Suicide and its relativity to Stephen King’s Suffer the Little Children
Suicide is defined as an intentional, self-inflicted death that occurs in all cultures and usually is executed by people who are suffering from some sort of extreme emotional pain and feel unable to cope with their problems (Shneidman 6). Suicide is seen in our culture to be something that happens to only the “crazy” people. But the reality is that normal, everyday people commit suicide as well. Since suicidology is a fairly new field of scientific study there is still much to learn about it. Some theories and other scientific information have been discovered and are very interesting. In Stephen King’s Suffer the Little Children a teacher suffers from fear, anxiety, defeat, and delusional attributes and the end result was twelve students murdered the suicide of herself. These symptoms of suicide are explained later in the research paper.
Suicide began being studied scientifically a little over one century ago by a man named Emile Durkheim. But the specialized study of the causes associated with suicide and suicidal behaviors, as well the assessment, treatment, management, and prevention of such behaviors, has only been recorded in the last half of this century (Maris 1).
Why do humans kill themselves? Each day people go out into the workplace, school, or some sort of other activity and experience the threat of failure; what degree that possible threat my affect is a whole different story. We all know that life is sometimes enjoyable, usually routine, and almost always difficult. We experience happiness and joy along with contentment and love. Much of our life is also taken up by the routine, everyday, and emotionally neutral actions of life. Then on the flip side there are the negative emotions that we feel like sorrow, shame, humiliation, fear, dread, defeat, and anxiety. When we digest these negative emotions psychological anguish and disturbance can be the result (Meyer 23-24). Regrettably, some people live in a state of constant disturbance. This disturbance is sometimes caused by physical pain, but usually psychological pain. The teacher (Miss Sidley) in Suffer the Little Children seems to have taught for a long time and is very strict. I believe she got burned out teaching and was waiting for someone to violate her, but nobody ever did. So to compensate she imagined that the students were one by one becoming evil starting with one particular boy named Robert. After class one day she stood in her classroom thinking, “What was it I saw when he changed? Something bulbous. Something that shimmered. Something that stared at me, yes, stared and grinned and wasn’t a child at all. It was old and it was evil and…”(Meyer 538). This delusion that was just taken out of the story is due to psychological pain. Psychological pain is the main contributor of suicide. Psychological pain is not the same as bodily or physical pain. It is how you feel as a person; how you feel in your mind. It refers to how much you hurt as a human being. It is mental suffering; mental torment. Suicide is never the end result of joy or contentment. Pain by its very nature makes us want to stop whatever action we are doing or escape from it
(Lester 34-37). When a person is likely to take his or her own life in the near feature it is called lethality (suicidality). When dealing with a highly suicidal individual, it is not useful to directly address the lethality of their particular situation (Shneidman 31). The effective way to counsel a suicidal person is to approach them with the question of why they are in this situation and what mental thoughts led them into the state of killing themselves. You basically try to do anything to lessen the person’s lethal thoughts. Perturbation is also a key factor in lethality. This is felt pain. Alone, mental anguish is not lethal, but mixed with perturbation makes a deadly formula for self-inflicted death. Perturbation supplies the motivation for suicide and lethality is the terminal trigger.
(Shneidman 32-33). Miss Sidley finally had to find a way to deal with felt pain that she was feeling and she did so in this quote, “That night Miss Sidley cut her throat with a piece of broken mirror-glass,” (Meyer 543). She finally mixed the mental anguish with her felt pain and ended up with a deadly formula.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, a small number of suicides are caused by physical pain. Physical pain differs from psychological pain in one way because it is not the type of pain that is centrally involved in suicide. Physical pain usually leads someone to commit suicide by getting someone to assist him or her in the act, for example, if someone is suffering from Aids. Assisted suicide is the most common suicide for people suffering from various incurable diseases and sicknesses that are too painful for them to handle (Jamison 46).
