The People You Would Leave Behind

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Suicide grief

“I’m a burden. They’ll be better off without me.”

“They’ll get over it.”

“Nobody will care that I’m gone.”

Do you tell yourself any of these things? Many people who think of suicide do. In fact, a leading expert in suicide research, Thomas Joiner Jr., PhD, writes that seeing yourself as a burden to others is a necessary condition for suicide to occur. 

I have to tell you, these sorts of statements are lies. Suicide is tricking you.

Depression falls for such tricks, and so do stress, intense shame, self hatred, and other feelings related to suicide. They cause irrational thoughts. Distorted thoughts. Thoughts that simply are not true – like that suicide is the only way out, or that a loved one will not care if you die or will easily get over it.

Suicide’s Lies

The biggest lie is that there is no way to end the pain except for suicide. Suicidal people get locked into this unlit closet in their head where, alone and suffering, they see only the darkness surrounding them. They forget that the closet is in a house with many more rooms, rooms without instruments of mental torture and isolation, perhaps even some rooms filled with sunshine and hope.

Another big lie is that people will be better off without you, or that they will not care. I recently heard a psychiatrist, Michael Bostwick, M.D., say that, in addition to killing its victim, “Suicide is always something done to other people.” I tell you this not to cause guilt or to convince you that you should stick around purely for the sake of other people. Rather, I say this to point out that what you tell yourself – what suicide tells you when it beckons – may well be false.

Are Other People Enough?

I am not condemning suicide as selfish or scorning people who die by suicide. If you are starving to death, is it selfish to do everything you can to get food? If you are being tortured, is it selfish to do what you can to escape?

When someone is in abject pain, their overriding need is to end the pain. They must think of themselves first, to stop hurting. And in the process, their thoughts deceive them, telling them that the only way to end their pain is death, and that the effects on others will be forgotten or slight.

Challenging the Lies

The question is, do you pay equal attention to the other side of possibility? That is, if you view suicide as neutral or even positive to others, do you also entertain the idea that you might be wrong?  

After realistically taking into account others’ pain, you may still decide that you cannot stay alive for others, that your own pain is too great to bear. If so, I hope you will consider that other ways exist to rediscover relief, hope, meaning, or whatever else will keep you alive.

For Those Who Think, with Guilt, of Those They Would Leave Behind

Unlike people who minimize the effects that their suicide would have on others, you might be all too aware of the devastation your suicide would wreak. And then you may feel all the worse for considering suicide as an option. But still suicide beckons, whether you want it to or not.

This is the nature of suicidal thoughts – the thoughts cannot be turned off through sheer will, just as nobody can will himself or herself to not have a heart attack or cancer. So, please, try not to blame yourself for the suicidal thoughts that come to you. At the same time, please keep in mind that you need not believe everything that suicide promises.

© Copyright 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All rights Reserved. Written For: Speaking of Suicide

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Note: I revised this post on June 10, 2013, after receiving input from Barb Hildebrand, a certified grief recovery specialist who runs the Facebook page Suicide Shatters. She expressed concern that my original post would inflict guilt in suicidal individuals by emphasizing that their suicide would hurt others. Such was never my intent. Instead, my intent was to show that beliefs about others’ reactions might well be wrong – what, in clinical terms, are called cognitive distortions. I hope that this revised post better illustrates my points.

For more information on how distorted thoughts can feed suicidality, see the excellent book by Susan Rose Blauner: How I Stayed Alive While My Brain was Trying to Kill Me.

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  1. uknzoz says:

    To say people would care is often a lie.

    Many people die and rot, their body is only found months, or even years, later.

    Ask any undertaker they will tell you there are many funerals where no one even knows the identity of the corpse.

    Many… many people go missing each year, some have just moved others have been murdered … they are never reported as missing because they have no one to notice.

    Sure some people do have people around who would care if they died, but many people would simply slip into dust unnoticed. There are others where people would be pleased if they were dead, they treated them with contempt and indifference while they were alive so would sneer at their death.

    This type of article is offensive and dishonest.

  2. Colin says:

    I’m happy to leave this life, not saddened, but the thought a blissful one! Peace/nothing to think or do, no longer exist!
    I worked hard all my life and tired of the day to day struggle, yes planned things and getting my house in order, to the point of all my rubbish cleared from the garage, paperwork up to date, will or that sort of thing.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The world is better without me I wish I were dead, no one will care they will live their lives better

  4. Doug says:

    Am 54 years old and was laid off from a job in July I thought was secure. Just had 11 more years to retirement but now I fear due to age bias I will never work again.Have become hopeless and depressed and think about suicide everyday. My Dr treats me with anti-depressants and my family and friends want me to live but am in so much pain and hurt over my job loss and at times death seems a better option that to live in constant sadness
    and fear about my financial future Stacey I don’t know what to do. You say life is worth living but I feel so lost and just want to my hurt and pain go away.

