Over the past few weeks, we have all collectively encountered a situation, which was simply unfathomable. And we all have questions. When did this grow so bad? Who is to blame for this? What’s going to happen next? And so many more. Another set of questions plaguing a low of people right now include, “Whether I could have done more?”, “Why did I survive instead of the other?”, and so on. Guilt with regards to the ongoing situation, is emerging as a very commonly experienced emotion, across the youth of our country, and also across the South Asian diaspora around the world.
Survivor’s guilt which is typically documented as an emotion felt by survivors of traumatic & harrowing experiences, stems from the thought that the other should have survived instead of oneself, and / or that, one doesn’t deserve to have survived the traumatic experience. Over the past year, psychologists have documented that the pandemic related survivor’s guilt is real.
As we move into a phase where almost every second house is getting a COVID-19 positive case, and almost all of us know someone, who is struggling with this infectious disease, people are reporting intense guilt about a multitude of things. In my discussions with fellow MHPs, and with clients in therapy sessions, I have noticed that the guilt is largely related with having access to better opportunities in the event of a medical emergency, having a safe space to stay in while millions are struggling to make ends meet, and surviving COVID-19, while loved ones, & acquaintances were not able to survive. Guilt can also occur when an individual is not able to visit a loved one, who is struggling with COVID-19, and while watching news of the devastation all around, and wondering how you were spared.
People of South Asian diaspora living across the world, and in more developed countries are reporting guilt about being fully vaccinated, while their family members and friends, back in India are struggling to get even one dose. Recently, in an interaction with someone living abroad, they also expressed guilt about the knowledge that they are safe, while things in India continue to go from worse to catastrophic.
Some ways in which this guilt manifests includes:
Intense anger / irritability
Obsessive thoughts / extreme preoccupation about the pandemic and people affected
Sleep and appetite disturbances
Social withdrawal or isolation
Feelings of helplessness, grief, & sadness
If you are feeling any amount of guilt associated with the ongoing situation, it’s extremely important to acknowledge that it is completely normal to feel this way. It’s only after you acknowledge the way you are feeling, will you be able to deal with your guilt.
Some of the things which you can do to deal with the survivor’s guilt, can include:
Reach out to a loved one, your family doctor or a mental health professional, to talk about how you are feeling.
Give yourself the permission to accept, feel and express your guilt.
Ask yourself the question, “why not me”, instead of “why me”.
Invest in your self-care; be it journaling, meditation, exercising, eating healthy, etc.
Be compassionate toward yourself.
No one is immune to the survivor’s guilt, because we are all experiencing a collective trauma; consuming the same information as the rest of the country. We are in this together, so let’s be kind to others and ourselves too!