Survivor guilt

Survivor guilt (or survivor's guilt; also called survivor syndrome or survivor's syndrome) is a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not, often feeling self-guilt. It may be found among survivors of rape, murder, terrorism, combat, natural disasters, epidemics, among the friends and family of those who have died by suicide, and in non-mortal situations. The experience and manifestation of survivor's guilt will depend on an individual's psychological profile. When the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) was published, survivor guilt was removed as a recognized specific diagnosis, and redefined as a significant symptom of post-traumatic 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, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, air-crashes and wide-ranging job layoffs.[1] A variant form has been found among rescue and emergency services personnel who blame 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.

Stephen Joseph, a psychologist at the University of Warwick, has studied the survivors of the capsizing of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise which killed 193 of the 459 passengers.[2] His studies showed that 60 percent of the survivors suffered from survivor guilt. Joseph went on to say: "There were three types: first, there was guilt about staying alive while others died; second, there was guilt about the things they failed to do – these people often suffered post-traumatic 'intrusions' as they relived the event again and again; third, there were feelings of guilt about what they did do, such as scrambling over others to escape. These people usually wanted to avoid thinking about the catastrophe. They didn't want to be reminded of what really happened."

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.[3]

Survivor syndrome

Survivor syndrome, also known as concentration camp syndrome (or KZ syndrome on account of the German term Konzentrationslager),[4] 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.[5] They are described as having a pattern of characteristic symptoms including anxiety and depression, social withdrawal, sleep disturbance and nightmares, physical complaints and mood swings with loss of drive.[6] 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.[7]

AIDS survivor syndrome

AIDS survivor syndrome refers to the psychological effects of living with the long-term trajectory of the AIDS epidemic and includes survivor's guilt, depression, and feelings of being forgotten in contemporary discussions concerning HIV.[8] While AIDS survivor syndrome has not been recognized as a pathologizable illness by the NIH (as of December 2017), scientific research and publications are available that address this issue.[9]



Holocaust survivor Primo Levi was haunted by his experiences in Auschwitz and explored his survivor's guilt extensively in his autobiographical books, notably in I sommersi e i salvati (The Drowned and the Saved). Towards the end of his life he suffered from depression, and his death may have been suicide.[1]

Elvis Presley

In an interview on Lifetime TV's Unsolved Mysteries, Lawrence "Larry" Geller, one of Elvis Presley's closest friends, reported that Elvis, as a "twinless twin", was plagued by guilt over the death of his infant brother, Jesse Garon, who was stillborn. Elvis had confided to Geller about his concerns that maybe he had absorbed more than his share of the nutrients while he was developing inside his mother's womb, causing his twin brother to starve to death before he was born. Elvis had also related to Geller about how his mother had tried to comfort her son by assuring him that "they would all meet in Heaven" after their lives on Earth were completed.

Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings was a guitarist for Buddy Holly's band and initially had a seat on the ill-fated aircraft on The Day the Music Died on February 3, 1959. But Jennings gave up his seat to the sick J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson, only to learn later of the plane's crash. 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.[10][11]

Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

Sydney Aiello survived the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, in which her close friend was killed. Aiello subsequently struggled with survivor's guilt, and she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. On March 17, 2019, Aiello committed suicide at the age of 19.[12]. A week later, on March 24, 2019, Coral Spring police announced that a juvenile male student from Stoneman Douglas High School had been found dead as a result of an apparent suicide.[13]

