Self-Destructive Behavior and the Hereafter

AuthorRalph Slovenko
Date01 April 2005
Published date01 April 2005
Subject MatterArticles
Self-Destructive Behavior
and the Hereafter
Ralph Slovenko
Self-destructive behavior is commonplace. In this issue, Elizabeth L. Jeglic,
Holly A. Vanderhoff,and Peter J. Donovick (2005) discuss self-harm behavior in
a forensic population. They depict four main functions of self-harm behaviors
including (a) suicidal intent, (b) manipulation of the environment, (c) emotion
regulation, and (d) a response to psychotic delusions or hallucinations. These
functions, though to a somewhat lesser degree, are found in the general popula-
tion as well. Quite likely, self-mutilation serves more than one function simulta-
neously. Part of the difficulty in understanding the reasons behind the behavior
lies in the overdetermined nature of it.
The late Dr. Karl A. Menninger (1938) wrote extensively about man’s self-
destructiveness. Menninger was renowned as dean of American psychiatry. He
agreed with Freud’s postulation of a death instinct. In Man Against Himself,
Menninger wrote,
In the end each man kills himself in his own selected way,fast or slow, soon or late.
We all feel this,vaguely; there are so many occasions to witness it before our eyes.
The methods are legion and it is these which attract our attention. Some of them
interest surgeons, some of them interest lawyers and priests, some of them interest
heart specialists, some of them interest sociologists. (p. 5)
According to the theory of a death instinct, there exists in all of us strong pro-
pensities toward self-destruction, and these come to fruition as actual suicide
when many circumstances and factors bring it about. Menninger (1938) pondered
the question, “If some great impulse toward death dominates all of us, if at heart
we all want to die, why do so many struggle against it, why do not all of us com-
mit suicide, as many philosophers have advised?” (p. 5). Dostoevsky’s Kirilov
pondered the question, considering the suffering in life: Why do we not all kill
ourselves? Menninger (1938) went on to observe,
Freud made the further assumption that the life-and-death instincts—the construc-
tive and destructive tendencies of the personality—are in constant conflict and
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 49(2), 2005 125-130
DOI: 10.1177/0306624X04272854
2005 Sage Publications

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT