Survivor’s Guilt of the Economically Untouchable

A News Update

Times have been harrowing for professionals in nearly every field of late. As the unemployment rate rises and media attention to the recession shows no signs of taking a break, workers are finding themselves thrust into a financially unhappy situation at larger numbers every day. It’s perfectly understandable that those laid off from their jobs are susceptible to depression, anxiety, and general feelings of woe, especially in cases of lost retirements and difficulty in securing new employment. Yet those who still retain their positions may suffer too — albeit, for slightly different reasons.

An article recently published in Newsweek follows the tales of a handful of professionals in various disciplines who have kept their jobs amidst the breaking waves of layoffs. From small business owners to academics and regular salaried employees, these people have related that social complications arising from their status have caused a significant amount of anxiety and concern, despite a lack of dire financial circumstances. Specifically, the employed report that interactions with those friends and family members who have been laid off or are feeling the crunch of the crisis particularly hard have become somewhat strained, as those with work and a clean worry slate end up feeling guilty in the face of their loved ones’ woes.

Of course, not all the strain stems from purely social sources. A study conducted last month by researchers with Cambridge University investigated the plight of the layoff survivors. Assessing the mental and psychological well-being of a number of subjects who worked for companies that had performed rounds of layoffs but had kept the subjects themselves, the study discovered that job-keepers suffered symptoms of anxiety and related disorders to a more severe degree than did those who were laid off. Clearly, as the economic slump progresses, care and meaningful interaction, including supportive psychotherapy, can be considered for everyone truly affected, rather than just the overt victims of the crisis.

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ryan


    April 14th, 2009 at 3:40 AM

    My sister has one of those jobs as a nurse at a hospital with a critical shortage so she is being thrown more money and benefits everywhere she turns for them to keep her. While she knows that speaks highly of her and how valuable she is she does keep a lot of this to herself because she has friends around her losing jobs right and left and does not want to make them feel even worse. This does not really seem fair to her as she should be able to celebrate how worthy she is but knows now is not the time to be doing that.

  • Angela


    April 15th, 2009 at 4:09 AM

    Lost my job and I have to admit that it is hard to hear others who talk about their job security and how they are going to ride this storm out. It makes me feel bad to think thoughts like this but just once I wish that some of these people would have to take a walk in my shoes for a while and be a little more sympathetic to the situation that many of us now are finding ourselves in. It is not fun believe me.

  • Shannon


    April 17th, 2009 at 3:51 AM

    I just try to tell myself everyday to be thankful for what I have and to appreciate every opportunity that is thrown my way.

  • Madison


    April 19th, 2009 at 4:15 AM

    I have a job that is very safe and yet it does make me feel very guilty when I hear from others just how hard things are for them right now. This is definitely a scary time and I am pleased that my professional field will probably remain untouched. But that does not mean that I am immune to what is going on for others in the country or that I have no compassion for them. I do. But I cannot help that my field happens to have that job security that is not being affected right now. One day I may be in that same boat but I do not want to have to feel guilty. But I still do becasue that is what everyone seems to imply that I should feel.

  • Debbie


    April 26th, 2009 at 11:15 PM

    My situation gets a little more complicated as my husband, brother, best friend and neighbour have lost their jobs. I am their muse and I cant even tell them that I am upset about the jibes and ridicule as their situation is definitely bad when compared to my feelings.

  • Leon


    April 28th, 2009 at 9:14 PM

    Wow debbie!! I dont want to be in ur shoes girl!! Hey, jus’ one thing to say to you. You didnt issue their pink slip. Stop feeling bad about this and get a loooong arm like elasto girl and wrap it around them. Do your best to help them get back into the job search.

  • Andrea


    April 30th, 2009 at 2:28 AM

    My boyfriend lost his job while I still have mine where we both worked. He is bugging me to quit saying that the organisation was very unethical in using me to tell him about his quitting. I am both guilty and confused and unable to do a good job at work. I am worried my guilt will make me lose mine.

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