The world is facing unprecedented times in modern history as the coronavirus is spreading like wildfire and changing our lives forever. The human cost in lives lost is tremendous and none of us who live through the pandemic will not be touched in some way.

There is a remarkable side-effect to the pandemic; survivors are finding themselves feeling a sense of guilt because they are not afraid or panicked. This article will focus on survivor’s remorse and how it affects the lives of those living under the influence of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

The Definition of Survivor’s Guilt  

Survivor’s guilt can occur in a person’s life concerning a traumatic event, such as a pandemic, where there are fear and loss of life. When a survivor does not react or have the trauma affect them like others they can have feelings of remorse that can lead to lifelong challenges.

Survivors may ask why they escaped unscathed from the trauma of having a deadly virus invading the world without fear or feeling upset.

This does not mean that the survivor doesn’t know to be afraid and take appropriate precautions against becoming sick, it means they aren’t terrified or feel highly threatened.

The pandemic isn’t the only way to experience survivor’s guilt as many others who have survived other societal traumas such as 9/11 have also had to deal with it.

Survivor’s Guilt Specific to the Coronavirus Pandemic

People experiencing survivor’s guilt, according to Medical News Today may have exacerbated symptoms of their complex traumatic-stress disorder such as:

  • Flashbacks
  • Obsessive Thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feelings Disconnected
  • Confusion
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Problems Sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Stomachache

Because people living with CPTSD have a history of trauma, not getting support because they feel a lack of fear increases a person’s chances of developing survivor’s guilt.

Risk Factors for Forming Survivor’s Guilt

People living under the effects of CPTSD have lived through severe and repeated trauma at some time during their life most usually in childhood. Some risk factors can increase a person’s risk of experiencing survivor’s guilt. They include:

  • Already having anxiety or depression
  • Being in treatment for a psychiatric problem related to their CPTSD
  • Having a lack of support from family or friends
  • Using or abusing alcohol or drugs (prescription or illicit)

To top off this list of risk factors is the fact, according to research, people who have survived trauma before are subject to increased shame and guilt when met with another traumatic event (Tangney, et. al., 2007).

Feeling Guilty for Not Feeling Fear

The guilt experienced by people who have CPTSD in the coronavirus pandemic is somewhat different than regular survivor’s guilt in that survivors may feel guilty because they are not afraid. As counterintuitive as that may sound, it is a real phenomenon.

However, if anything people who identify as survivors of childhood trauma must look at their emotions or lack thereof as they truly are, fleeting, not permanent, and only feelings.

Feelings are neither bad nor good, they simply are, and they are part of what makes us human. To experience a lack of fear when everyone around you is in a panic mode hoarding and suffering from nightmares over something they cannot change is counterproductive and unnecessary. The world needs survivors to help them stay calm and rebuild the world and the economy once the crisis has passed.

In other words, survivors are the key to keeping the world sane amidst all the insanity around them; the glue that will help society survive.

Tips for Overcoming Survivor’s Guilt

The type of survivor’s guilt spoken of in this article is about overcoming the feelings of remorse of not feeling fear like everyone else. That being said, some tips may help survivors that are very similar to ordinary survivor’s guilt.

Accept and Allow Your Feelings. Your lack of fear may not seem rational, but it is normal for where you have been in life. By allowing and accepting the emotions that the coronavirus brings up in your soul you make yourself better able to process the guilt and shame you might be experiencing.

Practice Grounding Techniques. When overwhelmed by shame or guilt when noticing the panic around them, survivors can ground themselves by using breathing techniques or by calling a family member or friend.

Stay Connected. By sharing your lack of fear and how it makes you feel with likeminded individuals one can remain connected and grounded in the here and now.

Do Something Good for Others. In normal times this might mean visiting others and doing chores for them. However, with the threat of coronavirus on human health and practicing social distancing, those things are not possible. However, there are still some ways to help others that will not endanger them or yourself.

  • Donate Blood (this is much needed right now)
  • Make a charitable donation
  • Lend online support to others
  • Send a letter or card of support to someone (perhaps the nurses and doctors at your local hospital)

There are as many different ways to help others while maintaining social distancing as there are survivors to think of them.

Practice Good Self-Care

Even though you might be lacking the fear and panic you feel you must and perhaps are feeling guilty about that, don’t forget to take good care of yourself.

Be proactive and pay attention to what the authorities are telling about the virus in terms of how it is spread and how severe it might be. Primarily, there are recommended guidelines spelled out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

These include (Source: coronavirus.com)

Wash your hands frequently

Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

Maintain social distancing

Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. (this has now been updated to 6 feet distance between yourself and others as a general rule, regardless of the evidence of symptoms)

Why? When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.

Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth

Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.

Practice respiratory hygiene

Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

Why? Droplets spread the virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.

If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early

Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections.

If this section looks familiar, that’s because it appeared in our last post about the coronavirus. However, these aren’t difficult instructions to follow and they could save you from unnecessary exposure.

Some Parting Thoughts

Having already survived so much in life it may seem that a virus is the least of your problems. However, the coronavirus is very real, and it is deadly. So, please, take good care of yourself and follow the precautions outlined by the CDC and your local authorities.

The guilt and shame you might be feeling because you aren’t in a panic over the coronavirus is very real as well but unnecessary. As a survivor, you are resilient and able to lead the world with your strength.

Be a beacon in these dark times of hope, endurance, patience, and sincerity as the world suffers and they recover from these dark days. It is up to survivors to be the bastion of calm in the tossing ocean of fear that is our society today and no one can do it better.

“You don’t have to say everything to be a light. Sometimes a fire built on a hill will bring interested people to your campfire.” ~ Shannon L. Alder
― Shannon L. Alder

“I would rather lie face down on the ground
and use my body as a bridge,
then stand proud and tall
and use my body as a wall.” ~ Kamand Kojouri

As always, we here at the CPTSD Foundation want you to know and to keep in mind that we are here for you when you need us. We realize that these are unusual times, and we want to help you in any way we can.

As always, if you or a loved one are living in the despair and isolation that comes with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please, come to us for help. The CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services including:

All our services are reasonably priced, some are free, and scholarships are available. In fact, all the money paid for our services goes back into scholarships so that no one need be left behind because of inability to pay.  So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up, we’ll be glad to help you.

References

Tangney, J. P., Stuewig, J., & Mashek, D. J. (2007). What’s moral about the self-conscious emotions. The self-conscious emotions: Theory and research, 21-37.

 

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