I agree with my colleague in some respects. We can kill ourselves in the quest for pleasure — witness heart-stopping doses of cocaine. I am partial to the idea that addictive drugs “hijack” the normal brain reward systems. And there is no reward greater than escape from unbearable pain. Karl Menninger viewed nonsuicidal self-injury as “anti-suicidal” behavior. Cutting, banging or burning oneself can reduce emotional distress dramatically. Such behavior appears “self-destructive” only to the outside observer; to the person engaging in the behavior, it is self-preservative, a way of muddling through to live another day. The same might be said of addiction.
Penchant for self-destruction
I am less sanguine than my colleague about a thoroughgoing constructive orientation in human nature. He writes, “…All of us have the same basic agenda to find happiness and manage physical and psychic pain the best we can.” I find myself more sympathetic than he with Freud’s view of divided forces in our nature, constructive and destructive. Freud gave us a naturalized version of the age-old battle between good and evil, an enduring contest. I find ample evidence that destructiveness can be self-directed.
by JON G. ALLEN, PHD at Say No To Stigma blog at the Menninger Clinic