as you need to grieve without feeling pressured by others to “get over it and move on.”
- Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Writing can be extremely therapeutic. A daily journal can help you put feelings into words and give you the space to express yourself. Include positive experiences in your journaling to look back at as a reminder that things can and do get better with time.
- Have a support network. Whether it's your significant other, family or friends, or an organized support group with other survivors, identify people that you can talk to when you feel overwhelmed with negative feelings and guilt. Emotional support is an essential component towards healing.
Seek Professional Help
If you're struggling with survivor's guilt, it may be time to seek professional help from a qualified counselor or therapist. Look for a counselor with experience in trauma-informed care and PTSD.