Utah therapist says surviving ‘survivor’s guilt’ may be question of calling it what it is – trauma

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) The suicide of a Parkland school shooting survivor may be linked to survivor’s guilt she felt more than a year after the massacre that left 17 of her peers dead, according to her mother. 

Sydney Aiello died last week by suicide. Another Parkland school shooting survivor also took their life, as well as the father of one of the young victims of the 2014 Sandy Hook School shooting. 

With regards to survivor’s guilt, one Utah doctor is cautious about the term. 

Dr. Douglas Goldsmith said survivors of traumatic experiences, though they may feel genuine remorse if others perish, are really experiencing regular trauma. 

They are better off saying ‘I suffered trauma and I need help putting this together and I need treatment,’ said Goldsmith. We don’t have treatment for survivor’s guilt…we do have a lot of treatment for trauma.

Goldsmith, a psychologist who works often with children, said underdeveloped brains sometimes have trouble processing trauma. He said witnesses to horrific events, even if they did not lose their lives, should still consider themselves victims of trauma and should proceed to treat it as trauma. 

A critical goal is to understand what happened to me and to put it into context, said Goldsmith, who recommended talking to a licensed therapist for survivors of all kinds of trauma from being a witness to a mass shooting to being a witness of abuse or domestic violence. 

In some ways ‘survivor guilt’ minimizes that fact that I’m a trauma victim, said Goldsmith. When I say ‘survivor guilt’ do I feel bad that I survived? That takes away from the fact that I was in a traumatic situation…what do I do with that now?

Surviving a trauma is about being able to create a life narrative that I use to make sense of the horrible thing that happened to me, said Goldsmith. He suggested trauma survivors get involved in a cause that could help them make sense of the painful experience. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests trauma survivors stick to a routine, take a break from the news or other media about the traumatic event and create critical self-care habits. See more on this here

Last year, a Utah survivor of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that claimed the lives of 58 people said many people who experienced that horrible event suffered from survivor’s guilt. Kristi Schreiber of Coalville told us then she was choosing to go on in memory of the people who perished in that shooting. 

When we feel like we want to give up and wanna give in and just be done. It’s then when they say No, you can’t give in you can’t be done. You have to go on to live the life that we’re not there to live. Schreiber said.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

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