“Mightier than the Sword”: Healing from a Spiteful Suicide Note

suicide note

“Mum, I could write to you for days, but I know nothing would actually make a difference to you,” the note begins. “You are much too ignorant and self concerned to even attempt to listen or understand, everyone knows that.”

More hateful words follow, culminating with, “You are a waste of space, ignorant, and a rotten c***.”

A 17-year-old girl wrote this note shortly before she and her boyfriend reportedly killed a police officer and then took their own lives. Such a letter would be hurtful under any circumstances, but as an adolescent’s last words to her mother, it seems especially cruel.

I know nothing about this mother and daughter’s relationship. Perhaps the mother truly hurt her daughter in devastating ways. Perhaps, instead, the daughter’s hatred toward her mother was typical of so many strained relationships between mothers and their adolescent daughters.

Regardless, a hateful suicide note can provoke feelings of embarrassment and guilt, generate intense anger toward the deceased, and complicate the grieving process for the intended target of the note.

Blame and Revenge in Suicide Notes

The adolescent daughter’s suicide note is one of several anger-laced notes that have made the headlines recently. Another is the note of a father who was in a bitter, years-long custody dispute with his ex-wife.

In the father’s long suicide note, which he posted online, he calls his ex-wife a psychopath, states she bullied and emotionally abused him, and blames her father for his “murder by suicide.” (Remarkably, the ex-wife was awarded the copyright for the suicide note and has successfully required many websites to remove it, but other sites have refused to take it down, like this one. )

The actress Julia Roberts’ half-sister Nancy Motes died by suicide in February. Reportedly, she left a long suicide note blaming Julia Roberts for her death. 

Most spiteful suicide notes simply go unreported. They may remain a family secret (or a secret from the family), a source of shame, anger or sadness, whether those emotions are directed at the deceased or at the target of the note. 

A Painful Goodbye

I first wrote about suicide notes (“Unwritten Goodbyes: When There is No Suicide Note”) because of the pain those left behind can experience when there is no note – no final expression of love, no goodbye, no explanation for why the person died by suicide. I neglected to say that while the absence of a suicide note can hurt, the presence of a spiteful suicide note can hurt even more.

If you were targeted in a spiteful suicide note, then you might experience a complex barrage of emotions, depending on the nature of your relationship with the person who died. Two reactions are especially common: Anger toward the deceased, and feelings of guilt.

Anger is understandable, even instinctive. If a person’s suicide note blamed you, then you are under attack. The letter writer, serving as judge and jury, convicted you of wrongdoing without giving you any chance to present a defense. The verdict stands.

At least, it can feel that way. In reality, the suicide note captures the writer’s thoughts and feelings during only one moment in time, a moment that often is clouded by distorted thinking, mental illness, addiction, or other forces of suicide.

Recovering from the Attack

You also might feel terribly hurt by the suicide note’s indictment of you, even more so if you were close to the person who died. The pain of your loss, the intense grief, is compounded by the expression of raw anger. Feelings of guilt often follow, especially if you wish desperately that you could relive events and prevent your loved one from dying.

To place the suicide note in perspective, it can help to ask yourself the following questions:

Do the person’s criticisms accurately reflect the whole of you and your relationship with that person? (Doubtful, but if so, please be sure to read further below.)

Are the person’s criticisms of you highly selective, focusing only on regrettable incidents in your relationship while ignoring the many other aspects of your relationship that were benign or actually happy?

Are you buying into the person’s accusations without defending yourself?

Was suicide a rational response to whatever shortcomings or misdeeds that you are accused of?

It is also important to consider whether you, too, blame yourself for the person’s suicide. As I discuss elsewhere (“If Only: Self-Blame After a Loved One’s Suicide”), many people undeservedly blame themselves after the suicide of a loved one. Sadly, an angry suicide note can feed into your own fears that you failed the person who died.

But What If the Suicide Note is True?

Perhaps the note accurately reports ways that you caused the person pain. Whatever hurtful things you said or did may be justifiable to you, or they may break your heart.

It is impossible not to hurt people from time to time, whether by ending a relationship, saying “no” when a person wants to hear “yes,” loving someone else, expressing needs that a loved one cannot meet, saying words in anger, fighting for what is right, or something else that upsets another person. Causing a person’s pain is not the same as causing a person’s suicide. 

