Survivor Syndrome

The term “survivor syndrome” refers to the set of symptoms that people experience after being exposed to persecution, whether that was torture, coercion, cruelty, or constant fear and helplessness. William Niederland has been writing about this phenomenon since the 1960s.  He describes symptoms that we now associate with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Here are some elements of the survivor syndrome:

  1. Chronic or recurrent states of depression, withdrawal, isolation – all marked by outbursts of rage.
  2. Sharp, indelible memories that cannot be erased.
  3. Wordless sadness.
  4. Anxiety because of fears that the persecution will return.
  5. Alterations in a sense of identity, both psychological and physical.
  6. Survivor guilt and unresolved grief.
  7. Vulnerability as seen in psychic tension or torment.

It is easy to miss ‘survivor syndrome’ or minimize the severity because, after all, haven’t these people escaped the persecution?  Aren’t they the lucky ones?  Tomorrow’s post describes “survivor guilt.”

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