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Review of "Fatal Attachments"

By Viola Mecke
Praeger, 2004
Review by Meyen Hertzsprung, Ph. D. on Apr 4th 2006
Fatal Attachments

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 life-affirming ones.


© 2006 Meyen Hertzsprung




Meyen Hertzsprung, Ph.D., Staff Psychologist, Addiction Centre, Foothills Medical Centre, Calgary, Canada.

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