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Link between altruism & suicidal tendencies?

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Link between altruism & suicidal tendencies?

Postby andthistoomustpass » Mon Oct 02, 2017 10:38 pm

Humans display altruistic behaviour, sometimes putting the good of the extended family (the tribe) before their own or putting themselves out or at risk to help a stranger. There is certainly a powerful cultural component at work here, I wonder if there is a genetic predisposition for our brains to work this way too. It would give a powerful advantage to the tribe who worked together when the chips are down and make it more likely that their culture and perhaps genes would propagate and so this behaviour would spread.

What if suicide is related to altruism? I've lost count of the number of posters here who say everyone would be better off without them. I've often felt that the world would be a better place for others without me in it. Perhaps there is a switch in our brains which is activated when we feel that we are not good enough, that we drag others down, that we are a burden. Perhaps that switch leads to suicidal behaviours. Perhaps some of us have a lower threshold than others for that switch to be activated.

I suppose I am wondering if such a switch or complex of switches exists and, if it does, then does low self esteem and the esteem we perceive others hold us in activate such a switch or are (non-compelled) suicidal tendencies always a response to pain and lack of hope, merely an escape.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

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Re: Link between altruism & suicidal tendencies?

Postby gsb » Sun Apr 15, 2018 3:36 pm

I have attempted suicide in the past and it is altruism that has gotten me beyond that. The desire to contribute, to make a difference, gave me a reason to want to live when I had no other. Charity work enabled me to help people, meet people and gave me a purpose and a feeling of self-worth. There's also a great feeling when altruism is reciprocated and you get a real boost!

So I think altruism is a wonderful thing and lessens suicidal tendencies. It's my favourite word too!
"There's no wreckage that's too broken to rebuild"

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Re: Link between altruism & suicidal tendencies?

Postby leahh » Tue May 22, 2018 11:44 am

This is a really interesting question. Just based on my experience, I think altruism can really help to improve someone's mental health - but only if they're in a reasonably good place already. It's like they say - you can't look after others if you don't look after yourself first.

A couple of years ago, my grandma was seriously ill (dementia and other age-related health issues) and I was spending a lot of time trying to help my grandad to look after her. It was in the run-up to me moving to Australia, so I was trying to juggle my job, intensive driving lessons, packing up, finding a new place to live etc at the same time as looking after her and then later visiting her every other day in hospital. It was a really low period for me - obviously I was upset to see my grandma ill but I also felt horribly guilty that I couldn't do more for her. Whatever I did, it never felt like enough - even though I can see now with hindsight that I did help to make her more comfortable in some ways and helped to take the pressure off my grandad a bit. But at the time it didn't feel like that and I was constantly breaking down in tears and self-harming too. I think that I was trying to do too much and wasn't taking enough time to look after myself.

At other times, when I've been in a better place, I've found that helping others really gives me a boost, whether it's something formal like volunteering with kids at the local library or more informal like taking extra time to talk to a junior colleague who needs a bit of support while they settle into the job. I guess it's like a lot of things, like exercising and eating right and being sociable - you know that they can help you feel better, but sometimes you just can't bring yourself to do them. I think the key thing I've learned is to monitor myself every day and make sure that all the things I'm trying to do aren't running me down.

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Re: Link between altruism & suicidal tendencies?

Postby levi » Fri May 31, 2019 7:09 pm


This is a curious question with some interesting responses.

I've been trying to focus more on myself (following the saying Leah mentioned) so attempting to strip the altruism tendencies which I've attributed as a factor in letting my own well-being slip.

It occurs to me how dangerous it can be concerning many things which seem to be a benefit when a certain stages, but harmful at others. Reminds me of two things:
- Similarity to socialising. Sometimes when we're lonely it's recommended and helpful to surround yourself with friends and family who can share their love with you. At other stages, I've found this to increase the isolation as it can accentuate social difficulties and anxiety.
- Over indulgence. Most things in life can be rewarding in moderation, but pretty much everything is harmful in excess.

I do think altruism does have a stronger link to suicidal tendencies that simply the sum of the above, as the notions of the "tribe" being better or worse off with or without your presence is unique to this.

On the question of whether a form of self-destruct trigger is encoded into our DNA I couldn't agree. I would attribute that the commonality of "better off without me" in those with suicidal tendencies as being caused by the stronger link explored above.

I would argue that to be here, as a result of the survival of the countless generations before us; means that living is more deeply ingrained - and altruism started as side-effect of this due to the increased safety of larger groups. Seem odd to conclude altruism is both strongly linked to suicide and survival - s'pose it comes down to understanding when and how to use this powerful tool.

Apologies if this post has been a bit impersonal, am new here so finding my feet and adjusting to the etiquette.


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Re: Link between altruism & suicidal tendencies?

Postby ooby » Fri May 31, 2019 11:51 pm

Altruistic suicide is sacrifice of one's life to save or benefit others, for the good of the group, or to preserve the traditions and honor of a society. It is always intentional. Benevolent suicide refers to the self sacrifice of one's own life for the sake of the greater good.[1] Such sacrifice may be for the sake of executing a particular action, or for the sake of keeping a natural balance in the society. It is a theme or concept of a custom of sacrifice typically found within certain types of science fiction stories. However, real examples of these customs have been recorded to exist among some indigenous people, such as certain Inuit tribes. This was seen by Émile Durkheim in his study Suicide as the product of over-integration with society.[2][3]

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Re: Link between altruism & suicidal tendencies?

Postby rsxo » Sat Jun 01, 2019 9:31 am

Hey :)

I think there's another way of looking at it.

Part of it is confirmation bias - you look for reasons to convince yourself that what you are doing is good, not only for yourself but also for others. It's that element of doing for others' benefit that makes it particularly stronger, as it doesn't come across as selfish.

Another part of it concerns 'real' altruism versus 'perceived' altruism. Altruism involves improving the well-being of others. If the person in question has family or friends, the loss of a loved one harms well-being.

The instance when it may feel altruistic (perceived) is where the person either feels that those loved ones are 100% indifferent to anything they do, or where the person has absolutely no one with any reason to be anything other than indifferent, both of which are fairly rare. So while it may be perceived as altruistic, the reality is that it isn't.

Of course, the difficulty arises due to the irrational thinking involved - what is real and what is perceived become blurred, and the question we have to answer is how do we get the message of real altruism (such as volunteering) through?x

Much love <3
RSxo <3

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