  5. eyaru2 says:

    I have no escape. Because I have to push myself into mentally and physically tiring situations to earn the money I need for counseling. So basically I have to work a job, get triggered and beaten down by my thoughts, to earn money to see a doctor. Basically in order to get help I have to willfully torture myself. I want to write so much more. Tell whoever might stroll by my life story. Pour my heart out but I just can’t. I am not well in this world. I am behind the social curve, weak in body… I just want it all to stop.

  6. Anonymous says:

    So I debated on commenting, but here it goes. My life has been very uneventful. The only thing that is wonderful is my 8 year old son. I love him dearly. Recently I have been having major anxiety and depression. My son is my whole world and my existence. My sons father has taken my son away from me and so I feel worthless. I have suicidal thoughts. I have no where to live and when I have spoken to my mother about these issues, she has pretty much told me that she can’t do anything about it. She tells me that I have always had problems, and that she and my dad are old and not in good health. My oldest brother passed away going on 3 years ago, and I think about him everyday. I miss him so much. It has made me start thinking why should i be alive.

  7. Danielle says:

    I’m seriously thinking about suicide. I’m all alone. If I died today nobody would know me or claim me. I have no family or friends. I lived in and out of shelters for 8 years since I aged out of foster care. I rent a room and have been kicked out houses more than 30 times. I can’t keep a place to live for more than 2 months. I can’t get, keep a job. I live on disability. I’m 27 years old. I have severe mental health problems. My life is in constant turmoil and I’m not a productive member of society. This is living hell for me. Walking outside in nyc is a depressing. I truly understand why people commit suicide. I really do. I also believe it’s unfair for me to live life like this. I’ll end up in potter’s field in hart island. For anyone reading this just know that some people really are living in hell. A hell you have no idea. Some people reading this have things that I’ll never have. Everyone has more than me. I have nothing. My life is a waste. It’s selfish to be alive keeping myself in this much pain.

  8. John Morrell says:

    Suicide is not an entity. “It” has no thoughts or ambitions; no desire to “trick” anyone. Your childish attempt to anthropomorphize suicide into a sinister villain (no doubt with horns, cloven hooves and a pitchfork) exposes the shallow bankruptcy of your thinking.

    Abandon the idea that every person who contemplates suicide is defective. While it may be true in the vast majority of cases, it is plainly not true in every case. Your efforts should be directed at distinguishing those who are in possession of their faculties from those who are not, and helping the latter.

    Leave the rest of us alone, if you don’t mind.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The suicide hotline is worthless

    • Wyatt says:

      My realization: Society has defined purposes that are completely illusionary to what life should be about. I’m about to be a fourth year mechanical engineering student. I have been philosophical in nature. Throughout my life, I have come to realization about the lies that are fed to us by every single person in life. Our world is only an illusion, created by our own brains. I was raised as a Catholic. I have come to realization that religion is just another way for our brains to lie to themselves to keep them sane from the lie we’re already living. We go to school just to become professionals in jobs that were created from these illusions. An illusionary media that feeds the fire of lies; an illusionary goal that we follow creates an illusionary path that we must follow. To say that we do not need this illusionary path is ignorant, as you as just following a path that I’ve created. You see? We live in a world where we lie to ourselves to keep us from reaching negativity, especially truth. Even it I keep trying to live this lie, I will only suffer. There will never be a point in time, when I’ll look at this lie, and I see something positive. It is not God who saved this passengers on that plane. It was the pilot who saved those passengers. Illusion of the obvious

    • Anonymous says:

      I also agree with this

  10. ANSWERS says:

    I just need to know the financial responsibilities and burdens that are required by federal, state, city, etc that the family must take care of once the suicide action has already taken place???

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Answers,” I don’t understand your question, because suicide is no different than any other death in terms of the affairs that must be put in order afterward. But the important thing I see in your words is that you are thinking through all the details for suicide. Assuming your question is reference to your own planning, I urge you to talk with someone. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at any time, at 1.800.273.8255 (TALK). I also list places to call, text, or chat online for help, on the Resources section of this website:

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’m looking for help please. I used to love my life.

    Money problems are my issue.

    I have a disabled wife that can never work.

    Her adult son that is living with us is retarded and can’t get a job and will be here for life.

    I now have “brain fog” and can’t do my job properly

    Medical bills just keep adding up at about $100,000 right now and add up to about $1,000 per month.

    Money has been is draining quickly over the pas 10 years ( about $600,000 )

    I feel that I want to end it all soon just to get out of this nightmare

  12. Mooneyn says:

    I have had suicidal thoughts lately…but I can’t tell my parents because they are already struggling as my father put it “This is your fault.” which I’m not saying it isn’t but those words hit me hard and I thought about throwing myself out of a moving vehicle I felt so bad. But he doesn’t know how I’m feeling so I can’t blame him. And I can’t talk to a psychiatrist because it’s too expensive. I also don’t want to tell my mom or my brother because it would make them worry because they love me so much. My dad too but I feel so conflicted right now it’s hard to find the words to say that’s why this is a massive run-on sentence. I just can’t help the way. I feel I just…I don’t know anymore. It’s not like I’ll actually do it. I’m too much of a worthless brat to do it and I just like to whine instead of fixing my mentality.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Here’s the reality of what suicide does: those you want to hurt least will be traumatized for the rest of their lives; those you want to hurt most will feel vindicated by your decision; the burdens you felt you couldn’t cope with become the burdens of those who loved you most; and your memory will be desecrated to everyone.

