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Humans have a tendency to blame our self when a loved one ended their own life.
The “I should have …………” “If only I’d …………..”? “Why Didn’t I …………”? “What if I’d ………..”? "perhaps if ……………"
These are blaming statements and questions, that form the language of self-blame. Sayings and questions that go round and round, over and over in our minds relentlessly; they begin soon after the news is heard that our loved one has ended their life and take on an energy of their own very quickly.
These are toxic thoughts we somehow put onto an imaginary stick which we then use to beat our self up with daily and hard and for some the harder they beat the harder accepting what has happened becomes.
These thought patterns keep you stuck in a negative cycle, this happens mainly because you can’t find a reason or make sense of what happened and because what has happened is unbelievable even though you know on an intellectual level the worst thing that could happen, has happened and there's nothing we can do about it now.
In our emotional world its difficult to accept.
When we can’t find a reason for something, we can’t make sense of what happened, this creates a gap between the facts of what happened and the illusoriness of what has happened, this is known as cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance (Festinger1957) means we hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, in the case of our loved one completing suicide we know what they have done but we can’t believe it, this new information is almost impossible to integrate into our thoughts or psychic energy.
We can’t not won't accept the news because it goes against what we believed about our loved one, it goes against our love for our loved one and it goes against our moral code and conduct; we hold life as valuable, for someone we love to end their own life at their own hand is against all we believe, all we value and any ideas we have about our loved one and our self in relation to our loved one. Most of us don’t believe that someone we loved would actually carry out the actions needed to end their life even if they say they are going to do it!
This contradiction of having two thoughts, belief, values or behaviours going on at the same time, the facts of reality and our belief system clash and this gives us metal discomfort and pain, whilst creating a gap which we can’t live with.
So, our cogitations needs to hold consistency in our belief system with our perceptions, when there is an inconsistency something has to change to reduce the pain and discomfort.
Because we can’t make sense out of what happened our psyche has a tendency to fill the gap with mainly negativity in the case of a completed suicide it fills with untruths such as toxic thoughts and even though on another level we know we are not to blame for someone else’s choice we blame ourselves because we can’t live inside the gap!
The gap inside us is between the cognitive and the emotional world, the conflict is between what your loved one did and how you perceive your part in how your loved one behaved
i.e. “I should have …………”? “If only I’d …………..”? “Why Didn’t I …………”? “What if I’d ………..”? Perhaps I should have …...
“If only I knew then what I know now, I would have ……. I could have ………. But I didn’t …. So cognitive dissonance comes into play and offers us mental pain and discomfort and believe it or not self-blame is easier to accept and live with then inconsistency in our mental world! Once our mental process has decided to come down on one side or the other our internal thought processing has returned to constituency although be it a ‘false’ processing it is nevertheless consistent and some of the pain and discomfort subsided but is replaced with a different pain and hurt.
Once cognitive consistency is returned another toxic process comes into play that of ‘Hindsight bias’, according to Oxford Dictionary
Understanding of a situation or event only after it has happened or developed. ‘with hindsight, I should’
Inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.
In the case of our loved one completing suicide our hindsight bias is towards our self and this is where our thoughts turn to:
“If I knew then what I know now, I would have ……. I could have ………. But I didn’t …. I've let him or her down ….
I can't believe I didn't see the signs …….. I should have listened ………… I should have known …...
Hindsight bias can cause memory distortion and lead to false recollections and helps us interpret what we did before our loved one ended their own life in a different way to what it was at the time.
Our thought processes move onto “I should have seen that …… “I knew it all along and I did nothing” ……….”
I should have said …………….” And “I failed”, “My marriage was a failure”, “I didn’t know this person when I thought I did, therefore I’m useless, I’m stupid, I’m ………… add your own!
If you had seen, heard, felt, known your loved one was not only capable but was going to carry out the actions which ended their life yes of course you would have done something different.
The fact is however, that you didn’t know until after the event, until you heard the news being delivered you did not known in any certain terms that your loved one was actually about to end their own life. Hence hindsight bias!
Some people have taken their loved one to their GP or to A & E because they were fearful they might be contemplating suicide only to be sent home again as not ‘at high risk’ and a few days later your loved one completes suicide.
What comes into play for these people is’ bystander apathy ‘or the ‘bystander effect’ this is a psychological phenomenon of cognitive and social processes working together for example, I walk down a street and see someone laid out on the floor, no one else seems to be taking any notice of them and everyone is walking past the person on the floor. In my mind, I'm wondering what is wrong, their must be something wrong with a person laid out on the pavement, yet no one else seems to think so, since they are all walking past without helping, I walk past too! Because In my mind there was no crisis happening for that person laid out on the floor because I perceived others didn't think so and so I didn't need to be overly concerned because not one else was! However after the event I question self about 'why' didn't I stop? Why didn't I do something and the 'what if's' start what if they were dying and I did nothing? What if that was my son or daughter, a loved one laid out on the floor and everyone walked past? Why, what if, if only I'd stopped. But I didn't because bystander effect kicked in and stopped me!
The next time however knowing how not doing something affected me negatively and I saw a person on the pavement I would over ride the bystander apathy and switch on compassion and stop and find out what's wrong. However that wouldn't change my response to the first person I walked past but by stopping to help the second person I would have 'change' my response to the bystander effect and it probably would be no more in this situation!
In the case of suicide when we have taken our loved one to A & E or their GP for support and the support is not forthcoming or doesn't happened immediately we then have bystander effect playing out. Since people in ‘authority’ ‘who ought to know’ don’t seem to think this is a crisis, we interpret that as ‘s/he our loved one is not as ill or in a crisis as I thought’ 'I must have got it wrong' and we relax ever so slightly. Because of course if my loved one was in danger the casualty doctors and nurses or the GP would be doing something about this surly? wouldn't they!
This results in both confusion and diffusion of responsibility for the person who is suicidal, the bystander effect distributes the responsibility between family members, friends and medical personal and in effect weakens the support which is offered to the person in crisis by any body involved in their care. The crisis is weakened as a partner, spouse, child, friend or neighbour of someone on the edge of suicide we are ‘vicariously’ led to believe this is not the crisis it perhaps is! The medical staff are deceived perhaps by the person who is suicidal or the environment they are working in to busy, to rushed, not enough time to spend talking to get a clearer picture. They have someone at home to look after them...…. but in both camps lack of expertise, knowledge or awareness is not forth coming, its is cruel however of hospital personal to send someone home who presents as suicidal, who openly shares this is the place they are in. Perhaps an admission would be safer for everyone.
Cognitive dissonance, Hindsight Bias and Bystander Effect are illusions which our mental faculties set up to protect itself. Other deceptions of our minds is the illusions of power and control somewhere our mind, somehow in some way ‘thinks’ we have the ‘power’ to stop someone else doing something. WE DON’T ….. we also have the illusion going on we can ‘control’ another person WE CAN’T. The only person we can have power or control over is our self.
We can play a part in another’s decision making, we can evoke feelings and thought within another, BUT we do not have the final say in how another behaves, that alone belongs to the person behaving!
I’m not saying we can’t help a person and support them with their thoughts, feeling and sensing when they are suicidal; we can help hold their perceptions, their safety, help them feel secure IF we know this is how they are thinking and feeling.
This depends on:
The person being open to receive help and support
Understanding the breath and depth of another's need.
The strength of the others power and control (which make it difficult to help)
A person's ability to articulate their needs.
The depth and breath of a persons perceptions.
The logicality of thought processing.
When someone completes actions, which end their life it is no bodies actual fault no one person is to blame.
This is because the person completing is not thinking healthily their thought processor are skewed, so they are unable to ask for help and support. Why would they when they have the perfect plan and course of action to end whatever is troubling them.
A person on this edge has more or less decided their loved ones will be better of without them, they are a burden to their loved ones (which couldn’t be further from the truth). With these skewed thoughts a person has a sense of isolation and perhaps feel they don’t belong in their family, in their work place or in society as a whole. If they’ve had a lot of pain, physically or mentally, past suicide attempts, self-harmed in some way or have suffered trauma, perceived as life-threatening then they may have built the capacity to ‘enact lethal self injury’ (Joiner 2005).
Therefore, it is futile to blame yourself because - Supporters are supporting from a mind of logic to a mind full of illogic, supporting from a mind of reason to a mind of unreasonableness, rational to irrational, its ‘as if’ a computer program is talking to a computer with a virus, a bug. To the person on the edge of ending their life the logical is offering the illogic a ‘trojan horse’; as such the skewed mind will not accept what is being offered because it is suspicious, distrustful and perhaps made up their mind the best course of action for them is to end their life.
In those moments to the skewed mind it is perfectly logical and rational.
It never is for those left behind. The act of suicide is complex and compounded by a multitude of issues, it is has multidimensional elements which lead up to the actual behaviour which ends a person life.
You have enough pain confusion and hurt going on without blaming your self. The person who ended their life did so through their own choice as skewed as it perhaps was …. it was their choice ……..when they made that choice they took away any choice you had from that point forward and replaced it with power and control, especially because they are not here to ask or shout at or be angry at for the choice they made which changed you and your families life for the rest of your life.
Self-blame is part of your grieving journey, it can deflect away from the authentic pain and hurt of ‘feeling’ the loss of someone you love, it can also stop you from healing and moving forward.
YES, it is possible to both heal and move forward.
If you would like to understand how you condemn yourself unhealthily by blaming yourself or have illusion of unhealthy control and power and if you feel you need to make sense of what your loved one did and experiencing toxic thoughts. Please contact me and together in partnership we will find your best way through your grief and back into living!