Cultural references

  • In the 1980 film, Ordinary People, based on the novel of the same name, Conrad Jarrett is a young man who struggles with surviving a sailing accident which killed his older brother. As Jarrett realizes that he is angry at his brother's recklessness, he confronts the very cause of his problems and begins to accept that his own survival had nothing to do with his brother's death.[15]
  • The TV series Rescue Me follows the lives of firefighters post 9/11 in New York City, focusing on Tommy Gavin, a 9/11 first responder experiencing severe survivor guilt over the civilians he was unable to save and the other firefighters who died in the attack, many of whom he personally knew.
  • An episode of Law & Order: UK is entitled "Survivor's Guilt" and involves one character coping with how his colleague was shot while he survived because he was called away to see his new grandson.
  • Type-Moon's 2004 visual novel Fate/stay night featured Emiya Shirou as the protagonist, whose survivor's guilt from 10 years ago was his main motivation during the whole novel, especially highlighted in the Fate route.
  • Rise Against, a popular punk band, released a song named "Survivor Guilt" on their 2011 album Endgame.
  • In the Hunger Games series Katniss feels survivor's guilt as she and Peeta had survived the games but others didn't and the deaths she caused were also haunting her.
  • In Doctor Who, the Doctor is apparently responsible for ending the Time War by erasing his homeplanet Gallifrey. Being the only survivor of his species in the entire universe, he develops survivor's guilt as part of the trauma, which is openly addressed in the episode "Before the Flood".
  • Batman's main motivation for fighting crime is an unresolved survivor guilt.
  • In the 2004 sci-fi action film I, Robot, Will Smith's character of Det. Spooner has survivor's guilt.
  • In the TV show Arrow, the main character, Oliver Queen, has survivor's guilt in the episode "Three Ghost".
  • In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Max Vandenburg displays signs of survivor's guilt in the chapter known as "A Brief History Of The Jewish Fist Fighter".
  • In the 2006 movie We Are Marshall, Matthew Fox, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty all play members of the 1970 Marshall football team who were not on the plane when their team plane crashed. Fox played Red Dawson, a coach who gave his seat on the plane to another coach, Mackie played Nate Ruffin, a player who was injured and did not make the trip, while Geraghty played Tom Bogdan, a player who overslept and missed the flight. All are haunted by feelings of guilt that affect them long after the crash, into their later lives.
  • The light novel sequel to the 5th part of the long running manga series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure called Purple Haze Feedback has Pannacotta Fugo, a character from the beginning of the part who left the main cast in the main part when they went to fight the main villain, become distraught after learning of the deaths of three of his old comrades who joined the main fight and wonders why he didn't join them.
  • In an episode of TV show "Hawaii Five-0", Danny Williams mentions that his life since the September 11 attacks is all "borrowed time", when he and his then-partner Grace Tillwell raided a gang warehouse (without having told anyone about it) in the early morning hours of September 11, 2001, and were tortured by the gang members, who then killed his partner, and were about to proceed on him before being distracted by the sound of sirens outside, allowing Danny broke free and kill the gang members, before running outside to try and flag down a police car, only to see them speeding towards a huge billow of dark smoke.
  • Survivor guilt is explored in the Stephen King short story "The Things They Left Behind". The main character Scott Staley called in sick from his job at the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11 in order to enjoy a day off in the sunny spring-like New York City weather that occurred that day. Almost a year later, personal belongings of co-workers who died in the tower begin showing up unexplained in Scott's apartment, accompanied by the haunting voices of their owners.
  • This is an important theme of Alice: Madness Returns. Alice has survivor's guilt after her family's death in a fire, the insanity caused by this guilt turning Wonderland into a horrible place.
  • In the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison a slave named Sethe imagines that she is haunted by the ghost of her baby which she killed to prevent her from getting caught and growing up in slavery. The ghost represents her guilt over the murder and her survival.

