People with PTSD often experience guilt as well. In particular, people who experience traumatic circumstances may also begin to feel what is known as trauma-related guilt. But what exactly does it mean for a person to have survivor syndrome?
Survivor syndrome is also known as survivor’s or survivor’s guilt syndrome. It is trauma-related guilt, it is an unpleasant feeling of regret that stems from the belief that you could or should have done something different at the time a traumatic event occurred.
For example, a military veteran may regret not returning to a combat zone to save a fallen soldier. A rape survivor may feel guilty for not fighting back at the time of the assault.
Survivors of a traumatic event may also experience some guilt related to that event. For example, survivor guilt is often experienced when one person has overcome some type of traumatic event, while others have not. A person may wonder why she survived and not the others. You can even blame yourself for surviving like you’ve done something wrong.
The experience of trauma-related guilt does not appear to depend on the type of traumatic event experienced. Exposure to combat, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and the loss of a loved one have been associated with the experience of trauma-related guilt . For example, in a study of 168 battered women, only six reported not feeling guilty about such abuse. In another study of rape and incest survivors, more than half reported experiencing moderate to high levels of guilt.
Feeling guilty after experiencing a traumatic event is serious, as it has been linked to a number of negative consequences. For example, trauma-related guilt is associated with depression , shame, social anxiety, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, trauma-related feelings of guilt have been linked to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Given the potential negative consequences of trauma-related guilt, it is important that guilt is addressed in the appropriate psychological treatment, treatment to treat PTSD.
Trauma-related guilt can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy. Trauma-related guilt can appear depending on how a particular situation is thought or interpreted. For example, a person who has survived rape may feel that they should have seen the attack coming, even though it is impossible to predict what would happen. It may also be the case that a police officer may feel that he should have done something different to prevent the death of a colleague of his on a complicated mission, even though the circumstances were totally out of his control.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for trauma-related guilt would focus on helping people become more aware of the thoughts or beliefs that underlie feelings of guilt, such as self-control. The therapist would help the person create more realistic interpretations of the situation. For example, lessening guilt by realizing that the traumatic event was completely out of your control, and you acted to the best of your ability given the situation. By reducing guilt, cognitive behavioral therapy can also help increase self-compassion and acceptance.
In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic / psychoanalytic approaches can also be helpful in addressing this form of guilt. Psychodynamic and psychoanalytic approaches would help the patient explore their early life experiences to identify experiences and factors that may make someone more likely to feel guilt and shame related to the trauma.