Because suicide is very confronting and something that most people feel uncomfortable talking about, survivors of such a loss are often left alone to deal with their grief. This can result in the survivor being left on their own to deal with feelings of shame, guilt, fear, rejection, anger and betrayal. One of the main differences in reactions between someone bereaved by suicide and other types of bereavement is the element of shame which is a predominant effect for suicide survivors. Because suicide is a stigma in western societies, survivors of bereavement through suicide may withdraw and experience feelings of intense rejection and abandonment. Not only that, but the fact that someone they cared about chose to end their life can also cause the survivor to blame and torture themselves in thinking that there might have been something they could have done to prevent their loved one from taking their life. The “what if’s?” and “if only I had…” can be very painful and can lead to very distressing and difficult emotions to handle. These feelings of shame and guilt can often manifest in self-punishing behaviours such as alcohol, drug abuse or over-eating.
Anger can also be a strong emotional reaction not uncommon to any bereavement but in this case, the anger is not only towards the deceased for taking their own life but can also be anger at themselves for not being able to prevent the loss. Often that anger is misdirected at others. The person may resent the predicament which may have been placed on them if they have been left with children to raise on their own or a loss of income. The person may be angry at the deceased for causing so much pain to others they love and care for. The person may be angry at society for their reactions to suicide and the stigma attached to it. The person may also feel rejected, deserted and unloved or wonder if their loved ones did it out of spite or to hurt them. Fear may also be experienced. The fear and anxiety may make the person worry about other family members and cause the person to become overprotective.
Survivors of traumatic loss are individuals with different strengths, weaknesses and life experiences and these will influence the way that each individual will cope with trauma and loss. Individuals who have the hardest time adapting to their loss may develop conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety disorders. Silence or reluctance to talk about the loss, avoidance of reminders of the loss, behaving in a distracted way, withdrawal, denial and increased use or misuse of substances are all reactions that could indicate possible problems in coping with adjustment to loss and trauma. Some survivors of such losses can move on after trauma with little or no need for counselling whereas others may experience complications and require help from a trained professional.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, please contact Denise for more information on how she could be of help.
Clark, S. (1995). After suicide help for the bereaved. Melbourne: Hill of Content.Humphrey, G.M. and Zimpfer, D.G. (2006) Counselling for grief and bereavement. (2nd ed.) London: Sage