Robin Williams, suicide and sociopaths

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

Like millions of fans around the country and the world, I gasped when I heard the news: Robin Williams was dead of an apparent suicide.

How could it be? He was so funny! Every time I watch Birdcage I practically fall off the sofa laughing.

And he was such an amazing talent! In Good Morning Vietnam, Williams ad-libbed all of the Adrian Cronauer’s broadcast scenes. And the movie Aladdin was rejected for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay because Williams, as the Genie, ad-libbed so many lines.

See some of Williams’ magnificent improvisations here:

Robin Williams Ad-Lib: Remembering the late, great actor with 9 of his greatest improvised moments, on IBTimes.com

But it turned out that, like many comics, Robin Williams’ humor was born of pain. He struggled with depression and substance abuse, and on August 11, 2014, the pain became too great. He hanged himself.

Warning signs

Williams’ death drew attention to the tragedy of suicide. Many, many articles have been written about suicide prevention. Here are two:

Robin Williams’ Death shows suicide can strike at any age. Here are ways to prevent it, on Forbes.com.

Robin Williams: How to recognize suicide signs, where to get help, on LATimes.com.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, following are warning signs that someone is thinking about suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Experts say that if a friend or loved one is displaying these symptoms, don’t leave them alone, keep them away from firearms, and get help.

So, does this apply when the person talking about suicide is a sociopath?

I am not stating or implying that Robin Williams is a sociopath. Rather, I am using the tragedy of his suicide to examine this important topic — and how sociopaths twist it to suit their own purposes.

Sociopaths and suicide

To gather data for my book, Red Flags of Love Fraud — 10 signs you’re dating a sociopath, I conducted an Internet survey of people who believed they were romantically involved with a sociopath. A total of 1,352 people completed the survey.

Twenty-one percent of respondents said the sociopath they were involved with threatened to commit suicide, or actually went through with the act.

If you’re involved with a sociopath who threatens suicide, you need to understand that it’s not about pain, despondency or desperation. It’s about control.

Here is an example of this behavior, taken from emails sent by Lovefraud readers:

He would have the most horrible outbursts that would come out of nowhere and terrorize me, then act like nothing happened or threaten suicide if I tried to walk away.

And then there’s this story:

I entered into a relationship, and within a few months I was married. Then within 2 weeks my money from my children’s college account was gone. Turns out it was my new bride.

I was husband number 9 (thought I was #3).

I thought she was suffering from cancer for the 5th time (never had cancer).

She attempted suicide (but planned for me to find her in time, which I did).

Why they do it

From the emails I’ve received, it seems that sociopaths threaten suicide for two basic reasons.

The first is a pity play. They talk about wanting to end their lives in order to get you to feel sorry for them. If you’re someone who tries to “save” people, this tactic can be especially powerful way for them to get their hooks into you.

The other reason sociopaths threaten suicide is to make you feel guilty.  If you’re like most people, you couldn’t bear to be the reason that someone committed suicide. So you try to console or appease the sociopath. Or, you give in to what he or she wants.

What’s amazing is that some sociopaths are so focused on making their targets feel guilty that they actually kill themselves. Here’s an example from the Lovefraud files.

My husband committed suicide, and though I know he did me wrong, I can’t help feeling ridden with guilt that I didn’t understand where he was at, that maybe I could’ve helped him.

He was cheating on me, and now I’m making excuses for him cause he died. And I’m so miserable without him, I feel I’m going crazy.

Here’s another one:

He had a girlfriend but told me it wasn’t working, and after a year of meeting him again we were married.

I found out he had been in contact with her all along. Needless to say he denied all this. One day when I insisted he phone her and a fight ensued between us, he beat me up badly, and I threw him out, as he was living with me in my house.

I fetched him again 2 days later, but since then we bickered every day, and two weeks later he took his own life.

I am devastated, don’t know how to cope, and realised after reading Lovefraud that he was a sociopath. It is very difficult to put my life together again.

