Rembrandt’s series of self-portraits over the course of his life are among the most beautiful, profound and revealing works of western art. “His self-portraits, especially the later ones, are pitilessly honest explorations of the psychic toll we inflict on ourselves.” (1) Is self-inflicted human suffering a common human behavior in our species? And if it is, how are we going to deal with it?
For example, suicide can be seen as a release from imagined suffering, a tragic mistake or a non-problem. We will of course explain the differences among these conclusions. Whatever the explanation is for a given suicide we will have to learn that it is a symptom of an underlying delusional identity. Most people committing suicide do so because they have chosen to “be” someone they are not.
To deepen our understanding of the relationship between our chosen identity and our pain and suffering we will focus on suicides in the American community. With suicides on the increase in several disparate groups in our society can we say that we are becoming a self-traumatizing community? For example, the likelihood that a person will commit suicide can be directly correlated to the group they choose to identify with. “In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control released a study examining suicide rates among Americans by race and ethnicity. In 2014, the last year for which the researchers compiled data, non-Hispanic Native women between the ages of 15 and 24 committed suicide at a rate of 15.6 deaths per 100,000, or three times the rate of non-Hispanic white women and five times the rate of non-Hispanic black women of the same age.” (2)
Our chosen profession can be an expression of our identity. To choose a career as a first responder might seem a healthy choice of identity. And yet … “[A] 2011 study conducted by the National EMS Management Association found that the suicide rate among medics was ten times higher than the general population.” (3)
Returning to the choice of suicide as a release from suffering we can see how crucial our choice of identity can be in leading to that decision. Every member of our species has a choice of two fundamental identities, the delusional false self and a True self. Unfortunately, this choice is usually not made consciously. That is to say that most of us do not realize that our true identity would not make life-choices that would be self-destructive.
For example, Steve Schillinger, a partner in the online gambling site called World Sports Exchange was making $1 million dollars a year. Perhaps he didn’t know that the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 had outlawed taking bets over telephone lines. “In 1998, 21 U.S. citizens were charged with Wire Act violations.” (4) Schillinger and his partner had to flee the U.S. to avoid prison. In 2013 World Sports Exchange, which had been taken over by competitors, ceased operations. On that same day Schillinger committed suicide, the end of a path he had chosen years earlier. (See Current Events # 8 for a more definitive distinction between the consequences involved in choosing a false self rather than a True self identity as Steve Schillinger did.)
As for the rest of us in the Global Village, many of us are waiting in the antechamber, inhumane prisons, refugee camps, and in long lines for basic food, clothing and shelter. Our current narrative (dominant beliefs, attitudes and values) have resulted in most members of our species waiting to be allowed to become human. Hence, suicide is a way out of a hopeless future an escape from existential suffering.
Mental health professionals are gradually learning to be less prejudicial in adopting alternative healing strategies in addressing suicide. Hallucinogens and the drug MDMA (ecstasy) are proving promising in the treatment of traumatized individuals at risk for suicide. “The drug, which creates feelings of empathy and euphoria, allows traumatized victims to recall their terrors in a calm state of mind and establish deep trust with their therapists—ingredients that pave the way for psychological change.” (5) And we might add, the necessary identity change.
We would do well not to derive our identity from any collective community whether based on our skin color, our sexual preference, our ethnicity or a particular religion. Going even deeper than trauma associated with group identification we must also be wary of identifying with our mind, body and emotions as individuals. To understand how a suicidal ideation can be a non-problem click on the link below.
Insight # 87: When someone threatens suicide at this time, I caution him that he must be careful to do it without harming his body. –Meizumi Roshi
- “Suicide,” in this blog and also in the print version The ABC’s of Simple Reality: The Encyclopedia of Self-Transformation, Vol II (2018), by Roy Charles Henry, pages 278-279.
- Shorto, Russell. “Rembrandt in the Blood.” The New York Times Magazine. March 3, 2019, page 38.
- Streep, Abe. “What the Arlee Warriors Were Playing For.” The New York Times Magazine. April 18, 2018, page 35.
- Thulin, Lila. “Mental Breakthrough.” September 28-October 4, 2017, page 12.
- Al-Ghadban, Najeebah. “Bet On It.” The New York Times Magazine. February 3, 2019, page 41.
- Jones, Maggie. “Matter Over Mind.” The New York Times Book Review. April 8, 2018, page 15.