Comedian Robin William’s recent suicide has left many in the world stunned. We asked Dr John Demartini to explain what leads a person to take his own life, so that we could have a better understanding of their mindset
Each of us have swings in our mood or has highs and lows in our emotional feelings. If these swings are within a certain normal range, we remain self-governed and functional. But when they become extreme, they can lead us into the poles of mania and depression. In some cases if the manias become extremely high, the depressions can become extremely low.
Similar, but other forms of these manias and depressions can be fantasies and nightmares or extreme degrees of pride and shame. When we are up, manic and elated, our brain can become flooded by increased releasing of dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, endorphins, enkephalins and serotonin. When we are depressed the reverse can occur and cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, dihydrotestosterone, substance P and other neurotransmitters can surge.
If the manic fantasy becomes extremely high, it can simultaneously be accompanied by a hidden compensatory depression. And if the dopamine rises and we become addicted to our manic states and fantasies, our hidden depressions can grow even more powerful.
If we have an unrealistic expectation to remain living in a sort of ever-lasting manic or invincible fantasy world or state, we can have depressive thoughts of suicide as a counterbalancing thought.
When we get dopamine in the brain, whatever we associate dopamine with, we can become repeatedly attracted or addicted to. So if we create a fantasy that stimulates dopamine, we become addicted to that fantasy and our life in comparison can become perceived as a relative nightmare if we can’t or don’t fulfill that fantasy. The fantasy is how we would like and imagine our lives to be, our unrealistic expectation.
Our depression is a comparison of our current reality to a fantasy that we are addicted to. If that fantasy is extremely unreasonable and non-obtainable, thoughts of suicide can emerge. And the longer the fantasy is held onto and the more we are addicted to it, the more the depression can linger, and the more the thought of suicide can become the only way out as our life is not matching the fantasy.
So any time we have an expectation that is delusional or extremely unrealistic, or is not aligned with our true highest values, depression can ensue and suicide can become a persisting thought. Many of us have had moments where they have contemplated and considered it.
Another initiator of depression is an unloved action we’ve done that we feel guilty or shameful about (bankruptcy, an affair, violence, sexual offence, failure….), the guilty action that we don’t see a solution or resolution to. And the resultant self-depreciative feelings if extreme can also lead to an unworthy driven suicide.
So any time we feel guilty or shameful and have self-depreciating feelings about ourselves, because we are not living up to some idealistic expectations (sustained fame, fortune, saintliness, influence, power… ), suicide thoughts can enter our minds. Many people have this experience occasionally. But prolonged unrealistic expectations and fantasies or shame and guilt can lead us into despair and suicidal thoughts. And extreme, invincible fantasies can take us right out of this life.
Anything that we are having difficulty loving about ourselves and that we don’t want the world to know about us, that then gets exposed, can also lead to suicide – to save us from further social humiliation. Just like most fears are often assumptions and they don’t always emerge, or occur, so too these despairs and depressions that make us think about suicide are seldom if ever as challenging or terrible as we initially imagine them to be. So it’s wiser to set realistic expectations that match our highest values and that match a more balanced reality, one that is more grounded and also clear out any of our shames and guilts by finding out how what we’ve done has also ultimately served those people we have affected and ourselves. These more balanced and realistic expectations can liberate us from escaping thoughts of suicide.
Unrealistic expectations that are unmet can lead to depressive feelings. There is no doubt that we have a biochemical imbalance associated with these feelings and pharmacology and psychiatry focus on the biochemistry, and psychology focuses on the expectations and internal and unconscious strategies. Both approaches have their place. But before tampering with the chemistries of the brain, it’s certainly wise to get our expectations in line with a more balanced reality. So our mood swings can stabilize and we can appreciate and truly love our life again.
One of the fantasies that people have is that some people have an easier life. That’s not generally the case. Other people have different challenges that we probably wouldn’t want. That’s why we have the challenges that we have. Our own values and priorities determine what challenges we experience. We are given challenges we can handle. Our pleasures and pains function as part of negative feedback homeostat.
It’s not what happens to us that matters; it’s our perceptions of what’s happened to us and what we decide to do with that. So if we sit and become victims of our history because we’ve stacked up challenges instead of mastering our destiny by seeing opportunities, the challenges are overwhelming and we could lead ourselves to suicide. There’s never a problem without a solution, there’s never a crisis without a blessing, there’s never a challenge without an opportunity. They come in pairs like two sides of a coin. Although our apparent moods wings, manias and depressions, fantasies and nightmares seem to be consciously cyclic and separated, they are actually unconsciously synchronous and inseparable.
The more we are addicted to experiencing only support, ease, pleasure, positive and fantasy, the more likely our depression, and the more likely that our daily life challenges will overwhelm us. But if we understand that life has both sides – support and challenge, ease and difficulty, pleasures and pains, positives and negatives, we’re less volatile and we’re less likely to be depressed. When we live congruently, in accordance with our true highest values and when we embrace both sides of life equally and simultaneously, we’re more resilient, adaptable and more fit. But when we’re searching for a one-sided world, the other side smacks us. Bipolar condition is a byproduct of mono-polar addiction. If we are striving for a one-sided reality, it’s not attainable. Life has two sides. Embrace both sides. The desire for that which is unavailable and the desire to avoid that which is unavoidable is the source of human suffering.
Dr. John Demartini is a human behaviour specialist, educator, author and the founder of the Demartini Institute.