B03: From Suicidal to Living with Purpose and Hope
Updated: Oct 10, 2022
Albert has tried to kill himself twice by jumping off his 14th-floor condominium balcony. On both occasions, he said he did not dare to leap after looking down from the edge. In the first incident, he lost his will to live after he was scolded harshly by his superior and he could not tolerate anymore the pressures of his job. The second time was after his wife ridiculed him for being a useless father who could not even pacify their baby to stop crying while she took her bath. Albert said what prompted him to want to end it all was that sense of utter inadequacy and hopelessness.
As a psychotherapist handling a case of suicidal ideation, my first course of action is always to secure a commitment from my client that he or she will call me immediately when experiencing a strong suicidal impulse. If I am not contactable, then there must be another pre-arranged person that he or she can still call anytime, including at odd hours of the night. The emphasis is that one should never underestimate the power of a suicidal impulse to act irrationally.
Paradigm shift of identity and self-worth
When a person sees no point in wanting to live any longer because one feels so inadequate and hopeless about oneself, as in the case of Albert, that individual must be led to see himself or herself differently in terms of one’s identity and self-worth. If that person is not a Christian, he or she ought to know that each of us is a unique individual with intrinsic self-worth that is not dependent on our performance or the opinions of other people. As such, each individual is worthy of respect as a birthright. Whether or not certain others give us that respect makes no difference to the legitimacy of our birthright.
If that person is a Christian, the Bible tells us that we are a child of God. As such, we are whom we belong to, not what we can do well or cannot do anything properly at all. Indeed, God created us differently. In the parable of the talents, the Bible tells us that to some of us, God gives us five talents. To some, two talents are given while to others, only one talent. When more is given, more is expected of their stewardship. For example, the one with two talents is only expected to bring in another two and not more. In other words, we are created with different abilities and we must accept the differentness in each of us. If we try to do things beyond our ability to cope or manage, especially when they are done at the expense of our physical, mental or relational health, then we run a great risk of breaking down.
Albert aspires to be a senior corporate executive with a well-paid job so that he can provide comfortably for his family and go on annual holidays like some of his friends. Hence, he has taken up a job he knows is highly demanding but it comes with a good salary. He soon found himself having sleepless nights and dreading going to work. The breaking point came when he was harshly reprimanded by his immediate boss for being slow in his work and affecting the other departments. I explored with him the option of finding another job that is less stressful for him. If he is earning less, it would be better to scale down his lifestyle than jeopardize his own life. When we are secured in God, a lower income and lifestyle will not dampen our self-esteem because our focus is on what God thinks of us and not on any loss of face before humans. Thus, getting our identity and self-worth right will free us from comparing and keeping up our reputation before others because the latter is based on human standards and expectations rather than on what is of intrinsic value.
Tap on a higher source
As Albert is a Christian, I also encouraged him to think through and list down five ideal but realistic criteria for his new job on the assumption that God in His time of favor, would ask him the question, “What do you want?” God can bless us and honor our desires provided we know what we want. He can even land Albert in a less-demanding job most suited for him yet commanding the same salary, provided he is humble enough to depend on Him and not underestimate His goodness.
Ultimately, we must believe in and know our heavenly Father as One who cares for each of us and He is in control. As such, we can depend on Him for our every need. Too often, the children of God are dependent on our own abilities and when our performance or the outcome of it does not match our expectations, we are demoralized because our identity and self-worth are not pegged on what we are intrinsically.
People of other faiths and even freethinkers also believe that there is a higher force that is bigger than our mortal selves. Logic tells us that it is better to have help from a higher source than merely struggling on our own. If we believe and trust that our higher source cares for us and he is in control, then when we do not get what we seek after committing the matter to the one who is in charge, we believe he would have something better for us, because he knows what is best for us. This puts us in a win-win situation and we need not feel shame for our reputation or despair over the days ahead.
Finding purpose and meaning in life
As to the other aspect of Albert’s shame and despair, he felt utterly useless when even his wife derided him for failing in the simplest task in his role as a father. In the right perspective, failures ought to be taken as opportunities to learn and improve, not as markers that reflect our identity and self-worth. We take them as markers only when we do not know that we are a work-in-progress in the overarching purpose and meaning of our life.
The truth is that God put us on a relatively short journey of life on earth as a process to refine our character through all the ups and downs of daily living so that we are better people to live with Him in eternity. When we miss this ultimate purpose and meaning in life, our benchmarks are fixed on our reputation before man, the here-and-now pleasures of life, wealth, power, and other earthly pursuits which are temporal and of no eternal significance. We can take none of these along with us when it is time for us to traverse from this life to eternity. But when we internalize that our overall purpose and meaning in life lies in the quality of our character in the end, then a complaint or criticism against us will not drive us to shame and despair but can only spur us on to take stock and improve on the quality of the core self in us.
God will always try to realize the full potential He sees in us and not want us to settle for anything second best, provided we allow and cooperate with Him in this refining process. When faced with success or failure, praise or criticism, joy or pain, these are always the best times to ask God what is He trying to teach us to improve on our character to make us better persons.
At the start of the second counseling session, Albert announced to me that he has risen in courage to resign from his job and now trusting God to help him find a new one. He sounded a lot more optimistic than the depressed demeanor he displayed throughout his first session with me. When we embrace a secured identity and an unshakable self-worth, learn to trust God for our every need, and find a higher purpose and deeper meaning in life, we will live with hope for a better future. Hope is that which sustains us through the lowest and most difficult seasons of our life without being suicidal.
8 May 2022
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