“It’s so normal to experience survivor’s guilt,” said Tali Berliner, a licensed clinical psychologist in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who specializes in grief. The question, she said, is how to transform those feelings into a force that helps the survivor move forward, rather than trapping them in the past.
One way to do this is by writing down your own experiences during the pandemic, a form of therapy Emily Esfahani Smith, an author and clinical psychology doctoral candidate, described in a recent guest essay for The Times.
“Storytelling can be a useful tool. To begin, you might write down your pandemic story, identifying its key themes,” Ms. Esfahani Smith wrote. And when you’re ready, “you can spend time thinking about your story of the future. As you come out of the pandemic, what sort of life do you want to lead? What sort of person do you want to become?”
This writing doesn’t need to be for public consumption: Social media isn’t great at providing the nonjudgmental space that experts say is most conducive to healing.
Dr. Berliner recommends reframing the question, “Why was I spared?” to “How can I use the fact that I was spared?” and leverage that into doing something meaningful. That could be volunteering for an organization that’s working for change you believe in, being present for the people you love or allowing yourself to enjoy and appreciate the activities that bring you a sense of well-being: a walk, a book, a conversation with a friend.
Guilt alone doesn’t make anything better; it doesn’t bring anyone back. Its value, experts say, is in directing our attention to what truly matters to us.
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