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A group of independent counselors serving Kingwood and Houston
Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

Posts Tagged ‘PTSD’

Hurricane Harvey . . . . survivor guilt and numbness

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Some people may be wondering why they are experiencing “survivor guilt”. Some are wondering why they are feeling nothing. The short answer is both are common and expected responses after natural disasters. We are in a period of acute stress. We can’t really call it PTSD yet because not enough time has elapsed for that diagnosis. Both Acute Stress and PTSD are forms of anxiety and grief, but the more serious PTSD means you are stuck in the process. If you are feeling nothing, it is your way of coping, at least for the moment, with the tragedy we are experiencing. Sometimes when things feel too big, we shut it down and section it off as a means of protecting ourselves from the pain. It hasn’t sunk in yet. The numbness is actually somewhat productive in the early stages. Not being weighed down by heavy feelings helps us to kick it into high gear to clean out flooded houses, contact insurance companies, deal with FEMA, etc. The same is true after the death of a loved one. There is a lot to do in planning a funeral, and it is not until we are done with the busy-ness and into the daily routine of our new unwanted reality that we begin to feel. This numbness is why therapists’ offices are dead right now. The phone isn’t ringing like you might think. In about a month or two we will be full to capacity with people who are starting feel the pain and are moving through the stages of grief. Instead of feeling nothing, many of you have the unwanted feeling of survival guilt or “why was I spared when so many others are suffering?”. It is also a normal reaction and part of the acute stress process. There are different types of survivor guilt that have varying intensity and duration. For example, if you were the only person to survive a plane crash, your guilt would be much more intense. Or you would have a lot more to work through if you were somehow responsible for the tragedy, like being the driver of a car that crashed and all your passengers died. But neither of these situations apply to this natural disaster. What people are experiencing now is feeling guilty for feeling relieved that it is not them. You might be worried that you have some deficiency in your character for feeling this way. Some people also struggle with WHY they were spared. Why did the water stop right at my doorstep when my neighbor’s house was destroyed? Try to understand that you are capable of feeling two feelings at the same time. You can feel relief as well as compassion for your struggling neighbor. It’s not an either/or situation. And it is normal to not want to feel the pain we see others experiencing. We all have felt pain and loss because they are universal feelings, and we don’t want others to feel that way, so we feel guilty. I don’t know that we ever understand the WHY of such tragedies, but I do know that to cope it helps to dive in and helping others alleviate their pain. It helps us to channel our guilt into something positive. If you are struggling with survivor guilt please understand that it is a normal part of the acute stress process, but if it becomes too intense or persists too long you may need to seek professional help. When the emotional storm from Harvey hits, local therapists will be available to help, and please note that some services are free of charge. For more information, please check out the resources on our website.


Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates

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Suite 106
Kingwood, Texas 77339
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