Confronting magical thinking about suicide

Magical thinking about suicide and its consequences is a reality in psychotherapy with clients and indeed some therapists. For example Cornell (script newsletter 2007) talks of a client who imagined his death to be a relief to himself. Indeed he goes onto to say that for one of his client’s completing a suicide attempt would be end to his internal conflicts and confusion. These are examples of magical thinking about suicide. Indeed in my view common examples of client’s and therapist’s magical thinking. I am not wanting to single out Mr Cornell here as I was simply reading his writing as I was formulating these ideas in my mind. I think what he has stated here is not unusual thinking for therapist’s as a group.

The magical thinking about suicide is that it can result in a relief from one’s pain. Suicide can not do that. Suicide can not result in a relief from one’s pain. As you can see in the diagram the faulty belief is that there is pain, then a completed suicide attempt which then results in no pain or relief from the pain.

Suicide equations Jpeg

The concept of no pain in this case can’t exist. The understanding of not having pain and the experience of not being in pain cannot exist as that implies some level or kind of consciousness. To be aware of not being in pain requires some level of consciousness and in death there is of course no consciousness.

I propose what I believe to be a more accurate, reality based suicide equation in the diagram which would come from the Adult ego state. Initially there is pain, followed by a completed suicide attempt, followed by what is inside the square.

Kid and gun

When a client presents this magical thinking one could confront it by presenting these two suicide equations. Presenting them side by side in such a way also diagrammatically highlights the difference and the confrontation.

 

Some others who have also noted the same before :

Firstly Harry Boyd (1972) makes the statement, “My impression is that the suicidal patient does not, on the Child level, really conceive of his death as terminal”(P.87).

In addition Little (2009) talks about the ‘pre-suicide fantasy’, “suicidal people have transformation fantasies and are prone to magical thinking, like children and psychotics”(p.220).

Campbell (1999) also describes fantasies that the suicidal can have about death. He notes the suicidal person expects and understands that his body will die (Adult ego state) but the person can imagine there is another part of himself that can continue to live in a conscious body-less state that is unaffected by the physical death of the body (Child ego state).

Mothersole (1996) “…the person’s fantasy that he or she will in some way be consciously present at his or her own funeral.” (p. 151)

 

“The suicidal person expects and understands that his body will die but the person can imagine there is another part of himself that can continue to live in a conscious body-less state that is unaffected by the physical death of the body.”

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