See also


  1. ^ JoNel Aleccia, "Guilty and stressed, layoff survivors suffer, too",, December 15, 2008
  2. ^ "1987: Zeebrugge disaster was no accident". BBC News. 8 October 1987. Retrieved 15 May 2010.
  3. ^ Bonnie S. Fisher, Steven P. Lab. Encyclopedia of Victimology and Crime Prevention, SAGE, 2010, p. 33, ISBN 978-1-4129-6047-2
  4. ^ Ryn, Z (February 1990). "The evolution of mental disturbances in the concentration camp syndrome (KZ-syndrom)". Genet Soc Gen Psychol Monogr. 116: 21–36. PMID 2184095.
  5. ^ Walt Odets, "In the Shadow of the Epidemic: Being HIV-Negative in the Age of AIDS", 1995.
  6. ^ Raphael Beverley, (1986). When disaster strikes. PP 90-91. Century Hutchinson, London.
  7. ^ Wilson JP, & Raphael B Editors. Theoretical and Conceptual Foundations of Traumatic Stress Syndromes. The International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Syndromes, p. 1. Plenum Press, New York. 1993.
  8. ^ "What is AIDS Survivor Syndrome – Lets Kick ASS". Lets Kick ASS. 2016-08-08. Retrieved 2017-11-30.
  9. ^ Broun, Stacy N. (1998-06-01). "Understanding "Post-AIDS Survivor Syndrome": A Record of Personal Experiences". AIDS Patient Care and STDs. 12 (6): 481–488. doi:10.1089/apc.1998.12.481. ISSN 1087-2914.
  10. ^ VH1's Behind the Music "The Day the Music Died" interview with Waylon Jennings.
  11. ^ "Waylon's Buddy: Jennings Never Forgot His Mentor". CMT.
  12. ^ Parkland survivor takes her own life just more than one year after deadly mass shooting
  13. ^ Madan, Monique (24 March 2019). "Second Parkland shooting survivor kills himself, police confirm". Miami Herald. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  14. ^ Bertman, Sandra L. (1999). Grief and the healing arts: creativity as therapy. Baywood. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-89503-198-3.
  15. ^ Corr, Charles A.; Balk, David E. (2010). Children's encounters with death, bereavement, and coping. Springer. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-8261-3422-6.

Further reading

Brian Glüss

Professor Brian Glüss FRSS (23 August 1930 – 26 December 2013) was a statistician, mathematician, systems engineer and author. He also became an expert on victims of violent death in war and peace, on the process of healing their families and on the condition of survivor guilt.

Endgame Tour

The Endgame Tour was a concert tour by punk band Rise Against, taking place from 2011 to 2013, in support of their sixth full-length studio album Endgame.

The tour began on February 25, 2011, with the band's first visit to South America, playing a short leg with two dates in Brazil and one in Argentina with supporting act Berri Txarrak. This followed a short tour of small venues in Europe with supporting act Coliseum, and a major US tour with supporting acts Bad Religion and Four Year Strong.

In July, the band headlined a tour of Oceania with supporting acts Sick of It All and Break Even, which was followed by a run of European festival dates in August, including playing the Reading and Leeds Festivals.

The band was then chosen as the main guest supporting act on the Foo Fighters' fall headlining tour in support of Wasting Light, which took place in September, after which Rise Against headlined their own Canadian tour with supporting acts Flogging Molly and The Black Pacific. Between November 2–13, 2011, the band played their first UK headlining tour in 2 years, supported by Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman and Polar Bear Club, the band also played one date in Scotland during the tour, and added an additional date in Rome, Italy on November 15. In December, the band played a series of Christmas special radio festival shows.

The band's first tour of 2012 was another US headlining leg, which was supported by A Day to Remember and The Menzingers, with Glassjaw also joining as a special guest supporting act at the New York City show on February 3. Between February 28–March 20, 2012, the band headlined another tour of Europe, visiting countries they haven't visited in years like Norway, Finland and the Czech Republic, and also touring Germany. The tour was supported by Architects and Touché Amoré. The band followed with another leg of the US in April–May, which was supported by A Day to Remember and Title Fight.

Enemies, A Love Story (film)

Enemies, A Love Story is a 1989 film directed by Paul Mazursky, based on the 1966 novel Enemies, A Love Story (Yiddish: Sonim, di Geshichte fun a Liebe‎) by Isaac Bashevis Singer and starred Ron Silver, Anjelica Huston, Lena Olin and Margaret Sophie Stein.

Jewish guilt

Jewish guilt is the supposed guilt felt by some Jews. Currently, Jewish guilt is often a source of Jewish humor, but sometimes leads to self-hatred among some Jews.

Judge Dredd Megazine

Judge Dredd: The Megazine is a monthly British comic magazine, launched in October 1990. It is a sister publication to 2000 AD. Its name is a play on words, formed from "magazine" and Dredd's locale Mega-City One.

Julia Hoban

Julia Claricia Hoban is an American author of children's books. Her notable books include Willow and Acting Normal.

