June 3, 2008


Is suicide selfish?

It's one of the most common (and most unhelpful) things people say when someone confides that they are considering ending their life: "How could you be so selfish?" My views on this are complicated, as I am guessing most peoples' are.

Where to begin... Those who say that suicide is selfish's main argument is that the suicidal person will leave so many people behind to feel so much pain. I can identify with that- I chalk my suicide attempt and everything else related to it mainly to Eva's death.

On the other hand, if the scenario was reversed, if one person wanted to keep living and everyone he knew wanted him to kill himself, it just seems preposterous. Though there are cases where this has occured, for example, suicides believed to have stemmed from being bullied. Is it part of the please-everyone-but-yourself society?

I believe some things are very personal decisions that no one can ever make for you. No one can say how you feel; everyone is different. It's YOUR freaking life! Sure everyone wants to share it with you, but you're the central person here, right? Social confirmity can only be taken so far.

And if you're so desparate you're considering suicide, then you're probably beyond caring what other people think or who will care.

This is where it gets complicated for me. If you read near the end of this post, there is a part that goes like this:
“Mariah, please don’t do it. Please don’t murder yourself.”

Well, when he puts it THAT way…

Martin grabs me by the shoulders (he’s a lot taller than me). “Mariah, I
know you’re doing this because of Eva. But it’s not going to take away from the
amount of pain in the world- it’ll add to it. I’ll feel the same way you’re
feeling now, and then what? I love you. Please don’t go.”

Hmm... sort of the thing we're talking about, isn't it?

But, there's this bit:
I finish signing my name with tears in my eyes. For some reason, I’d thought
committing suicide would be easier than this.

I was crying and I didn't know why. Maybe, just maybe, I already, deep down inside, knew that I didn't want to die?


  1. Suicide seems like an inc=dividual act, but actually it's more cultural than we'd like to believe. Although Japan is famous for both its high pressure society and its suicides, teens in the U.S. are twice as like to commit suicide. That's because the U.S. is a highly individualized society. We feel alone because of this individualism and we feel that suicide is an individual act. Othe cultures realize that we really are a part of something larger - our family, town, school, religion, country, Earth/humanity. We are a part of all of these groups and they should give us a sense of meaning, belonging and purpose, but we sometimes can't see that because of our American individualism.

  2. I think the 'selfish' idea comes out of, much of the time, an underlying assumption people have that really people don't want to die if it can possibly be avoided. So any reason not to do it should be reason enough to the mind of someone who isn't tied up in depression or grief. We're all selfish when we're in pain, is the thing. Every single one of us, it's human nature.

    It isn't always enough, and can seem like a statement of blame. I don't think it's usually meant that way, though there is the crowd who say suicide is a cop out, which I don't believe. I believe we all should take responsibility for our own lives.

    As you say, very poignantly, it's about pain - overwhelming moments of pain that strip you of pieces of yourself till you feel like there's nothing left anyway. Somehow suicidal folks get to the point where it doesn't matter, nothing does so selfish is a drop in that ocean.

  3. I was with my mum when she died and my last words to her were, "Don't leave me." Not "Don't die!" but "Don't leave me." Now, obviously she had no choice in the matter (she had cancer) and what I said seems very selfish and childish to me on reflection but, at the time, that was what it felt like: she was leaving me.

    So I'm *guessing* that when someone you love takes their life the loss is even harder to bear because, at some level, you might feel that they chose to leave you, they chose to inflict this pain on you. Of course, the person was in so much pain she couldn't see any other way but the part of us that grieves and hurts can't be reasoned with like that. It's like reasoning with a two year old child.

  4. @Sal- It seems as if you are suggesting that the social pressure of feeling that you're part of something larger and fear of letting people down discourages suicides, which seems contrary to what I would think. Please correct me if you meant differently.

    @CatatonicKid- I'm fairly sure people don't mean it that way, because then they'd be meaning to be inconsiderate. Ususally they're trying to be helpful (I hope.)

    @La- Suicide is obviously a choice, so yes, they chose to leave the world. But in the mind of a suicidal person, sucide isn't really a choice; it's the only option she sees. I can't really say if I felt that she chose to leave me, as most everything from that time period is a big messy blur.

  5. Yes you have it right - sort of. The fact is that countries with very individualized cultures (like America) have a higher rate of suicide than other countries. Americans are not suicidal in nature and there's nothing in our drinking water that makes us do that more than other countries. It's just that we always relate things to individuality such as a success (we earned it) or a failure (I let everyone down). In other, less individualized cultures, you still feel bad that you let people down, but you feel a part of the group - a connection. This is very common in tribal cultures. Some tribes never speak of individuals - they think in terms of only the group, so when you feel bad individually you still feel connected to a larger group that defines you, supports you etc., but in America when you feel bad you just feel bad and you have been trained to think that you are ALONE in your feelings. I study sociology and that has helped me realized that there are so many different ways of thinking about he world, but if we are not aware of that then we can only see it from the cultural viewpoint we have been trained in. Make sense?

  6. Yes, thank you for clarifying.