“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.
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.