For more about why sociopaths kill themselves, read a previous Lovefraud post:

Sociopaths and suicide, by Steve Becker, LCSW

What to do

If someone is threatening to commit suicide, and you believe that person is a sociopath, what do you do?

Remember that a sociopath is not talking about suicide because he or she is suffering from unbearable pain. It’s all about manipulation and control. That means one of two things:

Either the sociopath is lying about contemplating suicide, and just trying to make you feel guilty.

Or, the sociopath is serious and may commit suicide, essentially to spite you.

Either way, you cannot fix the problem.

You cannot appease a sociopath and expect him or her to become healthy. Eventually, the sociopath will threaten suicide again, reasoning that if it worked once, it will continue to work.

If you believe the sociopath may actually go through with the plan, the answer is simple: Call 9-1-1.


28 Comments on "Robin Williams, suicide and sociopaths"

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  1. grace says:

    It seems we can’t really KNOW what goes on in the minds of a person who chooses to take their own life…we try to answer the why from our view….The death of Robin Williams hit my children as they admired him for his humor and talent…he brought them laughter ….in spite of the pain in life….laughter as a mask for hopelessness does not make sense….we want laughter to say that in spite of all the pain…there IS hope…. As their mother…I have concern for them….My husband and their father….took his life 6 years ago….It was a progressively difficult marriage…he was very controlling and verbally and emotionally abusive to me…he was physically abusive to our middle son…I later found out that he beat him with a 2×4 for a paddle…out at the barn…for stealing his brother’s gum….To him…I never seemed to give him enough sex …or it really probably became too hard to make amends after he would abuse me….I found it hard to be close to him …but I would try to continue to forgive…After 25 years I was tired…I cried out to GOD many times along the way and HE did help me…I shot an arrow prayer one day…”Lord You humble him”….the next night my son and I were talking before he and his dad left the house…Nothing in the conversation was bad…for some reason…as often happened…his dad assumed without asking …so they went down the driveway….all of a sudden they are back in the door…son has a bloody face…I am freaked….son says “dad hit me”….Son calls the police as he was advised by school councelor…as this was the third attempt by father to hit him in the face…(he missed the other tries)….police came and ended up taking their dad to jail…three days later I watch this man plead guilty to family domestic violence…he cannot see me behind the glass….he is wearing orange jump suit…crying…next to plead is a drug dealer…their dad was a school teacher….needless to say…I called a time out and did not have him come home…after 7 months under the covers…much tears….I decided to end the marriage…..I did not have a lot of communication with him…he talked to friends and wrote to my family….explaining what he had done to me in our marriage….said he gave his life to Christ..(hmmm, he claimed to have already done that previously)…it all became confusing to me…I heard he was put on Zoloft and took himself off…then…when we were suppose to have a meeting with the lawyer…he did not show up….later found…he hung himself…..UGGGG!!!………So now…it will never really be over…I have concern for my children …knowing that suicide can infect a family generationally….that life as they might see it will add up to hopelessness…depair…no point….their is something wrong about a parent saying ” I love You” to their kids and then…leaving them…they feel like they are not worth staying around for….Action and words don’t match….wish I could convey to them the value their Heavenly Father has for them….I can pray HE will do it!!!!….In this case …I lived with this man a long time and he never threatened suicide…He was always super controlling…angry…never REALLY sorry enough to change his behavior….I think the pharmaceuticals caused the thoughts a long with the shame…he was a public figure…also…the loss of control…of me…so his final power over me was that…sad…he was really selfish…..His statement was….”He laid down his life for his friend” What that means I am not sure….maybe he felt if he died…then I was free to marry someone who would be good to me???who knows…..

