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What Killed Junior Seau?
Written By: Mark Smith

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I've heard several theories as to what might be the underlying cause for future Hall of Fame football player Junior Seau's shocking and seemingly inexplicable suicide on Wednesday.  One theory is that Seau suffered brain injuries during his 20 year NFL career and that impaired his judgment and caused intense depression.  Another theory is that Seau missed playing football so much and he simply was not adjusting well to life after football.  A third theory is that perhaps Seau suffered silently from the 'disease of depression'.

While there are probably some merit to each of these arguments I just don't buy them.  There were no recorded medical or observational indications that lead anyone to believe that Seau was suffering neurologically.  That is a hot button topic on the sports talk shows these days.  If Seau had brain damage that made him not right why didn't he seek help for his condition and why wasn't that readily apparent to everyone around him?  The family did donate Seau's brain to a lab for analysis so we shall see but that does not explain Seau's suicide, in my opinion.  I think just looking at things from the brain angle is totally missing the point altogether.  While Seau did experience some emotional bumps and bruises in life after football it seemed like things weren't going too badly - he had a successful restaurant, he had a foundation that had raised over 4 million dollars for charity, he was well loved and respected in San diego, physically he looked like he could still play and everyone who knew him said that he appeared to be in a perpetually good mood.  As to suffering from he disease of depression, again, there isn't any evidence or documentation that would support that theory.  He always functioned like a very infectious guy who loved football and loved life, not like a depressed man who couldn't function due to depression.
Obviously I did not know Junior Seau personally, but I am pretty sure I know what killed him.  Counterdependency killed Junior Seau!  Let me define this condition for you with some examples from Seau's life....

Counterdependents are Supermen (or Superwomen). They are supremely confident.  They are bigger than life.  They think they are always right and they usually are. Their way is the best way. It is black and white, cut and dried. Forget trying to tell them anything. Their confidence knows no limits. Many times they are very bright, very successful people. They are talented, and they know it. They know where they are going—straight to the top, so don't get in their way. Buried deeply beneath their grandiosity, however, is a great deal of insecurity. They have to win to be o.k. with themselves. They have to make the sale, get the promotion, make the Pro Bowl, have the nice big house, and have all the trophies of success. They base their self-esteem completely on performance and rewards. They are willing to sell their souls for 'success'.  Until things come crashing down in mid-life all a Counterdependent has ever known is winning.

Counterdependents are extremely independent. They do what they want to do when they want to do it. They aren't in touch with their needs nor are they aware of their limitations. I'm sure that Junior Seau did have some brain injuries. But, check it out, concussions DO NOT cause a man to bottle up a life time's worth of feelings, needs and vulnerability! Counterdependency does exactly that! Normal rules don't seem to appy to Counterdependents.  They can work until they drop, and then do it again tomorrow. One story about Seau shared on ESPN this week is that when he played for the Patriots late in his career, he would show up to life weights at 4am!  To say that intimacy through vulnerable talking is not an area of strength would be an over statement.  Intimacy equals sex to most counter-dependent men. They aren't in touch with feelings, they don't know how to cry, and they don't know how to use anger appropriately and non-aggressively. They are tough; they are rocks; they are islands. Marcilus Wiley, Seau's former teammate and very close friend said that Seau would never seek medical attention for injuries in front of his teammates.  He did not want them to see him as weak.  Wow!  Seau was a Counterdependent's Counterdependent.  These men didn't receive enough love and nurturing growing up and they have a hard time needing or receiving love. Buried deeply under the calluses and body armor is a sad, love-famished little boy.

Counter-dependents have thick skins. They can extremely oblivious and self-centered. They interrupt people during conversations without ever noticing that they did so. They don't get subtle hints or body language. Many times they are extremely work-focused. They work 50, 60, 70 or even 80 hours a week, not noticing the loneliness of their wives, or the father-hunger in the eyes of their children. In their marriages they tend to have 80% or more of the power. Of necessity, they tend to marry very other-centered, self-sacrificing, co-dependent women who eventually tire of being controlled.

