Survivor guilt
Survivor, survivor's, or survivors guilt or syndrome is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. It may be found among survivors of combat
Combat, or fighting, is a purposeful violent conflict meant to establish dominance over the opposition, or to terminate the opposition forever, or drive the opposition away from a location where it is not wanted or needed....

, natural disaster
Natural disaster
A natural disaster is the effect of a natural hazard . It leads to financial, environmental or human losses...

s, epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

s, among the friends and family of those who have committed suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

, and in non-mortal situations such as among those whose colleagues are laid off. The experience and manifestation of survivor's guilt
Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense. It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that...

 will depend on an individual's psychological profile. When the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders...

 IV (DSM-IV) was published, survivor guilt was removed as a recognized specific diagnosis, and redefined as a significant symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Survivor guilt was first identified during the 1960s. Several therapists recognized similar if not identical conditions among Holocaust survivors. Similar signs and symptoms have been recognized in survivors of traumatic situations including combat
Combat, or fighting, is a purposeful violent conflict meant to establish dominance over the opposition, or to terminate the opposition forever, or drive the opposition away from a location where it is not wanted or needed....

, natural disaster
Natural disaster
A natural disaster is the effect of a natural hazard . It leads to financial, environmental or human losses...

s, and wide-ranging job layoffs. A variant form has been found among rescue and emergency services personnel who blame
Blame is the act of censuring, holding responsible, making negative statements about an individual or group that their action or actions are socially or morally irresponsible, the opposite of praise. When someone is morally responsible for doing something wrong their action is blameworthy...

 themselves for doing too little to help those in danger, and among therapists, who may feel a form of guilt in the face of their patients' suffering.

Sufferers sometimes blame themselves for the deaths of others, including those who died while rescuing the survivor or whom the survivor tried unsuccessfully to save.

Survivor syndrome

Survivor syndrome, also called concentration camp syndrome, or called KZ syndrome on account of the German term Konzentrationslager, are terms which have been used to describe the reactions and behaviors of people who have survived massive and adverse events, such as the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus...

. They are described as having a pattern of characteristic symptoms including anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

 and depression
Depression (mood)
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless...

, social withdrawal, sleep disturbance and nightmares, physical complaints and emotional lability with loss of drive. Commonly such survivors feel guilty that they have survived the trauma and others—such as their family, friends, and colleagues—did not.

Both conditions, along with other descriptive syndromes covering a range of traumatic events are now subsumed under posttraumatic stress disorder.

Social responses

Sufferers may with time divert their guilt into helping others deal with traumatic situations. They may describe or regard their own survival as insignificant. Survivors who feel guilty sometimes suffer self-blame and clinical depression
Clinical depression
Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities...



Early disaster response
Disaster response
Disaster response is a phase of the disaster management cycle. Its preceding cycles aim to reduce the need for a disaster response, or to avoid it altogether.The level of disaster response depends on a number of factors and particular situation awareness...

 and grief therapy methods both attempt to prevent survivor guilt from arising. Where it is already present, therapists attempt to recognize the guilt and understand the reasons for its development. Next, a therapist may present a sufferer with alternative, hopeful views on the situation. The emotional damage and trauma
Psychological trauma
Psychological trauma is a type of damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a traumatic event...

 is then recognized, released and treated. With growing self-confidence the survivor's guilt may be relieved, and the survivor may come to understand that the traumatic event was the result of misfortune, not of the survivor's actions. Once able to view himself or herself as a sufferer, not one who caused suffering, the survivor can mourn
Mourning is, in the simplest sense, synonymous with grief over the death of someone. The word is also used to describe a cultural complex of behaviours in which the bereaved participate or are expected to participate...

 and continue with life.


Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings
Waylon Arnold Jennings was an American country music singer, songwriter, and musician. Jennings began playing at eight. He began performing at twelve, on KVOW radio. Jennings formed a band The Texas Longhorns. Jennings worked as a D.J on KVOW, KDAV and KLLL...

 was a guitarist for Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly
Charles Hardin Holley , known professionally as Buddy Holly, was an American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll...

's band and initially had a seat on the ill-fated aircraft The Day the Music Died
The Day the Music Died
On February 3, 1959, a small-plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, killed three American rock and roll pioneers: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson. The day was later called The Day the Music Died by Don McLean, in his song...

