Shared vulnerability

“Again, in the midst of our endemic ‘doing’ and ‘fixing’ culture, we may feel powerless to help. And this is when we need to know how to be with someone who is feeling suicidal rather than doing anything with them or to them. It is the very concept of doing and fixing that creates a bigger gulf between those who are trying to help and the very private and untenable hell of the suicidal person.

Within the ‘doing and fixing it’ mindset resides the fear of our own powerlessness to alleviate the obvious hell the sufferer is enduring. In admitting our impotence we are being very human, because the more we pathologize and psychotherapize, the further we move away from our basic humanity. Empathy and sharing space with the suicidally depressed will have a much deeper impact than words. Often in the admission of ones own powerlessness is to walk beside a soul as a fellow traveler and a friend.

The best thing is to do nothing, but be with someone who is suicidal in much the same way as one is in learning how to be with someone who is depressed. There is an erroneous belief that getting someone to speak about their suicidal feelings will drive them over the edge. This is a myth. Dr Daniel Plotkin, a Los Angeles geriatric psychiatrist, says ‘When suicide is brought up, it’s a relief to the person contemplating suicide. It doesn’t push them over the edge’.


The only thing that stands in the way of it is our own fears which, in turn, are driven by deep societal injunctions and an overwhelming sense of responsibility.

The more we are able to get ourselves out of the way and be open to the other person not as someone with inconsolable, suicidal feelings, but as a fellow soul on the path of life, the more accessible we become to the energies of the Self which are endeavoring to emerge in our midst. It is absolutely essential that we hold the situation within the ‘healing field’, because suicide is often a desperate attempt to return to the Source, even though this may be wholly unconscious; deep down, the suffering soul has a longing for spiritual connection. Holding that connection for them may be the most valuable gift we can give.

Remember that the success is not necessarily in being able to talk someone out of suicidal distress, but in being with them in their place of distress. In this sense, it is more important to have shared that intimacy of communication than preventing them from committing suicide.

What to do:


•Questions open up consciousness, helping us to access levels of understanding that might not have been available before. Never be afraid to ask key focal questions such as, ‘What is it like for you?’ or ‘Is there anything you need that I might be able to give or help you with?’

•Stay with the process and the discomfort you may experience around this. Remember those feelings of powerlessness you are experiencing may be what the suicidal person is experiencing themselves.

•Never underestimate the power of presence, of staying with the feelings that can be unbearable.

What not to do:

•To avoid facing the unbearable, steer conversation onto safer common ground, which will send client into not being heard, deeper shame and self-disgust.

•Fixing/mending/finding solutions.

•Make comments like ‘You have everything to live for.’

•Make the person feel guilty in an effort to manipulate the situation.

– Stephanie Sorrell, Depression As a Spiritual Journey

One response to Shared vulnerability

  1. namo

    Intriguing…haven’t thought of this approach before. Great advice. Definitely will keep in mind if the time ever comes 🙂


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