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How does our brain allow us to commit suicide? Our brain and everything in our body has developed to ensure our survival. At the prospect of a threat to our life, our brain does everything to save us with all those reflexes. In spite of this, some people are capable of committing suicide, how is this possible? Lets consider a scenario,

A person commits suicide in anticipation of being insulted.

In this case, being insulted is clearly better than compromising our survival.Everything we do is primarily for our survival. While suiciding, one has to go against all of his instincts that were hard wired into him. Again, if one has the will power to commit suicide, one should be able to endure any other difficulty in life, this is also contradictory. Please explain.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE. "if one has the will power to commit suicide, one should be able to endure any other difficulty in life". That may, or may not be true in all cases. What research have you read on suicidal thoughts and the events which can lead upto them? $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Jul 26 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ Why do we risk our lives for fun (scuba diving, bungee jumping and what not)? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jul 26 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ @AliceD♦ But isn't risking your life, entirely different from deliberately killing yourself? With adventure(bungee,rappelling,..) sports you hope and believe that you wont die at the end. $\endgroup$ – Mohan Jul 26 at 8:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris Rogers I haven't read any research papers on suicidal thoughts.I am not a psychology student.That statement seemed apparent to me because going against instincts is very difficult e.g.: When someone is about to stab us, we instinctively try to escape. Overcoming that instinct knowing that we have to endure immense pain and damage requires very high determination and will power.Cutting ourselves should require even more determination. If this idea is wrong, I'll edit it out in the question.please do comment. $\endgroup$ – Mohan Jul 26 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ You are right in your assertion to @AliceD that suicidal thoughts are different to risk taking by “adrenaline junkies” and the like. I will try and put an answer together for you today, and no, leave your statement in your question. It is your belief and it is for an answerer to challenge it. $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Jul 26 at 8:38
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The survival instinct is not the only drive that decides whether or not a person will choose to continue or end his/her life. Other instincts that have been evolved to increase the survival chance of a clan/species, such as the instinct to procreate and to perpetuate his/her clan/species and the instinct to avoid pain/sufferings (both physical and mental), also have the effect.

That is why a mother/father can sacrifice her/his life for her/his child. That is why a person can sacrifice his/her life for his/her clan (nation) or humanity (his/her species). In some animals, it is even more obvious when the hive instinct is stronger than the individual instinct to survive – a bee or an ant will fight to its death to protect its colony.

When a person suffers a severe pain or other sufferings that he/she considers not curable, such as terminal cancer pain, the drive to avoid further sufferings can be stronger than the survival instinct. This is also the case for mental sufferings. If a person contemplates that he/she will have to endure shame, insult, humiliation, etc. that is unbearable for him/her, the drive to avoid sufferings can be stronger than the survival instinct too.

One may ask, then, why do we evolve the instinct to avoid pain/sufferings if it can lead us to premature death? The answer is that the instinct to avoid pain/sufferings in general cases help increase the survival chance of a species. Pain/sufferings, in general, are the early warnings of more serious danger or situations that may endanger life and therefore have to be avoided. The cases exampled in the previous paragraph are exceptional cases. The suicidal rate in people worldwide is only about 16/100,000 per year or about 0.016 percent per year among 7.7 billion people. It is just that evolution works in general cases, not in every particular case.

References:

Befrienders Worldwide. Suicide Statistics

Eric R. Pianka. Can Human Instincts Be Controlled?

Ukahoke C.The Basic Theory of the Mind. Chapter 11 - Self

Wikipedia. Self-preservation

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