What You Need To Know About Survivor's Guilt

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/MG18/Getty Images.
In an interview with British Vogue, Ariana Grande opened up about experiencing post-traumatic stress (PTS) after the bombing at her concert in Manchester last year.
"It's hard to talk about because so many people have suffered such severe, tremendous loss. But, yeah, it's a real thing," she told British Vogue. "I know those families and my fans, and everyone there experienced a tremendous amount of it as well. Time is the biggest thing. I feel like I shouldn't even be talking about my own experience — like I shouldn't even say anything. I don't think I'll ever know how to talk about it and not cry."
The guilt Grande expresses in her interview is common for those who have gone through traumatic events where they think other people may have suffered more or even died, says Janice Krupnick, PhD.
People who survive traumatic events such as accidents or war combat, she says, often get the sense that it was unfair for them to survive while other people who were involved didn't. They may be experiencing survivor's guilt, and Nancy Kaser-Boyd, PhD says that it happens after a life-threatening event in which other people, whether they're strangers or loved ones, are seriously injured or die.
"What happens is the people that don’t get seriously injured or die ask themselves why them and not me?" Dr. Kaser-Boyd says. "There’s a sense of incredible relief at first, but then guilt about why they survived and other people didn’t," she says.

There’s a sense of incredible relief at first, but then guilt about why they survived and other people didn’t.

Nancy Kaser-Boyd, PhD
And beyond that, they might also feel like they didn't do enough to help other people in the situation, or that they were somehow responsible for what happened.
Seeing other people injured or dying is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to someone, Dr. Kaser-Boyd says, but that doesn't mean that the survivor's experience is any less worthy of talking about or trying to recover from.
"You didn’t die, but it’s terribly traumatic to see people die," she says. "And those are feelings and emotions that need to be receiving support."
For those who are suffering from survivor's guilt, it's important to be able to talk to a therapist, preferably one who specializes in trauma, join a support group, or be able to talk to friends and family. The bottom line is, everyone's pain is valid, and everyone deserves to work through any trauma they're feeling without guilt.
"Just because other people suffered more doesn’t mean [the survivor] hasn’t suffered at all, and them denying themselves certainly doesn’t bring the other people back, or make their lives any easier," Dr. Krupnick says.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

More from Mind

R29 Original Series