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Causes of Guilt and Shame After Suicide

By Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD

Sudden loss can be severely emotionally damaging, especially when it feels that loss could have been prevented.

This is often the case with survivors of suicide. You find yourself with some intense emotions that are sometimes difficult to even examine, let alone control, especially two emotions that can be incredibly devastating:

  • Shame
  • Guilt

People can handle a lot of emotions, but shame and guilt are two of the most difficult to tolerate, because they involve so much questioning of yourself. You feel regret, you feel doubt, and you start to lose faith in yourself. These emotions take control of all of your thoughts, and make it so much harder to find undistracted happiness in the world around you.

When someone you love takes their own life, shame and guilt are unfortunately an all too common part of the aftermath. Most are the result of a series of questions that people ask themselves when they survive the suicide of a loved one:

  • Why didn’t I know this could happen?
  • What could I have done to prevent it?
  • Why wasn’t I doing for them?
  • Why didn’t they come to me?
  • Why am I so angry at someone I loved?

Because the person has left your life, these questions all hang there unanswered, and the lack of closure makes it even harder to manage. You find yourself feeling sad, lost, embarrassed, and even mad, and then you feel guilty that you feel mad, and the emotions continue to spiral.

One of the hardest parts about recovering from this loss is that it’s harder to talk about suicide than other forms of loss. You often feel like you can’t talk to others because society’s view on suicide is so strong, and it’s not uncommon to worry that you may be blamed. Yet of course, that fear makes you feel even guiltier, and so each negative emotion builds on the next.

Coping With Guilt and Shame After Suicide

Recovering from the guilt of suicide isn’t something that human beings do naturally, because it combines so many different emotions that are hard to control. Besides guilt and shame, there are also issues of:

  • Sudden and unexpected nature of the loss
  • Religious feeling and stigma
  • Anger
  • Profound Shock

Perhaps what’s even more challenging is that in some cases, suicide can cause you to feel an emotion that can lead to even more shame – relief. It’s a taboo feeling in today’s society, but many suicide survivors find that the person was becoming very difficult later towards the end, due to their depression or life struggles.Yet that relief is then met with further guilt and self-hatred, as people feel shamed that they experience any positive emotion after someone else has left them in such a terrible way.

It becomes so hard to control these feelings. You feel like you need to cry, you feel like you need to yell, you feel like you need to be alone and you feel like you need to be with others. It may not feel like it now, but there is hope and recovery. It is possible over time to cope with these feelings, reduce your shame and guilt, and begin to remember the positives about the person that has left your life.

Regardless of the circumstances,suicide is never the fault of the survivor,and no matter the situation your lost loved one doesn’t want your life to be on hold for them. While life will never be the same,healing and moving forward is possible.


About the Author:
Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in Shrewsbury, Monmouth County NJ. She has been providing affirmative, compassionate and individualized help to Individuals, Couples and Families since 1990.