Many of us die even before our bodies are dead. Our bodies go through the motions of life, but our spirit is not really living.
Some are absolutely dead inside, some are partially dead.
How do we recognise a person who is dead on the inside?
A careful observation of one’s life will show signs and indications of a “dead spirit”. I often find that these people have a part of them that constantly speaks to them (like a soft and distant voice in their head), that keeps convincing them that life is a drudgery, life is not worth living anymore, life is too much to deal with and that life is pointless after all.
And therefore, quite obviously, these voices reflect unconsciously in their mannerisms, behaviour and even their choices in life. I call this a “Death Wish”.
People with a death-wish seek help because they find that they end up doing things that are self-defeating or self-destructive; and unfortunately they can’t always stop themselves from doing it.
“I wish I could do it differently…but I can’t stop myself!”, they tell me. “It’s like some part of me just wants me to go through the pain.”
I hear them tell me stories of how they know that they shouldn’t be hurting themselves, but they can’t stop themselves from doing so. One person even told me that she intentionally cuts herself with the kitchen knife while cooking, just so that she can see her finger bleed. She feels a strange joy in her pain and bleeding.
One diabetic woman told me that her physical symptoms immediately aggravate when she eats anything sweet, but she just couldn’t stop herself from eating exactly that which triggers her symptoms and going through the pain of it afterwards.
Another woman told me that she knew that her marriage was toxic and very abusive. She prays to God everyday to somehow get her out of the marriage. But when her parents reach out to get her out of the situation, she immediately resists stepping out. And this has happened so many times now that she is convinced that some part of her wants to go through the abuse and toxicity over and over again.
Or even some alcoholics (even smokers/addicts for that matter) who have reached a point where their body has started to give in to the abuse, and yet they wouldn’t seek help to get out of their addiction. It is almost as if they secretly want to destroy their body and their life.
The Death-Wish, in my understanding, is Unconscious. It is not something that the person consciously decides or chooses. It is a deep feeling that starts to control and guide behaviour.
The most common reason for a Death-Wish in my opinion is grief. Grief is an emotion that is difficult for many people to embrace and feel. And many people suppress grief. Grief comes from a deep sense of loss – when a loved one dies. It could be the loss of a parent or child, the loss of a sibling, the loss of a spouse or the loss of any deeply loved person. And when the loved one is lost, a part of the spirit dies and wishes that it did not exist anymore. Psychologists call it ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ – when a part of us feels guilty that it stayed alive when the loved one had to die.
Sometimes Loss need not involve the loss of a person. It can simply be the loss of one’s own innocence or one’s childhood due to early trauma. And this loss can create grief too.
Some people however have a Death-Wish that stems from anger. These people carry an intense rage and hatred for someone close (a parent or a spouse in most cases), and they just cannot express the anger to the real person. So the anger turns inwards at themselves. This again is unconscious and not planned or schemed. But they start to hear their anger say to them, “The only way my parents/spouse will understand what I felt is when they lose me. My death will teach them a lesson and that will be my perfect revenge!”
Sure enough, some part of their inner self starts to take them towards a self-destructive and self-sabotaging direction.
Some other people wish they cease to exist because they carry a deep sense of shame about themselves and their existence.
The reason for the Death-Wish can be varied, but the consequence of it is invariably that the person has a streak of self-hatred and self-sabotage.
Do look at your own life closely. Here are some points for you to ponder :
1. Do you make choices that are self-actualizing? Or do you make choices that are self-defeating?
2. Do you find yourself doing something that you know is unhealthy, but can’t get yourself to stop doing it? (Eating compulsively, abandoning your health, harming your body, etc)
3. Do you see that you have a self-destructive streak, which when triggered can go to any extent to wreck havoc in your life? Of course you might even repent later, after the damage is done.
4. Have you lost a parent or a loved one to death? Have you lost a child (even if it is due to an unwilling abortion or miscarriage)? Do you feel you have lost something from within you after the death?
5. Do you feel vengeful and end up taking revenge on others by hurting yourself and making sure you see them suffer as you suffer? (Trying to induce guilt in others through your suffering)
6. Do you engage in risky, unhealthy or dangerous tasks, almost enjoying the risk and the danger? (Maybe even an excessive draw towards bungee jumping, sky diving and other high risk sports)
7. Do you feel that you are not growing to your full potential, or perhaps even stagnant in your life?
8. Are you living life fully? Or do you feel that your life is quite lifeless?
Is there any way to get out of the Death-Wish?
Yes, of course you can get out of the Death-Wish. The first step however is to make a clear and decisive choice to live fully and live a good life. I often find that this becomes the most difficult step in the healing of the death-wish. When I meet people with a very strong death-wish, I usually tell them that they need not feel like getting past the death-wish yet. They only need to choose to live fully – even if it is merely an intellectual choice.
The next step would be to carefully study your own self. Understand how your subconscious mind is talking to you and taking you towards destructive tendencies. I ask them to take some time to make a note of all the self-destructive tendencies they embody and what their inner talk is during those moments.
Eventually, I would suggest that you start working with a counselor or therapist to start looking at the reason why your subconscious carries this death-wish. What are the emotions that feed the death-wish?
Healing the death-wish is best done with the help of another person who can keep reminding you that you have chosen to live, and gently nudging you towards life. I believe the death-wish is a sign of a broken spirit and a broken heart. Healing the death-wish is a slow reconstruction of the broken spirit and the broken heart. If done slowly and patiently, the individual can be restored back to living life fully and joyfully.