Why Suicide is Not Selfish

suicide

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People say suicide is selfish because choice is involved, but where is choice, really?

There are behaviors we do not have a choice in. If your favorite food is chocolate cake, and I lock you in a room with a fork and a chocolate cake, it’s not a matter of if you will eat the cake, it’s just a matter of when. While you could always say you chose to eat it, if nearly everyone or everyone in your situation would have eaten it sooner or later, there is a certain inevitability to it. If it’s inevitable, it’s pretty hard to understand eating the cake as a “choice” in any meaningful sense.

So what about just toughing it out? Maybe people with depression should just suck it up.

Without treatment, staying alive, for some people with serious depression, is a constant battle. We know from studies on willpower that 1) every person has a limited amount, and 2) the harder a person fights NOT to do something, the closer they actually get to doing it. For some the fight not to commit suicide requires huge amounts of willpower and eventually depletes it. We also know that no one has unlimited willpower. No one. Not me, not you, and not your friends with depression.

What about just changing their thoughts? Why can’t they just stop thinking about suicide?

Sit quietly in a room for two minutes and try to think of nothing. You can’t do it. It’s impossible. Your mind has a mind of its own. It is constantly generating thoughts that lead you off on tangents. This proves beyond dispute that no one has total (and most don’t even have slight) control over the thoughts in their own head. If you do not have serious depression, the only difference between you and someone with it is that the thoughts that automatically come into your head are different. You are lucky, because this is little more than an accident of nature. This means if you don’t suffer from suicidal depression, it is not because you have deeper faith than people who do. It is not because you are more disciplined. It is not because you’re a more moral person, or love your family more. It is not because you have deeper insight than other people, and it’s not attributable to whether or not you believe committing suicide is a sin. If you don’t have suicidal depression, you are fortunate. That’s all. In the same way that if you don’t have MS or other diseases you are fortunate. The automatic thoughts most people naturally have are fairly harmless most of the time, but some have constant thoughts that are very dangerous. Depending on the person, their degree of suicidal ideation, genetic and environmental factors, the question is not if they will attempt to take their life, it’s just when and how. This is still almost completely unpredictable in the mental health arena. We just don’t know who will ultimately attempt suicide. [Or homicide either, which has huge implications for the gun lobby’s suggestion that we have to invest more money in getting potentially dangerous people locked up. But that’s another post.] When thoughts of suicide begin to team up with the thought that removing yourself from the world would actually be better for everybody else, you end up with the twisted notion that this is a good, and perhaps loving, thing to do.

Well horrific things have happened to me, and I haven’t committed suicide

First, you don’t have major depression. But most important, your own experience refutes your point rather than proving it. People don’t take their lives because they experience horrible things like you did. Almost no amount of personal suffering can, under normal circumstances, bring somebody to this point. But when a person has major depression, they can have all the love, money, comfort, fame, and talent in the world, like Robin did, and those things will not keep them from attempting suicide. You may know we almost lost my youngest daughter to suicide three years ago. She wasn’t selfish, she was lost. She thought she was doing us a favor. She knew we’d be hurt, but she thought we’d get over it and our lives would be much better. She didn’t know how to ask for help because she didn’t even realize how profoundly messed up her thinking was. It made sense to her. That’s terrifying to me still, to this day. And getting back into that state of mind is still what my daughter fears more than anything. A few days after her attempt, when she really realized how close she came to dying, it scared the hell out of her and she cried for hours. No one wants to die. But people will only stay alive long-term when they find a reason to live, not merely a reason to not die. I assure you, if you woke up tomorrow and couldn’t find a reason to live, and no medication or treatment could help you, you would probably not be long for this world. No person has infinite will power, and no person can live long without a reason for living. Outside observers say, “What about your children? Your family? Your friends?” But the horrible thing about depression is that, finally, even these reasons end up not being good enough. I know. That’s terrible. It truly is. But it is not selfish. It is diseased thinking and feeling.

