The impact of suicide changes who we are. For those that have a lived experience of suicide one thing is for certain, you will never be the same person again. Many times I have been told by those that share this experience, that the introduction of suicide into their world altered the perceptions of their lives in a profound and irreversible way. The once shy teenager, the stoic mother or the amiable and emotionless father became an altered reflection of the identity that they had spent so long building and propagating. Many have said that they no longer recognise the person they are. Some have said they lost all sense of where they fitted into the world that they had created or that they no longer felt an ability to navigate what was an easily navigated lifestyle, prior to the lived experience. Partners have expressed that the person they married is no longer the same person and their sense of social capital (what they get from the relationship) has been altered in a very real way. In nearly all cases, there has been a profound identity shift in the individual that has been influenced by generally debilitating action from the one they love.
So why is this the case? Apart from the impact of this significant emotional event and the profound feelings of loss and grief, the individual involved no longer sees themselves in the same way. Often the way that they relate to themselves has changed as a result of guilt, remorse, anger, regret and inability to stop the event occurring, often harbouring feelings that somehow they were partially to blame, or were responsible for a contribution to the behaviour. The other impact is the shift in their perceptions of relationships and the way that the new self begins to socialise with the environment within which they operated. Given that their internal frame of reference has been altered, it stands to reason that their behaviour will follow. Carl Rogers (1961) speaks of the fact that all individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the centre. When the world changes, as it does with a suicide experience, so does the individuals reactions to the world in which they live.
Changes occur in areas like humour (things are not as funny), relationships (a desire for intimate and meaningful relationships), faith (an altered view of a higher being or purpose), direction (what do I do with my life from now?), work (no longer gives me a sense of satisfaction) or priorities (things that were important are no longer important) are part of this change. At a basic level, a gap has been created between my new, real self and the person that I feel that I should be, the old me, something that Rogers called incongruence. This incongruence is the reason for a feeling of instability or a feeling that we no longer relate.
Though the initial positives from a shared experience of suicide are very difficult to imagine or recognise, the impacted individual needs to find a new identity, one that is congruent with the new self. This will require commitment, courage and a willingness to change and to be. We can take heart from the words of Rogers and the advice for those that are enduring adversity.
This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life. (Carl Rogers, 1961)
Suicide will stretch us, it will challenge us and it will take courage to endure. But a good life will again arrive, giving us an opportunity to launch more fully into a life that has new potentials to be reached.