Do You Blame Yourself for Thinking of Suicide?

Blame Self for Suicidal Thoughts

“I had no idea what I had done to you, although I should have known it in retrospect. So I guess now is a good time to say I am sorry, although it is about 19 years too late.”

Those words came from a dear friend of mine who went through a prolonged suicidal crisis almost 20 years ago. With her permission, I have written a couple of articles on this site about her (The Woman who Lived in a Tipi and “You Can’t Do Everything”: Limitations in Helping a Suicidal Person).

In one article, I described my impossible wish to protect her at all times from suicide. I wrote, “…I was left with this feeling of abject helplessness, this recognition that she might kill herself, and also this sudden acceptance that ultimately I could not control if she died by suicide.”

I asked her to read the article before I published it online, in case she had any problems with it. After she read it, I asked, “Did you know that I had come to that realization about you and how helpless I was? It was a very humbling experience.”

I had just read an interview with Thomas Joiner, PhD, the acclaimed psychologist who wrote the book Why People Die by Suicide. He describes the mental illnesses and suffering that lead to suicide as “forces of nature.”

“I was humbled by that force of nature,” I told my friend.

And her response to me was the apology I wrote above.

Why Apologize? 

Imagine if she had been stung by a bee and had suffered an allergic reaction requiring a frantic trip to the emergency room. Now imagine that the drugs the doctors gave her were not helping, and I felt tremendously helpless to save her. Would she feel the need to apologize 19 years later for what she had “done” to me?

That is the sad, tricky thing about suicidal thoughts. They come from within you, so you may mistake them for you. They are not you. As I have written previously, suicidal thoughts and actions are a symptom that something is wrong, just like a fever or acute physical pain lets you know that you need to stop, rest, take care of yourself, figure out why and where you are hurting, seek support from others, and perhaps get professional help.

If you think of suicide, it is not because of you or your personality. Instead, it is because of something akin to a disorder of the blood or the heart. Something you did not ask for. Something you did not choose. Something you did not cause.

No Apologies

For that reason, when my friend apologized, I told her, “No no no – you did not do anything to me. That was why I said that about the force of nature. It did that to me. And you were its victim far, far more than I. No apologies necessary!”

And I say the same to you. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you do not deserve blame, judgment, or shame for your suicidal thoughts or actions. You have done nothing wrong. Instead, the blame belongs to “forces of nature.”

© 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com

Photo purchased from Fotolia.com.

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

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  1. illydent says:

    I REALLY APPRECIATE YOUR ARTICLE WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE NOW YOUR SOURCE OF HOPE AND LIFE LOVING.I HOPE I COULD HELP PEOPLE WHO SUFFER OF THIS NIGHTMARE AND GUIDE THEM FROM THE DARK TO THE DAYLIGHT SHOW THEM THAT LIFE IS NOT A PARADISE BUT NOT A HELL AS WELL. I KNOW SOME SUICIDAL PEOPLE AND THE IDEA OF LOSING THEM IS HAUNTING AND THAT MAKES ME FEEL SOMETIMES DEPRESSIVE. MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND GOOD LUCK.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      illydent,

      Thank you for your kind words. You can help others by reaching out, listening, and being a friend.

      I’m including the link here of the article you’re referencing, for others who haven’t seen it: A Suicide Therapist’s Secret Past.

  2. Maya says:

    Thank you so much for your gentle easing into this perspective. My boyfriend does not understand my depression and puts so much pressure on me (“How could you”, “you’re so selfish”, etc.). It is not easy to defend myself when the general idea is that suicide is weak and everyone should be shamed for considering it. We must spread your message.

  3. Deborah says:

    Thank you Stacey for your reply. I sometimes wonder why I did it? I know I do feel like a burden to my family because of health issues and I am lonely. I have started calling around for help, but will check out some of the things you brought up. Again, Thank You, Debbi

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      You’re most welcome, Debbi. If you find other information or resources that you think would be of help to others, please let me know and I will post it on the site. I hope that things improve for you. And by the way, if you want to read accounts (or watch videos) of others who have survived a suicide attempt, check out these sites:

      Live Through This

      Stories of Hope and Recovery

      What Happens Now? (This site is no longer being updated, but it has a wealth of good information.)

