Terror and Horror: Feelings, Intersubjectivity and ‘Understanding at the Edges’ in an Interview on a Suicide Attempt

Boden, Zoë V. R. (2018). Terror and Horror: Feelings, Intersubjectivity and ‘Understanding at the Edges’ in an Interview on a Suicide Attempt. In: Pompili, Maurizio ed. Phenomenology of Suicide. Cham: Springer, pp. 51–71.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-47976-7_5


This chapter explores how we can understand suicidal experience more fully and what it means to reach the edges of our understanding. It draws on the case of ‘Roddy’, a research participant whose account of his suicide attempt was marked by experiences of terror and horror. Drawing on phenomenological understandings about the epistemic importance of feelings, I make an argument that we need to critically explore our embodied intersubjective encounters and our emotional worlds, in order to more fully understand suicidal experience. Roddy’s traumatic suicide attempt is hard to communicate, but gaining others’ understanding is imperative for Roddy’s self-understanding and recovery. I consider the visceral and poetic language Roddy uses to help communicate the terror and horror of his experience. I then consider the implications of this—what happens to me, as the listener, when I reach the edges of my capacity for deep, authentic understanding. The chapter concludes with some thoughts about feelings, autobiographical narratives and understanding. I suggest that our communities need to develop more spaces where people can talk about the terror and horror of their suicide attempts safely and openly. I conclude that researchers (and perhaps also clinicians) need to honestly interrogate what happens for them at the edges of their understanding, when listening to such accounts.

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