Recent Storms can leave survivors feeling guilty

By Angela Collier

In a recent blog post, Sara Beth Stoltzfus discussed the need for support groups for those who are direct caregivers.  Care givers lead stressful lives taking care of themselves and taking care of another person and sometimes multiple people. Over the last couple weeks, more of us have stepped into a care giver role due to weather catastrophes.  We all know someone affected directly by the floods in Houston, Louisiana and other parts of the south.  We watch the devastation on the television and our hearts go out to all those involved.  Everyone in our area is looking to help those affected directly in some way or another.  Taking care of others takes a toll on us mentally and physically.  While we are looking to help others, we may tend to neglect ourselves and our own needs.  Even though we may not have been affected directly by the floods, our hearts have gone out to those who have and we begin to experience emotions of guilt and deep sadness for what has been happening to others.  Our compassion leads us to become overwhelmed with feelings of depression, hopelessness and fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.   In the past, you may have heard this stated as survivor’s guiltA search of the internet found the definition of survivor’s guilt as a particular type of guilt that may develop in people who have survived a life-threatening situation. Individuals who believe it is unfair that they survived when others died and/or believe they did not do enough to save the lives of others, or help after words to give enough help may come to experience survivor guilt after trauma or a catastrophic event.

There are many factors involved and we all experience life differently.  Some of the symptoms of survivor guilt can include but not limited to:

  1. Nervousness/sadness/nervousness/anxiety
  2. Sleep Disturbances (not being able to sleep, sleeping too much, nightmares)
  3. Memory disturbances (not being able to remember things, not able to learn new things)
  4. Gastric disturbances (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss/gain)
  5. Headaches, body aches and pains

Although feelings of guilt associated with surviving a life-threatening event or having feelings of not helping enough can be painful and difficult to overcome, it is possible to address and cope with such feelings. It may be helpful to first acknowledge those feelings and recognize that both are common emotions and a natural part of the process of healing from grief.  Accept what you are feeling and know you are not alone.  Others may be struggling just as you are.  Remember your relief and appreciation for your survival can co-exist with your grief.  Do not focus on the “whys” of the event and focus on what you can do now.

Also, remember to take care of yourself.  A self-care routine is considered to be an important part of emotional healing and to stay healthy. Self-care typically involves regular physical movement (walking, exercise), soothing or relaxing activities (reading, writing, meditating), a nutritious diet, and plenty of rest. Support is also a crucial component of coping with survivor guilt. Speaking with others who shared the experience; attending a support group; or seeking help from a trusted mentor, adviser, or spiritual counselor can help an individual feel understood. Some may also find it helpful to find a way to memorialize or honor the losses of property and life.  Acknowledge and accept the emotions that you are experiencing as they represent part of the healing process.

Should you continue to feel overwhelmed, seek out the help of a professional such as a counselor or therapist.  A counselor can help you to manage and process emotions and challenge the thought patterns that may be contributing to the strong emotions that are causing the discomfort.   Most of all remember you are not alone; there are others that are working through their emotions too.  You can live the best life that you can to help honor those we have lost.

Angela Collier is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Waco who is trained in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for helping individuals with trauma.  Angela was born and raised in the Waco area.  Angela enjoys spending time with her husband of 36 years, Travis, and their son and Daughter in law Travis and Virginia Collier and their three grandchildren Lillian, Matthew, and Mary.  When not with family, Angela enjoys traveling worldwide to experience new places and people.  Angela has been involved with several local agencies helping support local families in times of need.



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