How to Cope and Manage Survivor’s Guilt When Surviving a Pandemic, Accident, Misfortune.

When misfortune strikes and we remain unscathed and grateful, some may feel a sense of guilt, and ask, “Why not me?” This is called survivor’s guilt. Survivor’s guilt is when a person feels guilty because they survived a life-threatening event that others did not survive. Plane and car crashes, mass shootings, the death of a terminally ill family member, deaths among military personnel while deployed, or even the death of a loved one from suicide, are common triggers for survivor’s guilt. However with a global pandemic, survivor’s guilt may appear from never catching or healing from Covid-19, or even maintaining a job and income when others are struggling.

Signs of survivor’s guilt include feeling unworthy, confused, or even hesitant about continuing to live as the individual feels as if their survival is due to them doing something wrong and that somehow they should have prevented the tragedy from occurring. Others feel as if the victim did not deserve it and harm should have come to the survivor, while others feel guilty for practicing self-preservation, such as pushing people out of the way to run from an impending disaster.

A person experiencing survivor’s guilt can self-blame, isolate and avoid their feelings and others. Often those suffering from survivor’s guilt might begin to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol that can later lead to addiction.

Learning to deal with survivor’s guilt in a healthy way is important to avoid developing unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Six Suggestions to Help Cope & Manage Survivor’s Guilt


  1. Who is responsible? Ask who is truly responsible for the event and if anyone is actually to blame. Many times, like natural disasters, are out of our control. Do not take the blame for the loss; instead, mourn those affected and recognize you were not responsible.
  2. Focus on grief, not guilt. Remind yourself that you are capable of handling loss and the accompanying sadness and grief. Feeling grief is an important part of recovering from a loss. Focusing on guilt instead of grief may worsen emotional and psychological health over time. Learn more about grief or find a grief center in your area.
  3. People are grateful for your survival. Remind yourself that your family and friends would be devastated if they lost you and how relieved and grateful those people are that you survived. Practice seeing survival as a gift and share it with loved ones.
  4. Luck is random. Just because you experienced good luck while someone else experienced misfortune does not mean it was your fault.
  5. Do something significant. Guilt can be a guiding factor in improving our lives. Using guilt as a tool to honor those who were lost can create a sense of purpose and direction. Different religions have varying ways to memorialize someone. Learn more about various religious customs and traditions. 
  6. Practice self-care. Self-care, such as sleeping and eating well, exercise, seeking and accepting support, and asking for help are all essential to healing emotionally and physically.