My best effort to share how to help someone suicidal:
When someone plummets into dark, hopeless thinking, it appears like a deep hole, not a tunnel, to them. No light at the end, just blind darkness. And in those moments, people see the drastic act of suicide as an obvious escape. They are lost in their own misery.
What is missing is any realization that the whole experience is a chimera. Or that all thought is transitory and will disappear in the blink of a distraction. Or that everyone who lives into adulthood has seen that dark place, but not stayed there.
In those bleak moments, the innate spiritual strength, the natural wellbeing, we all have and can never lose is still flickering, the pilot light of our life on earth, but we have temporarily lost remembrance of how to turn on the burner. Desperately despairing thoughts throw a heavy pall over wisdom.
Because of recent celebrity suicides, the airwaves, the press and social media have been filled with links to suicide hot lines and with people offering advice for those who suspect a friend or loved one may be suicidal. For me, as a person who has worked with the Principles for more than 30 years, a lot of the current advice, well-meaning and heartfelt as it is, misses the mark.
If someone is overwhelmed with self-destructive thinking, talking with them about what is on their minds, or trying to talk them out of what is on their minds. is counterproductive. It keeps their negative thoughts churning in the foreground. If my tormented thinking is roiling my mind, it will not help me to get past it to try to express it or explain it. I would have to hold it in place to do that. As long as it is on my mind, it remains my reality, and the more I talk about it, the more it intensifies.
If, on the other hand, other thoughts come to my mind, the dark thoughts start to fade and pass on. With an understanding of how human psychological functioning works, anyone who intervenes with a person on the verge of suicide will create a distraction first thing. It only takes one thought for the person to start to move into a different reality. It doesn’t have to be a happy thought; it doesn’t have to be an optimistic thought. It just has to be a different thought. But it has to be that person’s thought.
Once the person moves out of the dark hole, even if it’s only into a shadowy place with just a little light, THEN a meaningful intervention can begin. But the first step is to elicit something totally different from the sadness in which they are absorbed, and to see the person’s mind turn even a little bit outside of themselves.
Our own common sense tells us, in the moment, what that might be. Maybe ask a question? Maybe point out something interesting outside and elicit an opinion about it? Maybe bring up the person’s family and inquire how someone is doing? Maybe spill something and ask for help cleaning it up? There are infinite things that could come into anyone’s mind who has the intent to change the subject and engage the person in a different kind of thinking and conversation.
So that’s the first thing I want to share. With the certainty that everyone actually is only one thought away from experiencing a different reality, we can confidently talk to anyone and know that as soon as we engage them, their thoughts will shift and their mind will move away from their torment.
But the most important immediate next thing is love and reassurance. In an effort to stay calm and rational, I know that sometimes we feel we have to keep cool, keep talking, and keep the talk neutral. But really, extremely insecure thinking is painfully lonely and alienating. A human connection can do more than a lot of reasonable talk to draw someone back to life. Do not be afraid to touch someone’s arm, hold their hand, give them a hug if you know them well. Be with them. Listen to them. Silence, in a loving feeling, is often healing. But if it makes sense to talk, talk to the health in them, not to the temporary dysfunction.
Wisdom is like our circulation; it is an essential fact of life. We don’t feel it or even think much about it. But it is keeping us going. Wisdom is a life force. As soon as a person’s a mind quiets, their heart settles and their own wisdom arises. We don’t have to cheer them up; their spirits lift naturally.
Love, just pure unconditional love, is the balm that helps the heart to settle and the spirits to lift. Wisdom is the light that shines from within all of us.
(Mette Louise Holland, a 3P-based psychologist in Denmark, has provided this interview with her client Ida, 15 years old. Ida has agreed to allow us to share this beautiful simple truth about our healthy nature.)
I was suffering from severe depression and social anxiety when I met Mette Louise. I had tried to take my own life once and I was planning on doing it again.
Previously, I had seen another psychologist for a year or so, but nothing really changed. We talked about how I was feeling and in some periods I felt a little better, but I didn’t feel any real change. Then suddenly I felt really horrible again. It was all ups and downs with no end to it. It felt like my condition was slowly getting worse. I was beginning to give up hope that I would ever be okay.
At one point I couldn’t get more sessions at my first psychologist, and then I started seeing Mette Louise. At that point I had anxiety attacks every day, or at least every second day. But as I returned to Mette Louise for our second session, I realized I hadn’t had one since we spoke the first time. I thought: “ah, that can’t be true. It must be because I haven’t been in any of the situations that use to cause me anxiety.”
But after another couple of conversations I realized that it really was because of what we talked about in our first session. Suddenly I just got these insights: that in fact it wasn’t really the situations that caused me anxiety, I myself was the one who created my feelings in the situations. So no, it wasn’t because I hadn’t been in certain situations – my anxiety had gone. Just like that. I couldn’t believe it. But I couldn’t deny it either. I had been going like one “click” from being so far down in the darkest of moods and then suddenly, in another “click” it had just gone. I mean, after only one conversation. That was blowing my mind.
In the beginning I was thinking a lot about what we talked about. I thought I had to think positive and things like that. But after a while I realized that it’s not like that. Thinking is thinking and you can’t really control it. And you don’t need to. And with the understanding of the Principles in the back of your mind, that is all okay.
My normal state of mind has jumped up several levels. Now, I’m just really fine. And it persists. It’s more than a year since I stopped seeing Mette Louise now. I think I had 4 sessions over a three month period. That’s all. I haven’t experienced anxiety since. I’ve had the greatest change. I’ve become more spontaneous – if I get a thought, then I might just grab it and do it! Before I used to overthink every situation hugely.
Like: “if I do this, then I also have to do this and that.” Or: “If I do that, people will think so and so.” Oh my god, I was thinking so much! Now I know thought is thought. You can chose to believe it or you can just let it go. I’m doing so much more of what I want to do now.
I’ve become so much more joyful. Before, I was hiding in a corner and psyched myself up somehow, made myself feel worse and worse. In a way I wanted to feel that way – I thought: “I’m not going to get out of this anxiety anyway.” And then I just went on – because I was used to feeling uncomfortable, it felt safe in a way. Familiar. Now I know it’s just thought. You can build so many walls around yourself with your thinking. It’s pretty weird to realize that it’s just made of – like, air – it doesn’t mean anything. If you don’t hold on to it, it’s gone.
I was finishing 9th grade at that time. I was so nervous at the exams before. My thinking was like flowing around in the whole class room and I couldn’t concentrate. But now it’s totally different. I show up and see what happens. I haven’t been nervous – at all! I just do my best and leave my thinking on its own: nervous thinking comes if it comes, and so what. It can come. I don’t take it so seriously, I don’t listen to it.
In the beginning it was a little hard to make peace with the fact that other people don’t know this. People don’t do what they really want to do – they allow their thinking to steer too much.
In the beginning, when I hung out with my friends, sometimes I couldn’t help laughing – because it was so funny in a way, to watch how they were taking their own thinking so seriously. They held on to their heavy thinking. Then they got mad at each other and didn’t speak to each other for a long time. I just couldn’t help laughing because – it’s a thought you had a long time ago! Why not just let it go? Why would you go on and on with that same old thought? And when you do that, you make more thinking around the first one – you make up more thinking and the story gets worse and worse – it can go on forever if you don’t see how easily you can let go of a thought.
It was crazy how fast I saw more about thinking in the beginning, it came to me so quickly. I felt I had wasted a whole year focusing so much on negative thought, so it was really freeing to let go of it. Not that I became free. I realized that I already was free – I had been free all the time. Because, really – I had had good times in that year of anxiety too. I just hadn’t really noticed. I had had the thought that I shouldn’t be happy, that there was nothing to be happy about. So when I felt happy, I tried to think about sad things, because I felt I shouldn’t feel good.
Understanding the Principles has really transformed my life. I think I would have continued the same way as before, if I hadn’t gotten these insights. Now this understanding is mine forever – you can’t forget it once you’ve seen it. It’s yours for life.
What was your first insight?
After the first session with Mette Louise I remember I was blown away. I wasn’t 100 percent sure if it was really true what she was telling me, it had to land inside of me. But I couldn’t regret the logic of it, and soon I started to see it for myself.
Before, I couldn’t go shopping on my own, and I couldn’t go anywhere in my school alone because, what if people looked at me? And if I did something wrong? Now it’s no problem, it changed by itself. I just realized I could go shopping even if these thoughts were there. I didn’t have to believe it.
Before, I didn’t want to go to school and I had a lot of days at home from school, but then my thinking changed and I was like: “Hey! I want to go to school every day!” It just occurred to me: “why not just do it?”
Before, I felt like the girl who couldn’t get friends and couldn’t be really happy and now it has just turned upside down. I have allowed myself to be with others, if you can put it like that. I don’t care what people think anymore. You never know what they’re thinking anyway. Before I just knew they didn’t like me and now I’m like: how would I know what’s going on in their minds?! And so what? If they like me, great, if not, then that’s just how it is.
And my friends felt the change in me really clearly, they were like: “Oh Ida, you’ve really changed!” It’s so weird to think about.
It’s not that I never have unhelpful thinking anymore. But when I do I just see it and realize: it’s just thought. And then I let go. It doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.
I can still feel bad, but not for a whole day. I can be sad, but I don’t let other people make me sad because I know it’s just my thinking. It’s not people who make me sad. I’m the one who creates that thinking.
How does your future look to you now? And before?
Well, before I didn’t really think I had any future. I thought that if I continued my life, it would just go downhill from here. I would never get married and I would always feel bad. Now I think… well, I don’t think so much about the future. I’m sure it will be great, but I just live more in the moment now. I don’t make up a lot of thoughts about how my future will look like.
When I think about how I tried to commit suicide, I sometimes think I wish I had met Mette Louise before. But other times I feel really lucky, because if it hadn’t happened, maybe I would never have heard about the Principles. And maybe I would never have felt as good as I do now.
That’s amazing to hear!
It’s unbelievable. And I can’t wrap my head around the fact that most people still don’t know about it. I think that EVERYBODY should think like this! Think about how different the world would look like, if everybody knew! When I began to look in this direction, it was like understanding life at a deeper level. What life really is. And I’m only 15. How cool is that?