Survivor Guilt for siblings who are still alive but permanently damaged?


I have siblings who I haven't seen in literal decades. Some of them are badly disordered. One of my brothers is schizophrenic; we've had one coherent conversation in the past 20 years. My family is a wasteland of drug abuse, homelessness, gang involvement, partners dead or in prison, etc. These days I'm pretty much in a state of No Contact.

My counselor has me meditating with emotional music for heart work. I was listening to Les Miserables. Empty Chairs at Empty Tables wrecked me. I suddenly starting crying about my siblings. Even now as I type this I can't stop the tears, which is super unusual for me. Guess the emotion therapy is working.

Anyway, my point is, I don't want to belittle Survivor Guilt. Am I feeling a form of that, or is this something else?

Crap. Hubby will leave work soon and I'm sitting here crying. This therapy kills my vibe! Hope I'm not awake half the night.


gentle empathy, elanor. i'm going through a round of these boo-hoos, myself. by whatever name, it sucks.

survivor syndrome/guilt is one of my formal dx's. the shrink who bestowed me that honor said it was the root of my "super hero syndrome" which had me constantly trying to rescue people. here is a list of system i copied from a quick internet search.

Signs that you are experiencing survivor's guilt include:

Flashbacks or nightmares taking you back to the event.
Having your mind consumed by thoughts about what happened.
Having constant thoughts of not doing enough.
Being irritable or angry.
Having trouble moving past what happened.

personally, i think of the crying jags as grief for all that has happened and all that will never be. i still stand by my decision to estrange myself from by birth family 40 odd years ago, but it still feels like i've lost important parts of myself. sigh. . . sometimes a limb must be sacrificed for the survival of the tree.


You and I must be on the same vibe today. Out of the 8 siblings, 5 of us are still living. I'm the youngest. I know for sure only one of my siblings did not abuse me, yet I feel no ill will or negativity toward any of them. We all grew up under the same conditions and with the same terrible parents. I can't and won't blame them for the circumstances of their birth. I know they all must have stories similar to mine, but I was the youngest...the child no one wanted and the one they took their fury out on.

Recently a nephew I haven't seen in decades reached out to me. My angel sister - the one who never abused me, chose me to be the maid of honor in her wedding, bought me my first brand new two-wheel bike (not a hand-me-down), and showered me with kindness and gifts - had gone into assisted-living with Alzheimers. During my college years I discovered there was a reason for her kindness to me that made me love her more. In spite of all that, when I went no contact with my family to protect my children, that had to include her. After our parents' deaths, all our siblings followed my example and all communication halted among all of us.

Survivors guilt? Can you have survivor's guilt if this pain is a family legacy? That isn't surviving...until the chain is broken. I made sure MY family was different. Did I succeed? If I keep going with my diary that is one thing I will probably talk about. Victor's guilt? I need to think about that...

Anyway, why we are on the same vibe? I've been seriously thinking all day about contacting my most abusive sister. We have had extremely little contact in over 30 years. I know she hasn't changed. My nephew you reached out to her, too, and she was awful to him. But I am not that scared little girl she used to know...who cowered at her insults, worked for a crumb of her approval (that never came), served her as a slave, and existed as her doormat. It would be an interesting exchange as who we are today.

My birth family is also a wasteland of alcohol, drugs, mental illness, and dysfunction. You and I are doing something to improve our lives. That is nothing to feel guilty about. 💜


but it still feels like i've lost important parts of myself
I can relate to this ^^, and something akin to the grief of empty chairs. And for me I think because of the juxtaposed connotation of family, and loyalty, my own personal responsibilty, perhaps the value it had in my heart and my longing for it, which will never exist or be fulfilled. The hole that has no bottom.


I wasn't sure if it made more sense to post this in this thread or in your diary. Last night's insomnia had me researching this topic which is one I hadn't given much thought to until you brought it up. I've felt more like an escape artist than a survivor. But, if I ponder this even for a short time , out of the eight children who were raised on that toxic environment, I AM the survivor. BUT after late night contemplation I realized my life turned out differently because of choices - both conscious and unconscious - that I personally made for myself. Each of my siblings could have done the same. I was the one who suffered the most hideous abuse...had the most abusers. Yet, until chronic physical pain entered my life through the actions of medical professionals, I lived what those who observed me as a "charmed life." Yes, that Before Breakdown Life was wonderful...but it got that way through the actions and decisions I made after escaping that house of horrors. Your siblings, like mine, are responsible for choosing their paths. Even when our DNA leaves us without the best hope from the gene pool, we can still search out help, support, and make wise choices. It's more about living successfully than surviving.

One article I read said. "Survivor's guilt is misplaced blame." In your diary I said pretty much the same thing. Instilling in us and teaching us the necessary life skills is the responsibility of our parents. They are the ones who prepare us for the adult decisions we will make for ourselves. That is where the "guilt" rests. Do not blame yourself.


Something everyone I see that has PTSD has trouble with in one way or another.

Time distortion and somehow trying to go back and fix the past with what they know now. Myself included.

You can't do it. My answer is: It Is. I can't fix it. I can't change things for those people. I survived - by putting one foot in front of the other and moving on, every day. I did what I needed to do to be where I am - and everyone had opportunities to make decisions. THEY make those decisions. No one else can make those decisions for them. Their decisions led them to where they are.

And despite being damaged by PTSD, your decisions led you to where you are. There is no guilt in making good decisions.


It qualifies! I think survivor's guilt has two forms - the first is literally surviving something where others have died (thus you are stuck grieving their death whilst not comprehending your survival) - and the second is having survived something where you experience grief for the other people involved regardless of if they are alive or not.

Having both versions of this, for me the grief is all amalgamated together - "everyone" vs myself. Their status is less relevant than that I can clearly identify they have been harmed by their experiences (often times at my own hands, which increases the moral injury/survivor's guilt components exponentially.)

When you look at the others in your family you are grieving their hardships and disadvantages, from the perspective of being a "survivor." But at the end of the day it is important to grieve for our own losses as well - after all, none of us came out of our trauma unscathed.