Surviving Survivor’s Guilt: Methods Of Coping

Surviving Survivor's Guilt: Methods Of Coping

Sometimes I get depressed about how unfair life is. My depression always focuses on why some people have so much opportunity, while other people have so little opportunity.

I go through a guilt phase where I often ask, why me? During this time period, I have no desire to hang out with anyone. I start thinking wild ideas like relocating to Virginia over Hawaii because I need a certain amount of suffering to feel more worthy.

While living in Malaysia, one of my friend’s died in a car accident at age 15. He lost control and rammed into a tree off the highway. Yes, he legally wasn’t allowed to drive, but we were irreverent in Kuala Lumpur. The passenger in the front seat didn’t survive either.

We were skateboard buddies from different schools who would hang out over the weekend. He was one of the coolest kids around and I wanted to go out with him to the club that night, but he ignored me because I was only 13.

The next day, I called Mark to ask whether he wanted to hang out. I will always remember his mother’s voice telling me he had passed away.

I have survivor’s guilt. I’ve learned that one of the best ways of overcoming this mental condition is to journal my thoughts and be useful to others. Over the years, no other activity has helps me more.

Figuring Out Whether You Have Survivor's Guilt

According to Nancy Sherman, PhD, survivor’s guilt begins with an endless loop of “counterfactual thoughts that you could have or should have done otherwise, though in fact you did nothing wrong.”

The symptoms of survivor’s guilt vary, but here are some possible clues that someone is experiencing it:

  • Having flashbacks
  • Feeling irritable
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling immobilized, numb, and/or disconnected
  • Being unmotivated
  • Feeling helpless
  • Having constant fear
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and palpitations
  • Having suicidal feelings

I consistently have flashbacks of hearing the voice of my mother's deceased friend. I've often felted unmotivated. Further, I often wake up by 4am-5am because I feel it's necessary to get a tremendous amount of work done before my little boy and wife wake up.

What's weird about this work ethic is that I left the work force in 2012 for good because I had accumulated enough money. Yet I was still killing myself trying to grow Financial Samurai because I was afraid I would run out. I also wanted to demonstrate that I was worthy of being able to retire early.

It wasn't enough that I became a multi-millionaire, I need to prove to myself and to everybody else around me that I could do it again with an online business. This negative cycle was unhealthy.

Unnecessary self-imposed pressures are why so many of us aren’t as happy as we should be. As soon as I let go of my perennial goals of outperforming the S&P and reaching ever higher website growth, I started to feel happier.

How To Treat Survivor's Guilt

According to Dianna Raab, PhD, here are some coping tips if you (or someone you know) is experiencing survivor’s guilt:

  • Give yourself time to grieve.
  • Consider thinking about who was really responsible, if anyone.
  • Remember to take care of yourself physically and psychologically.
  • Think about what those who are close to you are feeling about the situation.
  • Remind yourself that you were given the gift of survival and feel good about it.
  • Try to be of service to someone or something.
  • Remind yourself that you’re not alone.
  • Be patient.
  • Share your feelings with those you trust.
  • Try to stick to a daily routine.
  • Consider journaling your feelings.
  • Get professional help, as needed.

I've found that writing on Financial Samurai has done more than anything to help me cope with survivor's guilt. I've been publishing three articles a week since 2009.

The unexpected upside to journaling my feelings all these years is that Financial Samurai also gave me a way out of investment banking.

By 2009, I was starting to feel depressed about my work and the state of the industry. Finance people were the bad guys, even if we worked in a department that had nothing to do with the financial crisis.

Before Financial Samurai, I didn't know what else I would do after finance. But once this site started gaining momentum, I realized I had a new calling and a way out.

Many Types Of Mental Disorders

Survivor's guilt is only one type of mental disorder. Here are many more to name a few:

Types Of Anxiety

  • Agora
  • PTSD
  • OCD
  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Adjustment Disorder
  • Substance Induced
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Selective Mutism
  • Caffeine Induced
  • Androphobia (fear of men)
  • Panic
  • Social
  • Generalized

Types Of Schizophrenia

  • Schizoaffective
  • Paranoid
  • Brief Psychotic
  • Schizophrenium
  • Delusional
  • Shared Psychotic
  • Disorganized/ Hebephrenia
  • Cenesthopathic

Types Of Eating Disorders

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating
  • Eating Disorder Not Other Specified (EDNOS)
  • Atypical
  • Purging
  • Night/Nocturnal
  • Orthorexia
  • Pica

Types Of Self Harm

  • Cutting
  • Carving
  • Using Objects (kicking or punching a wall)
  • Scratching
  • Picking
  • Ripping Skin off
  • Promiscuity
  • Burning
  • Hair Pulling
  • Rubbing objects on the skin
  • Misusing or Abusing Alcohol or drugs
  • Eating Disorders
  • Suicide Attempt
  • Law Breaking
  • Poisoning with toxic chemicals
  • Excessive exercise
  • Multiple piercings and/or tattoos
  • Overspending money

Types of ADD/ADHD

  • Inattentive
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive
  • Classic ADD
  • Overfocused ADD
  • Temporal Lobe ADD
  • Limbic ADD
  • Ring of Fire ADD
  • Anxious ADD

Types of Addiction

  • Alcoholism
  • Drugs
  • Nicotine
  • Food
  • Gambling
  • Internet
  • Sexual
  • Shopping
  • Work
  • Video Games
  • Plastic Surgery
  • OTC Medications
  • Arson
  • People Pleasing
  • Perfectionism

Feel Blessed You Are Still Here

Besides journaling your feelings, I've found the second best way to cope with survivor's guilt is to remind yourself that you were given the gift of survival and to make the most of it.

If you focus on doing good, you will slowly eradicate that guilt you are feeling. By helping someone get their finances in order, feel good about themselves, or guide them as a mentor throughout life is wonderful.

Use your survival as the opportunity to make a positive difference in the world!

About the Author: Sam began investing his own money ever since he opened an online brokerage account in 1995. Sam loved investing so much that he decided to make a career out of investing by spending the next 13 years after college working at two of the leading financial service firms in the world. During this time, Sam received his MBA from UC Berkeley with a focus on finance and real estate.

In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his passive income investments. He spends time playing tennis, hanging out with family, consulting for leading fintech companies and writing online to help others achieve financial freedom. was started in 2009 and is one of the most trusted personal finance sites today with over 1.5 million organic pageviews a month. Financial Samurai has been featured in top publications such as the LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal.