How to Avoid Blaming Yourself After a Loved One's Suicide
Trigger warning: This post contains a frank discussion of suicide as it pertains to blaming yourself for a loved one's death by suicide.
Losing a loved one to suicide is an emotional journey that no one anticipates or knows how to react to. As a personal supporter of National Suicide Prevention Month, I wanted to share some of my valuable lessons and stories that taught me how to combat the natural urge to inflict verbal abuse on yourself and to avoid blaming yourself after the death of a loved one by suicide.
How I Learned to Avoid Blaming Myself for a Loved One's Suicide
It was 2008 when my family told me that we had lost my uncle, my secondary father figure, to suicide. It was a complete shock. I'm extremely fortunate that my family was strong, honest and open when discussing the truth with us as children because I learned a lot from observation. My aunt explained that you should avoid blaming yourself during the healing process, and I saw that she never blamed herself, either. She taught me what it was to be forgiving as she also forgave herself. I wouldn't know how powerful her lessons were until I would experience the death of a loved one by suicide again 10 years later.
About seven months ago, my close friend died unexpectedly by suicide. As a child dealing with the death of my uncle, I felt like I had little emotional stake in what happened. I felt far, like a bystander in the grief of his death. This time, I felt entwined in my friend's decision because of the recency of our last conversation, confused because he seemed eager about his future and angry that he left without telling me he would. After weeks of putting myself down and blaming myself for playing a role in his suicide, I told myself to channel what I had learned about unfair self-directed talk after years of family conversations and classes on mental health.
How to Avoid Blaming Yourself for a Loved One's Suicide
Here are some common thoughts I had and the lessons I used to resist them.
- "It was my fault."
It is not your fault. Sometimes an unfortunate discussion or event precedes a tragedy, and this is independent of the results that have been forming for a long time before. It can cause an unreal level of devastation regardless, but I learned that the responsibility of someone's mental health and wellbeing do not fall on someone singularly, and all of the moving parts that may have led up to death by suicide do not fall on you.
- "If I would have known, I could have helped more."
Death, particularly by suicide, is not meant to be understood. Part of the frustration I felt in the grieving process was the lack of explanation behind what happened. I thought surely there could've been another way; as a friend in his life, I should have seen this coming and intercepted this. Thinking in terms of what I could have done, though, was one of the most verbally abusive patterns of thinking I inflicted on myself. I tried to remember that it was unhealthy for me to circle back to the past and think of different possibilities because the end result was the same, and I wanted to focus on moving forward.
- "I should have seen this coming."
What happens is not meant to be analyzed. Initially, I racked my brain trying to think of signs or symptoms of mental illness or emotional instability in my friend. I played detective, running through conversations and trying to assign meaning to what he said to me, which made me angry at myself for not deciphering it. Eventually, though, I realized that assigning potential meanings to conversations from my own assumptions was unhealthy and unfair to myself.
Understanding Why You Might Blame Yourself After Losing a Loved One
In my experience, it was easy to focus my grief on the person that had passed away, feeling sorry and confused and sad for their loss of life. However, thinking in these patterns is actually unhealthy for you as you continue moving through life. I found that being kind to yourself as you think to yourself is the key to moving on. The displacement of feelings like anger, frustration, and helplessness toward yourself is understandable, and you should try to remember that these feelings are okay to feel, just not toward yourself in the form of verbal abuse disguised as blame. Here are some strategies I recommend after years of learning.
- Prioritize healthy self-talk to keep moving forward mentally.
- It's important to focus your internal dialogue on positivity in the past and healthy progress in the future.
- Loving and forgiving yourself verbally is the first step towards your own peace in your relationship with yourself.
I eventually formed these three suggestions to cope with grief over losing my loved ones to suicide, and while I didn't learn them as easily as they're laid out above, I hope they can offer some guidance in your own process of understanding.
What process did you go through to stop blaming yourself for your loved one's suicide? Share your observations in the comments.
If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.
For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section.
Brinkley , K. (2019, September 19). How to Avoid Blaming Yourself After a Loved One's Suicide, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, October 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2019/9/how-to-avoid-blaming-yourself-after-a-loved-ones-suicide