Survivor’s Syndrome: When Guilt For Being Alive Eats Away At You

Last updated by Katie M.

When a friend of mine died in an accident, I was devastated. I felt immense grief, but I wasn’t there to see the drama of her death. Some people unfortunately witness the death of a loved one… This makes them feel a huge weight on them, as they feel guilty for being alive when the other person wasn’t as fortunate. This feeling, called “survivor’s syndrome” (or Lazarus syndrome) isn’t trivial and can have many consequences. How can you overcome it? All will be explained.

Survivor’s Syndrome: When Guilt For Being Alive Eats Away At You
Contents: 

What is survivor’s syndrome?

Survivor’s syndrome is the guilt of being alive when a traumatic situation has occurred, resulting in the death of a person. We feel as if we’ve done wrong or acted badly because we’re alive. Two feelings arise from this event 😥:

👉 We feel that we don’t deserve to live, we should have died instead of the other person.

👉 We tend to believe that we could have prevented the death of the other person…

A tragedy that leaves its mark

This syndrome is particularly proven in cases where we’ve witnessed death before our very eyes. For example, a road accident: a crash occurs, the person next to us dies, but not us. It’s a tragedy that can happen in everyone’s everyday life, but as the psychopathology doctor Hélène Romano explains, it can also cover more extensive human dramas such as terrorist attacks. Incidentally, the first studies on this subject were carried out on victims of the Holocaust or even the survivors of the Rwandan genocide…

🌪️ In the face of trauma, we feel negative emotions such as guilt, shame, sadness, anxiety or even hypervigilance. Experiencing survivor’s syndrome is therefore not without its consequences on our mental health.

The consequences of survivor’s guilt

When you experience an emotional shock, you go through a psychological metamorphosis. I experienced this myself when my mother died, I changed. However, as I didn’t witness the drama, I didn’t have flashbacks to the event. People with Lazarus syndrome relive the scene with traumatic mental images. Emotions also resurface, such as fear and confusion. You end up feeling disconnected from others who haven’t experienced the drama.

Isolation and risk-taking

It’s almost impossible to feel happy to be alive in these conditions, especially knowing that the deceased didn’t have the same fate as we did. The guilt will eat away at us and create other disorders with depressive symptoms.

The best case scenario is that the psychologically injured person will manage to overcome their guilt, but this rarely happens without help. The weight of the shameful emotions will be so heavy to bear that they may develop risky behaviors. This is a way of distancing yourself from reality, for example through the use of alcohol or drugs. We may also shut ourselves off and isolate ourselves completely, because we’re so afraid of what others will think.

⚠️
Some victims experience suicidal thoughts that push them to commit the irrevocable, like the young Sydney Aiello. She was a survivor of the Parkland shooting in Florida who took her own life 1 year after the massacre…

How to overcome this syndrome?

Everyone experiences bereavement in different ways, with emotions that are more or less difficult to live with 😔. When we’re the victim of a tragedy, the way we deal with it will depend on our resilience and our personal experience.

Survivor’s syndrome is a complex mix of different factors specific to the person experiencing it. The only way to get through the stages of grief and to overcome the guilt is through therapy. Only professional support will help to get through the trauma and move towards acceptance. 👉 The choice of therapy is important in this case, you should turn to EMDR which is suitable for traumas and post-traumatic stress.

How to help someone going through this ordeal?

Seeing a loved one carry the guilt of a death is never easy, but you need to be patient, tactful and gentle to help them as best as possible. You have to be present and listen in order to be empathetic to their distress. This involves small gestures of support, such as accompanying them to their first psychotherapy session. You need to help them through the pain while not allowing them to become isolated or take risks 😟. You need to accept that the person who has experienced this tragedy will never be the same as before, so you need to be able to adapt to accompany them as best as you can.

Editor’s note: A major trauma that requires treatment

Survivor’s syndrome is the result of a major trauma. It’s imperative to have psychological treatment to overcome this kind of traumatic event. If you or a loved one is affected by this, don’t wait to make an appointment with a psychologist.

🤗 Understanding yourself, accepting yourself, being happy... It’s here and now!
#BornToBeMe

Article presented by Katie M.

Discover the world through my eyes.

Our most popular 'psychology' articles:

Are Narcissists Insecure?

