In the essay, The Myths of Sisyphus, Albert Camus- the author, writes about Sisyphus, whose existential purpose was nothing but absurdity. The man was supposed to push a rock uphill, only for it to roll back down once it reached the top and this ridiculous cascade was all that happened in his life. People wondered why the man proceeded to live his futile life instead of putting an end to his suffering. Camus thinks that the man had a noble soul and believes that life, no matter how seemingly bad it appears, can be lived with a full “heart” and with dignity.
But for many people, this suffering is not just an essay and is not as simple as pushing a rock uphill. Their sufferings are in flesh and so much complicated and painful than a lot of us can ever imagine; and the idea of suicide is not an existential, philosophical question or an academic exercise. For these people, suicide is the only answer. “Deep emotional pain” is a recurring theme in suicide theory, and its debilitating presence has been called the “most common theoretical reason for suicide”. The act of suicide is, however, far too complex to sum up in three brief words. Suicides are also not so to explain and predict.
Suicide has more parts to it than just rooting from psychological causes. For example, Emile Durkheim – the founder of sociology – presented the first notable theory of suicide, which focused on suicide at a societal level. He put forth four types of suicides that may occur due to different socioeconomic causes.
- Egoistic suicide is seen in individuals who lack social integration and are detached from traditional social bonds or society, which makes them lack a sense of belonging.
- Altruistic suicides– occur when individuals are too fully socially integrated, and, thus, they feel that their death would benefit society.
- Anomic suicides- often happen in societies where there is minimal social regulation. This lack of social regulation results in a failure to instill a sense of meaning. Camus’ “absurd hero”, described above, would fit into this paradigm
- Fatalistic suicides– occur in societies where social regulation is extreme and authority is oppressive and controlling.
Sigmund Freud believed that an individual possesses a “death instinct” which, in turn, is balanced by a life instinct (most often externalized as anger). When anger is culturally suppressed through societal laws, its expression toward others is repressed and turned inwards . In extreme cases, this repression results in suicide or self-murder. Similarly, Roy Baumeister, a psychologist proposed the escape theory of suicide that had the following steps:
- Falling short of standards
- Internalization of self-blame
- Aversive sense of self
- Negative affect and/or negative consequences
- Cognitive constriction
- Reckless behaviours, absence of emotion, and irrational thought
Sometimes, the central factor in all suicides is the presence of “psychache”, and the influence of psychache on theoretical thinking of suicide has been enormous. Psychache is defined as the “hurt, anguish, soreness, and aching psychological pain in the mind. It is “the pain of shame or guilt, or humiliation, or loneliness, or fear, or angst, or dread of growing old”. Aaron Beck posited the Hopelessness Theory of suicide. He asked what possible force could drive a person to violate and override the “survival” instinct to kill him or herself. He found that hopelessness was the catalytic agent- the force and is a stronger indicator of suicidal intent than depression.
Other factors can also be suggested as the reason for suicide, like the following:
- Thwarted Belongingness: an absence of meaningful connections to others or a strain of a loss of previously strong relationships
- Perceived Burdensomeness: a perception that someone feels that he or she is a burden. They believe that they fail to make meaningful contributions to society and that they are a liability.
These 2 combined factors create the desire for suicide.
- Acquired Capability for Suicide: the degree to which an individual is able to initiate a suicide attempt. A habituation to fear and pain is a prerequisite for serious suicidal behaviour.
On a biological perspective, emotion dysregulation explains that people can experience intense emotions and an increase in sensitivity even hypersensitivity, in upsetting situations, and when they are not able to cope up with it, they give up – self murder. Other causes may include:
In one’s mind
- Unbearable psychological pain
- Cognitive construction rigid thinking, tunnel vision
- Indirect expressions ambivalent thoughts toward living, contradictory feelings
- Inadequate adjustment cannot cope with problems, losses and weakened ego
- Interpersonal relations frustrated relationships
- Rejection/aggression loss or abandonment, aggression turned inward
- Identification/regression strong attachment to another that is not met, need to escape
Although there are so many theories and explanations for why suicides happen, in reality no single theory can explain the severity and complexity of suicides and suicidal behaviour. Of course, understanding the causes of suicides is important, but more than anything it is extremely crucial is to realise suicide is neither the end nor an option. More theoretical interpretations and practical treatments are developing so that people no longer feel like Sisyphus, endlessly pushing the rock; rather, they can be, as Camus imagines Sisyphus, content and happy to be alive.