The Suicidal Crisis is a crisis of meaning


by Fredric Matteson - CCT Founder

It has been said that no problem can be solved unless taken to the level of metaphor. The word "metaphor" comes from the Greek "meta", which means "beyond," and "pherein," which means "to carry." So metaphor has the capacity to carry or lift suicidal persons beyond their old understanding of their lives to an entirely new understanding.

The metaphoric language makes available information that was previously unavailable to the suicidal person as it guides the person from their old -- or habitual -- logic to a new logic. The word "solution" -- as in "solution to a problem" -- comes from the Latin "solvere" which means literally "to loosen."Metaphoric language, thus, provides suicidal persons that "loosening" necessary to escape staying stuck in their familiar identity, their old story about themselves.

By tapping their imagination through the use of metaphor, they can dissolve the rigid and literal thinking that defines them and enter a place of curiosity and wonder. From that new place with its new perspective, the suicidal person is now able to suspend their disbelief, suspend their expectation of the expected, to enter a new "uncertainty" to allow new associations to help surface new meanings about their self.

Antonio Machado, the Spanish poet, refers to this new sense of self when he writes: "What the poet is looking for is not the fundamental 'I' but the deep 'you'." My experience over the past 25 years, working with over 16,000 suicidal patients on the mental health unit of a major public hospital, has taught me that it is by their not being consciously aware of this discrepancy between what Machado would refer to as their fundamental (habitual) "I" and their authentic "deep you" that drives the suicidal pain. It is not the pain of their life but the pain of being cut off from their life -- the life of their "deep you" -- that makes them suicidal. The statement "I want to die" is a metaphor for "I want to live." The suicidal crisis is a spiritual crisis. It is a crisis of identity. It is a crisis of self. It is a crisis of meaning.