Willow explores the survivor guilt of a sixteen-year-old girl whose parents died in a car crash where she was driving. Despite the fact her parents knew she didn't have her license and the weather conditions caused the accident, she feels as if the accident was her fault and that she shouldn't have survived, resulting in her participating in self-harm. She states that she wanted to write a book for people self-destructive urges and help them to question their own damaging behaviors. She specifically chose to make Willow a cutter because "it is a very dramatic and obvious form of self injury," but argues that she could have written about overeating or doing drugs, or even watching too much television. She has also said that Steven Levenkron's Cutting was an influence on the book. The book was a Florida Teens Read Nominee in 2010.

King Nine Will Not Return

"King Nine Will Not Return" is the season two premiere episode, and 37th overall, of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on September 30, 1960 on CBS.

This was the first episode where Rod Serling appeared on camera at the beginning, rather than introducing the episode in a voice-over narration.

List of songs recorded by Rise Against

The American rock band Rise Against has recorded 131 songs, which include 118 original songs and 13 covers. The band was formed in 1999, and signed a recording contract with the independent record label Fat Wreck Chords the following year. Under this label, they released The Unraveling (2001) and Revolutions per Minute (2003), which helped to establish an early fanbase. Afterwards, the band signed with Geffen Records, and made their major record label debut with Siren Song of the Counter Culture (2004), which was followed by The Sufferer & the Witness (2006). Both albums charted on the Billboard 200, with the latter peaking at number ten. Rise Against's popularity continued to grow when they switched labels once again to DGC and Interscope Records. Their next three albums—Appeal to Reason (2008), Endgame (2011), and The Black Market (2014)—charted highly worldwide. Rise Against's eighth album, Wolves, was released in 2017.During the early part of their career, Rise Against's music was characterized by its gritty combination of hardcore punk and melodic hardcore. With the release of Appeal to Reason, the band's music shifted toward a more accessible and radio-friendly sound, with greater emphasis on production value. Rise Against is well known for their outspoken social commentary, which often permeates their lyrics. Songs like "Hero of War" and "Survivor Guilt" question the brutality of modern warfare, while "Prayer of the Refugee" is about forced displacement. Not all Rise Against songs discuss controversial topics, such as "Savior", which is about forgiveness and broken relationships.Tim McIlrath is Rise Against's primary lyricist, while the band members collectively write the music for their songs. Five out of the band's eight albums have been recorded at The Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colorado, with producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore. Of the band's 131 songs, sixteen have been released as singles, while three have been promotional singles. Their best charting singles are "Help Is on the Way", which reached number eighty-nine on the Billboard Hot 100; and "Savior", which held the record for the most consecutive weeks spent on both the Hot Rock Songs and Alternative Songs charts, with sixty-three and sixty-five weeks respectively. Two singles from Siren Song of the Counter Culture, "Give It All" and "Swing Life Away", helped Rise Against achieve mainstream appeal.

Peng Phan

Peng Phan is a Cambodian film actress. She has been featured in three films by Rithy Panh: Rice People, One Evening After the War and The Burnt Theatre.

In her feature film debut, Rice People, Phan portrayed Om, the mentally unstable wife of a farmer and the mother of seven daughters, all struggling during a single rice-planting season.

In 2005's The Burnt Theatre, she portrayed herself, or a character who was an actress named Peng Phan who suffered survivor guilt and psychosomatic illness.

Rescue Me (U.S. TV series)

Rescue Me is an American comedy-drama television series that premiered on the FX on July 21, 2004 and concluded on September 7, 2011. The series focuses on the professional and personal lives of a group of New York City firefighters.

The protagonist and focal point of the series is veteran New York City firefighter Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary). The series follows Tommy's troubled family and co-workers as they deal with real-life issues, either with post-9/11 trauma or their own domestic problems. Tommy struggles with the loss of his cousin and best friend, firefighter Jimmy Keefe (James McCaffrey), as well as 59 other firefighters whom he knew who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Jimmy frequently visits Tommy in ghostly dreams. Tommy is an impatient, self-loathing, hypocritical, manipulative relapsed alcoholic who suffers with severe survivor guilt and posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of 9/11. In the pilot episode, he and his wife Janet (Andrea Roth) have already separated, although they are technically still married, and Tommy has moved across the street. Most of Tommy's actions as a firefighter are heroic and brave, but his family members and fellow firefighters view him as selfish, despite his concern for others and passion for the job.

