[VIEWPOINT]A season for affection and support

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[VIEWPOINT]A season for affection and support

Spring has come. Despite its being a season of vitality that makes people feel like taking up something new, spring actually records the highest number of suicides.
Is this because people realize that the spring days that were supposed to hold so much hope are actually not so different from other days of the past, and make an extreme choice in despair? Or does a will to die coexist with the will to live in human nature?
Every case is different, but many people who attempt suicide but fail have a compulsive personality, while many who “succeed” are perfectionists.
In particular, people who feel they were forced by society to aspire to perfection often make rash efforts to meet those impossibly high standards.
Such people take responsibility for their failures, feel worthless and hopeless, and go to the extreme of committing suicide.
Also, instead of acknowledging their strong points, they tend to become preoccupied with their minor and temporary weaknesses in comparison with others.
This explains why so many suicides are committed by people with good educational backgrounds or a high social status, or by men and young people usually considered strong members of society.
It can be said that “perfectionism forced by society” arises out of the high expectations of parents, and excessive criticism from friends and workmates when one makes a mistake.
Such perfectionism also derives from a social atmosphere that demands success in everything we do.
In the modern world, people drop out of society because of minor failures or a slight lack of ability.
Against this backdrop, things such as school grades, employment records, promotions and money problems assume overwhelming importance, almost to the point of becoming a matter of life-or-death. In other words, a society that demands too much perfection is driving people more and more toward fierce competition.
This kind of stress, however, can be relieved with the social and emotional support of others.
In an experiment to gauge the effects of psychological support, two groups of people were asked to remember a series of things.
One group was placed in a room with emergency sirens blaring, but its members were offered constant reassurance, such as, “I did this experiment too. Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine.”
People in the other group were placed in a stress-free environment, but offered no calming words at all.
Contrary to what you might expect, the first group performed better than the second, whose members actually became quite irritable.
Likewise, the thought of having a supporter and psychological patron is a big source of motivation in life.
By contrast, the lack of a supporter or psychological patron is among the most painful things for a human being to endure.
When someone decides to commit suicide, telling those around him of his intention is a desperate last plea for attention and sympathy.
Some suicidal people leave a will, a clear indication that despite wanting to die, they are still thinking of their family and friends.
This need to feel loved and wanted is also evident in the psychology of those who look for a companion to commit suicide with on suicide Web sites.
In the face of death, people don’t want to be alone and look for support.
Aren’t our societal demands for perfection and absolute success too much for humans, who look for companions even at the time of committing suicide?
Let’s all be a little more tolerant of those around us.
Instead of asking for perfection, how about starting this spring season by giving confirmation to our children, family members, colleagues, superiors and subordinates at work ― or even friends we were too busy to make a call to ― of our affection and support?

* The writer is a professor of psychology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kwak Keum-joo
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