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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Survivor's guilt, thriver's guilt and the unbearable lightness of being...

I was talking with a good friend one time about why people feel guilty about being the one who makes it.  By that I mean the one who survives or the one who succeeds vs. the one who passes away or fails.  I see it as "survivor's guilt" and "thriver's guilt" respectively.  We also discussed the concept of "lightness of being"--something which I feel few people ever learn to appreciate or hold onto if they do come to appreciate it.  To me that's a sense of being carefree.

Anyway, I will delve right in by first introducing the concept of guilt over being the one who makes it.
  • Survivor's guilt -  I'm not going to delve into this concept too much as I feel it has been explored.  But when someone close to us passes--naturally or not--especially if they are younger, we feel like we could have helped them somehow, that they didn't 'deserve' to be the one or that somehow we contributed to their passing, it is not uncommon to feel guilt over being the one that is left behind.  Much of the time, the guilt is misplaced:
    • It is easy to second guess how you could have 'helped' another after the fact, when the 'evidence' or problem is more clearly obvious.
    • No one 'deserves' to die per se--except for maybe those convicted of a capital offense. It's a natural part of life however.
    • Even if you somehow contributed, it probably wasn't intentional.
    • It doesn't seem fair that a younger person, especially our kids would go first.

Next comes the person who succeeds and who sees others who have not:
  • Thriver's guilt - This is a term that I thought of.  I'm not sure if it has ever been used before?  Anyway, the concept behind this is that I believe there are successful people who feel guilt over the fact that others around them are not thriving.  It's like they somewhere in the back of their mind they feel that they don't 'deserve' to be doing well, while others are suffering, even if they have done nothing to cause or lead to the suffering of others.  It can be feeling guilty about having opportunities that others did not have.  That is wondering why they are fortunate to have a leg up.  This can persist even if they take the opportunities provided to them and work hard to be successful.   Here are some of my thoughts on 'thriver's guilt'.
    • People have no choice to decide to whom and what situation/circumstances they are born under.  
      • It is proper to be thankful to your Higher Power (God) to be born into a family which is thriving and/or has opportunities.
      • It is proper to want to help or look for opportunities to help the not-so fortunate.
      • It is not proper to feel guilty about being born into opportunities, but instead by grateful and take full advantage of the opportunities you were given.  Guilt over squandering opportunities can be very appropriate.
    • People usually have some amount of choice as to how to deal with the situation or circumstances they are born into (or raised in).
      • In some cases, others are less fortunate due to poor choices they've made.  However, often is the case, that they are less fortunate because they have less opportunities.
      • In some cases, others are more fortunate due to hard work they've done.  They were given the wisdom or had the opportunity to be positively influenced by others in their life.  Therefore, with hard work, they've raised themselves out of a bad situations.  In many cases, they are more fortunate in spite of poor choices they've made. We've heard stories of the kids of rich being rescued, enabled or protected by their parent's money. 
      • Once again, if you've worked hard to succeed regardless of where you started out, there is no reason to feel 'thriver's guilt'.  However, if you've succeeded in spite of yourself, then a little perspective or 'thriver's guilt' isn't a bad thing.
    • If a person has succeeded by working hard and doing right by others, regardless of where in life they started, then it is not appropriate to try to shame them into feeling guilty about their success. Nor is it appropriate shame them into feeling their success is undeserved.  What is appropriate is reminding them that not everyone has the opportunities they had and to remember that and be helpful or charitable where they can.
      • It is not our place to judge others like that.
      • If a person is raised properly, they are more likely to respond when encouraged to be helpful to others than being shamed into being helpful.  
      • Encouraging them to spend time with helping the less fortunate is also a better way to reach their sense of empathy rather than trying to shame them.
      • No one likes to live in shame and even if it works for a while, an eventual backlash is probable. 

Now the final subject, people who are at ease with themselves and their lives/relationships:
  • Lightness of being - When I think of that term, I think about not having a care in the world. In reality, a lightness of being is a place of serenity.  It is a sense of ease in your own skin.  It is a place where you are at peace with your Higher Power (God).
    • It can be a place in our lives that is hard to reach and/or is fleeting. 
      • It can take a lot of effort--praying, meditating, introspecting, pausing to observe.
      • Circumstances happen which lessen or destroy our lightness of being, but we don't have to live or stay in the circumstances, no matter how bad they are.
    • It can be a place we reach not because our life is problem free, but because our perspective has become better.  That is to say, we see the glass as half-full more than we do half-empty.
      • We see our problems are not as big as others or even as we had originally thought.
      • We are able to see a gratitude list in our mind, rather than a list of complaints.
        • Perhaps it is because of misfortunes we've endured and are past.
        • Perhaps it is because we see others with less fortunate circumstances.
    • It can be a place we reach when we see the value we can offer or our significance in life
      • In other words, it is as much spiritual as it is emotional or mental.
      • If we are able to see our role or place in this world, even if it is tough one, we at least have an anchor to hold onto.

I guess my take away from the whole subject is:
  • Survivor's guilt - Is a place that we can visit, but not a healthy place to stay.
  • Thriver's guilt - We shouldn't feel guilty for our success if we've put hard work into it.  Not everyone will succeed to the same level and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is when we  don't appreciate properly and respect our fortune that we need to be reminded of it.  It is important to appreciate the means and/or tools that God blessed us with and to bless him back by helping the less fortunate.
  • Lightness of being - A fleeting place which takes some work to achieve and stay there and is based on our outlook and spiritual well-being as much as anything.

I don't always know if what I write is meaningful or helpful to others and I know everyone's experiences are at least somewhat different.  So, take what helps you from this post and leave the rest for others.  


* I got the title from the novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" which posits some interesting existential questions which I let you click on to explore.

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