and Thoughts of Suicide
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E WAS about 7 years old. It was after dinner, and the
evening sun of midsummer still hung low in the
sky. Suddenly, he ran into the house and threw
himself onto his bed, crying, saying, over and over through his tears, I
wish I were dead.
As a result of psychotherapy, he could recall the rest
of the story. His mother had denied him something he wanted (though what
it was is long forgotten), he felt unrecognized and unloved, and he was angry
at her. In his mind, he began to wish she were deadbut only for a split
second, because on the edge of consciousness it occurred to him that if she
were to die, he would have no mother and that he would be left all alone
in the world with no one to take care of him. So his mind quickly turned
away from that wish for her death, with all of its lonely implications,
and, feeling quite guilty about the whole thing, he began to wish for his
own death. After all, what kind of a person could be so dependent on someone
else, so helpless and afraid? A no good piece of nothing, thats who,
In psychological terms, he repressed his anger for his
mother and ended up turning his frustration against himself. The proverb
Dont bite the hand that feeds you sums this up nicely.
Its a terrible bind for a child. And, if it happens often enough, it
can prevent the child from being able to express
emotions appropriatelybecause with every
angry thought comes the fear of losing someones love or
In my own life,
beginning with my psychoanalysis as a student, I, too, have had to come to
terms with similar events and how they have affected my life. I, like many
of my own patients, have been forced as an adult to learn how to come to
terms honestly with feelings of
insult and hurt.
Now, the fleeting suicidal fantasy that this child encountered
in that moment of childhood frustration was not a clinical case of suicidal
depression. Nevertheless, in my professional experience I have seen the dynamic
of suppressed anger as a major motive behind clinical
depression, and ultimately, as the
unconscious motive for serious suicidal
be explained by common, human experiencesshame and guiltas they
first manifest in early childhood.
It all begins
because, in all reality, most parents do not sacrifice the time and effort
to listen carefully to their children, so as to discover a childs true
needs and to explain patiently to the child the emotional reactions he or
she is having. Instead, parents manipulate children to get them to do
whatever makes life easier for the parents. This manipulation is not real
love. And make no mistake here: children know
it is not love. Children know precisely what is happening, and they know
something is missing.
To a young child,
though, it can be absolutely terrifying to admit, My parents do not
love me. That admission brings with it the threat of
death and extinction, and most children cannot bear
the existential agony of that reality. Thus they will feel intense
shame for feeling unloved. Moreover, their irritation at the
parents failures will lead to angry thoughts of hate, and those thoughts
will provoke feelings of guilt.
Note that whereas
shame derives from a belief that there is something wrong
with you for having certain feelings (such as feeling unloved), guilt
derives from something you have done or thought (such as thoughts of
order to ward off the guilt-provoking thoughts, children will
unconsciously push any hints of them away before they
attain conscious awareness. To do this, they use a subtle defense strategy:
they flip the shame inside out. That is, they take the terrifying thought
(My parents do not love me) and turn it around into the belief
that because something must be wrong with them, they really do not deserve
the love they so desperately
need. Thus they will tell themselves
negative thoughts such as
I dont deserve it.
I dont belong.
Im not good enough.
Im a loser.
repeated over and over in the hidden darkness of
a childs loneliness, become so built up over time that they become
a self-confirmed depressing reality.
Note that the
effect of shame is to draw your attention away from the true external source
of your emotional pain and to focus your attention on the illusion that
you are defective. The unconscious motive here is to free yourself
from the anguish of feeling irritated with someone you need. But, in its
actual effects, this defense only drives the irritation further into the
darkness of your heart where it becomes unconscious
anger turned against yourself.
If you ever reach
this point, you then seemingly become a partner in your own
In fact, some
persons will even kill themselves to avoid admitting that their parents did
not love them. Its as if they say to themselves, I would rather
die than admit that Im angry at my parents!
Has anyone ever
pushed you away when you wanted to be comforted? Has anyone ever given more attention
to a bottle of alcohol than to you? Has anyone ever laughed at you when you
were hurt? Has anyone ever told you that you were too dumb to succeed? Has
anyone ever refused you help when you asked for it? Do you get the idea?
