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Self-Knowledge • Melancholy

On Suicide

It’s commonly assumed that people kill themselves because something goes wrong in their life: perhaps they made a mistake at work, maybe they suffered a reversal in a relationship, they might have fallen out with all their friends or lost a lot of money.

But the truth is more nuanced and more psychological. People take their own lives because of the way they interpret events. And, it has to be stressed at once, there would be other, kinder, more complicated, more gentle ways of interpreting the very same events, but these are — for reasons related to the genesis of trauma — tragically out of reach for the unfortunate victim.

For those who choose suicide, the blame for events always lies powerfully with them. It is because they are so dreadful that something has gone wrong, that a love affair failed, that a friend no longer speaks to them, that they have been the subject of a rumour at work. And there can be no mild or passing reprimand. They cannot be allowed to have made a slip, they are not granted permission to be human, they can’t just err. They must die.

The origins of such inner strictness almost always lies in the way that a person was themselves interpreted by other people, at an age when they were learning about the world, about morality and justice. How we interpret our reversals is a palimpsest of how our caregivers interpreted us and our early slips. Were we allowed to fail? Was it OK to be less than stellar? Was forgiveness on the cards? 

Those who take their own lives were already, before whatever pushed them to the limit, on the edge of appalling degrees of self-hatred. The reversal surely did not help but the problem far predated it. They kill themselves because they had no space to find yet more wrong with them.

They would have been saved by love. In their name, we should spread our love very widely, especially towards people who seem to like themselves very little and who generally have no self-confidence and no self-benevolence to ask us for help.

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