Finally, counter-dependents tend to be intrusive, controlling, and aggressive. They make great military leaders, corporate heads, or football players, but they usually make for pretty lousy dads. Their need for control frequently becomes at odds with their teenager's developing needs for autonomy and independence. At times the intrusiveness takes the form of rage.  Their competitiveness can make them great at what they do but also leave them feeling empty once the game is over.

Men like Junior Seau are used to only showing their indestructible, macho, in control personas.  They don't know how to be weak.  They have never been mellow.  They hide their pain.   They never learned that men are human beings too.  I see minor versions of Junior Seau every day in my practice.  In mid-life, emotional pain is designed to come up and come out of even the most John Wayne-like men.  If you never allowed yourself to cry, when you do finally cry it is beyond tortuous.  Last week a fellow told me that he had been presented the option of getting a divorce from a woman he still loved or go back and see Mark Smith.  He told me that letting out all of his pent up emotional pain seemed like a fate worse than death.  When painful issues come up in mid-life and a man has to face off with his rage or his financial failures or his addictions, the pain can crush a man into a fetal position of emotinal brokenness and grief.  I have worked with so many men who were shocked by the number of tears that came out of them.   They previously had lived life on the surface.  They had no clue that there was a sad, needy little boy at their core but if they did know they would be bound and determined to keep the little rascal tied up, gagged and locked up forever.  One distinguished dressing executive who is occasionally haunted and greatly irritated by his little boy pain said that he hated what he called 'that little "@*%#'.  I wish that I could put into words just how overpoweringly painful this deep infantile pain is for a Counterdependent man who has been hiding his emotions his whole life.  

Here's the thing - Junior Seau was actually not a strong man. He was a weak man.  He did not have the strength or the courage to allow himself to feel who he really was at his core.  What he was feeling, however, WAS NOT depression, in my opinion.  It was profound sadness, yes.  It was a lifetime of pent up man pain that overwhelmed him. It was sadness felt due to psychological walls coming down exposing a huge pandora's box full of feelings...perhaps missing the attention, the high, the safe routine and the camaraderie of football?  Perhaps there were other male mid-life feelings...not wanting to get old, having regrets about his divorce, having relationship pain that caused him to rage at times and/or financial stress?

Seau had gone through a divorce, but that was back in 2002 so I don't think that was a major issue.  He had survived driving his Cadillac Escalade off a 100 foot ocean side cliff in October of  2010, just hours after being arrested for a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend.  In my opinion, THAT was probably hia main hot buttton.  Relationships can bring up so much pain that a man might want to put himself out of his misery.  He said that the acccident was caused due to his falling asleep. That doesn't seem believable at this point.  He was not charged in the incident.  It was a harbinger of things to come, though. When Wiley asked his good friend if the car incident was a suicide attempt Seau denied it, up I am sure that is exactly what it was.  This was a very good man by all accounts.  It is a shame that he couldn't reach out for the help he needed.  He had no frame of reeference.  It felt like losing to him and he wasn't about to lose.  He got out of the game so he didn't have to lose.  

Men, you are human too.  You have feelings.  You probably have a lifetime of repressed feelings ready to vomit up.  Feel them for God's sake!  It not unmanly to cry.  Crying and getting some good therapy might be the most courageous, manly thing that you ever do.   The pain that you are feeling is not a bad thing.  It is an opportunity to man up, examine your blind spots, learn something new and become a deeper person.  Your wife has been waiting for just that for decades!  Roll with it my brothers.  It is time to become the MVP of feelings! There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Crying when you are sad is a gift from God to help us grieve and work through emotions. Mid-life man pain is supposed to bring the gift of humility into a man's life. That is a difficult thing but a very, very good thing. Embrace the pain, face it, feel it, cry it out.

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This article was authored by Family Tree Counseling Associates, a marriage, individual and family counseling center serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana. If you would like to contact us, please fill out a contact us form or call us at 317-844-2442.
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