“I was not built to break.” This a line from one of the last hit singles of Whitney Houston, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”. Sometimes making it through traumatic events can bring you the sincere feeling of resilience against circumstances—as it should. Other times, though, there is a sense of heaviness and weight that comes into our psyche making us feel as if being victorious against an obstacle is negative and/or wrong. In times such as the devastation that Southeast Texas has undergone with Hurricane Harvey, this feeling of shame can overtake people even worse than the reality of some of our neighbors, friends and family losing everything they had. This feeling is called survivor’s guilt.
So, how do we cope with survivor’s guilt? As a mental health professional, wha advice can I give to you to help with this phenomenon? Here are three tips to cope with and work through survivor’s guilt:
Talk to someone
I’m sure this one seems easy. It would make sense for me to tell you to talk to someone—especially as a mental health professional. Well, simply put, it is necessary. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs in some people after disturbing things happen in one’s life. Even watching these events happen via television or social media can bring on a case of acute stress disorder. If you experience something like this, it is increasingly possible that issues surrounding an emotional and mental response to these events will happen. The importance of speaking with someone about your thoughts will help to guide—and if need be, treat—any issues that arise out of the devastation of Harvey. This, of course, would include survivor’s guilt.
There is nothing—besides counseling—that helps with survivor’s guilt better than giving your time to those that are affected. There are so many opportunities, both on the ground and in your professional work, to give back to affected communities. If you are far away, donations, supporting an event or even sharing information on social media will be helpful in the same way. Guilt comes from a psychology of seeking approval. Volunteering helps us to create a way for us to channel that energy into the people we wish for approval from. When you are dealing with something such as survival’s guilt, one of the things you can do is to do for others to help you feel better.
Stay away from triggers
Triggers are different for people. Some people are simply triggered by stepping outside to view their neighborhood outcomes from the hurricane. Unfortunately, you can’t completely ignore that trigger, but you can learn to work through it. Still, some triggers you can minimize such as local news and social media. An article published in Psychiatric News states, “Research has suggested a link between spending time on social media and experiencing negative health outcomes.” What we are consistently seeing is the relationship between what we have access to seeing daily, hourly or even by the minute on social media and in our news, has increased anxiety in populations who use these platforms. Reduce their use if your survivor’s guilt is stemming from one of these triggers.
This is a tough time for us all. It is clear that we are going to need every resource available to get through this time. We do know that the Houston area and the entire State of Texas is strong! We, at Amy Wine Counseling Center, are here for you and the community to get through this tough time. Feel free to call us at 832-421-8714 to ask about counseling services.