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October 20, 2022

The Other Side of Suicide – When thoughts of death lead to rebirth

The Samaritans (UK mental health charity) tell us that in 2021, there were 5,583 suicides registered in England and Wales, equivalent to a rate of 10.7 deaths per 100,000 people. 

In my psychological practice I am regularly faced with people who express a wish to end their lives. Some have made many attempts before. The majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die; they just want the situation they’re in or the way they’re feeling to stop. This is why talking things through is essential for people to consider other options. 

Suicide comes from the Latin word ‘suicidium’, ‘sui‘ meaning ‘of oneself’. Is it really the self that person is trying to eradicate or is it one version of self that somehow feels misaligned internally and therefore externally in the world? In my years of therapeutic practice I have seen clear patterns in clients that make sense of the concept of ‘egocide’ raised by by Jungian Analyst and Psychiatrist  David Rosen.  Egocide is a symbolic killing of the ego that is experienced as ego death. Psychiatrist, Carl Jung saw the ego contains our conscious awareness of existing and a continuing sense of personal identity. It is the organiser of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and has access to memories which are not repressed. Rosen had a view that people who set out to commit suicide but survive, found out that they had somehow cleared the way for psychic regeneration. In surviving, they had symbolically killed what he termed their previous negative ego-identities, what Jung may term the Persona.  I am a Jungian Life Coach, and in my experience,  it is the Persona that is being eradicated through the therapeutic or coaching work I have undertaken, post periods of suicidal ideation or attempts. After this, the true self is has the potential to be birthed and the suicidal ideation ameliorated.

This is a rebirth, a regeneration, a remembering. Who was that person before the conditioning of family, friends, school, work, and culture took over? The suicide attempt, or shock of the ideation, has acted as a jump start to alignment back to the core of the authentic person – the home depot for all their potential.

The original misalignment from authenticity has to happen initially for us to survive in our families of origin.  We have to adapt to the environment we are in. As Darwin highlighted adaptation is key to evolution and survival. As we mature, if all goes well we are able to separate from what is not ours – the rules, the shoulds and the musts, the internal voice of others.  It’s like we have to camouflage ourselves by appearing like our surroundings, until such time as we are safe enough to stand out, risk being seen and perhaps targeted in some way. A secure early start in life can make the later life recalibration less of a crisis and more of a gradual evolvement for most people – if it happens at all, and often it doesn’t. 

If there are rockier foundations that underpin a persons experience then they can fear changing, don’t realise they are not being true to the self and become stuck. There is a restlessness, with anxiety usually, and some latent awareness of something being missing but a lack of knowledge as to what that is. The emotions can become so intolerable as the person feels helpless to know how to discover what they have never known – essentially who they are.  Are they emotionally sensitive or are they a person that suppresses emotion? Is the suppression their idea or simply echoes of a parent telling them to stop crying? Such questions come in quick fire succession once everyday life triggers are fired.

In many cases, Depression then settles in with low mood, lack of motivation, sleep and eating disturbance. A removal of life force energy is a subconscious attempt to put a tighter lid on the feelings and create a numbness, as this feels an easier option. This whole process links to the spiritual concept of ‘Dark Night of the Soul’

The ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ is thought to be a stage in personal development when a person undergoes a difficult and significant transition to a deeper perception of life and their place in it. They find new sense of meaning through experiences of emotional pain. It usually arises through a trauma or loss of some kind in the individuals life. This leads to a shedding of previous frameworks of understanding of the self, the world, and others.  Other terms for this time may be ‘Existential Crisis’ or ‘Soul Loss’ in Shamanism.  Jung referred to ‘Nigredo’  a dark state, which is the most difficult and negative experience. 

Essentially the message being that we must experience the darkness to see the light and allow all that is not ours to decompose and fall away. Allowing room for new buds to grow. This is what Jung refers to as ‘Shadow Work’. The soul is reawakened as the person is in a void., from which they emerge with a more spiritually aligned consciousness. It’s about polarities with darkness and light, life and death, positive and negative.  The old you disappears before the new you forms. This can bring feelings of emptiness and abandonment. This is the point where clients will ask me if they are “insane” or “crazy”. They have little sense of hope they will come through the void and detachment from any sense of themselves.

Many Signs of The ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ are also signs of Clinical Depression. For example:

  • Extreme sadness with no explanation as to why you are sad
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • A feeling of emptiness
  • Loss of motivation in activities you once enjoyed
  • A loss of appetite or a need to overeat
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Minimal sexual desire
  • Increased use of substances
  • Social isolation
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Body aches, headaches, or problems with digestion
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Lethargy (no energy)
  • Suicidal ideation 

These symptoms in the medical model are treated with pharmacological intervention. In my clinical practice, for those that have come to understand they are experiencing a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ and that they are moving towards alignment with their true selves, medication is reported to evidence little change.  The reason likely is that the problem resides within the spiritual body at a soul level and not the physical body.

There is a spiritual transformation and emergence occuring. So how do we differentiate a mental health concern of Clinical Depression from a spiritual awakening situation? Some possible differentiators are noted below:

  • Although you may have had a trauma and or a loss You have no idea what is happening to you or why (nothing seems to have caused this in your  perception).
  • You begin to question the purpose of your being (Why am I here?)
  • You start to feel your job/career does not suit your “higher purpose”
  • You feel like you are losing your faith in the belief systems you had.
  • You begin to think that maybe there is a God (if you are an atheist or agnostic) or a higher power of some form
  • You feel the need to disconnect from people you have been very close to in the past (because they no longer “serve you”)
  • Your thoughts naturally gravitate to deep, philosophical topics (like the nature of existence). Sensing there is something beyond yourself and what you can perceive.
  • You begin to review prior negative experiences in your life that you thought you had processed. This time, it is deeper.
  • You begin to be more compsionate towards others and realise everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have.
  • You feel sad for people weighed down by negative beliefs and materialism and feel a strong connection to everyone.
  • You become aware of your own mortality and consider what it may feel like to lose those around you.
  • You realize that everything is transient and passes and start to ask, “What is the point of anything?”
  • You feel an intense need to be alone
  • You lose interest in things you used to love.
  • You feel different and wonder if you are ‘bad’, as you let go of things and people.
  • You kick back against authority and the way the world says things ‘should’ be.
  • You reexamine your opinions on key areas in life.
  • You connect with a sense of powerlessness over the world and start to focus on yourself and your reactions.
  • You feel a need to downsize your life and let go of many material possessions. Not that you need nothing or don’t like nice things, but you see the lack of necessity for excess.
  • You can feel completely helpless to change your situation as you feel no one understands your perspective and you are totally hopeless that it will ever change.

The darkness is not a curse but a blessing in the long run.  Clinical Depression can layer onto the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ and the two can be hard to unpick.   This is especially the case when people are not aware of concepts of spiritual awakening and it is not an area traditionally taught to mental health professionals. I am also Spiritual Emergence Coach® and work with these issues alongside being a mental health professional. We can all benefit from external guidance at these times of transition in life. If appropriate support is not gained many suicides can occur, during this period, and the sadness is that the underlying intent is not one of wishing to die. Death simply seems the only possibility, at that point in time.  Heightening awareness in the concept of spiritual awakening offers greater choice when we search for meaningful frameworks to contain experience. 

It is always recommended that you see a professional for issues of mental health and any risks to yourself or others. 

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