Guilt is anger turned inwards. Suicide produces many painful and confusing emotions in survivors, one of which is frustration at being so violently cut off from the victim – from the chance to help them, talk with them, or even simply to say goodbye. This frustration produces anger, and when we turn this anger upon ourselves, the result is guilt. Guilt can also come from an unfounded assumption that others are silently blaming us.
Guilt is the one negative emotion that seems to be universal to all survivors of suicide, and overcoming it is perhaps our greatest obstacle on the path to healing. Guilt is your worst enemy, because it is a false accusation.
You are not responsible for your loved one’s suicide in any way, shape, or form. Write it down. Say it to yourself over and over again (even when it feels false). Tattoo it onto your brain. Because it’s the truth. Why do suicide survivors tend to blame themselves? Psychiatrists theorize that human nature subconsciously resists so strongly the idea that we cannot control all the events of our lives that we would rather fault ourselves for a tragic occurrence than accept our inability to prevent it. Simply put, we don’t like admitting to ourselves that we’re only human, so we blame ourselves instead.
One of the most unusual aspects of survivor guilt is that it is usually a solo trip – each survivor tends to blame primarily themselves. Try asking another person who is also mourning your lost loved one about any guilt feelings that are haunting them. Chances are you will find that each person – no matter how close or removed they were from the suicide victim – willingly takes the lion’s share of blame on themselves. If they were the one closest to the deceased then they theorize, “I should’ve known exactly what was going on in their mind.” If they were distanced from that person, they feel, “If I’d only been closer to them…” Well, you can’t all be to blame, can you? Isn’t it far more logical that none of you are responsible.
* Excerpted from A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide, by Jeffrey Jackson, 2004.