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    • v says:

      so sorry Grace but you are strong and should be the children’s role model – please understand that you have done all that you could for this man/father of your children and that this is not your doing in any way. Continue on your path to keep the children healthy to break the cycle – talk to them, educate them – they can still love this man that fathered them but the fact is unfortunately he is gone and they need to try to understand that his mind was not right and that was/is the main point. Education is the key to health here. Emotional education. Never, Ever Stop Learning and you and the children will grow and hopefully they will grow strong like you! Much love and hope, from V

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      • grace says:

        thank you so much for your thoughts v….I hope that I can keep learning…seems the older I get …the less I know!…I’m finding it a bit disturbing how much betrayal I see all around….reading love fraud can be hard because it seems so prevalent!…And we know how it starts with a sociopath…it all seems wonderful!….I was with my kiddos dad for 2 years…then married…then two years later kids…he had me on a pedestal…then one day…bamm…I was an f…ing bitch!…I left the hay bale strings on the ground by accident when it was dark out…..it got worse from there…I was always surprised by the abusive things he did…never expecting it….He was mild compared to some of the stories I read….and my experience with a spath who I met and was with for a few years….the tangled web of manipulation…mind games…lies…porn…yuck…and breaking free from the sick bond is far worse than than the marriage of 25 years….The strength needed to get free from that as many of you know…is intense!!!I am thankful that I saw that things were not right…and got out…got away…even though the pull to this day remains!!!
        Someone tell me some good stories…of men…women…of nice people….kind and true…

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  2. blossom4th says:

    I’m so sorry to read your story.After such mistreatment,it seems strange that it would all just end with his suicide!As you go on to say,you still have concerns for your children,and how his suicide will affect them later in life.

    My daughters and I are grieving;but not due to him committing literal suicide.Personally I do feel that his stage IV pancreatic cancer has alot to do with the fact that due to his stubborness,he wouldn’t listen to me as I tried to reason with him about following Dr’s orders about diet and using insulin correctly.

    I’m on xanax for anxiety.I remained No Contact with him for a year and 8 monthes.But once he was diagnosed with cancer,we did get back in contact.Not that we’ll get back together in the short time remaining.My health won’t allow for it.And he has the help he needs.I worry more for my girls than I do for myself.

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  3. survivor14 says:

    My experience with my soon to be ex-husband and his threats of suicide were many. It typically happened about August – October time frame of any given year. I remember a few years ago, after repeating same “kill myself” episode for the previous four years, I stood up and said “you say this every year about this time, and you have not done it yet!” I turned and walked inside our home and there was never a conversation afterwards.
    You see my soon to be ex-spouse, used control and manipulation to control me. I previously felt guilty and wanted to rescue him from feeling those thoughts or actually performing the act. I would watch him play victim and smile knowing that he had me. What I learned from him is that he could never kill himself since he has no remorse for what he does and on top of that he portrays a well put together person but by my years of life with him he is a coward in every sense of the word.
    People like him do not change. I have a long ways to go to heal and when I stopped all communication in April of this year, I have felt more peaceful.
    I am encouraged by what I read on this site. You have done so much to educate me.

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    • v says:

      Yes! another survivor and so well named – was 14 the number of years you spent with this loonatic? Sorry, but I’ve been there and I am so over it. The PEACE you get from being in control of your own life is boundless and will keep you sane and moving forward. THere is life after psycho’s after all. May the force be with us all!

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      • survivor14 says:

        Hi v
        I wish it was 14 years. It’s actually 36 1/2 years. I look forward to good life. I am in awe of friends and family who are so supportive and loving.

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      • WantMyLifeBack2 says:

        So inspiring. I wish I had friends and family – any family.. but I found this site about a month or two ago and it has helped… you all will be my family and friends in my mind, maybe this will help me feel more hope for my kids future – and my own, only after I know for certain that they are ok. Im tired of being scared for them and guilt over bringing them into a life of Hell where they have a mother just like mine was. It makes for a terrible childhood when you know your parents dont love you to the point they just tell you they dont love you after you finally ask them if they do! I became very mentally distrought after hearing this. I dont think my P has said this to my kids, but they feel it just like I did, before I got confirmation. Sorry for rambling – I just wanted to lend support and admire peoples strength. Survivors, you all are.