  4. Deborah says:

    I hope you can help me with this. I recently attempted suicide, 1 week ago, after losing my husband of 25 years to cancer. He lost his battle to cancer Dec.,2013. When I was released from the hospital my daughters (2) and my sister all said they did not want to speak with me again. They are very angry and will not accept my phone calls or text messages. Can you give me some advice on what to say to them. They have been my support systems since losing my husband, Any words of wisdom would help right now, I need them. It is putting me in a deeper depression.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Deborah,

      My heart aches for you. I’m so sorry about the loss of your husband, and on top of that your suicide attempt and rejection by your family.

      Sometimes family members get angry when a loved one attempts suicide because they view the suicide attempt to be “selfish.” If that’s the case here, then maybe it could help them to read the post, “Is It Selfish to Die in a Tornado?” (That is, if they’re willing to read it and to consider another point of view.)

      There are other reasons family members get angry, too. Sometimes they’re upset that their loved one didn’t call them first before attempting suicide. Sometimes they think the person simply “did it for attention.” Sometimes they feel that their loved one must not have loved them if they weren’t worth sticking around for. I think all of these types of judgments are grossly unfair, because the suicidal mind is often irrational, and what makes sense to a rational person might not occur to a suicidal person. Or if it does occur to the person, then the suicidal mind might have some kind of pseudo but very powerful rationalization (e.g., “I don’t want to burden them,” “they don’t care about me,” “I’m not worth it,” etc.)

      In case they don’t come around, I hope you will also look for other supports. Does the hospital where you stayed have a peer support program? If so, that can be a big help. You can also call your local mental health agency to see if they have such a program. Please also check out the Resources page on this site for information about places you can get help by phone, text, online chat, or email.

      Good luck to you, Deborah!

  5. Kath says:

    Thank you. To be honest, most of my attempts were in a partial or full state of dissociation, apart from my first attempt at age 14. There are still so many who talk about it being selfish. I felt I was actually helping my family by taking away the burden which I now understand to be my c-PTSD, but thought was me. I couldn’t bear the flashbacks anymore. My mother tried the guilt trip. Instead I came to a point years later where when I ran into my key nurse I made a point of taking her aside and saying ‘thank u for believing in me when I couldn’t believe in myself’.
    Whilst I wouldn’t choose to put my body through that again, I don’t regret attempting, and I regret life even less. I had a friend use suicide as a threat and said to her to either go and do it or go get help, that I don’t want her to do it but I’m not going to put my life on hold indefinitely to try and stop her (this was after mths of being her key support 24/7). It was her illness manipulating the situation, and with me it was my trauma taking over where it was all action and no words.
    Now, I’m alive, I’m a mother, I’m pregnant with my second child, I’m a qualified professional presently retraining, and my c-PTSD is well managed. It’s been over 7yrs since I last attempted, and it’s a pleasure being alive, and I’ll second that suicidal thoughts and behaviours are not the fault of the person, nor something to be ashamed about…they are a symptom. I will never apologise for something I didn’t choose, but I will thank those who stood by me 🙂

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      What a powerful and inspirational comment, Kath. Thank you so much for sharing. Your comment captures so many aspects of the suicidal experience: the blame that can come from others (and oneself), the helplessness of watching a friend struggle with suicide, the ways that – as you put it so well – illness can manipulate the situation, and, finally, the healing and recovery that can occur.

      You also touched on the being called selfish when, in fact, you wanted to help your family by relieving them of what you perceived to be a burden. Thomas Joiner addresses this, calling the selfishness accusation a myth of suicide. (Someday I will write a post on this!)

      Congratulations on getting to the other side of your crisis. There is that quote, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.” You have kept going. I think your words will be inspirational to people who most need hope at this time in their life. Thank you again.

    • I don't see the point says:

      I don’t feel the need to live but I know that my family wouldn’t care. I blame everyone who has ever left me. I am 13.

  6. E.L. Farris says:

    From all of us who have struggled with ideation, thank you.

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