Suicide as a selfish act
One of my school buds killed himself at 15, and my mom told me he was selfish for doing it. When my sister’s friend killed himself in college, her boyfriend said he was being selfish. This is a pernicious idea that doesn’t have much bearing in fact.
1. Remember that people who die by suicide often feel that they are a burden on others. If they perceive that they are relieving the burden of loved ones, how are they being selfish? They often also operate under the idea that they are socially isolated. If you truly believe that your death will matter little to others, how are you being selfish by taking your own life?
2. People who have had suicidal ideation, myself included, often are somewhat rational and do the moral calculation in their heads, deciding that it would be selfish to die. That’s all well and good, but people who are saying that suicide is selfish are assuming that when people are committing the act of suicide, they are fully cognizant, rational, and capable of making the moral calculations they did at other points in their life. Someone who is about to kill him or herself, like right on the brink, is typically so distressed that their cognitive functioning operates on one track – how am I going to kill myself? The thought process of a person lying awake in bed and thinking about suicide is NOT the same as the thought process of someone who is pulling the trigger of a pistol or running towards the edge of a cliff.
3. People with antisocial personality disorder are known to be wildly impulsive, prone to anger, and prone to fighting and hurting others and themselves. These people may be violent, but they usually have some empathy for others and themselves, even if it’s below what we’d consider normal. However, there is a subtype of people (Cleckley psycopath, look it up) with antisocial personality disorder who are cold, manipulating, and largely unfeeling. This second group tends to be more self-centered, narcisstic, and selfish than the emotionally out-of-control group. Based on the “suicide is selfish” hypothesis, you would expect the cold manipulators to have a higher suicide rate. However, they are not! The emotional, unstable group has a higher suicide rate than the general population while the second group, much more prone to selfishness and excessive self-aggrandizement, was found by Joiner and colleagues to be NEGATIVELY associated with suicidal behavior (to a non-significant degree, though I’d like to see a bigger sample than 313).
4. People who kill themselves routinely do so in ways that they perceive will be easier on their families or friends. It is common for people to travel to other cities to kill oneself (10% of New York City suicides are non-New Yorkers). People frequently go into a secluded area to kill themselves so that a police officer or park ranger will find their body instead of their family. There is also a myth that people seek an audience when they kill themselves. This is a myth, as explained above. People usually try to die by themselves or with another person.
This one was a 3-parter originally. I’ve added all 3 parts together.
I think you have to be rational or at least clear-headed to be selfish, and during the moments leading up to suicide people are usually incapable of thinking of much else. There is a HUGE difference between a person’s mental process during “normal” suicidal ideation and the thought process they go through right up to an attempt. Joiner says that thoughts become “decontextualized” and “numb to outside influences” as the person centers on one thing: ending the pain of life through the death act.
Part 3: Another thing that grates on me is how people decontextualize a victim’s suicidal act from the rest of their life. Even if you grant that suicide is selfish (which I don’t), this person may have selflessy soldiered on through depression/borderline/bipolar depression for YEARS before they killed themselves. Yet all some people think of is the act itself, forgetting how much of a struggle it is for suicidal people to live day to day. Often, they do it all for the sake of others.
Thoughts today: One of the worst things you can do besides actually goading someone to kill themself is spread the myth that suicide is a selfish act. My mother’s comment that I mentioned at the beginning had the unintentional but very effective power to silence me. Looking back, it’s a big part of why I kept my mouth shut. If suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness, admitting to having this most selfish suicidal urge is almost as selfish. The thought process of the ignorant is, “Oh, now we have to deal with THIS shit because he can’t think of anyone but himself.” Think of others – live another day. Seek help. Open up to someone you trust. Find someone else if/when that person doesn’t understand. You are worth it.