Friday, November 6, 2009

The Selfishness of Suicide

The following is a direct quote from an anonymous blogger out there in Bloggerland, USA

“suicide is THE most selfish act you could possibly do. In that moment you are thinking only of yourself with no consideration for what anybody else may be feeling”.

That would be the holier-than-thou viewpoint from the proverbial Ivory Tower.

When I am contemplating suicide and I have a husband and children who love me, I have co-workers that respect and care for me, I have parents and brothers and sisters and long-time friends who have been true-blue and trustworthy let me just state unequivocally that I know that there are people who care for me. I know that. I think about it all the time. I agonize over it, I force myself to make it matter, I berate myself for even thinking of leaving these people.

I have endured what at times has been unendurable pain for months or even years in the knowledge that I have people who love me and want to help me. And I endure all of this because I am trying so hard not to be selfish, I am trying so hard to do the human thing and put the needs of others ahead of my own.

So here’s my question:
At what point do I get to put my needs ahead of the needs of others? At what point do I get to put my need to get relief from my pain ahead of your need not to feel sadness? At what point do I get to think about me? At what point do I come first or is it always supposed to be you? Do I ever get to do that? Does it ever get to be me instead of you?

Disclaimer: Ok so that was more like seven questions but they all pretty much point to the same question and for the record I am not suicidal. Some things you just know and others, well others as we can see by the anonymous blogger referenced above, other things you don't have the first clue about and so you should just keep your mouth shut.


  1. JSS.
    A very well argued response to the Ivory Tower.

    I have always felt that suicide is, ultimately, a selfish act but with that thought comes the awful empirical knowledge that when at your worst, suicide is suh an attractive option.
    Reading your post, I find myself turning my own thoughts on their head and asking, WHO is MORE selfish? He who can no longer bear living in the excrutiating agony that he has borne for years, or he who is left?
    It makes me wonder whether the concept of selfishness can ever be applied to the topic of suicide, although I understand that someone who has been "left behind" may feel angry.
    Thanks JSS. Lots to think about here. x

  2. My point exactly. Who gets to decide who is being selfish? Like many things it all comes down to walking in the others shoes. It is truly amazing how perspective can change when viewed from the other side of the river.

  3. What about people who are really quite sick and abusive towards their family, children, friends? Perhaps for those who have tortured their loved ones for years suicide is not a selfish act.

  4. Now that is an interesting twist. I suspect for those left behind it is quite a freeing act although I would also suspect that the survivors would still be left with a considerable sense of loss, but for different reasons, like what shoulda, coulda, woulda been. There is no way around the fact that suicide in any form and under any circumstances is a tragedy but to unilaterally say that it is always a selfish act on the part of the suicidee (??) is to claim ignorance of the reality of the situation.

  5. jss: I have recently been thinking a lot about suicide. One of my close friend's office mate shot himself. My friend has been very angry at the suicide victim, calling him a "coward" that "gave up".

    I don't think so.

    As I mentioned on my site, I have dealt with many drug addicts and troubled teens. Many of them attempted suicide. Not that much unlike them, I considered suicide at many times in my own life.

    People walk their walk. I never try to tell someone she must endure her suffering. None of us knows the pain that others bear. It is easy to be judgemental when you aren't experiencing the pain.

  6. I quite agree. It is a walk that must be walked before there can be any kind of understanding of the place where suicidal thoughts come from.

  7. This topic brings up so much for me. My mother killed herself during my first grade year. My father’s marriage to the mistress that broke up their marriage (there were other issues, but that was a giant one,) led to my mom’s final spiral down the drain. She had spent years suffering with the most dreadful depression: shock treatments x 30, many hospitalizations, and so on. Before she died, she took me aside one day and told me I now had a ‘new mommy,’ referring to my dad’s new wife. I had just met the woman, and she had about as much warmth as an advancing glacier.

    I know my mother thought she was helping my sister and me. I know she felt her ability to mother was nil, and that she was harming us. I know (or at least like to believe) that she thought we would be better off without her.

    She could not have been more wrong. Imagine the absolute worse child abuse you can think of. Then take 90% of that, and you have an idea of how I was treated by my stepmother. It could have been worse, but not by much. The next step would have been her murdering me, which she almost did.

    I felt terribly watching my mother suffer. She used to pray to God: “Please! Let me die!” Not the most uplifting thing for a six-year-old to hear. I felt her torment in my own heart, and in a child-like way understood her need for relief.

    I understand it even better today, because that is where I am, right now. My moods fluctuate rapidly. Just a few days ago I was in a much better place. But last night the only factor keeping me alive was my wife.

    It’s not so much a question of selfishness for me. It’s a question of not wanting to repay my wife by killing myself, after she has fought tooth and nail to keep me alive as I’ve flirted with suicide for ten years. I love her and do not want to treat her that way. If I loved her less, I would be dead already.

    The other thing is, I know that over time I am actually improving. The amount of time I spend feeling like death is the only answer is diminishing. The proportion of time I feel like I can open my heart and accept it all is increasing. I have written about this on my blog of late, as you know.

    I am sorry to leave such a long post. Especially since you were considerate and wrote only a short note on my own site in response to one of my rants. But this is a hot-button issue for me, and it compels me to tell my story. I make no moral judgment about other’s choices. Morality is not what it’s about. The point, to the extent I can keep it in mind, is that life is short. I am trying to endure the pain, enjoy the better times when they sprint by, and live out my natural life span.

    I believe that is best for me. I will be dead soon enough, and I might as well try to learn something while I’m here, even if it hurts. It is best for my wife, even though there have been times when she has deeply regretted getting connected with me.

    I am not sure that staying alive just to avoid being ‘selfish,’ makes sense. Unless some of that selfishness is in the form of wanting to take away from the demons what is rightfully mine: my peace of mind. I do not want to live if all I think about is death. My goal is not to suffer endlessly on the cross; I am not a martyr. I want to climb down from the pain whenever I can, pick a couple of roses, and hand them to the one who loves me. The smile I get in response is enough to keep me going for another day.


  8. Hi Will, thanks for coming by and most certainly thank you for your honest comments. No need to apologize here for speaking what is on your mind.
    You've had a very difficult road and I am glad you have found some measure of enjoyment and hopefully at times at least some peace. I think that anyone who has ever been in a place dark enough to consider taking their own life has a perspective that will forever permeate every aspect of their being and every aspect of the rest of their life. Selfishness? Doesn't apply as far as I am concerned. Thanks again.

  9. Well, from my blog from yesterday, anyone can see how I feel about this issue.

    When someone is suicidal, they are not thinking clearly or seeing the world as it really is. In deep depression, our self-worth is hard to imagine, and it is impossible to see how we can be helpful to anyone else in that state. Instead, it feels as if we are dragging others down, that they would be better off without us.

    I wish whoever wrote that anonymous blog you mentioned would read the post on my blog from yesterday.

    Great entry and comments, glad I stopped by to see it.

  10. Hi Shen thanks for coming by. Clearly that anonymous poster I mentioned never walked the walk yet felt compelled to talk the talk. Puzzling. Truth is years ago I might have said the same thing. If nothing else there are certain life experiences that learn some of us (ahem) to keep our mouths shut and stop making snap judgements of which we know nothing. I count myself among those 'blessed' and learned people.