Rescue Me was created by Denis Leary and Peter Tolan, who also serve as executive producers and head writers, and is produced by Cloudland Company, Apostle, DreamWorks Television, and Sony Pictures Television.


Self-hatred (also called self-loathing) refers to an extreme dislike or hatred of oneself, or being angry at or even prejudiced against oneself. The term is also used to designate a dislike or hatred of a group, family, social class, nationality, or stereotype to which one belongs and/or has. For instance, "ethnic self-hatred" is the extreme dislike of one's ethnic group or cultural classification. It may be associated with aspects of autophobia.

The term "self-hatred" is used infrequently by psychologists and psychiatrists, who would usually describe people who hate themselves as "persons with low self-esteem". Self-hatred and shame are important factors in some or many mental disorders, especially disorders that involve a perceived defect of oneself (e.g. body dysmorphic disorder). Self-hatred is also a symptom of many personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder, as well as depression. It can also be linked to guilt for someone's own actions that they view as wrongful, e.g., self-guilt, survivor guilt.


A serodiscordant relationship, also known as mixed-status, is one where one partner is infected by HIV and the other is not. This contrasts with seroconcordant relationships, in which both partners are of the same HIV status. Serodiscordancy contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly in Sub-Saharan nations such as Lesotho.Serodiscordant couples face numerous issues not faced by seroconcordant couples, including decisions as to what level of sexual activity is comfortable for them, knowing that practicing safer sex reduces but does not eliminate the risk of transmission to the HIV-negative partner. There are also potential psychological issues arising out of taking care of a sick partner, and survivor guilt. Financial strains may also be more accentuated as one partner becomes ill and potentially less able or unable to work.

Research involving serodiscordant couples has offered insights into how the virus is passed and how individuals who are HIV positive may be able to reduce the risk of passing the virus to their partner.Experts predict that there are thousands of serodiscordant couples in the US who wish to have children, and researchers report a growing stream of calls from these couples wanting reproductive help. The Special Program of Assisted Reproduction was developed in 1996 to help serodiscordant couples conceive safely, however, it is solely designed to help couples where the male partner is infected. WHO 2013 guidelines for starting assisted reproduction technology now consider all serodiscordant couples for treatment.

The Holocaust in Luxembourg

The Holocaust in Luxembourg refers to the persecution and near-annihilation of the 3,500-strong Jewish population of Luxembourg begun shortly after the start of the German occupation during World War II, when the country was officially incorporated into Nazi Germany. The persecution lasted until October 1941, when the Germans declared the territory to be free of Jews who had been deported to extermination camps and ghettos in Eastern Europe.

The Juggler (film)

The Juggler (1953) is a drama film about a survivor of the Holocaust, starring Kirk Douglas. The screenplay was adapted by Michael Blankfort from his novel of the same name.

The Thirty-Fathom Grave

"The Thirty Fathom Grave" is episode 104 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on January 10, 1963 on CBS. In this naval-themed episode, the crew of a Navy destroyer hear a mysterious rhythmic noise coming from a sunken submarine.

Vigilant (novel)

Vigilant is a science fiction novel written by the Canadian author James Alan Gardner, published in 1999 by HarperCollins Publishers under its various imprints. The book is the third volume in Gardner's "League of Peoples" series, after Commitment Hour (1998).

William "Red" Dawson

William Alfred "Red" Dawson (born December 4, 1942) is a former American football player and assistant coach for Marshall University. He was nicknamed "Red" for his red hair.

Yizkor books

Yizkor books are memorial books commemorating a Jewish community destroyed during the Holocaust. The books are published by former residents or landsmanshaft societies as remembrances of homes, people and ways of life lost during World War II. Yizkor books usually focus on a town but may include sections on neighboring smaller communities. Most of these books are written in Yiddish or Hebrew, some also include sections in English or other languages, depending on where they were published. Since the 1990s, many of these books, or sections of them have been translated into English.

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