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All Different and Yet Alike

Most survivors know that suicide loss is different from other types of loss. The uniqueness of losing a loved one to their own hand is devastating and also includes aspects that cause a survivor of suicide loss to feel “set apart” and isolated from other people who may be mourning a loved one by any other cause. It is a different kind of grief.

No two survivors of suicide loss are exactly the same, either. Two mothers may both lose sons and yet a multitude of attributes such as their personalities, relationships, social and support networks, environments, etc., can never be exactly the same. Survivors are like snowflakes. They have so many characteristics which make them one-of-a-kind, and yet they have certain traits that are theirs alone.

The “unique-yet-same” condition may also exist for those that have passed due to suicide. Just like survivors, they are each individual and irreplaceable and no two will ever be exactly alike. And yet, they do have similarities that are common to most or all of those that complete suicide.

Edwin Shneidman is a noted suicidologist and co-founder of the American Association of Suicidology, (www.suicidology.org.) In his book The Suicidal Mind, (Oxford University Press; Revised ed. Edition, April 23, 1998), he outlines what he calls “the 10 psychological commonalities of suicide”:

  1. The common purpose of suicide is to seek a solution: A suicidal person is seeking a solution to a problem that is “generating intense suffering” within him or her.
  2. The common goal of suicide is cessation of consciousness: The anguished mind of a suicidal person interprets the end of consciousness as the only way to end the suffering.
  3. The common stimulus of suicide is psychological pain: Shneidman calls it “psychache,” by which he means “intolerable emotion, unbearable pain, unacceptable anguish.”
  4. The common stressor in suicide is frustrated psychological needs: A suicidal person feels pushed toward self-destruction by psychological needs that are not being met (for example, the need for achievement, for nurturance or for understanding.)
  5. The common emotion in suicide is hopelessness-helplessness: A suicidal person feels despondent, utterly unsalvageable.
  6. The common cognitive state of suicide is ambivalence: Suicidal people, Shneidman says, “wish to die and they simultaneously wish to be rescued.”
  7. The common perceptual state in suicide is constriction: The mind of a suicidal person is constricted in its ability to perceive options, and, in fact, mistakenly sees only two choices—either continue suffering or die.
  8. The common action in suicide is escape: Shneidman calls it “the ultimate escape besides which running away from home, quitting a job, deserting an army, or leaving a spouse … pale in comparison.”
  9. The common interpersonal act in suicide is communication of intention: “Many individuals intent on completing suicide … emit clues of intention, signals of distress, whimpers of helplessness, or pleas for intervention.” No matter how subtle and scattered among a multitude of different people they may be, they exist even though sometimes it is only possible to identify them in hindsight.
  10. The common pattern in suicide is consistent with life-long styles of coping: A person’s past tendency for black-and-white thinking, escapism, control, capitulation and the like could serve as a clue to how he or she might deal with a present crisis.

    Do any of these states or ways of thinking relate to your loved one? Do you feel that one or more of these does not apply? A good place for that discussion is in a support group that is exclusively for survivors of suicide loss. These groups can be a valuable and healing experience in that they allow supportive space in which survivors can share both the commonalities and the uniqueness of their personal situation. With our groups and classes at the Helpline Center, we try to honor and celebrate the memorable qualities of those we’ve lost. At the same time, we come together in solidarity as a community that shares the pain of that loss.

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