Know Thyself — Role And Status

In that major act of self-negation which consists in self-destruction, there may be expressed an almost infinite variety of desires, but it is safe to say that in the large majority of cases the underlying difficulty is a divergence of role and status. The disappointed victim has accepted and adopted a valuation of himself that does not fit the position which others force upon him. He has not received the just deserts of his role. His virtues and his work are unappreciated. Between continuing his role and accepting the impaired value which others set upon him there is an irreconcilable conflict. He has often tried desperately to make good in his character part, and by work or an appeal to sympathy to enlist support for his own notion of his merit and his deserts. These efforts have failed. It is probable that many suicides are determined when the victim gains his first insight and understanding of the discrepancy between his role and his actual status. It is also probable that many suicides are only an extension of the appeal to the sympathy of others. Fantasy has before the event pictured the changed attitudes of friends and relatives when the death is made known, the regrets which these others will feel at their failure to appreciate the suicide, the new understanding which the world will have of the suicide’s earnestness and the new appreciation of his ideals. Most suicides are preceded by threats at self-destruction and follow only when these threats have failed to bring family or friends or the public to time, have failed to compel others to accept the victim’s adopted role. Mark Twain’s adolescent boy daydreaming of his sweetheart’s grief and despair as she stands by his grave and places gently on it a tear-stained rose is an excellent description of the adoption of the role of the dead hero. The dead hero has lost his identity as a living organism, but still remains a character part that can be played.

Our accepted role, which is our articulate self and which is the thread of consistency that runs through our conscious acts, is our most vulnerable point. It is therefore the point at which we are most subject to attack and the most sensitive to attack. Even small children learn to take advantage of this and to “call names” as an easier substitute of the use of fists. The adult who is stirred to anger by the interference of another readily becomes articulate concerning the other’s social value and traits. …

Edwin R. Guthrie (1938)


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