The connection between suicide and childhood sexual abuse

It’s September and we are honoring suicide awareness and suicide prevention. To that end, we are sharing again some of our most popular posts.

Circling the international news is the story of the assisted suicide of a young Dutch woman due to long-term childhood sexual abuse. This woman in her 20’s asked for — and was granted — euthanasia by lethal injection.

She requested an end to her life due to intractable trauma (i.e., severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and concomitant medical issues (i.e., advanced anorexia, chronic depression and hallucinations) that left her primarily bedridden.

Her story has raised questions and concerns.

As a mental health professional who has worked first-hand with childhood sexual abuse survivors, I have witnessed the repercussions of the compounded and complicated trauma of childhood sexual abuse.

Read more here.

 

 

Suicide and Soul Loss

Not all suicides are defined by mental illness, substance abuse, and unrelenting pain. There are many ways in which we see and interpret the world. From time immemorial, the soul, our spark of being, has been viewed as our primary force of life. It is what animates us.

If we have been abused, humiliated, oppressed, terrorized, tortured, traumatized, or hurt physically or emotionally in any powerful way, our soul can be crushed. Our life force leaks out. We are no longer our whole selves. We have lost some of our light and we are hunkered down in a protective, survival mode. If the soul loss is profound, we become numb, hollow, and begin to move through life in a disconnected, zombie-like way. We see profound soul loss in the eyes of our military, childhood sexual abuse survivors, and the severely bullied, to name a few.

Soul loss should also be considered a primary cause for suicide. Soul loss does not necessarily preclude the diagnostic criteria, but, instead, often views the diagnostic criteria as further evidence of soul loss.

The Indigenous world has long honored the soul. Illness, depression, trauma, and other Western-labeled maladies are explained as soul loss.

If the soul is tended, then the body, mind, and heart can heal.

To explain further, here is an example:

In South America, a young girl is no longer speaking. She has become totally silent. Her parents take her to doctors and specialists, but to no avail. As a last resort, they drive to a village in the country and take their daughter to a local shaman. He tells them to leave their daughter with his tribe for the week. The shaman then instructs the women to bathe the girl daily and, while bathing her, they are to sing her healing songs. At the end of the week, the girl begins to speak and tells of the rape she had recently endured. She had refound her voice and was healed.

I suggest that soul loss runs parallel to psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), which looks at the mind-body (and often, spirit) interaction. Science does recognize that our thoughts and feelings influence our well-being. As a result, we now see more holistic treatments, an awareness of the role of the soul, as well as an acceptance of assorted energy modalities to help bring the individual back to wholeness.

Understanding the ramifications of soul loss is an important factor in looking at suicide and suicide prevention. If we don’t feed our souls, we lose our animation and our energies dissipate. We would be well served to consider soul loss when assessing suicidality.

Suicide and cumulative stressors

As we continue to look at some of the whys suicide has been chosen, let’s consider the impact of cumulative stressors and trauma:

A darling Celtic client of mine had a great saying, “Life does life.” She was right. It does.
There are times when life throws us a major curveball and we are seriously rattled. We lose our footing, and our wherewithal is seriously diminished. If there are continuous stressors such as disasters, losses, medical conditions, and financial issues, a person who has been functioning well may begin to feel the onslaught, for it is akin to non-stop blows to the body.

Stress is cumulative, and non-stop stress allows no room to take a breath, to process, or assess. You are going from one thing to another. Before you know it, you are holding on by a thread. Life has become overwhelming. There seems to be no meaning and no point to it all. You are psychologically shattered. Then one more stressor knocks at your door, and you can’t imagine how you are going to keep going on like this. You have tried your best, but you are tired. You are worn out.

Think of the rash of “suicides by economic crises” in several European countries. Imagine the suddenly homeless, the ostracized and shunned, the failed crops, the medical emergencies, the bereft husband, and the bankrupt. They have endured much, and this accumulation of stress and being powerless can prompt suicidal feelings.

Be it an injury to the body, mind, soul, or an emotional shock that upends a life, trauma is pervasive in our world. Trauma can be a sudden death, combat service, childhood sexual abuse, a natural disaster, terrorism, catastrophic illness, and violence such as unrelenting bullying.

For some, that acute stress and shock of the experience(s) does not fade away or diminish; it becomes entrenched in an insidious way. The body-whacking, heart-thumping, mind-numbing, horrifying, excruciating, and unfathomable traumatic experience holds a person hostage in a complete mind-body-heart hell.

This chronic pattern of neurological and physical responses is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is particularly prevalent, and most understandable, among survivors of childhood sexual abuse, victims of bullying, and combat soldiers. They are at high risk for suicide given the horrors they have lived through, have been tormented by, and have survived.

Imagine the VA Hospital and a group of vets waiting to attend a PTSD treatment group. Their hands are shoved into their pockets. Very few are holding cups of coffee because their hands shake from the increased cortisol in their systems.

Imagine the student who has been bullied to such an extreme that he cannot focus on his classes. He sits in terror waiting for the next attack and wondering how he can protect himself.

Imagine a sexual abuse support group. The women share their difficulties sleeping due to nightmares replaying nightly. The terror and the body memories flood their systems frequently; sleep is anathema. Pain is a constant companion.

For those in the hell of PTSD, suicide can be seen as an option to end the recurring cycles of pain and horror. Sometimes, too much is just too much.

