What are Your Reasons for Living?

If you have suicidal thoughts, then you probably have clearly spelled out in your head your reasons for dying. These reasons may taunt you, incessantly reminding you of what is wrong with your life, perhaps even the world.

Do you pay more attention to your reasons for dying than your reasons for living?

People’s reasons for living typically are unique to their situation. At the same time, some reasons are quite common. Here are reasons that my psychotherapy clients often give when I ask them what keeps them alive:

* Family and friends (especially, not wanting to hurt them by dying by suicide)

* Pets (in particular, a worry about whether they would be taken to a shelter or euthanized after their owner’s death)

* Fear of death and the unknown

* A feeling of a responsibility to others to stay alive

* A belief that suicide is against their religion, or more generally fear of going to hell

* Hope, even amid suffering, that things will get better

Another way to think of reasons for living is to ask yourself what has stopped you from acting on your suicidal thoughts. As I discuss in my post “What Stops You From Killing Yourself?”, you might come up with reasons that have more to do with fear of suicide than hope for life. All your reasons, whatever those reasons are, are important. They have kept you going. 

Comparing Reasons for Living & Reasons for Dying

Here is a challenge for you: List your reasons for living, and then your reasons for dying. Rate each reason on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being weak and 5 being strong. Then see which score is higher. (This technique is from the Suicide Status Form, which can be found in the book Managing Suicidal Risk: A Collaborative Approach, by David Jobes, Ph.D.)

If your scores for reasons for dying and reasons for living are equal, that shows you have very high ambivalence about suicide. If your reasons for living score exceeds that of your reasons for dying, you are in a safer place than others. If your reasons for dying score is higher than your reasons for living score, you are at especially high risk. I hope you will seek help now. (In fact, regardless of your scores, I strongly urge anybody who seriously considers suicide to reach out for help. You are invited to look here at a list of resources for suicidal people.)

Measuring Your Reasons for Living

Perhaps depression, stress, trauma, psychological pain or other forces of suicide reach out to you so strongly that you cannot think of reasons for living. The Reasons for Living Inventory contains 72 reasons for living that you can endorse (or not). 

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net (Evgeni Dinev)

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net (Evgeni Dinev)

The list concerns attitudes toward life and death more than actual objects or situations you might cherish. As a result, it leaves off some important reasons for living. For me, pets and a deep appreciation for nature would be important reasons to stick around, along with my love for family, and neither pets nor nature are included in the scale. Still, the scale is a valuable tool to help you assess you beliefs about life and its worth. Maybe it can help you remember your own reasons for living.

I include the Reasons for Living Inventory below, with permission from its developer, Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. You also can find it here. On her University of Washington website, you also can find a shorter version, and versions in other languages.

There also is a scoring worksheet; you can compute your score for different topics on the scale. To me, the score is not as important as is the reminder of some of the different reasons you might have for staying alive. But if you’re interested, you can compute your scores for the main areas that the scale assesses, which are:

*  Survival & Coping Beliefs

* Responsibility to Family

* Child-Related Concerns

* Fear of Suicide

* Fear of Social Disapproval

* Moral Objections

Now, here is the Reasons for Living Inventory. Which reasons apply to you? What other reasons can you add?


Reasons for Living Inventory, by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D

For each item below, rate the importance to you of this reason for not killing yourself.

1 = Not at All Important (as a reason for not killing myself, or does not apply to me, I don’t believe this at all)

2 = Quite unimportant

3 = Somewhat Unimportant

4 = Somewhat Important

5 = Quite Important

6 = Extremely Important (as a reason for not killing myself, I believe this very much and it is important)

  1. I have a responsibility and commitment to my family.
  2. I believe I can learn to adjust or cope with my problems.
  3. I believe I have control over my life and destiny.
  4. I have a desire to live.
  5. I believe only God has the right to end a life.
  6. I am afraid of death.
  7. My family might believe I did not love them.
  8. I do not believe that things get miserable or hopeless enough that I would rather be dead.
  9. My family depends upon me and needs me.
  10. I do not want to die.
  11. I want to watch my children as they grow.
  12. Life is all we have and is better than nothing.
  13. I have future plans I am looking forward to carrying out.
  14. No matter how badly I feel, I know that it will not last.
  15. I am afraid of the unknown.
  16. I love and enjoy my family too much and could not leave them.
  17. I want to experience all that life has to offer and there are many experiences I haven’t had yet which I want to have.
  18. I am afraid that my method of killing myself would fail.
  19. I care enough about myself to live.
  20. Life is too beautiful and precious to end it.
  21. It would not be fair to the leave the children for others to take care of.
  22. I believe I can find other solutions to my problems.
  23. I am afraid of going to hell.
  24. I have a love of life.
  25. I am too stable to kill myself.
  26. I am a coward and do not have the guts to do it.
  27. My religious beliefs forbid it.
  28. The effect on my children could be harmful.
  29. I am curious about what will happen in the future.
  30. It would hurt my family too much and I would not want them to suffer.
  31. I am concerned about what others would think of me.
  32. I believe everything has a way of working out for the best.
  33. I could not decide where, when, and how to do it.
  34. I consider it morally wrong.
  35. I still have many things left to do.
  36. I have the courage to face life.
  37. I am happy and content with my life.
  38. I am afraid of the actual “act” of killing myself (the pain, blood, violence).
  39. I believe killing myself would not really accomplish or solve anything.
  40. I have hope that things will improve and the future will be happier.
  41. Other people would think I am weak and selfish.
  42. I have an inner drive to survive.
  43. I would not want people to think I did not have control over my life.
  44. I believe I can find a purpose in life, a reason to live.
  45. I see no reason to hurry death along.
  46. I am so inept that my method would not work.
  47. I would not want my family to feel guilty afterwards.
  48. I would not want my family to think I was selfish or a coward.
  49. I would not be able to see the effect of my death on others.
  50. Close friends depend upon me and need me.
  51. I can find meaning in suffering.
  52. There are friends I enjoy and love too much to leave.
  53. I have too much pride in myself.
  54. Rational people do not kill themselves.
  55. If I were depressed enough to want to die, I would be too depressed to kill myself.
  56. I make a contribution to society.
  57. Society disapproves of my killing myself.
  58. I have people who love me and would listen to me and understand me.
  59. I see no reason to die and let someone else enjoy the things I worked for.
  60. It is a sign of weakness and I don’t want to be a quitter or a failure.
  61. I am afraid that my death would not matter to anyone.
  62. The finality of the act would stop me.
  63. It would be too much of an embarrassment to my family.
  64. It would hurt my close friends too much.
  65. There are obligations I feel I should keep.
  66. I would think of others worse off than myself.
  67. I have a job in which I am involved and where I am needed.
  68. I have a responsibility and commitment to my friends.
  69. I would know I probably was not serious and it was just a passing thought.
  70. Experiencing unhappiness is an important part of life.
  71. I would stop feeling sorry for myself.
  72. The thought of suicide is totally incomprehensible to me.

