Existential Psychology

When a Loved One Commits Suicide

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Painful Feelings Linger

When a loved one commits suicide there are usually lingering, painful feelings of resentment, hostility, and outright rage towards that person. “How could they do this to me? How could they be so selfish?”

We want to suggest that while these feelings might seem justified they’re also a defense mechanism meant to protect the psyche from thoughts and feelings that seem even more dangerous.

The hostile attitude towards a person who has committed suicide is supported by the taken for granted idea that this person was fully responsible for what occurred and covers for the terrifying thought at the edge of conscious awareness that maybe responsibility was shared. “I didn’t notice the obvious signs. I wasn’t forceful enough in getting them the help they needed. I didn’t listen enough. I wasn’t supportive enough. I let my loved one down.”

Power and Responsibility

It feels more comfortable to transfer all the power and responsibility to the other, in effect washing one’s hands of the whole affair, which allows for the narrative ‘This person let me down’  rather than ‘I let this person down’. But ‘I let this person down’ will continue to haunt the life path as it’s continually transferred into ‘This person let me down’ until the underlying conflict is adequately addressed and worked through.

Compassion and Forgiveness

We don’t say this to inspire feelings of guilt, ultimately everyone is responsible for their own behavior, but behavior is also influenced in ways small and big by the external environment. The point is to have the courage to bring the dangerous thoughts and feelings into conscious awareness and confront them openly in order to begin to move from resentment and hostility into compassion and forgiveness, for oneself and for the person who has gone away. This was a suffering person who probably wasn’t trying to be selfish but genuinely believed everyone would be better off when he or she was out of the picture.