Did I Cause My Child to Take Their Life?
Losing a child is heartbreaking but the parent’s guilt after a suicide can make it even worse. So many parents have told me they spend a lot of time wondering “Did I cause my child’s suicide?” The guilt can be overwhelming and debilitating.
Guilt After Suicide
It’s natural for a parent to feel guilt at different points in their lives. Parent’s feel responsible for their children and do whatever they can to make sure they are safe and happy. When that child takes their own life, the questions begin. Why did this happen? Could I have done anything to stop the suicide? Did I cause my child to take their life?
Some parents even go down the route of feeling guilty because they stopped for groceries or stayed too late at work. They wonder if they hadn’t been so busy then they might have stopped their child from taking their life.
While these emotions are common, they are not helpful to your healing journey or your emotional wellbeing. On top of that, they aren’t truth.
My Son’s Suicide
I know all about guilt and wondering if as a parent, you did something wrong. My son took his life in my basement when he was 27 years old. It was 2015, on a bright sunshiny day in July. I had returned from a weekend away. I went out for dinner and a movie with my husband. When we returned home, we found him. Apparently, he was dead for most of the day.
I was in my house, my son dead in the basement and I didn’t know. Wasn’t a mother supposed to know when something is so terribly wrong? What kind of mother doesn’t know their child is dead feet from where they stand?
To make matters worse, two weeks prior I had told him he would have to move out. He was suffering from mental illness. He wasn’t taking his medication or seeing his counsellor like he had committed to doing. It had been more than ten years of trying everything. Helping, praying, cajoling, yelling, and crying. I was at my wits end. The only thing I hadn’t tried was some ‘tough love’.
I had to do something so I told him he would have to find another place to live. Two weeks later, he was dead.
So, I know all about a parent’s guilt after suicide. I know all about wondering “Did I cause my child’s suicide?”
What Does Research Say About Suicide?
In order to help deal with my feelings of guilt, I began researching to find out what we know about the causes of suicide.
The Mayo Clinic says that suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you can’t cope when faced with what is perceived to be an overwhelming life situation. This is the most elementary reason, but when looking into this, I found that it is more complex than just that.
The reasons for feeling they can’t cope and that their life is overwhelming can be because of severe depression and mental illness. Another reason is trauma experienced at some point in their lives. This could be recent or years ago. Alcohol and drug addiction can also cause people to feel thing will never get better.
People who take their lives do so because they feel that life can’t and won’t get better.
People Who Failed at Suicide
One of the things I have done to try and make sense of things is to listen to people who survived an attempt at suicide. I learned is that people often experience something called cognitive contriction or, in layman’s terms, tunnel vision.
Suicide attempt survivors often talk about losing any ability to be rational or see any other option. They are convinced that the only way to stop the pain is to take their life. What causes this is the actual physiological functioning of certain parts of the brain during the moments leading up to suicide.
Imagine you need to figure out how to get from point A to Point B. If you are in a state of cognitive constriction, you can only see one solution. Your brain is incapable of figuring out other options.
This is an explanation and an answer to some of the questions that plague parents. I’ve heard parents ask why their child didn’t reach out for help. Parent’s feel guilt after suicide because they think their child didn’t love them enough to stay. Or they wonder why they didn’t take a number of different options available. The truth is, they couldn’t see any other option.
People who have survived suicide attempts also talk about their skewed perception of their value. They talk about being absolutely convinced that their family would be better off without them. This is not a feeling based on any logic or anything their family did or said. It is based on the lies their brain is telling them while experiencing cognitive constriction. They see no option better than them not existing.
What Can I Do With My Guilt After my Child’s Suicide
Dealing with the guilt after my child’s suicide is an ongoing process. I’m at the point where I know logically that I did not cause my child’s suicide. What I am working on now is having that knowledge travel to my heart.
What has worked for me is doing the research to learn the truth about suicide. Listening and reading stories of suicide attempt survivors. I also read stories by other parent’s who are feeling guilt after a suicide. Learning that I am not alone is helpful and hearing about other good parents who lost their child reassures me.
What has also helped me is practicing self-care, extending grace to myself and being surrounded by positive people.
Go in Peace,
Carla Howatt is the mother of three adult children. One of her children has a developmental disability and another passed away in 2015. She is also an author and publisher. www.CarlaHowatt.com