In my previous post I asked the question
Is there any difference in the self destructive motivations of these two men?
The basis of this question rests on the definition of a suicide attempt.
A suicide attempt is made when a person creates environmental conditions such that the likelihood of their death significantly increases. As we now know Robin Williams did this recently such that the conditions he created resulted in the completion of the suicide attempt.
Regarding Andrew Lock the following was stated about him:
Andrew James Lock is Australia’s greatest mountaineer. He completed his personal mountaineering project to be the first Australian to climb all fourteen “eight-thousanders” (peaks over 8,000 metres above sea level) in October 2009.
His first 8000 metre summit was of K2, which he climbed in 1993 with a small team. The mountain lived up to its fearsome reputation when two of his climbing partners were killed in separate falls and Lock rescued a Swedish climber. In 2010 Andrew received the Australian Geographic Adventurer of the year award, for being the first Australian to climb all 14 peaks over 8000m.
He has watched helplessly while climbing companions died chasing their ultimate high. He was at the Everest base camp on the day of the mountain’s worst disaster in history – 13 Sherpa and three other Nepalese were all killed in an avalanche.
His retirement on his terms, while he is healthy, is a rare thing in a pursuit where death is frequently nearby and frostbite claims the fingers and toes of many.
From this it could be said that this man has made multiple suicide attempts. He has over an extended period of time, voluntarily, knowingly and repeatedly created environmental conditions for himself such that the chance of his death is significantly increased.
Of course he is not alone. Two other well known Australians have done the same. Steve Irwin when working with wild animals and Peter Brock being a racing car driver. As we know these two men subsequently died from the environmental conditions they created around themselves. With the definition at hand it could be said that both Steve Irwin and Peter Brock completed the suicide attempts they created.
However this seems most strange as these men are not what is usually seen as the suicidal person. Most suicidal people are very unhappy and distressed individuals who have felt tormented for some time and see no other solution than to end their lives. It is probably safe to say that Andrew lock, Steve Irwin and Peter Brock were quite happy individuals who had full lives, good families and had everything to look forward to. In this sense one could say they were not suicidal and one cannot say they made many suicide attempts.
However we are left with a dilemma. Any person who repeatedly behaves in the same way over an extended period of time is displaying some aspect of their psychology. People do not do the same thing over and over again through an extended period of time unless that reflects features of their psyche. If one repeatedly puts self in highly dangerous situations that reflects a belief they have about self. Part of them is voluntarily dancing with death. In this way it could be argued that they are suicidal.
But how can this be? There is a theoretical explanation that can make sense of this. To explain this one needs to introduce the concepts of the Don’t exist injunction and the drives of eros and thanatos.
Freud originally proposed the idea of
the death instinct and the life instinct,
libido and mortido,
eros and thanatos.
All of us are born with these two drives or instincts and stay with us until we die. Many others over the years have agreed with this proposal and it has been widely discussed in the literature.
The Don’t exist injunction is different in that it is a belief a child takes on in childhood. The child basically comes to the conclusion that its own death is a viable solution to a problem. In childhood it makes this decision and then it most often stays with the person until they eventually die.
If in adulthood they become depressed or if they become homeless they can use suicide as a solution. Whilst I have never met the man, it is quite possible Robin Williams had a Don’t exist injunction sitting in his psyche until the right environment conditions arose such that he acted on that injunction.
This however is different to the drive of thanatos as the diagram below shows. The Don’t exist injunction is a function of the Adapted Child ego state because it is adaption to some kind of parental directive given in childhood. It is conforming to the parents in some way. Thanatos is not this. We are all born with a drive to destroy self, others and the environment (as well as a drive to create). It is a natural thing for all humans and hence it is a function of the Free Child ego state. It is not an adaption to a parental message.
Hence one can say that Robin Williams, Peter Brock, Steve Irwin and Andrew lock were all suicidal but the psychological basis of their suicidality is different.
However, more importantly we are now afforded an explanation of how a psychologically normally functioning individual can display suicidal behaviour, at times quite ‘strong’ suicidal behaviour. The anomaly is explained. This in turn allows one to see outside the usual view of suicide.
For many years the study of suicidology has been myopic and singular in its view of suicide. The literature has indeed been quite boring for some time. It has mainly been picture straightening by restating and reconfiguring the same concepts and statistics over and over. The article at hand allows one to consider the concept of a “normal person suicide” thus breaking the conventional boundaries of what suicide is and how we view suicide in general.
That suicide is not this weird abnormal state but it is a normal part of human psychological functioning. Yes it comes in different shapes and sizes but we need to begin to accept that self destructiveness is inbuilt in the basic structure of the human personality thus allowing us to all understand suicidality at a personal level.
Of course this is only the beginning as it directly leads onto the question, is a “normal person suicide” abnormal? Is it a form of psychopathology or not? If it is that implies some kind of treatment is necessary. How does one do treatment on a person who is seemingly quite happy with their life in general?
She looks happy and probably feels quite happy. If she repetitively engages in high risk recreational pursuits that means she is displaying the thanatos suicidal component of her personality. Is this a form of psychopathology and if so what does one do about it, if anything?