No one may have actually told you to kill yourself, but all these sorts of
behavioral cues give a clear impression: You are of no importance to
me. I have no concern for you. Youre not
special. You dont deserve to be alive. You
So, to the
Other, you (and all of us, for that matter) are just an object
to be manipulated to satisfy someone else. Its a losing game to try
to make the Other love you. Its a losing game to make the
Other say youre special. Sure, you can try to do all the
right things, like drink the right brand of cola, eat at the right fast-food
place, wear the right jeans, expose all the right pieces of flesh, pierce
and tattoo yourself in the right places, use the right lingo, work for the
right companybut once you slip up, then its the garbage can for
Thus you can
tune in to the resentment of others subliminally, and, if
youre not psychologically aware, you can come to believe that these
perceptions you receive from others are truth and reality about your personal
valueor lack of it.
trying to tell you here that no one feels affection for you. You can argue
all you want that your mother and father care about you somehow, and I
wont object, because on some level they do care about you. The real
point is that many persons who claim to care about you also give indications,
through behaviors and things they say and think, that their affection for
you is mixed with resentment. Thus, instead of teaching you how to
love by the example of true love, they infect you emotionally
with a fear of love. Its not pretty
to see this directly, so thats why you have
defenses that blind you to it. But its real.
At the core, thats where suicidal feelings originate. Not that anyone
is necessarily literally wishing you to die, but that the feeling of resentment
that they project can get so strong that you end up feeling like garbage.
And from there it is only one small step to make yourself
So, once your
psychotherapy drags you through the pain of this realization about human
natureand you accept it all without defense and
resistanceyou will then have the strength to see through
the illusions of the Other and claim your own right to
Now, the point
here is not to give you an excuse to dodge responsibility for your own actions.
We all do and say things that hurt others, and when we are called to correction,
we should accept the rebuke honestly and
non-defensively. But a rebuke is no reason for feeling
depressed. If you do feel depressed, then you have good evidence that the
present rebuke has activated unconscious shame and guilt. To deal with the
present situation, then, turn back to remedying the emotional wounds of your
I have had clients
walk into a session saying, Im feeling really depressed this
week. Im sure its biochemical. Maybe I need
When I ask what
has happened during the week, they reply with a shrug of the shoulders,
Nothing special. Its just me.
So then I patiently
explore with them the events of the week and their emotional reactions to
those events. Invariably, we discover some interpersonal conflict that activated
old feelings of shame and guilt and that had a direct connection to the depressed
mood. At the end of the session they say, Im feeling much better.
I never would have discovered that connection on my own.
So, were they
lying to me at the beginning of the session? Well, no, not in the sense of
deliberately telling a lie. But were they lying
to themselves? Sadly, yes.
will say it again. Once your psychotherapy drags you through the pain of
this realization about human natureand you accept it all without
defense and resistanceyou will then have the
strength to see through the illusions of the Other
and claim your own right to exist.
In sum, all of
this shame and guilt points to one unconscious fact about parental love being
missing from your life: the urge to suicide is based in the false belief
that you can hide the truth of your parents missing love by
making yourself into a missing object.
Not everyone who feels, or has felt, depressed or suicidal
has been abused as a child. The dynamic of ordinary suppressed anger can
be quite sufficient on its own to engender feelings of depression, and, out
of a sense of weariness with ones own emotional pain in a callous world,
thoughts of suicide can become a seemingly viable
research  tell us that
abuse, however, can intensify ordinary existential feelings in several
abuse essentially amplifies feelings of
worthlessness. When an adult sexually abuses a child, the adult is
really using the child as an object of pleasure, a mere commodity to be used
and then discarded afterwards. Needless to say, being treated like a piece
of garbage can leave you believing that you are a piece of garbage.
And in feeling that you have lost your humanity, especially if you lack any
social support from others, suicide can begin to appear like a fitting conclusion
toand self-inflicted punishment fora worthless
abuse essentially amplifies feelings of
cynicism, a contemptuous disbelief in human goodness and sincerity.
And if you become cynical because you have been belittled so often, not only
can you become a bully or a terrorist,
but also you can eventually become so weary of the constant fighting against
the world and its prejudices that suicide seems like a final
abuse essentially amplifies feelings of
hostility towardand disrespect forauthority. This
simmering animosity can actually harden you to the point that you become
cold and calculating in your interactions with others. But if anything ever
happens to make you feel that your control of people or events is jeopardized,
then, like a soldier in disgrace or a stockbroker gone bankrupt, suicide
will seem like your only escape.
Hearing that suicide is really a veiled attempt to hurt others, many persons who
have made attempts at suicide will object. I just want to reiterate that I didnt want to hurt
othersI just felt invisible and wanted to disappear. Yes, thats how it seems to them,
on the surface, but the truth lurks under the surface. Wanting to disappear, to sleep, to
just float in the calm peace of a fluffy cloud arent as benign as it might seem. And, oddly
enough, the proof of this fact has been dramatically expressed in a story that would seem to have no
place in it for the psychology of depression and suicide.
