Viola Mecke attempts to deal with a
touchy subject in this book. Her premise is that some suicides are 'instigated'
by a third party. It is a daring premise, because of its 'blaming' potential. Mecke
walks the line fairly successfully between blaming instigators and simply
analyzing their role in various suicide scenarios throughout the book: that is,
she never comes across as 'blaming' those she identifies as instigators.
Neither does she spare much sympathy for most of them, as she herself notes in
the last chapter: 'I have tried to present a realistic picture of instigators,
but I do not feel sympathetic toward any of them. I can only abhor the cult
instigators of mass suicides or the terrorist leaders who find it easy to send
others to their death in support of the leaders' philosophies' (p. 184).
Interestingly, it is when she is admittedly least 'sympathetic' that I also found
her least convincing. The mass suicides she describes (Jonestown, White
Brotherhood, Solar Temple) are most obviously 'instigated' suicides, but they
also outstrip her premise by their very scale. There must have been more going
on in these cults than mass suicide instigation, and Mecke's analysis seems
simplistic. With regards to Osama bin Laden as a terrorist instigator, Mecke
completely ignores cultural difference in her analysis, such difference which
may assign meanings of 'suicide' to one's 'dying for the sake of principle,' or
'terrorism' to one's 'defense against Western imperialism.'
Still, the premise is interesting. Agatha
Christie's famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, died of an instigated
suicide in Curtain. Mecke does not mention Poirot in her literary
analyses (perhaps mysteries are not 'literary' enough), but she does make use
of many literary examples and Classical Greek myths, as well as case examples
in explaining her four 'types' of instigators. She also weaves in some
explanation of pathological types of attachment which are generally
life-negating rather than life-affirming. I think the book could have been
organized more coherently around these types of attachments rather than types
of instigators, primarily because attachments are easier to observe than what
seem to be largely unconscious motivations of (often) a relative (alive or
dead) of a patient. Because Mecke attempts to describe the inner life of people
who are suicidal in relationship with the inner life of people around them who
want them to be suicidal, much of the book reads like so much psychoanalytic
speculation: 'Over-sensitive to any slight, [instigators'] misinterpretations
of a loss of love provoke excessive guilt as well as hostility. The subsequent
repression of grief and anger conceals their hostile, murderous impulses from
themselves but not from the vulnerable victim who introjects and acts upon the
hostility with suicide' (p. 182).
Somewhat frustratingly, after
describing and discussing the various types of instigator, Mecke's offer of
hope still lies in work with the potential victim. She identifies four factors
that leads to the failure of the instigator: life-affirming attachments, hope
in the midst of difficult circumstances, openness to counsel, and the ability
to discover meaning in life. It is with the potential victim that these issues
can be addressed. I am wishing, given the title of the book, that Mecke had
written a book on helping people break life-negating attachments and build
© 2006 Meyen Hertzsprung
Meyen Hertzsprung, Ph.D., Staff
Psychologist, Addiction Centre, Foothills Medical Centre, Calgary, Canada.
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