As stated previously, suicide depends largely on psychological pain. And furthermore, the primary source of severe psychache is aggravated psychological need. Psychache is hurt, anguish, soreness, or aching misery of the mind. Clearly, an important part of our overall attitude has to do with biological needs: oxygen, food, water, and favorable temperature. But, once these needs are satisfied our actions are influenced by our need to reduce our inner tensions by satisfying a variety of psychological needs. These needs may include the intangible desire to achieve, to affiliate, to dominate, to avoid harm, to be autonomous, to understand what is going on along with many other needs. Everyone lives his or her lives in pursuit of psychological needs (Shneidman 101-103). Miss Sibley wasn’t able to obtain one or more of her psychological needs. She felt like she was not the dominant figure anymore and that she was losing control of her class. This made Miss Sibley, not only delusional, but also scared. This trait is displayed in the following quote, “She fled screaming down the corridor, and the few late-leaving pupils turned to look at her with her with large and uncomprehending eyes.” (Meyer 540). So when a person commits suicide, that individual is attempting to block out psychological pain that comes from unmet psychological needs crucial for that particular person. The activities that we do at home, in school, on the streets, on the job, during the day, at night, and in our dreams and fantasies are expressions that to one degree or another motivate our life as a whole. Therefore, suicide is a result of our larger life routines. Suicides tend to fall into one of five categories of psychological needs. These categories reflect different kinds of psychological pain.
·Thwarted love, acceptance, and belonging: related to frustrated needs for succorance and affiliation.
·Fractured control, predictability, and arrangement: related to frustrated needs for achievement, autonomy, order, and understanding.
·Assaulted self-image and the avoidance of shame, defeat, humiliation, and disgrace: related to frustrated needs for affiliation, dependence, and shame-avoidance.
·Ruptured key relationships and the attendant grief and bereft ness: related to frustrated needs for affiliation and nurturance.
·Excessive anger, rage, and hostility: related to frustrated needs for dominance, aggression, and counteraction (Shneidman 37).
But these five categories are not the only kinds of suicide. Each case should be looked at and understood in terms of its own details.
Now, on a more positive note, I will talk about suicide prevention and the methods used. For the most part, the causes of suicide originate from an individual’s predisposing personality and genetic weaknesses. Misdiagnosing or wrongly treating a potential lethal psychiatric illness, or not taking a situation seriously, can and often does have tragic consequences. Together, doctors, patients, and their family members can minimize the chances of suicide, but it is hard, delicate, and exasperating venture. Seeing the goal is easy, but reaching it is a long hard road. Most individuals who commit suicide tell someone about how they feel before they do it. Some individuals act purely on instinct and do it at a moment’s impulse. Fortunately, for those who do tell someone about their mental condition it allows the possibility of treatment and prevention
(Jamison 236-237). Getting a patient to open up is an essential part of therapy, but there are other key risk factors. In Kay Redfield Jamison’s Night Falls Fast, he says,
“ In addition to an individual’s stated plans about suicide, there are other major risk factors that need to be evaluated: the presence or absence of a severe sleep disturbance or of mixed states; current alcohol or drug abuse; ease of access to a lethal means, especially firearms; lack of access to good medical and psychological treatment; recent severe causes of stress, such as a divorce, job loss, or death in the family; a family history of suicidal or violent behavior; social isolation, or a lack of friends and family; close proximity to a first episode of depression, mania, or schizophrenia; and recent release from a psychiatric hospital” (Jamison 237).
For therapist, it is important to get an accurate and in depth history of violence in a patients life. Some patients have a hard time recognizing the violence in their life because they grew up with it. This is especially common in women. After an evaluation has taken place by a medical official an important decision has to be made. This decision is whether or not the patient is able to cope with their problems or if they might need to be hospitalized. Hospitals do not prevent all suicides from happening, but save many lives. Patients that do get admitted to a psychiatric hospital and do not end up committing suicide end up relieving their own stress as well as their loved ones. Unfortunately patients and doctors are increasingly seeing hospitalization as a defeat and the last resort (Jamison 239).
Obviously, in Miss Sidley’s case the delusional thoughts, feelings of fear, anguish, and defeat caught up with her in the end. She couldn’t find a way to meet her psychological needs and the end result was suicide. Was she suicidal before she thought she saw changes in her students? Yes. It’s just too bad that none of the students saw it coming because it could have been prevented with some suicide prevention therapy.
Jamison, Kay R. Night Falls Fast: understanding suicide. New York: Random House,
Lester, David. Making Sense of Suicide: an in-depth look at why people kill themselves.
Philadelphia: Charles Press, 1997.
Meyer, Michael. The Bedford Introduction to Literature 5ed.. Boston, New York:
Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.
Maris, Morton M. Review of Suicidology. New York: Guildford Press, 1997.
Shneidman, Edwin S. Definition of Suicide. New York: Wiley, 1985.
—,The Suicidal Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.