The story is the Hobbit, by J. R. R.
Moreover, as I say on another page of this
website, Death and the Seduction of Despair, it cannot be taken for granted
that authors really understand the deep psychological truths they express in their writing. After all,
truth has a way of making itself known unconsciously.
The Background Story
Tolkien tells the story of a group of dwarves,
assisted by a hobbit and, at times, by a wizard, who seek to recover a treasure stolen from them
by a dragon generations ago. They embark on a long journey from the hobbits home, across mountains,
though a dark forest, and on to the Lonely Mountain under which the dragon has made its home in the ancient
halls of the dwarf king.
During their trek through the forest, the dwarves
and hobbit, tired and weary from having run out of food, encounter a stream that must be crossed. Previously,
they had been warned to neither drink of nor bathe in the waters of the stream, because the stream carried
an enchantment of great drowsiness and forgetfulness.
Well, as they were crossing the stream in a
small boat, one of the dwarves fell into the water. Almost immediately, he fell asleep. The others were
forced to carry him in order to continue the journey.
The Psychological Point
Now, at this point we need to ask an important
question with psychological implications: Which dwarf fell into the water?
The answer is revealing: of the thirteen
dwarves, it was the one whom Tolkien described as fat who fell into the water. And why is this
revealing? Well, as Tolkien made clear in previous episodes, the fat dwarf was often ridiculed for being
fat and was the one who always came last. In fact, he was the last one to cross the stream, and, while just
about to climb up the opposite shore, he was surprised by a bolting deer, lost his balance, and fell into
Psychologically, though, the important point
isnt just that the dwarf was fat; the important point is that he resented being ridiculed, and
resented always being last, but, like most persons, never said anything about it; he just felt invisible
and kept his emotional wounds quiet and hidden under his breath.
And there, in that silent resentment, we can
locate the reason why he fell into the water. By falling into the water and falling asleep, he forced the
others to carry him. Remember, he was heavy, and it took four other dwarves to carry him on a sling between
two poles. It was a real burden. And thus we can see the ultimate psychological
point  of this
episode in the story: the one who carries resentment forces others to carry him. Even though he did
not intend any of this to happen, he still managed to fulfill his unconscious desire to get revenge for his
mistreatment. The others, tired and hungry, had to carry him while he slept and dreamed of delightful feasts
in the woods.
The Implications for Depression and
The desire to sleep and be carried, just like
psychological addictions (e.g., drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, eroticism, video games, TV, movies and
on and on), reflects, in one way or another, a yearning to escape from the emotional pain of life and to
experience the infantile bliss of a mothers comfort. It could be an escape into the secure darkness
of her womb or the floating peace of her arms, but it all hinges on some way to tune out of
For persons who have
been abused as children, the desire for a mothers comfort may not be a desire
for something lost, but rather a desire for something never
However the ultimate
results may be manifested, the desire to escape from realityto sleep, to
disappearcarries with it the desire to be carried. Its fundamentally
an attempt to escape from responsibility. Its never just a benign wish for
peace. The one who carries resentment always manages to hurt othersto disturb
their peaceby making them carry him. Thats the subtle deception of suicide
and depression. That soft fluffy cloud may seem restful and curative, but it’s filled
with turbulence and, quite often, thunder and lightning as well.
The real cure? Start by shattering the illusion that youre
a partner in your own destruction. Yes, one part
of your personality may be unconsciously
seeking your destruction, but other parts of you do have the authority to
listen to and heal this despair.
You feel despised
because you despise yourself for hiding your fear and pain.
The irony about
depression is that it actually disavows your deepest pain and tries to hide
it all with a thick smokescreen of
victimization and self-loathing. But if you
listen to your pain and vulnerability with curiosity and understandingthat
is, with the love that your parents did not give youthen you give yourself
the respect and recognition that you may never get from the world, and you
take the first step toward your own healing.
who are belittledthrough no fault of their ownby their own parents,
and who couldnt defend themselves as children, can learn to reclaim
their self-esteem as adults by standing up
for themselves in asserting their human dignity with every person they
For example, if your
parents became impatient and critical when you made a mistake in childhood you
probably sank down into silent shame; but now, as an adult, you can say to them
or to anyone else who is critical rather than helpful, “What are you being so
mean to me for? Cursing a stalled car won’t make it start running
You may be surprised
to find that this process
doesnt involve hostility or violence, and that those who master it
end up having so much confidence in the value of their lives that they are
able to respond to hurt and insults with a feeling of true
So try realizing
that you dont need to destroy your self, but that you really
do want to put an end to a dependent hiding-behind-your-own-fears-way-of-life
while learning how to live honestly,
and passionately, and independently in the world. It takes
courage to work this out.
when spoken in a therapeutic setting, can actually be quite helpful in getting
to some painful emotions that have been suppressed through the years. It can be
difficult and frightening work to voice these feelings
because one of the symptoms of depression is a deadening of emotions. This just
points to the fact that its not life itself thats unbearableas
some desperate persons claimbut its the thought of facing up to
ones own inner emotional pain that seems unbearable.
