I recently came across this story, of a man who committed suicide. According to the story, he had just finalized his divorce, and he had left a recording stating that this was something that he had given some thought to for some years. His body was found by police next to the recording.
The truth about depression is that we choose how we feel. While there are some who would argue that there are certain life circumstances that lead to depression, or that there are certain clinical circumstances that lead to depression, such as chemical imbalances caused by a lack of certain neurotransmitters, what is consistent is that thoughts produce feelings.
You control your feelings through the content and context of your thoughts. When I have worked with clients who were suicidal, the first thing I say to them is this; “given that you have already considered taking your life, what do you have to lose in considering other alternatives for happiness?”
For the man who took his life, after years of “thinking it through” I would argue that he wasn’t thorough in his thinking process, as he clearly engaged in several thinking errors by coming up with several justifications to end his life when things did not go his way. In fact, he most likely had several more options for pursuing happiness, but due to familiarity, he had become anchored to a lifestyle, which he had long decided was the only way he could be happy.
This is primarily how people fall for the trap of depression, they trap themselves into an all or nothing corner with beliefs about how the circumstances of their lives should play out. People do this often, and they do not realize it, until their circumstances change to something they dislike. Another thing that keeps us trapped in rigid thinking, is being surrounded by people who think the same way we do and subsequently reinforce our thought process. It becomes more troubling, when our circumstances change for the worse, that we find ourselves surrounded by others who are unable to give us sound advice on how to cope and make peace with things not going our way.
Be it issues with wealth, health or relationships, there are always healthy alternatives to every lifestyle. It calls for an open mind, and courage to explore and act on other ways of thinking. Suicide is often a final solution to a temporary problem.
Throwing it all away.
From time to time, I work with people who have either made an attempt at suicide and or expressed serious intent to do so. My first response to these people is to ask a standard question based on a ancient quote; “have you left all stones unturned?”
Often times when people contemplate on committing suicide, they are operating on limiting core beliefs, which they have repeatedly used towards getting their emotional needs met in a diverse number of situations. As a result they have experienced limited to no success, due to their lack of flexibility in their core beliefs and subsequently their behaviors.
For example, a common theme I observe with people who idealize suicide is an absence of love from their lives. Often these are people who still struggle with childhood trauma, where they experienced significant physical abuse and or emotional neglect under the watch of caregivers. They often feel unloved and unwanted by others in their lives and in their personal relationships they will resort to subservient roles in the hopes of gaining the approval of the other person.
During the course of these relationships, as the person with suicidal ideation gives more of themselves to the other person, the less value the other person sees in them, the more used, undervalued and unloved the person feels. Further, the more relationships the suicidal person engages in which they give the best of themselves with little to nothing in return, the more exhausted they are going to feel about themselves and life in general.
The good news is that people in this predicament with timely intervention can adopt a more optimistic view of themselves and life in general and start thriving. However before I get into what the turn around process will look life for suicidal people, I am going to get into the reasons why people with suicidal ideation, typically find themselves feeling exhausted about themselves, undervalued and unloved in their personal relationships.
Before I begin, I would like to state that the following reasons does not apply to everyone who experiences thoughts about suicide. Further, the following content is not meant to diagnosis and heal anyone who is experiencing suicidal ideation. The following content is being provided as helpful information , if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or know someone who is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please seek consultation with a psychotherapist.
“A Corrupted Sub Conscious”
During the first two years of life, the right hemisphere of the brain is the first develop, in regards to the establishment of neurological connections. Not only is the right hemisphere the first to develop, it also a experiences a rapid growth sprout during those first two years.
In the field of neuroscience it is generally agreed upon that the right hemisphere is more closely connected to the primary and survivalistic needs of the body than the left hemisphere. As a result, the sensory information is usually interpreted by the right hemisphere from an emotional narrative while sensory information from the left hemisphere is usually interpreted from an analytical / problem solving narrative.
The type of emotional narrative used by the right hemisphere to interpret information is usually dependent of the person’s experiences in getting his or her emotional needs met as a child. If the person experienced a lot of success in getting his emotional needs met during childhood, his fundamental emotional narrative tends to be more optimistic. The right hemispheres of people who are more optimistic, tend to communicate easily with the left hemispheres. While the right hemispheres of people who are more pessimistic, tend to communicate less with the left hemispheres of those people. So people who had difficulty getting their needs met as children tend to have a more rigid and pessimistic emotional outlook on life. They are more likely to adopt narratives of helplessness and hopelessness when they encounter challenges in their lives.
