By Gery L. Deer
Deer In Headlines
Sigmund Freud said that most people have a death wish, a desire, often deeply repressed, for self-destruction, often accompanied by feelings of depression, hopelessness, and self-reproach. Arguably, Freud’s theories have been the subject of considerable controversy and debate over the years but his impact on psychology, therapy, and culture is undeniable.
Debunked or not, psychology’s most famous figure may have hit this proverbial nail right on the head. At least that’s how it seems taking into account how many things people do while fully aware of potentially lethal consequences; for example, smoking, alcohol, recreational drug use, skydiving, auto racing, base jumping and other high-risk behavior.
It could be argued that some of these activities are no more dangerous than getting in the car in the morning and driving to work. Considering the safety measures involved in the case of something like skydiving, a quick spin in a Chevy would most likely be far more dangerous.
Of course, once someone starts taking drugs or abusing alcohol, a chemical addiction takes over and impedes their ability to stop. But they’re not the only ones.
Some experts suggest that so-called adrenaline junkies are not all that different from their AA-going counterparts. Similar addictive reactions occur in the bloodstreams of extreme athletes and even serial criminals, not for drugs but adrenaline. The high brought on by the endorphin rush can be overwhelming and highly addictive.
If the experts are right, treatment may be in order to help quell the desire for such extreme behavior. But, that doesn’t answer the main question – how do they start in the first place?
Could there actually be an inborn drive that blinds some people to the relative, even inescapable dangers, associated with risky behavior? Is it possible that some people are genuinely motivated by an involuntary drive akin to Freud’s death wish?
Blaming television and other entertainment media for romanticizing risky behavior is always an option, but only to a point. While these influences do affect modern society, they can hardly be blamed for anything prior to about 75 years ago.
Before the mass media evolved into what it is today, habitually addictive activities like smoking and alcohol use were predominantly passed on through families or influenced by social circles. Plus, the detrimental effects of these substances was not yet widely known or accepted.
It could be that people are just examining these issues far too closely. Maybe, to use another Freudian colloquialism, a cigar is just a cigar. Isn’t it at least possible that people simply do dumb things sometimes without deep, psychological forces at work? Of course it’s possible.
Psychoanalyzing risky behavior may rack up tons of cash for shrinks, but it’s entirely possible that some people just enjoy these activities for their own sake. Unfortunately, some of them become addicted to the rush, the drug, the adrenaline, or whatever it is that hooks them, and some even die as a result.
Life is dangerous – even if it’s unintentional. No matter the lifestyle, no one escapes Freud’s alleged death wish. Whether it’s a compulsion for that first cup of morning coffee or an obsession with shoe shopping, extreme behavior hits everyone in one way or another.
Sometimes the things a person appears to enjoy in life the most are exactly what may be killing them, or may eventually. Lifestyle changes or even therapy may be necessary, but the individual is the only one who can change the behavior.