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Self Harm and Evolutionary psychology

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  • Self Harm and Evolutionary psychology

    Kind of 2 questions in one...
    Does anyone have a good explanation of why people would self harm? It seems sort of couterproductive for the brain to allow for that.
    Also what are some of the best books on human psychology? Preferably from an evolutionary perspective. I'm currently reading like 10 different ones but they don't tell me anything I don't already know.
    “There is immeasurably more left inside than what comes out in words…”
    — Fyodor Dostoevsky

  • #2
    If you raise a wild animal in a zoo, do you expect it to be 100% normal?
    “The whole concept of a macronutrient, like that of a calorie, is determining our language game in such a way that the conversation is not making sense." - Dr. Kurt Harris

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Chaohinon View Post
      If you raise a wild animal in a zoo, do you expect it to be 100% normal?
      Yup. Evolutionary explanations don't hold if the organism is not in the environment it was evolved to expect.
      Today I will: Eat food, not poison. Plan for success, not settle for failure. Live my real life, not a virtual one. Move and grow, not sit and die.

      My Primal Journal

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      • #4
        Which books are you currently reading? David Buss has written a lot (including the textbook on evolutionary psychology). There's also Tooby & Cosmides.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by homunculus View Post
          Does anyone have a good explanation of why people would self harm? It seems sort of couterproductive for the brain to allow for that.
          Decisions can be greatly simplified as choosing between what is best in the short term and what is best in the long term.

          My interpretation of self harm is that the affected person is also usually in some other sort of pain, so they are choosing the short term 'win' of overriding their emotional pain with physical pain (as opposed to the long term win of dealing with their emotional issues more constructively).

          Funny story: A co-worker was walking me through some work he had done and I found myself going to sleep. Seeing as I was sitting right next to him at his desk that seemed a tad impolite. So I chose to try and dig my fingernails as hard into my palm as I could to stay awake through his presentation.

          You could even look at fasting (starving really) as a form of self harm. Why does the brain allow that?
          Disclaimer: I eat 'meat and vegetables' ala Primal, although I don't agree with the carb curve. I like Perfect Health Diet and WAPF Lactofermentation a lot.

          Griff's cholesterol primer
          5,000 Cal Fat <> 5,000 Cal Carbs
          Winterbike: What I eat every day is what other people eat to treat themselves.
          TQP: I find for me that nutrition is much more important than what I do in the gym.
          bloodorchid is always right

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          • #6
            Originally posted by magicmerl View Post
            Decisions can be greatly simplified as choosing between what is best in the short term and what is best in the long term.

            My interpretation of self harm is that the affected person is also usually in some other sort of pain, so they are choosing the short term 'win' of overriding their emotional pain with physical pain (as opposed to the long term win of dealing with their emotional issues more constructively).
            Yup this... I self harmed occasionally, usually when my emotional pain became really high, and I guess I wasn't equipped to deal with it. I'm not sure things would have been the same back in a paleolithic society. I mean... people's expectations etc. were different, society as a whole was different, and so on and so forth.

            There may also have been better networks for helping people go through emotional pain that don't exist in our society (or not to the same extent). Most of my episodes occurred when I was "alone" with absolutely no one to talk to or to share my pain with.

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            • #7
              I actually found a better way to deal with depression. Turn it into anger and smash things. I've put my fists through walls, smashed chairs and even taken a poker to an LCD tv. My family later discovered that junk food has exactly the same effect on me as alcohol though so that might just count as being a mean drunk and not an emotional wreck.
              Although the breaking of both objects and people does impart the most sublime feeling of euphoria.
              In all of the universe there is only one person with your exact charateristics. Just like there is only one person with everybody else's characteristics. Effectively, your uniqueness makes you pretty average.

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              • #8
                I have chosen to not share my pain with those close to me. When you grow up hearing things such as "you aren't ever going to be good enough" or "you have as much value as a gnat", those weigh on you. I was doing well when the abuser who said such things was alive, but when that person died, it all came back tenfold. I would much rather inflict the pain onto myself then onto my children. I will never do to them, what my mother did to me.
                Georgette

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                • #9
                  The pain releases endorphins. It can become addictive, as a result, because the person knows they will feel better to some degree if they inflict physical pain on themselves. It's often a coping mechanism for some other kind of pain (I know someone who uses it as a distraction from lower abdominal pain that she's been trying to get diagnosed for years now, I used it for distraction from emotional pain). Alex Good's preferred form is the same concept: the activity releases endorphins and improves mood (also probably adrenaline is a factor in either case).