The typical mindset of a person struggling with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness is such that if one type of solution does not work for the problem he is addressing, then no other solution will work for that problem. This is obviously not true and explains why people with suicidal ideation give up so easily after addressing the same types of problems with the same approach. repeatedly.
“The Devil You Know..”
Another reason why people with suicidal ideation experience limitation of ideas in addressing their challenges are the people they have grown accustomed to associating themselves with. We are accustomed to dealing with the same types of people we are raised with. This is because during the course of our lives we have developed neurological connections to enable us relate to specific types of people, which affords us a sense of predictability and consistency.
For the person who suffers from suicidal ideation, this presents a big problem, because chances are that you have grown accustomed to interacting with toxic people, and responding to such toxic persons with your own toxicity. This creates the illusion of de ja vu, were just about every relationship you are engaged in is a toxic relationship, which leads to feelings of inferiority, in that you begin to believe that something is wrong with you and that you are deserving of being on the receiving end of toxicity.
“Reprograming Your Subconscious”
Your subconscious mind can be reprogrammed, intentionally or coincidentally. Intentionally by yourself or a third party and coincidentally by information you encounter which inspires you towards change, for better or for worse.
You can come to deeply believe yourself to be a worthwhile human being and come to unconditionally accept yourself.
This process involves creating a narrative and seeking real life evidence to test the effectiveness of the narrative. The first step towards creating this narrative is by understanding the law of opposites. The law of opposites states that everything in existence is a combination or unity of opposites, a common example would be electricity, which is defined by a positive or negative charge.
This means that if you are currently living your life based on a narrative where your worth is low and you reject yourself, there exists a narrative where you believe yourself to be a worthwhile human being and you unconditionally accept yourself.
This is not a narrative you simple make up, but one you base on evidence. First you explore evidence that supports your reasons for degrading your worth as human being. Imagine that your belief of low self worth is a table top, and the reasons you look down on your self are supported by the legs that hold up the table top.
Now write down on a sheet of paper the evidences you have gathered to support your issues with low self worth, each of these evidences will symbolically represent as a leg for the table. You can write down as many evidences as possible even though the standard table has four legs. Once you have written down your evidences, write down on a separate sheet of papers, the exact opposites of these evidences and how they will support the new worthwhile you.
For example, if you believe that you are surrounded by people who do not care about you, as evidenced by the current people in your life, then you write down what it would be like to be surrounded by people who do care about you and who in return you care about.
You will then write down what changes you can start taking in your life to be surrounded by people who do care about you. By doing so, you will be faced with the harsh reality of the things you do to attract uncaring people into your life. Whatever changes you write down, you will come to the realization that practicing these changes will change how you relate to others and subsequently how others relate to you.
A former client of mine, once began the practice of setting boundaries with family and friends anytime they made crude jokes he considered to be offensive. He would place these boundaries and follow through with his commitment to follow through on the boundaries if he was teased for being too sensitive. Much to his surprise he reported experiencing less conflicts with people, as he in turn had become more cognizant of the things he said to others.
This was all based on his new narrative that he would commit to being the most genuine and courageous person he could be, in all of his relationships with people.
In getting to this stage, there was on obstacle that he had to overcome, and that was learning to get past his difficult feelings.
In this previous post, I wrote about feelings, I discussed feelings being tools we use as human being to gage our accuracy of our perceptions of reality as compared to reality as is.
The most difficult part about implementing a new narrative, is getting past your difficult feelings, which usually consist of confusion, guilt, fear and shame. These feelings are false negatives that you become anchored to over the years to unhealthy narratives you formed during your early life experiences.
The most effective way to get past your difficult feelings is to do nothing. The process of doing nothing does take a lot of effort, as over the years you have developed strong neurological connections that fire in response to certain triggers to illicit certain reactions. The most effective way to do nothing is to practice deep breathing. Deep breathing exercises, invoke deep states of relaxation, leading you to become less reactive to certain triggers. A starter exercise I typically introduce clients to is the process of counting breaths from one through ten and then from back down from ten to one. After this process has been completed you will experience a deep state of relaxation, at which point you can focus on asking yourself why you are experiencing the difficult feelings you are experiencing.
With practice, you will experiencing progress in getting past your difficult feelings, making it more easier to implement your new narrative.
As effective as these techniques are, they are easier said/written than done. If you experience significant difficulty practicing these techniques, it is advisable that you see a therapist.
After all, you have one life to live. So leave no stone unturned.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.