There is no denying that narcissistic personalities display some deeply worrying and disturbing traits, but what if these devious traits were just a means of protection? What if they were in fact a complete facade, fabricated to keep people away, in the hope of hiding their deepest darkest insecurities? After all, everyone has weak spots, even the most confident and put together of people, so why wouldn’t a narcissist deal with the same niggling doubts as everyone else? It's time we got to the bottom of this and discovered why these folks are so insecure.

How To Heal From The Pain Of Being Rejected

Whether it’s the breakdown of a relationship, a family dispute, or even being fired dismissal... We have all experienced the feeling of being rejected, excluded, or left out. Whilst some people manage to bounce back quite quickly, others suffer from it in a persistent way. As for me, I understood how to move on, because I was able to recognize my rejection wound. So, how can we overcome the fear of rejection and move on from it?

Mythomania

“He’s lying through his teeth!” You’re confronted with a mythomaniac in your close circle. You had no doubts about what they were saying and after conducting your own little investigation, you’re stunned! They’ve been leading you on since the beginning… They invented a life for themselves. But why? How do you recognize a liar, and how can you protect yourself? We’ll tell you everything.

Can A Narcissist Become Obsessed With Someone?

Now, narcissists are known for demonstrating a worrying lack of empathy along with deviously manipulative traits, oh, and before I forget to mention it, HUGE egos too. Yes, that’s right, they love spending hours looking in the mirror and being told how fabulous they are. To put it in other words, people with this personality disorder are firmly in love with themselves, to the point of being totally obsessed with their so-called perfection, but the question is, can they put their self-admiration aside enough to become preoccupied with someone else?

What Is The 333 Rule For Anxiety?

I want to be completely open and honest with you, so let’s get started. Anxiety has dominated my life for the past 5 years and has been at the root of countless panic attacks and bouts of intense stress. You’ve probably guessed it, but it has had a devastating impact on my mental health and has therefore changed my life for the worst. Now, I’m not here for a pity party, but instead of focusing on the negative sides of this condition, I want to share the most effective tip I’ve found when it comes to feeling less anxious; so without further ado, let’s take a look at the 3-3-3 rule.

What Are The Weaknesses Of A Narcissist?

Each one of us has our own weaknesses that hold us back in life; be it at work or in relationships. However, on a more positive note, most of us have the will to work on them and transform them. That being said, once narcissists are brought into the picture, the idea that they want to work on their weaknesses doesn’t exactly seem feasible. For a deeper understanding of these narcissists and more insights into the workings of their minds, discover their weak spots and which pointers they struggle with on a daily basis, yet aren't willing to admit or work on.

How Does A Narcissist React When They Can’t Control You?

You probably know by now that narcissists only ever look for one thing and one thing only; and that’s control! Whether in their personal or professional life, folks with this personality disorder need to be in the driving seat and the one calling the shots, otherwise all hell breaks loose. Although their cunning and manipulative nature means they are often hard to escape, it is still possible to turn the tables on them and take the upper hand. Yet, you’ll need a thick skin to do so because when they feel their power slipping away, they become even more dangerous and abusive; here’s how they react when that happens.

Why We Feel So Socially Exhausted After Lockdown

“Are you coming to the party on Saturday?” After months of restrictions and several lockdowns, I must admit that I wasn’t expecting to hear this question. So I did a series of things, I had drinks with my girlfriends, I went to parties, lunches, etc. And without realizing it, I felt exhausted. Why do I feel like I've been running on empty since the end of lockdown?

Split Personality

Are you familiar with dissociative personality disorder? You may well think of schizophrenia, yet the two conditions are different. What is dissociative personality disorder? We’ll explain all.

What Does A Narcissist Hate?

Narcissists are experts in the field of duping and manipulating their victims, yes, that’s right they are true chameleons, which explains why many of them often go undetected. Their behavior is definitely dangerous and means we definitely need to figure out what makes them tick and in this particular case, what they hate. Understanding what these entitled personalities dislike is one of the keys to best exposing them and freeing their victims from their grip. Now, we all get angry for one reason or another, but people with this personality disorder have different triggers related to the things they despise.

