An inner weakness in our psyche, one that goes largely undetected, produces the tendency in some people to collapse into helplessness. This weakness is sometimes felt quite acutely even by people coping with just everyday routine matters. We don't need to be facing life-or-death situations to experience this debilitating weakness.
Tracking the source of the helpless feeling. by michaelson/bigstockphoto
Suicidal thoughts are quite common, and even people living good lives can experience them now and then. For many, suicidal thoughts are fleeting considerations, following which they bounce back to their everyday sense of self.
Others are haunted by these thoughts on a regular basis. The risk of committing suicide is increased for a person who begins to think often on how to do it.
Experts say the causes of suicide are varied. Suicide is associated with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mood and personality disorders, depression, sleep deprivation, work failure, and drug abuse. Another cause cited across all the suicide-prevention websites is the feeling of helplessness.
This feeling of being helpless (overwhelmed, trapped, and unable to cope) appears to be a universal emotional experience among people with either fleeting or persistent thoughts of suicide. According to MedicalNewsToday.com , suicidal thoughts tend to arise when people "are no longer able to cope with an overwhelming situation, which could be financial, the death of somebody they love, breaking up, or a devastating, debilitating illness."
An inner weakness in our psyche, one that goes largely undetected, produces the tendency in some people to collapse into helplessness. This weakness is sometimes felt quite acutely even by people coping with just everyday routine matters. We don't need to be facing life-or-death situations to experience this debilitating weakness. This weakness, which I identify more precisely further along, can also instigate the other factors listed above that contribute to suicidal thoughts, particularly drug abuse, depression, work failure, and sleep deprivation.
Here's how this feeling of helpless is described at the suicide-prevention website of WebMD.com :
People who seriously consider suicide feel hopeless, helpless, and worthless. A person who feels hopeless believes that no one can help with a particular event or problem. A person who feels helpless is immobilized and unable to take steps to solve problems. A person who feels worthless is overwhelmed with a sense of personal failure.
People contemplating suicide "perceive the future as being hopeless," says the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy . Many "feel so buried under so many little things that have gone wrong that they feel like they are drowning."
When people fail to rise effectively to deal with life's challenges, they've likely come under the influence of inner passivity. According to psychoanalysis, inner passivity originates in our psyche's subordinate or unconscious ego. Through this inner position, we relate rather weakly and defensively to our inner critic. Our inner passivity tries to represent us in the ongoing conflict with the inner critic, but it often feels overwhelmed, defeated, and rendered helpless by the persistent, primitive, and authoritarian stance that our inner critic (superego) assumes.
The inner critic has no business butting into our life and curtailing our inner freedom. With emotional strength, we're able to shut down and neutralize our presumptuous inner critic. However, a person with greater deposits of inner passivity can be harassed and bullied by the inner critic to the point of experiencing helplessness against it and acquiring self-loathing and self-hatred in the process.
More people are now recognizing how we live under the spell of egotism, our mind's chief operating system. It's time now to recognize, as well, how much we are, mentally and emotionally, under the influence of both our inner critic (superego), which churns out negative self-aggression, and our unconscious ego, which wallows in inner passivity. The resulting conflict, when intensified, produces suffering and self-defeat, although the negative emotions can be "libidinized," (made pleasurable) through perversity, as in sexual sado-masochism, bullying, the abuse of animals, or the manic thrill of violence and warfare. (Read, Our Messy Mix of Aggression and Passivity .)
Inner passivity can be recognized through its many symptoms, including procrastination, fear of intimacy, depression, and weakness in self-regulation. The connection between inner passivity and various negative emotions and self-defeating behaviors is described in many of my posts at this website.
Inner passivity is the main cause of a defeatist mentality, which is a "who cares, I don't care" approach to life. Chronic complainers--the "I got screwed, I was taken advantage of" contingent--exhibit inner passivity as they cover up their affinity for experiencing helplessness and victimization. Inner passivity contributes to worry, anxiety, and fear as people entertain feelings of being at the mercy of bad things happening. Many sufferers with inner passivity identify with their mind and find themselves spinning their mental wheels in futile attempts to make decisions and emerge from confusion. Others feel swamped by the chaos of their emotions.
People with suicidal thoughts often are very hard on themselves. When our inner passivity is particularly feeble, it puts up little resistance against our inner critic. This gives our inner critic license to be particularly harsh and merciless. As the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy says, some individuals contemplating suicide " may be experiencing a steady decline in the quality of their lives, and may blame themselves and think that something is wrong with them. The more they blame themselves, the less worthy they feel of having success, having friends, or having fun."
They blame themselves because, through an inner collapse caused by extensive inner passivity, they soak up the negative, aggressive insinuations and condemnations being issued by the inner critic. People in this predicament frequently succumb to clinical depression. (Read, " The Hidden Cause of Clinical Depression .")
Other negative emotions, as well, can produce suicidal thoughts, among them an intense feeling of being unloved and abandoned. This experience, however, still relates to inner passivity because, through inner passivity, individuals have difficulty supporting themselves emotionally.
Now we come to quite a startling consideration. Suicidal thoughts, as well as acts of suicide, appear to be psychological defenses designed to cover up our unconscious participation in (or emotional attachment to) the experience of inner passivity. Because we are desperate to deny our passivity (to keep it unconscious) we need to try to "prove," as a psychological defense, how much we hate to experience the helplessness. For the defense to work, we're required to accentuate the sense of our misery. The defense goes like this: "I'm not looking for the feeling of being helpless. I'm not wallowing or indulging in that feeling. In fact, I hate the feeling so much that I'm wishing I were dead and didn't have to feel anything." Also driving suicidal thoughts is the individual's temptation, out of profound inner passivity, to perceive suicide as a display of conviction and aggression.
Psychological defenses work in such a way that, in order to maintain their effectiveness as inner conflict intensifies, we often have to ratchet up the self-damage. Ghastly though it is, people kill themselves to "prove" they are innocent of any collusion in self-suffering: "I hate my suffering and now I'm going to end it." Consciously, we do hate our suffering. But unconsciously we cling passionately to it and fervently deny our collusion in the experience of it. When we understand this, we can stop suicidal thoughts in their tracks.
Peter Michaelson is an author, blogger, and psychotherapist in Plymouth, MI. He believes that better understanding of depth psychology reduces the fear, passivity, and denial of citizens, making us more capable of maintaining and growing our democracy while flourishing in our personal life.