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    homunculus's Avatar
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    Self Harm and Evolutionary psychology

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    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.
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    If you raise a wild animal in a zoo, do you expect it to be 100% normal?
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    Quote 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.
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    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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    Quote 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?
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    Quote 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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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    Quote 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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