Recently a very tragic – very public – suicide has become fodder for countless news outlets, front page stories, blogs, and even more conversations. People who knew the young woman who jumped twenty stories to her death only tangentially, or not at all, expressed very strong ideas about what had happened, why it happened and whose fault it was. Everybody seems to have an opinion and something to say.

When a tragedy such as this one occurs in our community, we tend to split up and point fingers along certain predictable lines – not pointing at ourselves, but rather, pointing at each other, each community and sub-community pointing to the problem being elsewhere, with someone else.

Why did this particular tragedy evoke so many emotions and suppositions by people who had no inside information? And why all the finger pointing? Why weren’t there more of us taking personal stock, publicly looking at ourselves and what this heartbreak has taught us about our lives, our shortcomings and our need for change?

I believe that the answers to these questions are related.

For many of us, stronger emotions and deeper issues are things we desperately try to avoid facing. It is not uncommon to avoid emotionally charged issues, and people go about accomplishing this in many different ways.

The conscious form of dealing with uncomfortable feelings is knowing that the issues are there, but compartmentalizing them, putting them into a little box in our brain where we don’t have to contend with them on a regular basis. This is often the case when our feelings are such that we don’t feel overwhelmingly bad about having them, but feel that there is no point in “going there.” To some, walling them off feels like the better option in order to be better able to go about living life regularly, usually accompanied by the sense that exploring those thoughts, feelings or issues would be pointless, because those things seem unresolvable. This may or may not be true, and leaving those issues or feelings unexplored may or may not hamper us in some significant way.

On an unconscious level, many of us use repression, a defense mechanism when we unconsciously repress what would be unacceptable to the conscious mind, those thoughts, feelings or desires that, if acknowledged, would create anxiety. There is generally a deeper sense of disconnect with one’s own feelings here because this has been done on an unconscious level. This also usually connotes a deeper sense of disturbance if one should have to confront those thoughts or feelings.   

Another coping method we tend to utilize is dissociation, which refers to mild detachment (daydreaming), or a more severe detachment from one’s physical and emotional self. At times the detachment can be so pronounced that feelings and even events are not experienced as part of one’s own reality any longer.

When a public and horrific tragedy occurs in our community, very frequently it touches on some aspect of what one was consciously or unconsciously working to avoid. In these cases, the event serves as a trigger, forcing a re-connection, if you will, with those issues and feelings. The experience can be so overwhelming that perhaps, in those moments, it’s not really possible to take personal stock of one’s self, or to take a look at what has been bothering us, in a calm and cool manner. Perhaps it is only possible to respond at that time in a strong way, focusing on others, or expressing one’s own pain by attributing it to another.