Can Suicide ever be a rational act?


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In light of recent events in the news and some of the lovely stuff that Jimmy and Steve posted here recently, I thought it might be appropriate to talk a little about suicide. First of all, if you are thinking about killing yourself or are having thoughts about harming yourself that are scaring you, pick up the phone right now  and call in the United States

Suicide prevention



 A sympathetic ear and someone who can help you gain some perspective about your situation and point you to some . . . 

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A sympathetic ear and someone who can help you gain some perspective about your situation and point you to some resources. I reckon that over the years, Suicide Prevention has saved many lives, and helped many people begin the process of turning a hopeless situation toward hope. I worked as a counselor for Crisis Intervention Hotline at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles many years ago and know first-hand how helpful these services can be. Please call before you hurt yourself.


Suicide Prevention Lifeline

No matter what problems you are dealing with, we
want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling
1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained
counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.”




While suicide is a complex, nuanced issue, people make it more complex than it needs to be by dragging the argument out into the weeds, trying to make some personal-political-libertarian case:  “It’s my body and I can snuff it if I want to, and don’t you damn well tell me what to do!” People who want to make this point probably express it more eloquently than I just did, but still is a basically a juvenile,
oppositional sort of thing, and moreover, it is mostly irrelevant.  So, let us put it to rest and stipulate right at the beginning that in terms of “civil liberties” probably everyone does have the right to suicide, assuming they are clever enough to get away with it, and not wake up in the veggie ward for the rest of their lives after a botched attempt.


Until proven otherwise, it is safest and most helpful, methinks, to regard suicide as a psychiatric medical emergency, as a symptom of profound, extreme, desperate depression.  Fortunately, it is something that is very amenable to treatment assuming the individual is willing to accept help, and is capable of and willing to think rationally, and willing to tolerate a little egg on their face once they see how they have bought into their own distorted, nutty thinking.  Some–but not necessary all–of the distortions may include:

1. “Musterbation,” Awfulizing, Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT)

difficult circumstances are

awful and

horrible and
terrible, and
can’t stand it.

And as I can’t stand it, they

absolutely must
not be happening, and
must not be made to experiences that which I
cannot stand.
So, the only out is to kill myself.


The fact is that humans are very resilient and can stand the most gawd awful stuff. It’s true. Life can be and is often full of pain and adversity, sometimes extreme adversity, and can feel overwhelming when one adversity leads to another before the previous adversity has been processed.  Yet look at war, a situation which most
people probably agree is as awful as it gets.  Some people survive, recover and go on to prosper.  Others, never recover and remain dysfunctional and traumatized indefinitely.  Some suicide or become antisocial and violent over it.  The question that screams to be asked, however, is what’s the difference?  Why do some survive adversity while others succumb?  It is complicated, but the REBT position is that much of it has to do with they way people think about such experiences. Many events are beyond our ability to control or even to effect to any extent, but we always have the choice of how we think about them, how we respond to them, how we process them.  And how we think about them determines how we experiences them, which determines how we behave, which determines what kinds of experiences we my have ongoing.



If you want to have a humbling-but-uplifting experience, read Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning  



I spent two years attending Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Personally, I am not a big fan of “testimonials” and “inspirational stories,” however, and one of the things that is helpful about attending AA meetings (for awhile) is listening to people’s stories who have gone through the most horrendous shit in their lives, and come out the other end, to survive and even thrive in many cases. Although I have never had a serious illness or injury or been in prison (jail a couple of times), or gone to war, some of the stuff that I have gone through and survived and overcome would curl your hair.  Even just the act of remaining clean and sober for 30 years (June 27th this year, thank you very much!) has in many ways been heroic.  Although I was clean and sober for five years before I discovered REBT-CBT, those were very dark, depressing years and REBT helped me to turn a corner and continues to be a major philosophy and tool and “force for good” in my life.  More recently, mindfulness has added a new and complimentary and broadening perspective to the whole thing.  I hope that my study and practice of neurofeedback will make for a stable “triad” that will allow me to “make a difference” in the final chapters of my life. Shit, I do hope they are lengthy chapters!


