Getting Beyond The “Whys” Of A Loved One’s Suicide

One person commits suicide in the United States every 16 minutes, on average, according to Do Something. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. In addition, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 to 24 and it is the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 24 to 35.

Suicide is said to impact directly and immediately an average of six people. If you are a person in such a position that has lost a loved one to suicide, you likely find yourself struggling in many different ways. As part of the emotions you are experience, you likely are facing guilt and an array of internal questions about how and why the suicide of your loved one could have happened.

You need to understand that you are not alone when it comes to the aftermath of the death of a loved one by suicide. There are other people in your shoes today. Moreover, there are strategies and resources that you can take advantage of to get beyond the “whys” of a loved one’s suicide.

Addressing Your Emotional Responses to the Loss of Loved One

Odds are that you have never experienced a more intense array of emotions than you find yourself facing in the aftermath of the suicide of beloved friend or family member. The spectrum of emotions faced by a person like you who has lost a loved on by suicide includes denial, anger, depression, and anxiety, according to the American Association of Suicidology Survivors of Suicide Loss Fact Sheet.

If you are like a majority of people who face the aftermath of the suicide of a loved one, you will likely experience these emotions. Directly after the death of a loved one by suicide, your immediate emotional response very likely may be denial. You simply cannot believe, or come to terms, with the suicide of a family member or friend.

Another immediate emotion you very well may face following a loved one’s suicide is anger. Anger presents in a number of ways when a loved one dies by suicide. Anger is a natural emotion following a suicide.

You may find yourself angry with your loved one who took his or her life. On the other hand, you may be angry with yourself as well. This self-anger plays a significant role in self-blame, which is discussed more fully shortly.

Following the suicide of a family member or friend you a likely to experience significant or profound sadness that gives way to depression. The onset of depression is quite likely if you were particularly close to the individual that took his or her life.

Accompanying, or even independent of, depression may be anxiety. Anxiety may be more generalized, along the lines of what commonly is referred to as social anxiety. On the other hand, anxiety may be tied closely with the issue of self-blame. In other words, the anxiety you experience may be connected with the idea that you are to blame for the suicide of your loved one and you believe that you may fail in this regard again in the future.

Getting Beyond Blaming Yourself

In the midst of the hurricane of emotions that rage following the loss of a loved on by suicide, you very well may blame yourself for the death. A trio of questions, and perhaps even more derivations on them, may dominate your waking hours and even haunt you in your sleep:

  • I should have _____
  • If only I _____
  • Why didn’t I _____

The myriad of emotions you experience are aggravated even further through self-blame. Indeed, experts in assisting individuals left behind after a loved on commits suicide describe self-blame as infecting the open wound of raw emotions that can prove to be toxic, according to Speaking of Suicide.

Many people in your situation initially react to self-blame with the mantra of “once I deal with all of the emotions I am experience, I will be able to stop blaming myself.” In some isolated cases, this may prove true. However, in the vast majority of situations, the emotions and self-blame experienced after the suicide of a loved one coalesce into a potentially unmanageable vicious circle. Emotions fuel self-blame and self-blame feeds emotions. This cyclic gyration only worsens until it all becomes toxic, seriously impacting your emotional and psychological wellness. Indeed, even your physical health can ultimately be impacted as a result of this toxic brew.

As is the case with the different emotions that typically flow from the suicide of a loved one, some amount self-blame in the immediate aftermath is normal and to be expected. Self-blame becomes a problem either if it persists or becomes more profound over time, or both.

By understanding the mechanics of self-blame, you place yourself in a better position to get beyond it. There is an important caveat to bear in mind upfront, however. The reality is that you may always experience some degree of self-blame when it comes to the suicide of a loved one. The goal is not to eliminate self-blame entirely. Rather, the objective is to prevent self-blame from reaching aa toxic level. In addition, the objective is to markedly reduce the presence and impact of self-blame in your life going forward. Self-blame may never dissipate entirely. But, you can address it in a manner that it becomes akin to a scar. It exists, it reminds you of something from your past, but it doesn’t dominate or control the course of your life.

Hindsight bias is one of the elements of self-blame that you need to understand as part of the healing process. Hindsight bias is the clinical term for “hindsight is 20/20.” In other words, the whole concept of hindsight being perfect really is a medical and psychological “thing.”

Hindsight bias is defined as a situation that occurs “when an individual possesses knowledge about the outcome of an event and falsely believes he or she was capable of predicting and, by implication, affecting its outcome,” according to Psychology and Society.

A central feature of self-blame is the belief that if you only knew then what you know now, your loved one would still be alive. You look back on the days, weeks, or months leading up to the suicide of your loved one and you know believe you see a number of warning sides.

The stark reality is that you not only did not recognize these perceived warning signs for what they were but you could not do so. You literally could not evaluate what you now think of a suicidal warning signs when they occurred because you had no context within which to put them.