                  In paleolithic times, if someone was nutritionally deficient, they might experience depression and put themselves in harms way. I can't imagine them inflicting wounds on themselves (holding the knife/stone etc.), but I can imagine some cliff-diving or predator-wrestling if they felt badly enough.

                  I'm a former cutter, 4 years since last relapse. I still think about it from time to time, when my mood is low, mostly from habit.
                  Depression Lies

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by homunculus View Post
                    Kind of 2 questions in one...
                    Does anyone have a good explanation of why people would self harm? It seems sort of couterproductive for the brain to allow for that.
                    Also what are some of the best books on human psychology? Preferably from an evolutionary perspective. I'm currently reading like 10 different ones but they don't tell me anything I don't already know.
                    I think it's a case of looking in the wrong place.

                    What's a label like "evolutionary psychology" going to mean in practice most of the time other than I'm going to apply a handful of pre-formed readily available concepts to whatever's in front of me and look round for applause? A technical vocabulary that warns outsiders to stay back would be helpful here, too.

                    The most plausible explanation I've heard is that it's down to neurotransmitter deficiencies. In particular self-harm would get you an endorphin rush. You're likely to want that if you don't have a high enough natural level of endorphins. Recommend Julia Ross's stuff. Get a start on that by listening to her being interviewed by Sean Croxton. People like Dan Kalish seem to be intetested in these same imbalances and deficiencies from a slightly different angle.

                    I don't want to imply some kind of biochemical reductionism. I don't discount a more humanistic approach to these matters but the approach you find wanting, and that can't answer your question, isn't humanistic either.

                    Biochemistry matters.

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                    • #11
                      Self harm could possibly stem from simply not being able to express oneself due to fear, anxiety, emotional backlash, etc. I am always unhappy when I have to "be on my guard" - "pretend to be a nice proper young lady" etc... Inhibiting and limiting yourself could have a very damaging effect, and self harm could be the emotional release needed. 7 yrs since relapse.

                      As for psychology books... not a clue. but that sexy gentleman at Evolutionary Psychology and Biology Applied to Health, Business, and Relationships has some great ideas
                      Proud Bangmaid since August 2009

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                      • #12
                        Sorry I didn't mean to offend anyone, maybe I just worded things wrong. I'm not trying to reduce self harm from a serious issue just to some evolutionary quirk.. I've self harmed a lot in the past so I was just curious of other people's opinions on the topic.
                        A lot of the books I read said it was looking for affection/attention, sort of like a kid that gets hurt while playing gets a hug or something of their parents to feel better, but that didn't make much sense to me since people that self harm usually try to hide it.
                        “There is immeasurably more left inside than what comes out in words…”
                        — Fyodor Dostoevsky

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                        • #13
                          I think to an extent, it is about attention/affection. Maybe not for everyone though. I always hid my self-harm, but I remember fantasizing about someone finding out and helping me (how they would help was never clear, I think I mostly wanted someone to show their love for me so I could feel I was worth loving). Depression inhibits feelings of "belonging", so it's probably more that than self-harm.
                          Depression Lies

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                          • #14
                            My self harm was/ is to bite myself. I've never drawn blood, to my knowledge, but I have drawn bruises that look suspiciously like their origin.
                            My reasoning was quite simple when I started doing it as a kid: I had to take it out on SOMETHING, and violence of any sort was punishable by violence in the form of an overaggressive spanking. So, I took it out on myself. I also knew that if I was caught with bruises or cuts, I'd be in trouble: Mom would lay on the guilt trip, Dad'd hit me, and/ or/ the school might take us kids away from Mom and Dad. So I learned to stop before it became a bruise.
                            It was (and, to a much lesser extent, still is) a way to emote in a situation where emotions are unacceptable.
                            Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, steak in one hand, chocolate in the other, yelling "Holy F***, What a Ride!"
                            My Latest Journal

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by homunculus View Post
                              A lot of the books I read said it was looking for affection/attention, sort of like a kid that gets hurt while playing gets a hug or something of their parents to feel better, but that didn't make much sense to me since people that self harm usually try to hide it.
                              I feel that the attention getting factor comes in to play for self-harming individuals with different triggers/causes than the ones who tend to hide it. You typically think of someone who self harms as wearing long clothing to cover the marks. This, in my case, was because the cutting wasn't meant for others to see or know about. After the initial endorphins were gone, the marks on the skin were not considered a thing to be proud of or something to show off. In my experience the ones who are looking for affection/attention are the ones who more often show their marks. This shows up fairly often in certain social groups in middle and high schools.
                              ~Kelly

                              "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks"
                              -John Muir

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