    It’s been more than 10 years since my dad’s suicide. I will have to suffer with the consequences of his suicide for the rest of my life. His suicide shredded the family. It is the sucker punch that continues to leave me periodically trying to catch my breath.

    • the dog says:

      And perhaps this is the problem. You’re thinking of yourself, and not of his plight. Nobody thought of him.

  14. Hopeless and invisible says:

    “Many people who think of suicide hate themselves, or think they are a bad person, or think they deserve to die. So “guilting them” about how they would hurt others could cause shame or guilt that is not constructive.” EXACTLY. So many people have hung on and endured their hell far longer than most “healthy” people could ever imagine only because they didn’t want to cause that pain and guilt in their loved ones that you describe. Recognize it for the desperate act that it is. It may seem selfish to you but unless you’ve been there, you can’t pass judgement.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Excellent points, “Hopeless and Invisible.” Thank you for sharing!

  15. Randall P. Robinson says:

    We are worried that your post might “inflict guilt in suicidal individuals by emphasizing that their suicide would hurt others.” Really?! Perhaps, suicidal individuals might just need a good healthy dose of reality to deter them from their act. If saddling my late son with a moment of hesitancy in considering the effect that his suicide would have on the entire family, then I’m all for it. Instead, I am the one left with the never-ending guilt over, perhaps, not having done enough to have prevented the death of my 15 year-old son. I’m quite convinced that he never gave any serious thought to the devastating consequences that his death would have on his family and friends. I have forgiven him for not giving adequate thought or consideration to the hurt he would cause others by indulging him the benefit of the doubt in assuming that he was too locked in his own inner pain to be able to see beyond it; but, in my judgment, we should do everything in our power to convince suicidal people that their voluntary departure will be welcomed by no one and will, instead, inevitably burden them with the same kind of suffering that their loved one seeks to escape.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Randall, thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry to hear about your 15 year old son. The consequences are indeed devastating, both for the youth who die by suicide and the families and friends who must now deal with their feelings of intense pain, guilt, anger, and more.

      You bring up very good, very painful points. If a person’s love for others serves as a deterrent to their suicide, if they do worry about the legacy of grief, guilt, and suffering they would leave their loved ones, then by all means, that deterrent should be emphasized. Whatever works!

      The problem comes when somebody is, as you put it so well, “too locked in his own inner pain to be able to see beyond it” and reminders of how they would hurt others make them feel even worse, not deterred but even more resolved to die. Many people who think of suicide hate themselves, or think they are a bad person, or think they deserve to die. So “guilting them” about how they would hurt others could cause shame or guilt that is not constructive (e.g., “How could I even think of doing that? I’m a bad person.”) On the other hand, for many people that guilt or concern is constructive – it keeps them alive. So it is a delicate balance.

      My goal in this article was to balance reality (people care about you more than you can realize right now, don’t believe otherwise, they will be hurt) with empathy (you are hurting desperately, and your pain is so great that you are thinking only of ending your pain). Again, it is a delicate balance!

    • Moe says:

      I agree we need to hear that we are really loved and needed and will be missed. I know for my 3 times, I just thought (honestly felt) that I was more trouble to anyone than I was worth. Why stick around and keep making those I love miserable?

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Moe, you put into words very well the things that suicide wants people to believe – that family and friends will be better off without you. Were you able to check out your convictions with those you felt you were making miserable?

      It is in fact very hard for loved ones to watch as someone endures suicidal thoughts, perhaps even attempts suicide, perhaps even makes multiple suicide attempts. But it is the *illness* or *situation* that trigger suicidal thoughts – not the person who is their victim – that are causing misery.

      Thank you for sharing. Your words speak well to the ideas that suicidal people can have that, sadly, they are nothing but a burden to others. It is certainly important to convey to individuals who consider suicide that they are loved and valued, without implying (or directly stating) that they should feel guilty and are selfish for wanting to die.

  16. Laura says:

    I have been struggling with this myself for it seems like a long time. I’ve been on meds, through therapy, and some things have helped but I think stress is a major factor for me.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hi Laura, I’m sorry to hear you’ve been struggling for a long time. It’s hard! I hope that meds or therapy (or both) have provided some help. Stress is a big factor. Do you try any meditation or relaxation techniques? Jon Kabat Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program could be helpful. He and others have books on MBSR on, including the book called (appropriately enough) A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. If you have tips for others about what you’ve found helpful, please feel free to share!