Suicide is a controversial topic. It can be a really triggering subject for some, while others cannot comprehend why one would want to take their own life at all. What’s more, some people may brand suicide as “selfish” and shame those who experience suicidal thoughts or carry out an attempt.
But is suicide selfish?
Warning: this post contains sensitive themes and experiences and is not recommended for those negatively affected by such themes.
The Suicide is Selfish Argument
I’m sure we’ve all heard arguments about why suicide is selfish.
We’ve heard the morning commuter complain that the person who attempted to take their own life on the train line that day selfishly ruined the day for everyone else. We’ve heard a person labelled selfish because they left a grieving family behind. You might even believe these arguments yourself.
From my perspective, these views are the result of stigma and misunderstanding about suicide.
If you believe that suicide is selfish, you can’t possibly have experienced the real life horror that is suicidal ideation. You can’t possibly understand what might be going through the mind of a person who wishes to take their own life. It’s just not possible.
It just so happens that I do understand.
As a suicide survivor myself, I want to help you understand what goes through the mind of a person who doesn’t want to be alive anymore.
I want you to reconsider your stance that suicide is selfish and withdraw the blame you place on those who are already in immense pain.
I want you to reconsider your stance that suicide is selfish, and withdraw the blame you place on those who are already in immense pain Click To Tweet
So let’s start with why.
Why do people commit suicide?
Unfortunately, there is no one rule for why people wish to take their own lives. However, we can assume that anybody who wishes to take their own life is not in a healthy state of mind, and may be suffering from a mental illness.
Suicide attempts are typically a last resort “solution” to end a life when a sufferer believes they cannot continue living in pain and their life is no longer worth living.
This individual decision may have a negative knock on effect on others in some way, so does this make it a selfish act?
By definition, is suicide selfish?
Let’s start by using a simple dictionary definition of the word selfish. When conducting a quick google search, selfishness can be defined as “lacking consideration for other people, or concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”
From the get-go, we can dismiss the second definition. There is no profit and certainly no pleasure to be gained from committing suicide.
While some suicide attempts may be for manipulative gain, this is not the norm. Assuming that this is everyone’s motive is inaccurate and adds to the stigma surrounding suicide.
But what about the first definition?
Does a person attempting suicide lack consideration for other people?
Again, there is no one size fits all. But what we might hypothesize is that a person on the brink of taking their life is either:
- In so much pain that they can’t feel or think of anything else but the pain that they are in
- Aware of the pain they will leave behind, but in so much pain themselves that this feels like the only option left
- Genuinely convinced that in committing suicide they are doing their loved ones a favour because they feel that they are better off without them
But what does this mean?
The person is in so much pain that they can’t feel or think of anything else but the pain that they are in
In this circumstance, maybe the person does lack consideration for others. But before you get too carried away… I don’t think we can blame them for this.
I want you to imagine a time where you, or someone you know, has been in intense physical pain. Maybe a bone has been broken, or maybe you’ve just stubbed your toe. But I want you to think about this for a minute, whatever it is.
If you’re witnessing somebody else in intense pain, how easy are they to talk to? Does the conversation flow freely or do they really have to try hard to take their mind off the pain they’re in to be able to find the words to respond?
The likelihood is they’re so consumed by the pain that conversation with them may be difficult… because its very difficult for them to think about anything else.
Now, if you’re imagining a time where you are in intense pain, what are you feeling? Because I’m going to take a guess that what you are feeling is a) the pain and b) a desire for the pain to end.
You might even be screaming, crying and begging for the pain to stop. The pain is so much that it consumes your mind and it’s all you can feel.
Physical pain and emotional pain are one in the same
So why am I talking about this?
The point is, emotional pain is no different to physical pain.
When people are in pain, it is extremely difficult to think or feel anything else but the pain and your desire for it to stop.
If a person takes action to make this stop, is this selfish? Or is it an understandable response to being in intense and unbearable pain?
The person is aware of the pain they will leave behind, but in so much pain themselves that this feels like the only option left
Indeed, some people may be able to think more clearly and see that a suicide attempt would have a negative impact on their loved ones.
But unfortunately the pain may be so great that they act out of desperation regardless.
