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Traumatic events can do a number on someone trying to get by, causing survivor’s guilt – especially after the horrific events.

Survivor’s guilt is a real and valid psychological phenomenon. It occurs when a person has survived a traumatic event or disaster that others did not, and they feel a sense of guilt and responsibility for having survived. In contrast, others suffered or lost their lives. This emotional response can manifest in various ways, including feelings of self-blame, shame, or a belief that they didn’t deserve to survive.

Survivors’ guilt is often associated with situations like natural disasters, accidents, combat, acts of terrorism, or other life-threatening events where some individuals survive while others perish. It can also be experienced by individuals who have survived a fatal illness when others with the same condition did not.

The experience of survivor’s guilt can be emotionally distressing. It may lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s essential for those experiencing survivor’s guilt to recognize that these feelings are natural responses to traumatic events, and seeking support from friends, family, or mental health professionals can be helpful in processing and coping with these emotions.

How does survivor’s guilt play a role in sexual trauma?

Survivors’ guilt can also play a significant role in the aftermath of sexual trauma. When someone experiences sexual assault or abuse and survives the traumatic event, they may grapple with guilt and responsibility. These emotions can be complex and intertwined with other psychological reactions to the trauma. Here are some ways in which survivor’s guilt can manifest in the context of sexual trauma:

Guilt over survival

Survivors of sexual trauma might feel guilty for having survived the assault or abuse, mainly if the experience involved a life-threatening situation or if they knew others who experienced similar trauma but did not survive.

Self-blame and shame

Survivors may blame themselves for the incident, believing that they somehow caused or invited the assault or that they did not do enough to prevent it. This self-blame can lead to a profound sense of shame and unworthiness. Victims often change drastically after that horrific event, and every person close to them must provide constant reassurance.

Conflicting emotions

Survivors’ guilt can lead to conflicting emotions, where survivors may feel relieved to have survived but at the same time burdened by guilt for feeling that way, as if they don’t have the right to feel any relief.

Questions of worthiness

Survivors may struggle with feelings of not deserving to heal or move on from the trauma, thinking that they don’t deserve happiness or a fulfilling life after what they’ve been through.

Empathy for others

Survivors might feel empathy for other survivors of sexual trauma and struggle with being unable to help them or prevent their suffering. Having compassion for survivors of sexual trauma is a crucial aspect of supporting their healing and recovery. Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings and experiences of others without judgment. When it comes to survivors of sexual trauma, empathy plays a significant role in creating a safe and supportive environment for them to heal.

Social stigma

In some cases, societal attitudes and victim-blaming can exacerbate survivor’s guilt, making it harder for survivors to come forward and seek help due to fear of judgment and further blame. Not only will they face a lifetime of scrutiny from people around them, they would be met with a barrage of questions that will drive them into a corner.

Joseph Waddy’s book on surviving traumatic events

No one deserves to be traumatized over things out of their control. Moreover, victims tend to get the short end of the stick in the aftermath of such events. That is why Joseph Waddy wrote a book about perseverance titled “Bertha’s Son.” Horrific moments were heavily emphasized in Albertha’s life, which makes it difficult for her to get through every day without recalling the things that happened to her out of fear.

Readers can surely empathize with Albertha’s struggles, whether they went through the same thing or not. The book teaches everyone to understand each other’s pain and how to tread through it carefully. Everyone goes through different levels of trauma, but that doesn’t mean one is greater than the other. In a way, humans’ shared experiences enable a wave of understanding and solidarity that no one is alone.

Final Thoughts on Survivor’s Guilt

It’s important to emphasize that survivor’s guilt in the context of sexual trauma is a psychological response to an incredibly traumatic event and is not warranted. Survivors are not responsible for the actions of their abusers. Healing from trauma is a complex process that requires support, understanding, and empathy.

Suppose you or someone you know is dealing with survivor’s guilt or any other emotional aftermath of sexual trauma. In that case, seeking support from a qualified mental health professional. It could be a counselor, or a support group specializing in trauma recovery is crucial. Remember that healing is possible, and nobody should have to face the journey alone.

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