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Here are my selections of twelve critical modifications of our assumptive views that will prevent suicide:
FA = faulty assumption; CS = common sense assumption (ANWOT)
- FA: Persons guilty of wrongdoing and mistakes deserve punishment. CS: Guilt is a trigger for problem-solving, to ask, What can I learn from the experience? It is wiser to learn from mistakes than blame and punish ourselves when we make mistakes. The power of interpretation transforms the physical fight instinct to symbolic attack. Instead of physically attacking others, we mentally blame others and invent many ways to apply symbolic punishment. We are taught and then teach that rebellion from authority justifies punishment. Blaming-out is understandably an instinctive response to frustration that often leads to escalation of conflict. However, the process of blaming-in is humankind’s original creation. Guilt takes the form of verbal putdowns, emotional pain, and in the extreme, intentional physical attack on our self - suicide. Education in the value of making mistakes and effective limit setting are more productive alternatives to punishment. We are required to learn from mistakes until we can problem-solve using common sense thinking (ANWOT). Our cortex isn’t fully developed until about the age of 18 and most persons don’t reach their peak of mental freedom before their late twenties or early thirties.
- FA: Praise only counts if it comes from someone else. CS: Maturity means accepting responsibility for our self-worth. Self-endorsement is our means to generate abundant love to meet our needs, become our lifelong best friend, and have plenty to give to others. Valuing our self when we do our reasonable best makes us always in control of our self-esteem; depending on others for our daily requirement of approval is hazardous. Suicide is frequently precipitated when we allow ourselves to become overly dependent on a single significant other who withdraws their affection. Check out stren 23-24, a reasonable best input measure of self-worth that is 100% in our control instead of the commonly used outcome measure which is beyond our control. Common and some uncommon means of self-endorsement are offered in our stren collection at www.anwot.org.
- FA: Win at any cost! CS: Make peace, not war. Our animal brain advocates the destructive aggression that was required to eat and not be eaten in a savage environment. Bullying is but one expression of our instinct to dominate. In our contemporary partly civilized world we rarely face emergency life-threatening confrontation. Resentment and “getting even” usually result in escalation and mutual harm. Forgiveness promotes a far wiser solution - collaboration for mutual benefit. Peace is among our highest priorities.
- FA: My way, the only way, is the right way. CS: There are many ways to get to the top. When we are immature, our limited problem-solving ability requires that we divide the world into two easily understood categories – good or bad, right or wrong, etc. Since we are unable to consistently be good and right, unrealistic expectations create self-putdowns that cause feelings of inadequacy, guilt, apathy, and depression. Perfectionists persistently attack themselves. Making mistakes is nature’s way to teach independence and problem-solving.
- FA: Me and my values stink. CS: My values are on loan from fate and circumstance. I don’t need to stay stuck. The ingredients to change my values are abundantly available. They are willingness to try, work, patience, direction, and risk-taking to break out of my shell. The ingredients I lack are free for the asking. Unusual intelligence, money, connections, good looks, and even good health are nice but they are not required. I can always accept responsibility to change the values I was taught. Recognize that the guilt that may have been programmed into us is not productive and I don’t need to dwell on it - “You got in but you’re unwelcome. Leave of I’ll kick you out.”
- FA: I am indestructible. Life goes on forever. CS: Life is precious and time limited. Children and teenagers often fail to realize that death is final. When I contemplated suicide I had visions I would see my parents repenting and apologizing for the stress I perceived they caused. We have one life; we have or can attain the means to make it joyous. When we are dead we are really dead.
- FA: Blindly obey what authority prescribes. Might makes right. CS: When reasonable, replace prescriptive thinking (should, have to, must, ought, etc.) with descriptive word-switches (could, prefer, I am wise when ..., etc.). The prescriptive language we all first learn when we are immature constrains our thinking, feelings, and actions to the one right way that authority commands. Descriptive word-switches incite us to create and apply newer solutions using common sense. The prescriptive language that is required when we are immature and helpless requires ongoing updating as our cortex matures and we equip it with knowledge and the common sense wisdom to assume responsibility for our fate.
- FA: I have been taken care of up till now so I’m entitled to be taken care of lifelong. CS: Don’t expect free lunch! Recognize the devastating helpless/hopeless response that commonly occurs when unrealistic expectations are not fulfilled. Unfairness and disappointments are part of life’s experience. Suicide is commonly precipitated by an unmet, usually unrealistic expectation. Nature provides us the resilience to pick ourselves up when we get knocked down but the faulty assumption that “I’m entitled” causes big problems.
- FA: Money, power, or fame will keep me forever happy. CS: Encourage cultivation of multiple enthusiasms. The elderly have a very high rate of suicide. A colleague described a depression syndrome he called “todes erwachen,” waiting for death. When we lack enthusiasms, we have little else to think about other than facing death. Persons who commit suicide commonly limit their energy to such a narrow vision that the loss of interest by a loved person or situation is sufficient to trigger the helpless/hopeless response, depression and suicide. Cultivating wide and varied interests early in life when we have the energy of youth is a powerful antidote to suicide.
- FA: Keep your eye on the empty part of the glass, see the hole in the donut. CS: Learn and sustain an attitude of gratitude. We are biologically prewired to anticipate the negative because preoccupation with life-threatening events and maintaining a “red alert” state had survival value in a savage environment. In our partially civilized world, we rarely require emergency life-saving action. Recognize we live better than the kings of a few hundred years past and savor each of the abundant life enhancing free gifts nature provides.
- FA: If I don’t feel good, it’s my fault. I must deserve it. CS: There are multiple instances when life sucks but we have many ways to manage. Others find a way; so, I can too. Nature provides us with the resilience to substitute “I think I can” for “I give up.” When depression is genetic or chemical, the need for medications or protective custody may require professional evaluation. All depression is self-limiting.
- FA: I’m alone. No one has experienced this. No one will understand. CS: Cultivate several confidants or at least be aware of at least one with whom I can make an open issue of my pain. Even if I don’t know someone, there are professional, religious, and public service counselors willing to help and even welcome the opportunity to do so. Faulty ideas, like an abscess, need to be opened up an allowed to drain before they pollute the system.