Suicide and the Self

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

Suicide is a massively taboo topic. In addition — perhaps by causation — it is immensely interesting to discuss. In this post I’m going to go over some basic theory on suicide, and perhaps give some useful tips to help those dealing with suicidal tendencies.

The most important thing to know about suicide is that it is inherently rational. Suicide itself is a reaction to an intense pain of sorts; perhaps mental pain, which is the most common, but it can also occur for physical pain as well. When our bodies’ pain receptors act up, we act in a way to remove the stimulus. But, if the pain is all encompassing, the only way to remove the stimulus is to remove the body.

This analogy makes pretty clear sense for physical pain, but we need to dive a little bit deeper when it comes to mental pain. Most consider the fact that mental pain isn’t “real pain”, as it doesn’t trigger the aforementioned pain receptors. However, just because mental hurt doesn’t trigger physical pain doesn’t mean that it can’t qualify as a pain in itself. Rather, the process just takes a detour; things like depression and anxiety hit the brain directly, imbalancing brain chemicals and causing what is ultimately the same effect: remove the body.

There’s also a less biology heavy explanation to all this, which I think is also appropriate to consider. It is very easy, on a depressive mindset, to justify suicide. One of the major features of the depressive mindset is its focus on short-term forecasting rather than long-term forecasting. Obviously, when things are bad now, they’ll probably be bad later… but they won’t be bad forever. This statement is what many people start off with in trying to persuade someone out of a suicidal tendency, but the truth is that those within the tendency cannot actually see forever, at least in an abstract way. 

So, there’s two ways we can combat this. One is the major way that’s used by therapists in general. Another is a way that I think helps hit at the issue more abstractly, and is the method I used when I was in suicidal tendency many years ago. 

The therapist way is simple; it’s to listen and not try to provide solutions. To most, this can seem very, very counterintuitive. However, the Socratic method actually works quite well here. If you let the individual find out their own missteps, they’ll create cognitive dissonance; a cognitive dissonance that fortunately tends to lead them down the right path.

The second way, and the way I personally like to think of things, lends credence to the second part of this article’s title: the self. 

There are both external and internal pressures that affect the self. External pressures — a lost job, a breakup, death of a loved one — cannot be controlled. However, external pressures lead to internal pressures — “I’m not good enough”, “I will never amount to anything” — which can, in some aspects, be controlled.

Internal pressures can be controlled by controlling the state of the self. By the state of the self, I mean how the self portrays itself, via self esteem, inner happiness, etc. These factors don’t cure depression, but they do a very good job of protecting against it. A person who has a solid state of the self is less likely to have to worry about external pressures becoming internal pressures.

This factor seems much more preventative than something you can use while you’re in the middle of it, but my mindset change in this regard during my depression I think helped quite a lot. The first thing I recognized is that my internal world was a lot more important than what was going on externally. This wasn’t a big jump to make, even in a depressive mood. You are with yourself permanently, 24/7, whereas the external environment comes and goes; the logic is there and it isn’t closely related enough to the pressure for there to be any major refusal. Secondly, there is the understanding that the majority of what is happening in the internal world is self-inflicted, whereas most of the overall pain is coming from the external world. Pretty difficult to weasel out of this one; pain as a definition is external, and the only way you can truly feel bad about yourself is if you make yourself believe that you are bad. These two points together (given enough repetition) was enough to convince me that perhaps my troubles weren’t as strong as I thought they were.

Hopefully all this together helps. Any of these topics (mental health, suicide, self concept, etc.) I would be willing to write more on in the future, and likely will. Let me know in the comments if you all have any of your own personal thoughts/strategies when it comes to this topic!

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