Suicide is NOT selfish

So I think it’s irrational to call suicide selfish. That ignores the incredibly powerful instinct all living beings have to live. When a person is somehow able to overcome this most basic of instincts and takes their own life, they have so violated a basic law of nature that it is almost like defying gravity. If someone truly defied gravity, and levitated, you would not ask them how they summoned the willpower to do it, or what strength of character allowed it. Those questions wouldn’t even make sense. Instead you’d ask what special conditions allowed them to do this thing no one else can do. What did they have that others lack. Likewise, when someone overcomes the basic human instinct to survive, asking what flaw in their character allowed it is simply the wrong question. Instead you must ask what special condition existed that allowed them to overcome the life instinct and take their own life (or attempt to). But of course you don’t need to ask that question because we already know the name of that special condition: Major Depressive Disorder, code 296 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

How Your Brain Bends You Constantly Towards Evil (and How to Stop It)

evil -- create an evil human being

Credit: Lenore Edman. Flickr.com. Creative Commons.

There is a part of you that simply feels things, but has no capacity at all for language, or any other abstract ideas such as time, grace, love, truth, or justice. That part of you, the seat of your emotions in the brain, the part of you that just feels, is called the limbic system.

That explains why, when someone hurts you and then apologizes, you may genuinely forgive them and yet the pain may linger for quite some time. Your limbic brain doesn’t understand right and wrong, or apologies — all abstract ideas — it just feels. So it takes time for the feelings to subside. While that time passes, most people (especially religious ones), beat themselves up for not genuinely forgiving.

The takeaway here: There’s literally nothing you can do about it. It just takes time.

There is another part of your brain (this is called the “triune brain” theory, by the way), even more primitive, called the lizard brain. The lizard brain controls more or less automatic things like your heartbeat, digestion, swallowing, etc. This is located in the brain stem. The “fight or flight” mechanism is located here.

The stem is the most basic part of the brain. It is wrapped in the limbic brain, and then the neocortex (the part that evolved most recently) is on the outside.

Why does any of this matter?

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I need you!

I’m taking a blogging class, and my instructor suggested the following:

If I had to leave you with a final thought it would be to separate your blog from your personal life and think of it as its own unique entity that has a very defined audience. Anything that doesn’t serve that defined audience, probably doesn’t belong on the blog if your goals are to serve that audience as best as you can and to grow your blog as largely as possible with as much engagement as possible.

Maybe you could try sending a survey to your current list and asking for feedback on what they enjoy reading the most on your blog and why to see if they can help you narrow things in a bit.

That’s what this page is for. I need you to help me zero in on the purpose of this blog. That means I need you to tell me why you read it, what kinds of posts you care most and least about, and a few other things that will help me make this blog a success for a bigger and bigger audience.

Will you help me by taking my 7-question survey?

I would be eternally grateful!

Upcoming Posts, 6/5/2014

I’ll do this from time to time, give you an idea of some things I’m thinking of writing about. As always, I hope to hear from you on things you’d like to see posts on. Feel free to post in the Comments section under this post, or drop me a note using the Contact Me button at the top of this page.

  • Why I’m Not Self-Publishing My Book
  • Why All Progress on My Book is Now Delayed Until February
  • How to Post a Comment on My Blog and Get Notified When Others Comment Back
  • How to Subscribe to My Email List
  • Why I Just Signed the Charter for Compassion and You Should Too
  • Why “Pray About It” is Often the Worst Advice You Will Ever Get

I may post on some of these but not all of them, or move in other directions completely, but this is what I’m pondering at the moment.

My Rant Fulla Everything!

man holding his own face -- my rant fulla everything

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From my Facebook account, posted there today:

What the heck, I’m deleting my account soon anyway, I might as well really say what’s on my mind. I’m struggling lately with the loose way we’re using language and how it has us in such a mess.

1. Not everything is beautiful. What’s with the tendency we have today to want to call everything beautiful? (Actually, I think that’s a liberal-hipster thing.) When a person loses 500 lbs., the sagging skin on her (or his) tummy is not beautiful. While it is admirable, even beautiful, that he/she worked so hard, while they are probably more disciplined than most people, while their accomplishment cannot be celebrated highly enough, the sagging skin itself is pretty ugly IMO, and I think most would agree. We don’t have to say everything is “beautiful.” If everything is beautiful, nothing is. I realize that in certain spiritual and metaphysical ways of thinking, everything truly IS beautiful, and I totally subscribe to that, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

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