Another element of self-blame that you need to understand is its relationship with the concept of control. As human beings, we all have a natural tendency to want to believe that we have control over our life, control over things around us and that impact us.

The reality of life is that a great amount is beyond our control. Even developing a mundane schedule to deal with the tasks of an ordinary day can prove futile. Odds are that on nearly any given day, something or another is going to arise that impacts your nicely planned schedule, or even turns it all upside down.

Control in life is particularly fragile when it comes to a tragedy like the suicide of a family member or friend. The loss of your loved one highlights how little control any of us have over our lives. In a sense, self-blame provides a protection against the reality of the limited control you have in regard to your life.

A step you need to take to tamper down and get beyond self-blame is the difficult realization that there is much in life that is beyond our control. This includes the decision by someone we care about deeply to take his or her own life.

Finally, when it comes to addressing self-blame following a loved one’s suicide, you must ultimately to take the steps necessary to place blame where it belongs. In fact, the process of “placing blame” for a suicide transcends the traditional concept of fault.

Another reality is that not even the person who elected to take his or her life can be blamed for doing so. Certainly, if the person who committed suicide cannot fairly be blamed, neither can you.

In the final analysis, irrational thoughts deprived your loved on of his or her ability to see any possibility for change in life. Broken thought processes left that loved one to feel hopeless and in a state of utter despair. That state is not something that a person can simply “snap out of” through an act of will of logic. Your loved believed his or her self to be trapped, with no means of escape.

Professional Support to Get Beyond the Whys of a Suicide

Because of the intensity of emotions, coupled with the potentially powerful nature of self-blame, you may want to seek professional assistance following the suicide of a loved one. Not only are their grief counselors, and other professionals, who can assist you with dealing with the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide, there are professionals who work specifically in this area. In other words, there are counselors and therapists that work specifically with people trying to overcome the loss of a family member of friend by suicide.

In addition to professionals who focus on healing from the suicide of a loved one, there are counselors and therapists that address the unique needs of particular individuals who lost a loved one. For example, parents who lose a child to suicide can face a particularly acute level of self-blame, accompanied by overwhelming emotions, according to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.

As was mentioned previously, not everyone is able to get completely beyond assigning at least some blame for the loss of a loved one by suicide. Nonetheless, you can contain self-blame and more beyond it.

Support Groups for Survivors of Suicide: Getting Beyond and Healing

Depending on your circumstances, a support group may be advisable course for you. A self help group may be used to supplement any professional assistance you seek. In the alternative, in some cases, a person who loses a loved one to suicide is able to get beyond the “whys” of a loved one’s suicide by participating in a self help group.

There actually are a variety of different support groups designed to aid people who are survivors of suicide. Information on these groups can be accessed through the websites mentioned at the end of this article. In addition, community mental health centers maintain information on support groups as do many hospitals. In addition, some funeral homes also have resources associated with grief management, including grief management associated with a loved one’s suicide.

Do Not Reinvent the Wheel

As mentioned more than once in this article, when it comes to getting beyond the “whys” of loved one’s suicide, you most definitely are not alone. Sadly, thousands of people make this journey every year.

Because you share this experience with many others, you need not reinvent the wheel when it comes to getting beyond the “whys” of a loved one’s death by suicide. Therefore, you truly can learn from the experiences of experts in the field, as well as from other people who have been or are in your shoes. Beyond Surviving: 25 Suggestions for Survivors provides you with more than two-dozen practical tactics to employ when recovering from the suicide of a family member or friend.

Online Resources for Survivors of Suicide

As mentioned previously, you most definitely are not alone when it comes to dealing with the challenges that follow the loss of loved one by suicide. With the internet being a central forum for people from all walks of life, there are a multitude of resources for people in need of support, information, and guidance as suicide survivors. Some of these online resources include:

For Suicide Survivors – www.forsuicidesurvivors.com
Suicide Survivors.org – www.suicidesurvivors.org
Survivors of Suicide – www.suicidesurvivors.org

There exist an array of authoritative texts that can assist you in getting beyond the “whys” of a loved one’s suicide. These books not only provide information on suicide more generally and on suicide prevention, but on surviving the suicide of a loved on. These texts can provide more long-term resources for an individual like you who has lost a loved on to suicide.

The National Suicide Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, including any and all major holidays:

800-273-8255

Suicide Survivors.org – www.suicidesurvivors.org
Survivors of Suicide – www.survivorsofsuicide.com

There exist an array of authoritative texts that can assist you in getting beyond the “whys” of a loved one’s suicide. These books not only provide information on suicide more generally and on suicide prevention, but on surviving the suicide of a loved on. These texts can provide more long-term resources for an individual like you who has lost a loved on to suicide.

The National Suicide Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, including any and all major holidays:

800-273-8255