More insights into our personalities:

I Have Fits Of Anger

Anyone who’s never felt anger can close this article! We’ve all felt this virulent emotion at one time or another 😡. It’s neither bad nor good, but it has the right to exist. It’s healthy to feel angry when you’re betrayed or a victim of an injustice. However, when anger attacks are recurrent, it’s good to learn how to control them. When anger hurts others or ourselves, it becomes a problem.

Ergophobia: When The Fear Of Work Eats Away At You…

I know the real fear of work. I suffered from it for a long time, but I’m happy to say that today I’m cured. It’s an illness that can make others smile, as you can easily be seen as lazy. However, it’s not the case for people suffering from ergophobia, the fear of work. Where does this fear come from? How can it be treated? All will be explained.

6 Reasons Why Narcissists Never Apologize

I’ll be the first to admit that my stubbornness means I’m not exactly the most willing person when it comes to uttering the words ‘I’m sorry’, but I always push through my pride; although unfortunately, the same can’t be said for narcissists... Indeed, people who suffer from this personality disorder will simply never hold their hands up and accept responsibility for their actions, despite how deeply they’ve hurt your feelings. You know the idiom getting blood from a stone, right? Well, when it comes to apologies from these toxic personalities, nothing is more appropriate, and here are 6 reasons why!

I’m Scared Of Failure

“I won’t manage it”, “I can’t do it”… I often say this because I doubt my abilities tremendously. Being so negative allows me to calm my fear of failure a bit. By doing nothing, I don’t run the risk of failing. I prefer to do nothing and remain in a state of waiting, for fear of not succeeding. So I procrastinate, thinking about the fact that I didn’t take the plunge out of anxiety. How can I overcome this fear to really start doing things?

Why I Hate Conflict And What I Need To Do To Face It

As soon as I feel tension build up with someone close to me, I take flight. I don’t like conflict, even if I don’t agree with the other person, I run from it. As a result, I keep it all inside of me, which can generate a lot of annoyance. Rather than this eating away at us from the inside, we need to learn to overcome this fear of conflict to make our voice heard. Why do we run away from conflict? How can we overcome this fear? Here are some explanations.

6 Differences Between Being Self-Centered And Being A Narcissist

When it comes to mental health disorders, the parameters of each condition often seem blurry, and this explains why many of us have trouble identifying them. Plus, certain disorders frequently encompass similar symptoms and traits, making recognizing and therefore understanding them even more complicated. Let’s take being selfish and having a narcissistic personality disorder, for example. Because they overlap on such a huge scale, upon first glance, they do in fact seem indistinguishable to many of us. That being said, when you dig a little deeper, the differences do become more and more apparent.

What Are The Signs That You Are Unhappy?

I sometimes feel bad, I don’t have the energy anymore… When we encounter financial, family, or other difficulties, as well as serious events such as bereavement, we accumulate psychological wounds. We can be resilient and move on, but we can also be overwhelmed by a growing sense of unease. There’s no shame in feeling bad psychologically, it happens to us all. However, spotting the signs of unhappiness enables us to be alert and to take care of our mental health.

8 Reasons Why Millennials Feel So Lost

If you ever find yourself watching the news or reading traditional journalism outlets, you’ll no doubt have picked up on the bad rep that millennials get. That’s right, we millennials (those of us who were born between 1981 – 1996) are often criticized for being ‘woke’, overly sensitive, entitled, and lazy. Now, isn’t that a bunch of adjectives you’d instantly like to forget! As you can probably tell, I don’t agree with the evaluation regarding our age group and am here to explain why we feel so lost and disconnected.

Why Do We Like Being Scared?

Making up ghost stories, talking about horrible legends, wanting to talk about spirits… I think we all did it when we were children. Even as adults, if we like watching horror films or documentaries about serial killers, it’s because we love scaring ourselves! 😱 However, the question we may ask ourselves is why we like being scared? There are neuropsychological and sociological reasons behind this attraction. All will be explained!

How To Get Rid Of Your Horrid Complexes

Legs too fat, lips too small, scars or even shyness, whether it’s physical or psychological, complexes often have the bad taste of spoiling our lives and making us unhappy. But we won’t let them do that to us! We’re worth more than that, right?

Wengood's favorite tunes 🎵

How to detect a narcissist


"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." 

- Oscar Wilde