For more information about the Reasons for Living Inventory, see the article that first described its use:  Linehan, Marsha M.; Goodstein, Judith L.; Nielsen, Stevan L.; Chiles, John A. (1983). Reasons for staying alive when you are thinking of killing yourself: The Reasons for Living InventoryJournal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51(2), 276-286. 

Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. 

© Copyright 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All rights Reserved. Written For: Speaking of Suicide. Photos purchased from Fotolia.com.

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  2. Nicole says:

    I don’t have any clear reasons for wanting to end my life. I suppose it is just a build up of things. Unfortunately, I was raised believing in God, so I fear going to hell. If I commit the act, who’s to say I won’t suffer even more? I can’t prove God exists, but I cannot disprove the possibility either. I just want to die. I don’t know what to do.

  3. Someone who wants to die says:

    I Really Want to die because of my parents hurting me and yelling at me, and also from school. I Hate Myself and my parents are a bunch of assholes!

  4. Eliza says:

    Thanks for sharing.
    It’s interesting to see this.

  5. Millie says:

    this was a little helpful there is just a problem everyone I get close to breaks my heart even my parents

  6. Matt says:

    The only thing that keeps from killing myself is fear that I would fail and survive. I have Multiple Sclerosis, depression, little money or social life, and I am too weak to to anything about any of these things. I still haven’t figured out how I can live without a sustainable income, much less without social support of any kind. A life of work and solitude isn’t enough for me., but it’s all I’m capable of. Either I accept a life without kindness, affection, intimacy, trust, or caring or I end my life. I can’t go on without these things.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I got mostly 1s and 2s but I’m still here.

  8. Kat says:

    What if your friend had help from a professional but after getting out of it they tell you about their suicidal thoughts and anger for those who sent her there.she had friends who before told adults and her parents.she only kept getting mad about them.what should I do?

    • irdra says:

      I would let them all know that they could fu*k right off. I would not hesitate. N0 political correctness – ZERO ! After all, when did they show any sensitivity ?!?

  9. Anonymous says:

    I would want to die but I’m afraid of the dying process. I am not a successful person. I never have had a husband nor children. Too old to be hired for fulltime employment. Too late to go after big dreams. Too dumb to know what those dreams are. I fail God every day in not knowing what He wants from me. Nobody would miss me, therefore I do not have a feeling of responsibility toward how anybody in a social situation would feel about my passing away. I’m just too much of a chickens*** of the dying process. Otherwise, I would’ve taken my own life a long time ago.

  10. CARON says:

    i really need to talk with someone who will understand what im going thru. i beg god every nite to just take me. have nothing to live for. please help me.

    • Cesar says:

      Hey Caron, Cesar here. I’m not a doctor or an expert mate. Things have been going pretty shitty for me. 32, just finished college, no job, living with my mom and a bunch of suicidal thoughts all over my head. The reasons for me living went really bad, 14 reasons to kill myself and 3 for not doing it. Don’t know how much time I’ll be around though I can’t do much but if you or any of you guys need to talk to someone here I am

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think, after many years of dealing with suicidal thoughts, some of us simply run out of energy to fight back. The original reasons we felt suicidal may be forgotten, but we are simply to overwhelmed to care anymore.

  12. Tristan says:

    I don’t have a reason not too. I don’t have anything and my family would be fine.

  13. carl says:

    i killed my dog for something he did not do, i made a terrable mistake by having my dog put to sleep. and i am full of guilt for doing it, i loved my dog ,he was my buddy and companion , i have promised him that i would take my own life for killing him, and i will, he wanted to live, and i killed him simple as that, now i will take my own life i am 82 yrs old and tired of living , without my beloved corgi, i have nothing to live for,

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Carl, I am so sorry for you and the pain you are in. I hope you will consider reaching out to someone who can help you to cope with your feelings of pain and guilt. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is the best place to start. The number is 1.800.273.8255 (TALK). Please call!

      Please also check the Resources page for people with suicidal thoughts.

      I hope you will reach out and get help!

    • Anonymous says:

      its not your fault i feel the same way mostly because of my parents and school 🙁

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