In abusive relationships, when the victim is beginning to see and mentions that something is isn’t working for them, the stakes of the game are often raised dramatically. The threats of the abuser may increase in severity. One of the greatest threats is that of taking ones own life. The suicide Card.
The suicide card is effective in abusive relationships because the victim cares so much about the abuser that they do not like the thought of them ending their own life. The abuser is so good at manipulating the victim that they are able to engineer the situation by which the victim believes that their actions WOULD be the cause of the death of the abuser. While obviously not the case, as the abuser would be taking their own life, the thoughts of this action are so bad that the victim is not able to think logically and consider what is really going on. This makes sense, given that logical thought and emotional responses cannot exist at the same time, with emotional responses taking precedence over logic.
How to respond when someone you care about plays the suicide card and blames it on your actions:
Step one – calmly deal with the immediate situation. Their statement is emotional and based on a sense of a loss of control. Given this, you need to make sure that nothing bad happens while the emotion is there. Assume that they are telling the truth and do what you need to make sure no drastic action occurs. Basically, say anything. You have NO control over their emotional state and you should not engage them on the same terms as you engage people who aren’t toxic or abusive. Your goal is to put out the fire, make sure no one gets physically hurt and lower the emotional arousal as quickly as possible. This phase in the cycle of abuse will end fairly quickly if you focus on letting go of whatever was the trigger for the abuser to play the suicide card.
Step two – once the threat has subsided, take stock of your situation. The threat of suicide is a threat of violence. Unless you want to be in a violent relationship, you need to quickly accept that the partnership is unworkable and that failure to terminate it at this point will result in an escalation of violence. I have spoken to a number of people who have left abusive relationships and almost all of them said that the suicide card was played more than once. Repeated threats are so common that it is safe to conclude that unless the situation changes (the abuser gets therapy or the victim ends all contact with the abuser) the suicide card will be played again. While I believe that therapy can definitely help an abuser identify the cause of their actions, they need to seek the help spontaneously and NOT as a condition of reconciliation.
Step three – tell someone you respect about what has happened. This will give you a chance to say it out loud which will often shed a new objective light on what has happened – saying it out loud to a parent, sibling or close friend makes the thing real and moves it away from seeming like some mental movie scene that we tend experience traumatic things as. Telling someone else about it will make returning to the abusive situation more challenging because you may end up feeling kind of dumb for even considering it. It is also a way for you to ask for help from them. People who love you want the best for you, and they’ll be able to remain more objective about the whole situation as they are not emotionally involved in it. Just make sure that you confide in someone who isn’t themselves a toxic or abusive person.
Step four – change your mind set. Given that most abusers do NOT seek therapy spontaneously, which is a condition for it to be effective, you need to accept that the abuser will not change; some do but the number is so low that to believe you are with one of the people who will isn’t realistic, particularly after they have threatened to commit suicide. You also need to accept that you give them the power because you care about them. Put these two conditions together and it should be evident that the situation is not workable EVER. You get the power back by taking it back. My opinion here is that the best way to take back the power when someone plays the suicide card is to consider, in your head, that they have been successful in their threat and that they are no longer alive. Action on this and stop talking to dead people. Ignore them, if you have to talk to them do not allow the conversations to last very long and do not answer their questions when they ask “why” because, again, these are not the types of questions you usually get from people who are dead. By engaging them again, you give them the power to hurt you and make no mistake about it, if you let them back into your life, THEY WILL HURT YOU AGAIN because that is how they interact with their world. It happens that someone will play the suicide card in their early 20’s and again in their early 30’s so do not fool yourself into believing that they will change.
Step five – take a long time to process EVERYTHING that has happened. There is a pattern to it and you must identify it. It isn’t enough to say “I’m not going to let that happen again” because you were powerless to stop it in the first place as you enabled the persons behavior by staying with them – playing the suicide card is not usually the first attempt at manipulation. You NEED to be able to observe this type of behavior very early on to prevent entering into an abusive relationship.
Step six – when you start to date again, or get into a relationship, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY if the manipulation starts. Controlling your partners actions is rarely appropriate and until an abuser sees their behavior as inappropriate, makes the decision to change it and follows through on making the changes permanent, they are useless to you and will drain you of your will to care about people. They have a major problem, don’t make it yours by allowing them to treat you like garbage.
If someone tells you that they are going to kill themselves because of something you have done, try to see the immediate crisis resolved. Once they have calmed down, get away from them and pretend they have died. They may never do it, but if they do, you need to make sure it doesn’t have a huge negative impact on you because murdering yourself has nothing to do with other people.