. But Jennings gave up his seat to the sick J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson
The Big Bopper
Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson, Jr. also commonly known as The Big Bopper, was an American disc jockey, singer, and songwriter whose big voice and exuberant personality made him an early rock and roll star...

, only to learn later of the plane's demise. When Holly learned that Jennings was not going to fly, he said, "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up." Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes." This exchange of words, though made in jest at the time, haunted Jennings for the rest of his life. Jennings, who later became a country music star, expressed survivor's guilt about Richardson's death.

World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

 recipient, and actor
An actor is a person who acts in a dramatic production and who works in film, television, theatre, or radio in that capacity...

, Audie Murphy
Audie Murphy
Audie Leon Murphy was a highly decorated and famous soldier. Through LIFE magazine's July 16, 1945 issue , he became one the most famous soldiers of World War II and widely regarded as the most decorated American soldier of the war...

 is said to have suffered survivor's guilt during the years after his return to the United States after the injury that put him out of the Army. He is said to have slept with a gun under his pillow for nearly 25 years, and talked frequently about those that had died in his unit, even though there was nothing he could have done to prevent their deaths.

Italian-Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi
Primo Levi
Primo Michele Levi was an Italian Jewish chemist and writer. He was the author of two novels and several collections of short stories, essays, and poems, but is best known for If This Is a Man, his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland...

 was haunted by his experiences in Auschwitz and explored his own survivor's guilt extensively in his autobiographical books, notably in I sommersi e i salvati ("The Drowned and the Saved"). His death was reportedly a suicide, and towards the end of his life he suffered from depression probably induced by survivor's guilt.

Some of the biggest accountancy firms in Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

had in early 2009 adopted the policy of requesting their employees to take unpaid leave with a view to reducing operation expenses. The leading firms also reduced running costs by laying off junior auditors during the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2009. In October 2009, the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) set out a list of suggestions in Prospective CPA Issue No. 52, a monthly brochure, advising its members that, in view of the economic downturn, "if they survive a lay-off, expect to feel 'survivor' guilt but don't dwell on it because they could easily be next."

("Coping survivors") said on December 4th, 2006 Sgt. Ian Newland witnessed 19 year old Spc. Ross McGinnis throw himself over a grenade that was in their humvee. This ultimately saved four soldiers but killed the 19 year old hero. ("twinless twins support group") states that while this event is very heroic it also can plague the survivors with guilt that the person who died would have had a more meaningful life than they do. According to ("coping survivors") Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Johnson who counsels troops in Baghdad says, “The guilt that those left behind have is sometimes compounded by a sense of unworthiness”. “They cannot accept that their lives were worth more than the life of their beloved comrade. They are left with the heavy burden of trying to measure up to the great sacrifice so that they could live on. For some, the burden is too much.”

("SG haunting military") expresses the belief that Survivor guilt tortures people psychologically with questions and statements that can never be answered or changed. ("Survival Psychology") says that many survivors live with many questions, such as, “Why me?” and “What if...”. They think why them and not me, they don’t deserve to be dead. Or, what if i had done this or that, then they would maybe still be alive. Although those two phrases are crushing, the most plaguing phrase in many soldiers opinions suffering from this illness is, “IF ONLY...”. According to ("twinless twins support group") the wishes to change the situation can become torturous for those suffering with Survivors guilt. The longing that they would have switched places on the scene with the person who died would mean their comrad would still be here. ("Survival Psychology") states that the thought that if they had done something different would have saved the lives lost. These thoughts are not logical, as no one can predict the future.

("SG haunting military") states that suicide rates have gone up 82% since 2009, across all branches of the military. According to ("twinless twins support group") the question, “What is the reason for my life instead of theirs?” leaves many feeling hopeless. ("SG haunting military") said in Spring 2011, Clay Hunt committed suicide at his home in Texas. He was a Marine veteran who earned a Purple Heart fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan war. He suffered from survivor’s guilt after four friends in has platoon had died fighting. No matter whether you sacrificed your life to save others or if you committed suicide the reason is always the same. “Because we were his brothers. He loved us,” Newland said to ("coping survivors").
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