Many people desperately wish to stop their suicidal thoughts. Often, this is possible. You might be able to eliminate suicidal thoughts by healing the depression, stress, hopelessness, self-hatred or whatever forces underlie them.
Yet it might take a while to stop thinking of suicide. For some people, suicidal thoughts just do not stop, or they keep revisiting uninvited whenever bad moods come, no matter how much healing has occurred during good moods.
Fundamentally, we cannot control what thoughts come to us. We can only control how we react to them.
How Do You React to Suicidal Thoughts?
Do you react as though your suicidal thoughts are truth? Because they tell you that you should die, do you believe that you should die?
Do you react as though your suicidal thoughts are a symptom, and nothing else? Because you think of suicide, do you take this as a call to tend to whatever wound creates the thoughts?
I have already written about other ways to react to suicidal thoughts, as well. You can talk back to them, playing the role of defense attorney against the prosecutor in your head calling for the death penalty (as described by David Burns, M.D., in his book Feeling Good).
You can observe your suicidal thoughts mindfully, watching as they pass through your head without feeding them or giving into them.
Another way to react to suicidal thoughts is to soothe yourself by telling yourself what you might tell a close friend or relative in the same situation. Only, this time, you are being a friend to yourself. This coping technique calls for what therapists call “coping statements.”
What Are Coping Statements?
A coping statement is whatever you can tell yourself that will help you to pass safely through the minefield of suicidal thoughts. Examples include:
This will pass.
That is my depression talking, not me.
I will get through this.
Just because my thoughts tell me to kill myself doesn’t mean I really should.
I don’t really want to die, I just want the pain to end.
There are other ways to end my pain, even if I can’t see them right now.
My suicidal thoughts are not rational.
Suicidal thoughts are a symptom, not a solution.
Making Coping Statements Work
There is no limit to the possible coping statements out there. Some websites feature long lists of coping statements, such as this mental health website . You can also find coping statements geared to specific problems, such as anxiety.
The key to using coping statements effectively is to keep repeating them to yourself (silently or not), like a mantra. Some people write their coping statements on sticky notes and leave them on mirrors and doors where they live. Others create “coping cards” with one coping statement or a whole list, and carry them in their wallet.
Repeatedly seeing, saying, or thinking your coping statements will provide a good counterpoint to suicide’s grim yet seductive messages. It also will gradually train your mind to take a more realistic path.
A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Tool
“What you think, you become,” is a powerful statement often misattributed to the Buddha but no less true, regardless of who said it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy operates under the same premise: If you tell yourself the worst will happen, then you will feel anxious and depressed. Tell yourself different things, and you will feel differently. These ideas reinforce the value of talking to yourself with kindness and with intentions to soothe yourself.
Beware of positive thinking or positive affirmations. If you are grossly unhappy with yourself or your life, telling yourself that you are happy will only further rouse the negative thoughts. “No you’re not happy! That’s ridiculous! You are miserable, and here is why.”
Unrealistically positive thinking can hurt. Realistic thinking can help. Rather than telling yourself that you are happy when you actually are miserable or that your life is great when it actually feels awful, it is far more helpful to tell yourself something that you really can believe, such as:
I can’t know that I will feel this way forever.
Based on past experiences, my feelings and situation will probably change.
Life is constantly changing.
I am a work in progress.
Coming Up With Your Own
Although I have thrown out some ideas here, coping statements work best if they really resonate with you. Perhaps some of the coping statements on this page or the websites I provided above do resonate with you. If so, that’s great. If not, try to come up with your own. To do this, ask yourself these questions:
What do I really want someone else to tell me right now?
What would I tell someone else right now who wanted to die by suicide for the same reasons that I do?
What would it help me to tell myself?
What would it help me to truly believe?
I invite you to leave a comment describing what coping statements work best for you!
© 2014 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com
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