If you inflicted harm in ways that go beyond the normal hurts of life, be careful to distinguish between guilt for your wrongdoings and guilt for the person’s suicide. Short of handing a loaded gun to a psychotic person who you know hears voices commanding him or her to die by suicide, it is extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to cause another person’s suicide.

Even in the case of a vicious ex-spouse, a sadistic bully, or a mother who may have harmed her adolescent daughter, there is no “murder by suicide,” in my opinion. Legions of others have been hurt in the same way, or worse, without ending their life. 

No one person, no one act, and no one event causes suicide. Emotional pain interacts with other forces, such as mental illness, genetic influences, learned behaviors, coping skills, hopelessness, and distorted thoughts.

Keep in Mind…

A suicide note reveals far more about its writer than about anyone else. When a suicide note contains fury, hatred, or blame,  it often reflects how disturbed the person who wrote it was at the time.  

Beneath the person’s anger lay a long well of despair, reaching deep into darkness and isolation. You did not dig this well. Illness did, or stress, or distorted thinking that produced tunnel vision, a view without any options besides death.  

Keeping in mind the person’s disturbed thinking can help soothe your anger toward the person who lashed out at you, as well as your feelings of guilt or self blame. Above all, this awareness can help you heal.

© Copyright 2014 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com

Photo purchased from Fotolia.com

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  1. Olufemi says:

    “Even in the case of a vicious ex-spouse, a sadistic bully, or a mother who may have harmed her adolescent daughter, there is no “murder by suicide,” in my opinion. Legions of others have been hurt in the same way, or worse, without ending their life.”

    Even if I am driving along at 40 mph when the speed limit is 20 mph, I am not to blame if I strike and kill a pedestrian. Plenty of people speed much worse than that all the time- and nobody chooses to walk out in front of them to get killed.

    So no blame for the death, only blame for the speeding lol.

    • GPJ says:

      Thank you. I noticed that too. I’m sorry but even wild animals have been known to commit suicide to try and escape a situation. You can indeed be responsible for suicide and it strains credulity to think you cannot. In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve read that you cannot.

  2. J says:

    What a disgusting load of bullshit. Every narcissistic parent whose child has commited suicide is FULLY RESPONSIBLE for it. But instead you’re like “ohh mental illness did this” and blah blah blah, when those parents ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT MENTAL ILLNESS. And same for every narcissist/psychopath who ruins anyone’s life. And instead you want to pretend the mental illness came out of nowhere and that it was no one’s fault, disrespecting the memory of anyone who has been a victim of these monsters.

    You disgust me.

    • Frank says:

      In many cases the accuser was, as the article points out, I’ll or acting irrationally. However, there are many cases in which such notes are not only justified but should be investigated. You blanket the entire thing with words of comfort for the accused, and are incredibly irresponsible for that. By the same logic any woman raped by her husband who makes the accusation is a whiner and we should comfort the husband. Do you have neither regard nor respect for accountability? Do you not understand the human instinct to survive – something so strong one should always take pause to wonder what kind of anguish must the dead have undergone to have short circuited that instinct? I myself struggle every day to find reason to go through yet another in which my life is on hold as I dangle on the thread of someone’s promises – promises that continually are broken. I am disabled. I cannot survive without at least a bare min of things in constant threat of being taken from me, as if it were a game. My only upside is that person needs my help with a few things. I have cried for help to doctors, friends and written my fingers bloody trying to reason a way that I can survive (I want to live – I just can’t bare the abuse and threats anymore) or at least take my exit without blaming, because everyone says “don’t be a blamer – straighten up man”. But how can I simply vanish knowing that person will get off emotionally Scott free (the person is a narcissist) and will get lots of sympathy for how mean I was by doing this… Seriously!? And they’re delusional enough they’ll be thinking that without any help. Let’s give all the kids gold stars, let’s remove winning or losing from their sports and on and on – it sickens me the culture of zero responsibility we’re engendering, and this is yet one more example. If you slap the dog, you damn well expect to get bit.

    • Olufemi says:

      This entire website is an exercise in covering up and whitewashing. A stark refusal to acknowledge the ugly reality at any cost.

      We really should not expect anything else. I’m sure Stacey is a fine therapist – even if she isn’t a psychiatrist – and she deserves credit for at least talking about these issues openly.

