Trauma, Self-Blame, and a Death Wish
“Mommy, when can we die?? I really want to die.” The question pierced my heart, the quiet statement jarring my very soul as it came from the mouth of my three-year-old child. Questions swirled in my mind. Three-years-old…and he wants to die?? How does he even know what death is? What’s going on inside of him that death seems the way of escape?
Could he read my mind? I had been wishing for the exact thing just hours before, as the darkness in my own mind tried to convince me there was no other way out from the despair I was feeling. Did he sense this from me, or had our traumatic experiences just led us both to the point of such hopelessness that death seemed the only relief?
How did we get to this point? Why do we both have a “Death-Wish?”
This “wish” wasn’t unfamiliar to me. I was used to it floating through my mind over the years, and on occasion, it became more than a fleeting thought– it became a desperate desire. It wasn’t as much the thought of wanting to take my life (thankfully, I had sense enough to understand that it wouldn’t solve anything) as it was the wish to just not be anymore. What was foreign and shocking to me, was that my baby boy had just expressed the desire to die.
I understood why I had these dark thoughts. After being sexually abused in college, my life had collapsed with a domino effect of controlling, abusive relationships and my own poor choices. I often felt as though I was trapped and suffocating– then “the wish” would begin to surface. Pain, confusion, and shame can run so deep that it feels like the only way it will ever end is just to cease to exist.
But baby boy? Why did he have the death wish?
The unrelenting pain and confusion of a broken family.
A traumatized mother.
Self-Blame– Believing the lie that “It’s all my fault.”
Fast forward a few years to a time when my son was having a meltdown of epic proportions. The four walls of his tiny bedroom were taking a beating as he hit his head on them over and over. The banging was accompanied by crying and his only intelligible words were “hate” and “die.” He seemed unaware of anything I said to try to calm him down. After what felt like forever, I was able to get him to hear me for a few short seconds.– just long enough to ask him if he wanted to talk to his grandpa. “Noooo….” Instead, he wanted to talk to a friend of ours. I called the friend and briefly explained what was going on, then hit the speaker button:
Friend: “Buddy. Hey, Buddy…” (More crying and banging) “Buddy… it’s not your fault.”
Then I watched as my seven-year-old collapsed in a heap on his bedroom floor and sobbed:
“Yes! Yes, it IS my fault!”
I was heartbroken. It’s one thing to endure your own darkness, but it’s quite another to watch your child become deflated and broken by life’s traumatic experiences. I’d had no idea that my son carried such self-blame. It hadn’t occurred to me that he would feel responsible for what had happened to him…to us…to our family.
Because of the stigma surrounding this topic, people are hesitant to talk about or admit suicidal thoughts. But the fact is, having a death-wish isn’t that uncommon in people (even young children) who have experienced trauma.
Trauma often leaves a person feeling helpless, hopeless, and powerless. Sometimes, it can be hard to imagine how anything will ever feel okay again– so the death-wish creeps in.
It’s important to understand that having suicidal thoughts and being suicidal is not the same thing, but if your child (or anyone) is voicing a wish to die, you do need to take it seriously. Though it may be common for trauma victims, it isn’t”normal” to have a death-wish.
Don’t brush aside comments assuming it’s just “drama” or “trying to get attention.” Rather, view them as a symptom of something incredibly painful going on inside the person, and realize attention probably is needed.
Thoughts can lead to actions, and people who have experienced childhood trauma have an increased risk for attempting suicide. (Statistics in America show that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10-24. Source)
I believe this isn’t just a mental or emotional issue, but that there is also an immense spiritual element to suicidal thoughts. Therefore, it’s helpful to recognize that though therapy/counseling might be required, we have additional tools at our immediate disposal. Paul reminds us in Ephesians that we do not merely fight against flesh and blood:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
- Children need to be directly reassured that what has happened to them (or around them) IS NOT THEIR FAULT. This may need to be spoken again and again until it settles into their soul.
- Speak life, not death. There is incredible power in our spoken words. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Because of this, we need to be very careful what we speak about people. to people, or about ourselves. Our words have a great impact, and our children are listening! We can train ourselves to speak scriptures, blessings, and affirmations over our children each day, hopefully changing their inner dialogue and beliefs.
- Likewise, our thoughts are powerful. Teach your children to take every thought captive, to recognize where the suicidal thoughts are coming from (the devil), and how to intentionally shift thoughts to something good.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your child’s heart and reveal how valuable, loved, and precious they are, and teach them what God thinks about them. Encourage them to ask Him themselves!
- Never be afraid to seek out professional counseling or treatment! It’s always better to take suicidal comments seriously and be proactive than to later wish you had!
Through therapy sessions, reading specific books for renewing my mind, and God’s redeeming love, I have found spiritual freedom and healing– it’s been years since I’ve struggled with a death-wish!
Little by little my son is gaining ground against his death-wish. It’s an ongoing process, but with the Lord’s help in applying these truths and techniques, we are determined to fight against the impact of trauma and not let the darkness win!
There IS hope. Will you join me in shining light into the darkness for our precious children?
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, PLEASE, reach out and find help. Wishing to die is serious and a person doesn’t reach that point easily. Please, don’t ignore it!