Any actual suicide
attempt is really a disavowal of love and
forgiveness, because in effect youre denying
yourself the very things you so desperately need: suicide cuts you off from
any healing you might attain because of psychological change; it cuts you
off from all the good that you could do, for the rest of your life, as true
payment for your past mistakes; and it is, in essence, an act of
hatred, by which you throw evidence of your failure
into the faces of those who failed you, as proof of their
as a way to prove to an uncaring world how despised they feel,
and to drown the dishonesty without actually putting an end to it,
gamble on drugs, alcohol, sex, or
even gambling itself to do the job.
have no payoff except death. The real gamble is with yourself. Will you allow
yourself to realize there was nothing wrong with you for wishing your
mother or father to be dead? That there was nothing wrong with you
for being afraid of your own helplessness? After all, you were just an innocent
child in a cruel and frightening world, a world that taught you primarily
to fear love.
So who knows
what unknown talents you will find in yourself if you face life in a world
that is still dangerous, frightening, and cruel.
The world will
always be cruelthats reality.
illusion is that the world despises you. The worldthat is, the
social worldis simply looking for its own satisfaction; its not
really out to get you. Even if you were abused as a childor
simply felt neglectedbecause someone somehow resented you (for example,
perhaps you were conceived accidentally, perhaps
you werent the right gender, perhaps your siblings were
jealous of you for being a new child, or perhaps you were jealous of a new
sibling for being a threat to your security) your current mistake is to be
deceived by your own pain and end up despising yourself, making self-loathing
into a sort of identity.
to despise yourself is to hide your anger at the
world and to run from mercy and forgiveness. If,
however, you stop running in fear and learn to live an emotionally honest
life, you can then, in mercy, call others into honesty and out of their own
illusory social identifications as well. And thats important, because
when you reject forgiveness for others, you reject it for yourself, but when
you call others to accept accountability for their lives, you discover
real love for yourself as well.
Shows how to turn the emotional wounds
of daily life into psychological growth. Available as a paperback book or
as an e-book.
Includes information from this web page.
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Another strategy to ward off guilt-provoking thoughts is the use of compulsive
rituals. This defense, instead of leading to depression, leads to
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
2. Esposito, C.
L., & Clum, G. A. (2002). Social support and problem-solving as moderators
of the relationship between childhood abuse and suicidality: Applications
to a delinquent population. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15,
3. In the general psychological sense of the entire
story, the dwarves represent our human tendency to covet natural resources we have refined and shaped with our
own efforts; the hobbit represents our human tendency toward complacent, comfortable lives but that can
be inspired to noble acts of courage; the wizard represents wisdom that transcends
ordinary knowledge; the treasure represents our human talents; and the dragon represents psychological
defenses that can steal and defile our talents.
Counseling - Non-Profit Information, Guidance and Referral Assistance
Knowledge Exchange Network (KEN): Crisis Counseling
from the Center for Mental Health Services.
Depression Resources List is a compilation of depression-related
Alliance is a British charity run by and for sufferers of depression.
Ivans Depression Central is a central clearinghouse
for information on all types of depressive disorders and on the most effective
treatments for individuals suffering from Major Depression, Manic-Depression
(Bipolar Disorder), Cyclothymia, Dysthymia and other mood disorders.
Mood Disorders from THE MERCK MANUAL, Sec. 15,
- Depression from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
for Depression Across the Lifespan from American Family
WalkersWeb provides information
on mood disorders and their treatment; medications; news; books; chat and
and Treatment of Patients with Suicidal Ideation from American
of suicide risk assessment from Postgraduate Medicine.
Suicide Attempts in Adolescents from the American Academy of
Vitamin D Therapy:
Council provides information about the role of vitamin
D3 deficiency in physical and mental illness, including
Related pages within A Guide to Psychology
and its Practice:
Deathand the Seduction
Questions and Answers
Reasons to Consult
INDEX of all subjects
on this website
to Psychology and its Practice
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Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
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