People tend to think a lot in the time after a traumatic event, and it is common to think about what one should or could have done differently. Shame and difficulty accepting actions and thoughts during the event can make it difficult to feel relief over one’s survival as well as help process the event afterwards. Survivor guilt is also linked to a sense of responsibility. We feel most responsibility for those we love, however, we also have a sense of responsibility towards our fellow human beings. After a traumatic event like 22 July 2011, this sense of responsibility can lead to feelings of guilt, even though preventing what happened had been impossible.
During the terror attack on Utøya, the youths had to make many quick decisions to save their own lives and to help others, for instance, whether to run or hide, stay with others or flee alone. According to ‘the Utøya study’ conducted by the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (Nasjonalt kunnskapssenter om vold og traumatisk stress, NKVTS), one of five Utøya survivors reported that they were often troubled by guilt while slightly fewer reported feelings of shame. Although none of those caught up in the terror attack could have prevented it, many of them thought that they could have done more to change the course of events.
Dyb, G. & Jensen, T.K. (ed.) (2019). Å leve videre etter katastrofen. Stressreaksjoner og oppfølging etter traumer. Oslo: Gyldendal.
Lauvås, N. & Lindgren, R.M.B. (2015). Etter sjokket. Traumatisk stress og PTSD, Oslo: Aschehoug.