Making a distinction between realistic and unrealistic guilt can be difficult because they feel the same. Also, identifying regret can be hard when you are suffering from survivor guilt. It is critical to understand the difference between realistic and unrealistic guilt, so that you can confront the feelings and evaluate what role they play in your grief. Feelings of guilt are natural when you did or didn’t do something that ultimately affected the survival of your loved one. This is realistic guilt. Unrealistic guilt differs in that it involves the belief that there is something you could have done to change the outcome of a particular situation, although there was really nothing you could have done. Seeking Help for Survivor Guilt While survivor guilt is a normal part of grieving for some, if after a period of time the guilt affects you in ways that are preventing you from moving forward in your mourning, it is time to seek help. If you decide to pursue counseling, it is vital that you find a professional who specializes in grief and works with people who have suffered sudden and violent trauma. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) When people are exposed to a traumatic event, some people experience recurrent and ongoing recollections of the trauma, which can lead to intense emotional distress. Moments such as these may come without warning and over time can cause you to avoid situations you connect with your crash. You may feel on edge, anxious, and/or always ready to react. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is diagnosed by medical or mental health professionals. A victim/survivor diagnosed with PTSD exhibits three main types of symptoms: • Re-experiencing the traumatic event • Increased arousal–having high levels of anxiety • Avoidance with emotional numbing Trauma victims/survivors who consistently experience these symptoms and others for at least one month or longer may be suffering from PTSD.
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