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  4. Babs94540 says:

    My younger sister talked with her own psychologist about it when our mother (formally diagnosed with borderline pd) began making suicide threats, and my sister’s psychologist said that whenever our mother made a suicidal gesture, an attempt, or even threatened suicide, that the best course of action was to call 911.

    The psychologist explained that if our mother was genuinely feeling suicidal, that none of us family members had the training, experience, or the professional objectivity to help our mother, and that we needed to call 911 so that the paramedics could treat her and take her for a psychiatric evaluation.

    The psychologist went on to say that if the suicide threat or attempt was not genuine and was being utilized as a manipulative tactic to gain attention or to pressure/coerce us into doing something that our mother wanted, or if was a kind of “revenge” behavior meant to punish us, then, being taken in for an involuntary 72-hour psychiatric hold-and-evaluate would not be the result our mother wanted and it would probably discourage her from trying that particular tactic again.

    I’ve read that borderline pd has one of the higher completed suicide rates among all the disorders, and part of that is due to the borderline trait of high impulsivity; and sometimes a highly emotional, highly impulsive suicidal gesture can wind up unintentionally fatal. Now that I’ve read your article and the list you included of suicidal behaviors to watch for in sociopaths/psychopaths, I noticed that several of the behaviors are very much part of the borderline pd set of diagnostic behaviors and traits as well.

    Thanks for the informative article, and I hope my sister’s psychologist’s advice will end up helping other people as well: take EACH suicide threat or attempt seriously, do not try to respond yourself if a friend or loved one makes a suicide threat or attempt, call the professionals each and every time. Paramedics have the training, experience, equipment and *the professional emotional objectivity* to handle a suicidal person properly that you as a family member or spouse or friend *do not have*.

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  5. Phillip says:

    You know, it has been over a year since I was discarded by my ex. I used to pray all the time for God to take the poison out of me ( the hate, and need for revenge).
    So far so good. I hardly ever think of my ex. When something comes up that reminds me of my ex, or her children, it doesn’t bother me anymore. I actually have some VERY ridiculas stories of the idiotic things that she did. I still pray, but now it’s for her and her children, as I know that she has messed them up royally.
    Al that being said, I can’t help but think, let them commit suicide. They are miserable people, and after they are done with you, they are going to move on and make someone else miserable, maybe to the point of THEIR suicide.
    I know this sounds crass. After all, don’t the police remove criminals off the streets so that they can’t do anyone else harm? If these evil people want to do themselves in, have at it. Which would be worse. A family grieving over a loss of an abuser, or a family broken and children broken beyond repair at the hands of these demons. I know this sounds harsh, but don’t you think that after being used, abused, and betrayed like that, that is would be poetic justice? Comments?

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  6. Stargazer says:

    There are some people out there in genuine pain, and their pain is greater than their resources. This is a true tragedy. But when a sociopath threatens suicide or successfully commits suicide, there is usually some sort of manipulation behind it. They are trying to make someone feel guilty or get a certain response from someone. Or maybe they do think they will somehow be glorified in death or that death is better than facing the consequences of their actions.

    In the case of the guy I dated, my friends and I gave sworn statements to the army that ended up getting him convicted of fraud and adultery. During the investigation, his platoon sergeant reported to me that he was suicidal. At first, I had a pang of guilt for turning him in. After all, he had a young child. But the pang of guilt only lasted for about 30 seconds. “He won’t do it,” I told her. He’s bluffing. Of course, he did turn out to be bluffing. But if he had actually gone through with it, I would not have felt guilty. He brought his troubles on himself. I’m with you, Phillip. One less living sociopath means one less menace to society. I don’t know if I would do anything to help a sociopath die, but I’d gladly read the obituary.

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  7. lovefraudfan says:

    My sociopathic boyfriend become stalker made a suicide hoax. He did take pills and left clues on my driveway so I would call an ambulance. I figured out it was a hoax because the hospital let him out a day later.

    But he also told me (after the court order was expired months later) he knew he would wake up. He just wanted to pull me back in. Amongst the lies are the boasts of their sick truths. They love to brag about what they get away with.

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