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Suicidal Proclivity and Psychodynamic Perspective

You ask why I make my home in the mountain forest,
I smile and am silent,
And even my soul remains quiet:
It lives in the other world
Which no one owns.
The peach trees blossom.
The water flows.
~ Li Po, (yr. 701-761)


Youth, soldiers, the once faithful, musicians, artists and craftsmen, writers, the poor and wealthy alike, those in old age, those in pain, eminent talents at the height of their captivating gravity, solitary mothers, misfit fathers, lovers trapped by culture, few are immune to the dolorous tone made by rumination or execution of suicide. Many of us know a person who succumbed to its dirge; sometimes a member of our own family. In my life it is easy to recall half a dozen unrepeatable people gone by their choice. “Oh build your ship of death, oh build it in time and build it lovingly, and put it between the hands of your soul,” writes D.H. Lawrence. This ship of which Lawrence speaks cannot avoid being built, as each day that we engage in life is a day that we also engage with the single certainty granted this existence, its ending. Of what to compose the course of days toward that end is the persistent question that lies throbbing underneath the raiment of our not-knowing, our fumbling to define such a punctuation point.

The role of story making then becomes essential to coping with the anxiety and grief that so often haunts contemplation, haunts the desire to have or be a certain future person, and is contrasted by an internal judgment of what is missing, what is not present that ought to be. It is in this scope that the psychodynamic and archetypal schools of psychology locate and magnify the crux of the suicidal risk as a necessity for transformation of soul, of Self. “The secret,” says C.G. Jung in Psychology and Alchemy, “is that only that which can destroy itself is truly alive.” Our instincts about this experience of the soul manifest in myth, music, and poetry, and have for all time. Soul’s landscape exists as a polymorphic experience that moves in dreams, reveries, artistic invention, inspiration and insight. It is the force with which we anthropomorphize elements beyond our understanding, and lies intimately connected to how we engage with all that we do not understand, in realms of reason and the unconscious. This includes the temptation toward an end, be that an imagination of peace, or a sense of total revisionary renewal. “For the psyche, neither is immortality a fact, nor is death an end," notes James Hillman in Suicide and The Soul.

The necessity for change reaches crisis, and often the landscape of emotion in suicidal depression is reductive to the extent that anguish moves itself forward as calm ideation of otherness, of the transmutation that death guarantees. One reaches to span transitions without the breath of stretch required for growing from child to individual, professional, parent, partner, widow, crone, and can find themself lost in a labyrinth between stations. All developmental progressions require a leap be made from one terrain to the next, and it is the fire of the archetypal experience that is so often intermediary when the fall results in injury. New maps, new narratives are urgent, and it is these one hopes to revision in the therapeutic process.

None of this is to romanticize the numbness or pain that garb depression, but to highlight that in any attempt to prevent a seemingly premature end, acknowledgment and permissions for expression of  mystery, even feelings of madness, are essential; exploration is key to opening reparative forces of change at work in the sufferer. While as an observer it is easy to be overwhelmed by anger, misunderstanding, and pain, it behooves us to delay pejorative social requirements that cloud the horizon for a nascent self longing to be experienced a new. Even in a failed suicide prevention, the accentuated sense of placement illuminated when a life is taken by choice, can be viewed as an opportunity to hone our perception of relationship and value, to redefine how we come to express our own sense of meaning, mystery, and death. By this light, such sacrifices to soulful fire might more appropriately be considered a final lesson or boon, than cast permanently in a shade of sinful insanity. Without such trials, we know not the heights and depths our humanity.

The birds have vanished into the sky,
And now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
Until only the mountain remains.
~ Li Po


~ Andrea Jivan, L.M.T., M.A.
Depth Psychology Intern
Social Media Manager
Jung Society of Utah

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