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Does Kevin on This Is Us Have Survivor Guilt?

This Is Us: On Survivor Guilt and Why I Kind of Understand Kevin Now

Kevin Pearson's character on This Is Us has bothered me from the beginning, across all decades on the show. All Kid Kevin does is whine about not getting as much attention as Kate and Randall do, and all Teen Kevin does is whine about not being as talented or smart as Kate and Randall are. Adult Kevin, while a little less whiny, is basically just that superhot, successful guy who will take you on a date but talk about himself the entire time. He's still desperate for attention, and he still doesn't feel quite as settled as his siblings. Even his battle with addiction and his downward spiral — though beautifully performed by actor Justin Hartley — rubbed me the wrong way.

Suffice it to say, Kevin has always annoyed me; but after the house fire episode, I'm beginning to understand him. This week, we finally found out how Jack Pearson dies on This Is Us, and it sheds a whole new light on how each of the Pearson kids has struggled to deal with their dad's passing. Thanks to Jack's heroic actions, Teenage Kate and Randall — along with their mom, Rebecca, and the family dog, Louie — make their way out of a massive house fire. Missing from the tragedy is Kevin, who happens to be spending the night with his girlfriend (and future ex-wife) Sophie. While his family members are literally fighting for their lives in the fire, Kevin is busy hooking up in a car at some romantic woodsy location after he and Sophie sneak out of her house.

We already know that Kevin lives with the guilt of never having had the chance to apologize to his dad for his sh*tty behavior before he dies, but recently I realized that he's likely dealing with a lot more than that. Kevin also carries a heavy load of survivor guilt as the sole family member who wasn't in the fire.

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The term "survivor guilt" is something I first heard when I was 16 while sitting in a therapist's office. It was about two weeks after I was in a car crash that killed one of my best friends, and though my physical scars had healed, I was in a deep depression. I was filled with grief, rattled by flashbacks, and disgusted by the fact that I had lived when my friend had not. I convinced myself that I should have died instead; I thought about how much easier it would have been for everyone and genuinely believed that I didn't deserve to be there.

The therapist told me I had severe post-traumatic stress disorder with symptoms of survivor guilt, which is quite common in people who have survived things like war, natural disasters, illnesses, and accidents. It also presents itself in those who feel ashamed about not being there at the time of an accident, especially if they feel like they could have done something to save the person that died.

Because of this, I can see why Kevin has some of the feelings, behaviors, and struggles that he does as an adult. He craves adoration and seeks approval from both the public (in his job as an actor) and his loved ones, almost as a way to help convince himself that he deserves to be here. Kevin could suffer from survivor guilt about not being with the rest of his family during the fire for a few reasons: he may think that he could have helped them escape (though his leg injury certainly would have inhibited him a bit); he may wish he could have provided more emotional support on the scene; and he could just feel, well, left out.

Since childhood, Kevin has felt that he doesn't have the same bond with his parents that Kate and Randall do, and now they all have this shared experience — however traumatic — that strengthens their relationship without him. After all, they made it out of a burning building together while he was hanging out with his girlfriend, and they were able to see Jack before he died. It's a lot to have weighing on you. It could also explain why Kevin is always so concerned with the amount of involvement Rebecca has in Kate and Randall's lives in comparison to his own — he could believe deep down that she loves or cares about them more because of the connection they have to the fire.

However irrational those feelings of guilt may be, they are often a necessary part of grieving and may not ever go away. Though it's been decades since my crash, I still occasionally grapple with those emotions. Hopefully, as This Is Us continues, Kevin will get a chance to acknowledge and work on that piece of the puzzle, and I'll soften my stance on his character. He definitely deserves to be here.

Image Source: NBC
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