Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Three Universal Reactions to suicide: Guilt, Anger and Grief
Guilt is usually connected to thoughts survivors have about what they should/could/would have done differently. These are usually the result of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” where the person reinterprets their actions knowing the outcome. This is particularly true after a suicide or death of a colleague. It is very destructive and usually inaccurate. It helps to discuss that people are in pain and “wish” the suicide had not happened. There is no guarantee that had they done anything differently, it could have altered the outcome.
Anger is usually about wanting to blame someone or something for the suicide. If the anger is at the person who completed suicide, it is probably pretty healthy. Anger at God or spiritual traditions are most commonly referred back to their spiritual leadership for answers. We cannot address spiritual issues, except to validate them and state that they are common reactions. When anger is placed toward the work environment, ex’s, or family members it is generally unhealthy and unhelpful. We can acknowledge the loss of the person, and that we never really know how they might have interpreted accurately or inaccurately what others did or did not do. You might acknowledge it is too bad that the person did not confide more with others to see an alternative to suicide.
Grief after the loss of someone you care about is easy to understand. Suicide can trigger a variety of much more intangible losses. One most common is the loss of sense of personal safety. If this type of event can happen to the deceased, it can happen to me, or my family, or my friends etc. Suicides happen because we have no control over them. This temporary feeling of the loss of our illusions of control and safety can be profound. We can help people understand their multiple losses, and that grief is a process they will move through over the next few days or longer. Providing information on understanding they are grieving and things they can do to move through the grieving process is helpful.
Dennis Potter, LMSW, CAADC, ICCS, FAAETS, serves as Manager, Consultant Relations and Training for Crisis Care Network. He is a licensed social worker and certified addiction counselor. Dennis is recognized as a Fellow, by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. He was awarded the ICISF Excellence in Training and Educations Award at the ICISF 2011 World Congress.