      However, she is also out of her depth. Who is to blame, whether the action was justified or not, and what it means are questions of philosophy, not psychology.

  3. Lili says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I was the victim of a revenge suicide just four weeks ago. It is the most difficult thing I have had to endure in my adult life. At this point I am struggling both mentally and physically each and every day. I hope I get through this…

    • My husband also left a very brief message “for me” which he knew the cops would find first. He killed himself while I was out of town. It made it very clear that his suicide was my fault. The cops even asked me about “the circumstances behind the note.”

      Like the writer above, I hope and pray I’ll survive this. Tonight, I have my doubts. The suicide was horrible enough. The last note has done serious damage.

  4. aleia says:

    No , no one is responsible for anyone ending their life. I agree. I am here to tell you that although my suicide note was kind, thoughtful, and simply asked not to be allowed to live if I ended up brain damaged, I was abused most of my life by paren’ts who simply were emotionally incapable of raising children. I was 23 when I chose to do that. I did in fact, die. I am 57 today. I never chose to do that again, although all the mental health professionals at the time insisted I would , if I were not sent away for a long time. My sister insisted that I come home, and be allowed to recover in my own time. I did, i sought help from therapists who finally knew what they were doing. I am the mother of a wonderful son today. I ended up in a profession that allowed me to help thousands of people over the years, and tomorrow, on my radio show for the first time, I will discuss the stigma, shame, and misconceptions of sucidies. No, of course, a spiteful letter left cannot be taken as fact 100 percent. I am however, weary of hearing about suicide’s as selfish, hurtful, awful people. And, survivor’s are not those who are left behind. They are those who have surivived an attempt. There should be another name for the families and loved ones left behind. My point is this: very healthy famililal relationships do not induce spiteful letters left behind Suicidal people , do not want to place a burden on anyone else. That is why they do what they do. Selfish people DO NOT commit suicide. They are usually the ones who are dumping their feelings on everyone else.
    . I understand the guilt, I understand no one makes anyone do anything, but I also understand the indifference, bullying, negating, abusive behavior toward someone who is considering sucide while they were alive. My father , in hearing I was suicidal , said ” so She’ll kill herself, and we’ll all move on “. Today, I understand exactly what he meant. He meant, enough !!! we can’t allow our lives to be ruled by this child. She either will or won’t. I get that now. At the time, all I heard was, ” my father doesn’t care if I live or die”. Does he think today, 30 years on, that he had anything to do with my choice? of course not. He thinks he was a wonderful father. His words. I could tell you stories that would make your hair stand on end about how good a father he was. It’s just time people “get” that young people don’t want to kill themselves for “no” reason. No matter what else was going on in their lives, ie drugs, bullying from peers, etc…. family foundation is and was the most important factor . Unfortunately, Im sorry. Its true.

  5. Anonymous says:

    While your article looks closely into the feelings gripped in the people lefr by suicide of a closed one. It is still a very selfish look into the whole big picture. Please remember that it takes every cell in your body to end your life. Ending your Life is in no way a selfish act. Probing into a suicide and finding the why is a selfish act. People who feel they are responsible for someone’s death and feel hurt and dont see why are selfish. It takes a lot of pain and suffering to realize that Life is just not worth it. There is no such thing as survivors of suicide of loved ones. It is all just a selfish little group of people who want to feel better about themselves

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Anonymous,” why so much negative judgment toward people who desperately – and legitimately – hurt because someone they love died by suicide? The suicidal person’s suffering does not negate the suffering of those left behind. All suffer.

      And the search for “why” is a natural, very human search, even if the answer is ever elusive. I fail to see how it is selfish to want to know why a person hurt so much that death seemed the most viable solution.

      I agree with you that suicide is not a selfish act. It is an act born of many things, usually a profound need to escape profound feelings of hopelessness and emotional pain. I am very curious about What in the article led you to view it as condemning suicide as selfish, because that was certainly not my intent.