 

Understanding Intolerance, Bullying And Suicide

Intolerance is a battering ram directed at anyone who is perceived as different and who has therefore become a focus of enmity. You want them to be like you. If they are not like you, you have things to say and you might become enraged, disgusted and afraid — all of this in the name of like-mindedness.

They, those other ones, become your enemy and the focus of your attention as you rain down your vitriol on their different-from-you selves. They, those other ones, become fair game for your averted eyes, comments, slurs, stares, grimaces, cold shoulders, bullying, graffiti, hate crimes, attacks, thefts and warheads.

Intolerance is predicated on fear. “Otherness” has scared people for centuries. Wars and conversion missions have been started in the name of homogeneity: Be like me and then we can understand each other. Intolerance smacks of fundamentalism: I’m right, and you’re wrong. It seems there can be no middle ground, and no acceptance of the other.

Many a suicide happens because of this rampage of intolerance. The horror of bullying is a prime example, a universal phenomenon, and it is just beginning to get the attention it deserves.

There are three kinds of bullying: verbal, physical and social, with verbal abuse being the most common. Bullying includes physical bullying, emotional bullying, and cyber-bullying (i.e., bullying on the Internet, and circulating suggestive or nude photos or messages about someone).

According to studies by Yale University, bullying victims are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than their non-bullied classmates. A study in the U.K. found that at least half of the suicides among young people are related to bullying. Further, ABC News (U.S.) reported statistics that showed nearly 30 per cent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying. Some 160,000 students stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.

Kids are bullied because they are different, and they can be different in any possible way. If you are different you can be picked on, and you become a potential target. Parents of bullied kids will sometimes go to extreme measures to help their children avoid bullying: one first grader was given plastic surgery to have her ears pinned back.

Kids are bullied for any number of reasons. Common “differences” that can draw unwanted negative attention include:

• Having an unusual appearance or body size
• Showing behaviors of attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD)
• Being diabetic
• Being gay
• Being a gifted student
• Having food allergies
• Displaying a noticeably high level of anxiety
• Having learning disabilities
• Having medical conditions that affect appearance
• Being obese
• Stuttering

It’s easy to understand that bullying leads to shattered self-esteem, poor self-worth, depression and suicidal thoughts or actions. Bullying can have long-term emotional ramifications for the victim. Further, a number of school shootings — for example, Columbine — have been caused by bullied kids seeking revenge. Bullying is a symptom of intolerance that escalates and becomes a vicious cycle.

So much suicide is a result of intolerance. Think of all the heartache that is caused by simply not accepting people for who they are and where there are. Intolerance is a mighty powerful belief system. It prevents peace, contributes to suicidality, and causes pain across the globe.

Let’s make bullying an intolerable. Let’s teach our children. Let’s model tolerant and compassionate behavior and tip the societal balance in favor of understanding and acceptance.

 

This post was also featured on The Huffington Post Canada.

A very good ending

handsofchakraenergy-greenElizabeth, a mental health worker, arrives in Nepal immediately after the earthquake. There was total chaos. The ground was literally not stable as it shifted with tumbling rubble and aftershocks.

The first person Elizabeth meets is Prem, a young man looking lost and bereft. “Where are you going?” she asks.

“To the river to kill myself. Both my parents were killed in the earthquake. There is no reason for me to live,” Prem replies.

“Oh, no. You are coming with me. We will stay together until you feel safe,” Elizabeth states.

Prem follows Elizabeth and they set up a tarp shelter held down by rocks. He stays for 24 hours and tells Elizabeth, “I feel safe now.” They exchange contact information and Prem promises to text regularly. And he does.

Weeks later, Prem calls Elizabeth and happily announces, “My parents are alive! I found them in a tarp hospital some distance away. They are safe and alive. You saved my life. You saved their happiness. I am only alive because of you.”

Prem continued to text Elizabeth every day for many months to let her know how he was doing. We never know exactly how life will unfold nor understand the unique difference we can make in another’s life and how one chance meeting saved a life.

Suicidal grief: non-ordinary time

bluepurpledandelionLoss is universal. It is also idiosyncratic and unique. We each handle loss in our own way. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with death.

It is hard, exhausting, and excruciating work to make sense of the un-sensible and to unpack and repack a life that you have held with such love and affection. You will need time and space to work through all the layers of feelings as you remember and revisit all that you experienced and shared with the one you lost.

Loss requires time, time to accept the unacceptable and time to feel the undulations and reverberations of your loss. There is no time limit—grief takes as long as it takes. Grief opens you up in ways you never thought possible. Unexpectedly, you will find yourself remembering other losses in your life as well. Grief builds upon grief; like pearls strung on a necklace, every loss becomes connected, close to your heart.

Trauma is also a cumulative experience. We hold traumatic events in our cellular memories. They are not forgotten. And like grief, a new trauma can trigger feelings from a prior trauma. This is important to consider, as suicide is both a traumatic and grief-filled experience. The double whammy of grief and trauma can sometimes be so overwhelming that it is hard for you to stand or eat or sleep or even make simple conversation.

Dealing with a suicidal loss requires extreme gentleness as you wade through the minefields of emotions. Past, present and future can collide in a stream of what was and what could have been.

This is non-ordinary time. You will see the world differently. Your baseline has changed. What was once terra firma is no more. Everything is shifting around you. You wade through deep emotions, conflicting feelings and the sheer agony of loss.

And, then, when you are hollowed out and spent, there will be a day– as unbelievable as it feels — when you refind your feet and connect with your newly pieced-together heart. On that day, you will be to take a step forward without toppling over.

Go in peace, dear one.