2. Fortune Telling, Over-generalization and All-or-Nothing Thinking

Fortune Telling in CBT is the nutty belief that we can see into the future and to stupidly, adamantly and stubbornly believe the predictions of certain doom and gloom we have cooked up. Over-generalizing is similar to fortune telling; sees a single event or situation as a never-ending series of misfortunes and miseries.
All-or-Nothing Thinking and it’s ugly cousin, Disqualifying the Positive see situations as totally bad, and take a single negative and expand it so that it crowds out anything positive, thus making the entire world seem “black,” hopeless, helpless, unchangeable, unmovable. It is this hopelessness and helplessness that is one of the defining characteristics of depression, making it so painful and desperate.

Adding It’s terrible and it will never get better creates a vortex of negativity which invites and attracts suicidal thoughts.



3. Rating 

or (self) downing is the other defining characteristic of depression. It always comes in the form of name-calling in one way or the other: “I am a no good shit!” Substitute any other negative adjective that people use to brand or rate or define their
essence, their essential self. “I am a shit, and that is who I am.” One of the antidotes to this is to stubbornly refuse and refuse and refuse to call yourself names when you have the urge. Much better, me thinks, to stick to the credo of that brilliant 20th Century Philosopher, Popeye the Sailor who said “I yam what I yam and dat’s all what I yam!” Meaning, you simply choose a concept of self which is resistant to or cannot be rated. This is something you decide to do and then do it. That makes it much easier to practice Unconditional Self Acceptance. In terms of suicide, one of the
serious problems with rating is that is leads to conclusions of

4. Deserving & Un-deserving

As I am an unworthy shit, I don’t deserve to live, so I might as well “off” myself.

As one of my teachers used to quip “Whatever you do, don’t pray for what you deserve . . . because you just might get it!”

This was a jest, of course, but the point being that deservingness is a juvenile fantasy. You get what you get, whether you deserve it or not. You get a life for some unspecified number of years, whether you deserve it or not, and at some point, it ends, whether you deserve it or not. So, you might as well do what you can with it while you have got it, work hard, do what you can, and leave concepts of deservedness to the sophomores. Similarly, life is sometimes fair and sometimes unfair, sometimes seriously unfair. Those are facts. But to approach life with
expectations and demands of fairness and that you will get what you deserve
is an unhelpful, unproductive fantasy.

The problem is that this distorted thinking, these irrational beliefs, this automatic, destructive self-talk is mostly unconscious, skittering by very quickly just below the surface of conscious awareness. Fortunately is not too difficult to tune into, like learning to pick up distant radio stations on an old fashioned short wave radio. You get better at it with practice, and it really puts the lie to Freud’s theory that the unconscious is deep and dark and very difficult to access, requiring years of free association, dream analysis and yakity, yakity, yak for $120 per hour! The other problem is that while it is fairly easy to put the lie to these distortions in a venue such as this one, if you are in the grip of them, they can seem very real and very compelling indeed, so that you very well may need someone to help you defeat and ultimately relinquish them. It is also why I get a little impatient with people
filling out their nice little forums, putting a nice, pretty period at the end of the sentence and expect to be healed. It is necessary to bring some physical movement (get up and storm around), passion and genuine combativeness in order to identify, uproot, argue with, dispute and ultimately to relinquish distorted thinking. Once you identify a distorted thought as distorted–once you really “get it,” really convince yourself that it is indeed distorted–the relinquishing part and the replacing with
rational part almost does it self.


5. “The world would be better off without me.”

This one isn’t even a distortion, it is just a fat ass lie. It simply isn’t true. And unless someone is doing a “revenge” suicide, they are probably not in touch with the profound (and I mean profound) distress and disturbance that this causes the survivors who will suffer and struggle with the pain for years, and very likely may never get over it.

As we said, as a “civil liberties matter” probably people have the right to kill themselves. However it may be no different legally and morally than murder is, except that if you are successful, you cannot be prosecuted legally. And in some rare cases such as a catastrophic, terminal illness or injury which precludes the possibility of any sort of quality of life, it may be a rational act. But other than those limited and exceptional cases, suicide is the tragic result of compelling delusions and distortions, which all the more tragically, can be sorted with the right help and in the right conditions.

Warm regards,




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Originally posted 2014-08-14 03:09:37.

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