    • aleia says:

      thank You anon. Tomorrow on my radio show, I am finally going to talk about how much courage it takes in fact, to make the decision to end a life. I am sick and weary of hearing about “survivor’s” , loved ones left by a suicide as ” survivors” . They are not. They are people who are left to deal with their feelings, guilty, ambivilant, sad etc…. Most often they will do anything to exonerate themselves from having had anything to do with it. Frankly, no husband, wife, friend or group of people like peers, can make anyone commit suicide, but the people who raised us, mother father, siblings etc… have such a strong influence on what happened and why, that they need to be dealt with. No, no one is responsible. That’s fair. So be fair, and stop trying to insist anyone who attemps commits suicide, and lives or not, is selfish, self centered, spiteful and cruel.

    • Sandra brown says:

      I can’t believe you could say something so cruel about people family’s. partner’s mother’s sisters brothers father’s ..the list goes on all of us trying to come to terms with a massive loss ?!!!grieving .crying feeling lost and heartbroken and you have the cruel hide to say were just a crappy little group trying to feel better about ourselves

    • Sandra brown says:

      You discust me

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for providing this website. My Mother recently committed suicide in front of me and I’ve been struggling with raw emotions of guilt, shame, loss, anger and confusion. Your writings bring to light the illogical components associated with an act of desperation and are helping me come to terms with it all.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Anonymous,” what a horrific trauma you have endured. Your mother’s suicide by itself is traumatic. To have witnessed it – how painful!

      I am glad the post was helpful to you. Also, there are many good resources out there for suicide loss survivors. You can find info on quite a few in the “Resources” section of this site.

      I am wishing for you peace and healing!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I do not feel the person is disturbed just because they have so many negative feelings going through their heads 24/7. You really can’t read a book and fully understand what goes on in their minds. I’ve been there many times, you feel hatred, despair, useless to everyone.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Anonymous,” those are good points. I think in many cases where people leave a spiteful suicide note, it is out of character for that person. It is one moment in time frozen amid all the other fluid moments.

      But…if having so many negatives going through one’s head 24/7, so much hatred, despair, and feelings of uselessness, does not qualify as “disturbed,” then what does? Being emotionally disturbed does not have to mean wanting to go on a mass shooting. There are degrees of disturbance, of despair, of hopelessness. Each hurts terribly, and each can result in venomous anger that, once the disturbance settles, also settles with it.

      I don’t mean to say that you are or were emotionally disturbed, but I do want to help break down the stigma of what disturbed means. It’s not a statement about a person’s character or personality – rather, it is a statement about their suffering and torment.

      My best wishes to you on your journey!

    • I am 2 years late on this but I thought I should add my 2 cents says:

      @Stacey

      I disagree. By the same logic, I could say it’s ok for me to call disabled persons “retarded” because it is a statement about their intellectual abilities and it’s not meant to be insulting. I could say it’s ok for me to call disabled persons “lame” because it’s a statement about their physical limitations and it’s not meant in a derogatory way; it’s another way of saying “handicapped”.

      Do you see the problem with this? These words have histories of being used as insults and are commonly used in degrading manners; so even if you are using the word in a non derogatory way, it can still be insulting.
      When I hear the word “disturbed” I think of someone who is wacko. That is honestly the connotation I get behind the word, and that is the image that is pulled up in my brain. So why associate the word wacko with someone who is suffering from a mental health disorder? The last thing a person who is struggling at a low point like that in their lives when the thing they need the most is love and support is being called a word like “disturbed” to describe their mental state. It’s honestly degrading and insulting and it makes a person feel bad for feeling the way they do. Who would want to be called disturbed?

      I feel it adds to the stigma of mental health when words like “insane” “crazy” and “disturbed” are used to describe someone who is suffering from a mental health disorder. It alienates the person from others and puts them in a box marked “weird”.
      Not to mention how hurtful it is to be called words like that and be told that it is totally justified to be called such words because no “normal” person would be acting the way you are (i.e. the symptoms you have when you suffer from a mental health disorder) and only “crazy” or “disturbed” people would be in the state you are.

      Sorry if I came off a bit strong on this or even angry; this topic just means a lot to me because I have had first hand experience being called “crazy” and things like “she has issues” when I suffered from a mental health disorder and I know how extremely hurtful and painful it is.
      I feel there are plenty of better words (and ones without histories of being used as insults on the daily) to use to describe the state of a person suffering from a mental health disorder.

  8. Ms M Figes says:

    I could blame the Therapist who was supposed to be understanding in my problems like my GP said she would be however she wasn’t but then that lady would just make an excuse and say the signs were not there .

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