I can see why somebody may consider this selfish. But I want you to stop and think about something else.
I want you to think about how you or someone else acts when they’re in intense physical pain.
There’s a good chance that sometimes it’s in a way that’s different to your/their standard behaviour. It might even be undesirable or “inconsiderate” to those around you.
That time you hit your funny bone and yelled FUCK at the top of your lungs while there were kids around? Chances are a part of you knew that was inappropriate – but did that stop you?
What about those stories we’ve all heard of pregnant women lashing out at their partners during childbirth? I’m sure there’s a part of her that knows she’s “acting crazy” but is that gonna stop her screaming? Doubt it.
I know these are just silly examples. But what I’m trying to say is – I think most of us have been in a position where our pain has made us behave in a negative way.
Sometimes having an awareness of how your actions may hurt another isn’t enough. Sometimes the pain outweighs that awareness.
And it’s easy to sit on our high horse and claim we’d never act in an undesirable way or a way we would consider selfish. But the truth of the matter is we just don’t know until (god forbid) we’re in that position ourselves.
The person is genuinely convinced that in committing suicide they are doing their loved ones a favour
A person’s pain may also manipulate their thought processes to the point where they believe suicide is actually a selfless act.
Yep, you heard me right – in this state, somebody may actually believe that in committing suicide they are doing their loved ones a favour.
This again shows the extremely challenging nature of mental illness and what the mind can do.
Negative core beliefs, a lack of self-worth and past experiences can lead a person to believe that those who love them would be better off without them in their lives.
Negative core beliefs
I’ll use my own experience here to highlight how this is possible.
At the age of 17, when I attempted suicide, I had a core belief that I was a burden. This meant that I strongly believed that I had a negative effect on everybody in my life and that they were better off without me.
The mind is sinister, and so it finds ways to support your negative core beliefs in every experience you have, of course ignoring anything that might challenge it.
This means that if you don’t challenge the belief it becomes stronger and stronger until it reaches a point where, as far as you are considered, it is a fact.
Years of having this belief meant that by the time it came to my suicide attempt nothing would be able to convince me that this wasn’t the right thing to do. To not only end my insufferable pain, but make the lives better of everyone around me.
When it came to it, I started to consider my family who were in the house at the time. I wondered if this would be hard for them and if they would miss me.
But no, I’m a burden. I only ever make their lives miserable. They’re better off without me. They’ll probably be relieved when I’m gone.
I had absolutely considered other people when making my suicide attempt, but my disordered mind had convinced me I was being selfless in this decision.
I think you could use many words to describe this, but I’m certain selfish isn’t one of them.
Selfishness is a conscious decision
So, we know that it’s just not as simple as “lacking consideration for others” when it comes to attempting suicide.
Sometimes the capacity to think of others isn’t there, and at other times the pain is just too much to make it enough. In either situation, the sufferer shouldn’t be blamed.
In my opinion, selfishness is a conscious decision – a blatant disregard for the feelings/circumstances of others.
The mind of somebody suicidal is not functioning as it should. Therefore a decision made in high distress will not be wholly conscious or rational.
While a suicidal person faces a decision that is primarily self-centred, I don’t think we can label this selfish. To do so completely undermines the complexity of mental illness.
Breaking the stigma
I hope that this post has prompted some of you to look at suicide in a different light and better understand why some people may be driven to take their own life.
I know it’s not easy to understand what motivates a person to end their life when you haven’t experienced suicidal ideation yourself. But I hope my links to physical pain can help you to gain insight in a way that is familiar and relatable.
So, is suicide selfish? Has your opinion changed? If this article has prompted any thoughts on this matter, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Please also share this post so we can help break the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.
I just want to highlight that while I am trying to break stigma surrounding suicide, I am in NO way promoting it.
To anyone reading this who may be experiencing suicidal ideation, suicide is not the answer you are searching for.
No matter what your mind is telling you, suicide is NOT the only route out of your pain.
I encourage you to seek support from a medical professional (as well as any loved ones) and use the following resources if you have been affected by the contents of this article or consider yourself to be in danger.
Samaritans (UK): 116 123
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA): 1-800-273-8255
Lifeline (Aus): 13 11 14