Suicide and selfishness

Trigger warnings, in case the title of the post wasn’t entirely clear on that subject.

This week has seen World Suicide Prevention Day, and a lot of conversations around why suicide happens and how to stop it. The idea that suicide is an immensely selfish thing to do has been challenged a fair bit, but, I wanted to pick over the mechanics. I feel this one keenly.

I’ve had a lot of rounds of wanting to die – not necessarily wanting to take my own life, but just wanting it to be taken from me so that I might stop hurting. I have also had rounds of wanting to take my own life and moving towards acting on that. Those rounds had one thing in common – the growing belief that it was the best thing I could do for everyone else.

When depression gets its teeth into me, I feel awful, useless and worthless. I feel like I’m a burden to everyone else, a nuisance, a problem. If my being depressed has a negative impact on other people, if my not coping causes someone else a problem, that suspicion creeps in that the best thing I could do would be to offer my absence. Usually I just step back, go silent, disappear, but death is the ultimate absence, and sometimes it starts to look like the single best thing I could do.

There are so many things around how people often respond to suicidal feelings that really, really don’t help with this. Here’s a non-exhaustive list. Calling it selfish. Focusing on how suicide would harm other people. Demanding that you get meds so as to not make the other person uncomfortable. Shutting you down when you try and talk about what you’re feeling because it makes them uncomfortable to hear it. What all of this does, is to make the suicidal person the least important person in what’s happening.

If you’re staying alive so as not to inconvenience someone else or to avoid upsetting someone, this is not a strong position to be in. Whether it’s ok to keep living or not becomes an equation in which you weigh their comfort against what you do. The worse you feel, the more depressed and stuck you are, the harder it gets to persuade yourself that the upset you’d cause by leaving is not in fact greater than the harm you cause by staying. When you’re feeling awful about yourself, it is hard to see your existence as anything other than innately toxic.

If you want to feel comfortable dealing with someone who wants to die, you are not the best person to be talking to them. That might feel uncomfortable, but I think we need to ask people who are largely ok to think carefully about how they prioritise themselves when dealing with people who are desperately ill and in massive distress.

If you want to keep someone alive, you may have to engage with what’s going on for them, and that may hurt. Consider whether it hurts more than the prospect of losing them. Consider what you can say or do to boost their sense of self-worth so they might want to live for their own sake. If you make it about you, then you may well be piling on the pressure and adding to their stories about how little their own life is worth.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

15 responses to “Suicide and selfishness

  • druidcat

    This. All of this.

    I was told off once for saying that sometimes it feels like suicide is an act of tremendous bravery. Apparently no, it’s selfish. Because it hurts everyone left behind.

    If you feel that your Not Being Here is ALREADY doing that… that kind of leaves you utterly disempowered and in limbo. Can’t leave, can’t stay.

    Such talk only makes people scared to speak. It did me.

  • John Davis

    Yes…all that you say make’s sense. I think I’ve told you that we’ve moved north to Saltburn recently to be nearer to our kids and grandkids. I walked up onto the coastal section of the Cleveland Way last week and at the point where the cliff is a sheer 300ft above the sea there are plaques reminding you that you are of unique value…. sadly, many pluck up the courage to jump. I felt the sense of anguish that lingers in that spot.

  • lornasmithers

    I think the thing that scares me the most from when I used to feel suicidal is that my suicidal thoughts didn’t result as much from being in too much pain to live but from the bare logic that there was no point in me being here. That if I didn’t pass my exams, didn’t get a job, was too much of a burden on my parents and on society then the world was simply better off if I was dead.

    It’s only since discovering my spiritual path and the ability to journey to the Otherworld, this giving me the belief that our souls live on after death and are affected by that decision, that suicide has stopped looking like a viable choice.

    I don’t think the gods are judgemental about suicide. I get the impression that, like living people, some of the dead understand and some don’t. But it’s something our souls will carry with them until… I have no idea whether time and space, the universe, have ends or whether we just impose them… and this is pretty much the limit of my thoughts on the matter.

  • helgaleena

    This is the bleak logic of being suicidal. Been there. In point of fact, choosing to live is completely illogical, and yet, it nourishes while dying does not. In the end I had to surrender to my own body’s insistence on staying alive and experience the complete freedom of giving up. It turns out that the infallibly logical case for death was based on false premises. Once they were crumbled, light got in.

  • writergrrlrobin

    Thank you for this. I’ve gone round and round on this topic with someone very close to me and it’s all about them and how it would make them feel. It’s never, but Robin, you’re not worthless, useless, etc., it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, you’re a person, we’ll find some help somehow! Nope, never that.

  • Saille Freeling

    I can totally relate too. I never contemplated active suicide but I know well the feeling of just being done with being in pain… of being a waste of space and resources. I don’t know whether I would be able to put up a fight up in face of a potentially fatal diagnosis. “Where’s your fight, where’s your bite” I get asked but my response to a crisis is the noradrenergic freeze one. A crisis does not energise me. If all of that is bad enough for any person, it’s worse if you’re a mother. A mother contemplating leaving her children is a monster; the very existence of children has to be enough to give her will to live. I think that a very unfair notion and can’t help but think that honest mourning might be easier to bear than carrying the guilt and burden of having a sickish depressed needy mother. But that’s not something you are really allowed to say out loud. In any case, as I’m healthy enough and don’t actually have a wish to die, I will just keep on hanging in there and do my best.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for saying this. I recognise what you’re experience – I’ve wondered those things too, in the past. It needs the space to say it. I think part of this is that women are supposed to be totally fulfilled by their families and totally willing to live for them and it’s the challenge to this belief that makes us monstrous when the children are not actually enough.

  • Daniel Entwistle

    Thank you for writing on this. I’d always thought it was a selfish act until I was in that position. I could only think about how much better my wife and girls would be without the toxicity that was my life. I got so focused the day I attempted that I was able to rationalize my thought of suicide. Looking back on it now, feels like I hardly even know that person I was. So, I attribute my “selfish point of view” to ignorance and now understand the thought that the victim is acting completely selfless in their own mind.

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