Survivor guilt

Survivor guilt

Survivor guilt, otherwise known as survivor syndrome, is the mental condition that results from the appraisal that a person has done wrong by surviving traumatic events such as combat, natural disasters, or surviving a lay-off in a work place. The effect of survivor's guilt depends on the person’s own psychological make-up.

During the revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) Survivor Guilt/ Survivor Syndrome was removed as a specific diagnosis. Instead, it was replaced as a significant symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


Survivor guilt was first diagnosed during the 1960s. Several therapists recognized similar if not identical conditions among Holocaust survivors. Similar signs and symptoms have been recognized in different traumatic situations in such as combat, natural disasters and surviving significant job layoffs. All have resulted in symptoms, which are now known as survivor guilt or survivor syndrome. A variance of survivor guilt developed in cases of different rescuers who have blamed themselves for not doing enough to help others in emergencies. Along the same ideal, therapists may also feel a form of guilt for their patients' suffering.

Social responses

After many acute situations, people with survivor guilt may help others with other survival different coping options. Such is evident in the emergency responses and different high paced and stressful occupations. Over time guilt may be displayed indirectly by playing down one's survival because of the guilt of another's death in one acute situation. The questions may continue to go through one's head: "Why did I survive?", "Why not me?", "What am I going to do now?" Much of self-blame and depression from survival guilt will affect one's friendships and way of life.

Moral features

Moral features will include the one self-suffering from survival guilt blaming one’s self for someone else’s death. This sense of guilt may be extremely enhanced if a rescuer died while saving another’s life. An additional example would when a soldier switches a patrol with a friend for a combat patrol. Then during that particular patrol the friend dies, leaving the other friend with guilt of surviving and the thought that it should have been him. Unjustified survivor's guilt occurs in all traumatic situations. Situations such as being put in a place where one wasn't able to revive someone one may have loved, or were forced physically to prevent someone being tragically harmed or killed. Many situations of survival guilt result from a situation where nothing can be done.


The idea of preventing survivor guilt is part of the solution process for early disaster intervention and grief therapy. Treatment is a very complex procedure in which the first part of treatment is recognizing the fact of having guilt over a particular incident. After that and thorough in-depth analysis of the circumstance help reveals the ultimate reasoning behind the suffering. After the recognition, the presentation of alternative hopeful views helps to lower the patient’s defense barriers. The emotional damage and trauma is then recognized, released and treated. This is to help the survivor build up stronger self-confidence, in hopes to help relieve some of the guilt. The survivor must then come to the realization that the past events were caused by misfortune, not the survivor. Being able to view oneself as a sufferer and not as an executor lets the survivor mourn and achieve a new determined life.


Rick Rescorla, chief security administrator of Morgan-Stanley at the World Trade Center, was said to have acted upon Survivor Guilt as a result of traumatic experiences during the Vietnam War. He saved most of Morgan Stanley's 2700 employees and countless others before heading back into WTC Tower #2 shortly before its collapse.

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