The Presentation of the Self: An Hypothesis about Suicide Notes Bijou Yang, Ph.D.1 David Lester, Ph.D.2,
Department of Economics and International Business, Lebow College of Business, Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA 2 Psychology Program, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, USA 1
Submitted to SOL: 24th November 2010; accepted: 7th November 2011; published: 14th November 2011
Abstract: Typically, suicide notes are viewed as providing insights into the psychodynamics of the suicidal individual. The present essay proposes, in contrast, that some suicidal individuals use their suicide note to present a picture of themselves that they want others to remember. Suicide notes may sometimes present a façade self rather than a real self. Keywords: suicide notes, presentation of self Copyrights belong to the Author(s). Suicidology Online (SOL) is a peer-reviewed open-access journal publishing under the Creative Commons Licence 3.0.
In taking any psychological test, there is always the possibility that, instead of responding truthfully, individuals wish to present a particular view of themselves. To detect this, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), for example, has subscales to detect presenting a healthy self (faking good) and presenting a pathological self (faking bad). Research has supported the ability of people to fake the image that they present to others. For example, Braginsky, Braginsky and Ring (1969) demonstrated that schizophrenic psychiatric inpatients could chose whether or not to report major symptoms (such as hallucinations) depending on the expected outcome (being placed on a locked ward versus being released). In a second study, Braginsky and Braginsky (1971) found that adolescents in an institution for retarded could vary their mental age on intelligence by three years, again depending on the *
David Lester, Ph.D. Distinguished Professor of Psychology The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Pomona, NJ 08240-0195 USA Tel: +1 609-652-4254 Email: David.Lester@stockton.edu *
outcome (being placed in a pleasant versus unpleasant program at the institution). Individuals present various images on a daily basis as a result of the different roles and corresponding functions that they perform. We are used to switching from one image to another and choosing the image to fit the occasion, and there is no reason to doubt that this is true when we die. In modern times, the popularity of online activities such as Twitter and Facebook have allowed people to craft the narrative of their lives and to present themselves to friends and family, and to the world, in a particular light. This fits a popular television message - Image is everything. In contrast, some psychological tests ignore this behavior and assume that the individual’s selfpresentation is not faked. For example, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), a projective test, asks respondents to tell stories to pictures shown to them. The interpretation of their stories assumes that the stories will reveal accurate information about the respondents’ psychodynamics. The scoring does not take into account the possibility that the respondents’ stories are affected by the desire of the respondents to present a particular image of themselves. A recent volume, in which suicidologists were asked to write 75
Suicidology Online 2011; 2:75-79.
1,500 words about themselves (Pompili, 2010), resulted in a very diverse set of protocols. Some were very personal, revealing details of the writer’s life; some listed professional accomplishments; some avoided personal information but were brief scholarly articles on a particular topic; while occasional essays revealed strong emotions such as anger. These essays illustrate the different ways for writers to present the self, and these essays may be treated as similar to TAT stories so as to speculate about...