This week we saw a historical ruling in the US of involuntary manslaughter charges brought against a young woman, Michelle Carter, whose unrelenting texts pushed, even dared her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to take is life. There is the real probability that she will face 20 years imprisonment for her behaviour. At a critical moment where his life might have been rescued, having exited the car that was quickly filling with carbon monoxide, she urged him back into the deadly environment. Soon thereafter, he dies.
Conrad had evidenced suicidal-ideations for quite some time, and using the internet sought out the most expedient means to carry out his desire. Michelle was not without her own issues, suffering depression for which she was medicated, believed that her suggestion was helpful to this young tormented soul, even merciful.
It will be interesting to watch this case to its conclusion, as this could represent a legal precedent for others who might think it prudent to push people to the edge, often as a dare. We have witnessed this in social media where people threaten to kill themselves and others respond with ‘Do it, stop talking about it’.
The question of accountability is offensive to many, especially when commenting on this Netflix Series, which highlights the compounding effect the encounters with people in her social network had on Hannah.
No person develops in isolation, no person is an island, and every interaction, be that healthy or unhealthy, leaves an imprint on people’s psyche.
She was subjected to bullying, conspiring behaviour, humiliation, gossip, defamation, rape, betrayal, desertion, and dismissive responses by caregivers. All these, she states in the end destroyed her soul and ultimately her spirit. Once your spirit is broken, what is left?
The age-old principle of – ‘Do unto others as we would wish them to do to you‘ is a tried and true formula to fostering healthy interactions.
As viewers we cannot be dismissive of accountability. The concept runs through every sphere of life, be that in employment, family relationships, or social networks.
Shifting the entire load of responsibility onto the person who has died by suicide, will ease our own conscience, but is not grounded in reality.
The lesson that should emerge is, the necessity of reflecting on our every interaction with others to determine the level of toxicity we may be unconsciously or consciously bringing to it.
Psychological Acceptance & Avoidance Coping
Hannah’s friends all had different responses to her suicide.
Some wanted to dismiss any ongoing conversations about it because didn’t evoke a positive response in them.
Some refused to hold themselves accountable for their toxic behaviour toward her and in order to appease their conscience, painted her as a person who brought on herself everything that happened – even the rape!
Most wanted their interactions with Hannah kept secret, so as to preserve their own image as an integrous person.
And then there were the few who wanted to confront the reality that their interaction with Hannah had a negative effect on her. They were willing to be accountable for their actions or inaction.
One response will have a healthy impact on a person’s psyche and the other will have a compounding negative effect.
Outcomes of Both
Avoidance coping refers to the way people avoid situations, thoughts or conversations. Rather than face situations that are potentially confronting, they avoid them at all costs. The belief is that in the avoidance of them, they contribute to their emotional and mental well-being.
However, the reality is that this is far from the truth. It has a decidedly negative impact, that can contribute to stress, anxiety, ravages self-confidence along with a host of other negative impacts on the body and mind.
The negative impact on mental health has been clinically tested. And here is the real kicker – the impact of avoidance can lead to substance abuse and SUICIDE.
Psychological acceptance, on the other hand, is described as allowing, tolerating, embracing, experiencing, or making contact with a source of stimulation, particularly private experiences, that previously evoked escape, avoidance, or aggression.
Confronting these memories, experiences or behaviours is not generally an overwhelmingly enjoyable experience; however, it is necessary in order to maintain personal integrity.
In their confrontation the opportunity exists to change future interactions, provides opportunity for self-forgiveness, which is very powerful. Self-forgiveness is the segue to new life.
Without self-forgiveness one potentially puts self at risk of carrying a tremendous burden of guilt. Adding to that, is the potential for depression, fatigue, high-blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and substance use as a means of coping. These in turn impact one’s relationships.
Self-forgiveness provides an avenue to ‘let go’ of those failures, otherwise potentially one becomes ‘stuck’.
I know which one I would choose, and which one I did choose, following the suicide death of my daughter Jade. The journey is messy, it’s confronting, it is uncomfortable, it is not designed to be anything other. But the outcome is empowering and is the segue to new life.
There has been much discussion that a sequel will follow that tracks the main characters and how their lives have been changed as a consequence of their association with Hannah. My hope would be that it would also highlight the aforenoted areas of how avoidance coping and psychological acceptance affects their lives.
Next Instalment: A Final Word to the Young
Michelle Carter Found Guilty of Encouraging Boyfriend’s Suicide With Text Messages. From http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-carter-found-guilty-encouraging-boyfriend-s-suicide-text-messages-n773306
Experiential Avoidance and Psychological Acceptance Processes in the Psychological Recovery from Enduring Mental Illness. From http://www.psychosocial.com/IJPR_18/Experiential_Avoidance_Siqueira.html>
Psychological Acceptance. From http://www.personal.kent.edu/~dfresco/CBT_Readings/Hayes_Acceptance_chapter.pdf
National Forgiveness Day on Oct. 25: Let Bygones Be Bygones for Your Emotional Health. From http://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=147645