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