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Pandemic treating you well? Survivor’s guilt

While there have been immense challenges and genuine hardships as a result of COVID-19, many people may be feeling that Western Australia has been very lucky to escape the enormous impacts seen in other countries and even other states of Australia.

As Western Australia moves towards a post COVID way of life, we may be experiencing guilt when speaking to loved ones overseas or talking to friends and family who are affected by COVID-19.

Not a great feeling

According to the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, guilt can manifest in many ways. It can bring sadness, regret, shame, doubt, heaviness, anxiety, as well as feelings of failure, inadequacy, and unworthiness. Often, guilt is labelled as a ‘negative emotion’ but it can be a healthy response to a situation, provided it is not being avoided, suppressed, or transferred onto those around you (e.g. blaming and shaming). You can keep feelings of guilt in manageable bounds by acknowledging your feelings and accepting it as part of your response to the situation you are in.
 
Western Australia and Survivor’s Guilt

Local warehouse supervisor Jonathan spoke to Lifeline WA about how he has not experienced an impact from COVID-19. His work role has remained the same, he hasn’t feared contracting the virus, and has enjoyed being in isolation. “I hate to say I have benefitted from a pandemic, but I have really enjoyed this period of pause and I feel terrible because many have not had it as easy as me”. This feeling Jonathon is describing could be compared to what clinician’s call survivor’s guilt.
 
In an interview with Lifeline WA, Dr Chris Hepworth, a clinical psychologist and supervisor at Psychology on Welwyn, explained survivor’s guilt as someone feeling bad for having survived a life-threatening situation when others have not, and either have died or have been badly affected by it. ABC Australia discusses more about survivor’s guilt and COVID-19 here.

I recognise this and experience discomfort around this. I am excited to see Western Australia recover and have loved catching up with friends, getting back to the gym, and starting to socialise again. Whereas my family living in Ireland are still experiencing the threat of contracting COVID-19 acutely and their social life consists entirely of a supermarket trip.
 
Working past it

Dr Hepworth provided some advice about what we can do when experiencing these feeling of guilt.
 
Try to be sensitive and mindful about the language we use when discussing personal experiences with others and be respectful of their reactions. This is to avoid spikes in feeling guilty.
 
Remember that modifying your life and implementing benefits can often be the best recovery from traumatic events. This is not something to feel guilty about and is something that can be shared.
 
If you are feeling a strong sense of guilt, it can be important to pause and acknowledge that we are feeling that emotion, but also realise that we have not done anything to feel guilty about. This might take some time to sink in, so take the time you need to be kind to yourself.
 
We acknowledge that it can be challenging to recover from our own experiences around COVID-19 as well as the different rates of recovery around the world. Checking in with loved ones on a regular basis and showing that you are there for support is useful in staying connected and can help diminish your feelings of guilt.

According to Dr Hepworth, being sensitive to life and enjoy life is beneficial for our overall well-being, alongside implementing lessons that we have learnt from this time.

If you feel as though feelings of guilt are no longer in manageable bounds, please reach out to someone you feel comfortable talking to, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or reach out to a health professional, and work through any thoughts or feelings that come up for you together with them.

Image Credit: Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash