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JLeslie's avatar

Do you think paranoia and other mental illnesses help people survive extreme circumstances?

Asked by JLeslie (59839points) February 10th, 2016 from iPhone

My paternal side of the family had a lot of mental illness in my grandfather’s generation. They went through some horrific circumstances as children, and as adults did not have it easy at all. Extreme poverty, difficult work conditions. I’m a big believer that environment is a huge factor in the development of a lot of mental illness, but I also do believe in a genetic component.

I was watching Schindler’s list last night (Gawd I wish I hadn’t) and it has me thinking that the people most paranoid maybe were more likely to survive, and so those genes pass forward to future generations. Those who obsessed about how to avoid violence or capture, maybe they more often survived too? Maybe their genetic wiring, and possibly intelligence, kept them alive.

I ruminate things too much and I feel more full of fear in the last few years. I just wonder if it’s a remnant of my family going through some really bad situations in history. I’m not paranoid like I think people are coming after me, or anything extreme like that, it’s more about my thought process lately, and my difficulty making decisions for fear of consequences. For whatever reason I’m amped up a little. Sometimes I can trace it to bring over medicated on my thyroid meds, but that’s not the whole problem.

What examples can you think of where the label of mental illness might actually be self preserving and an asset.

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9 Answers

Zaku's avatar

I would say mental illness is usually caused by traumatic events that don’t get processed and healed. People definitely shut down their emotional reactions at the time of trauma in order to survive them. But then later, we need to heal, and our culture tends to suck at that, in that:

* Healthy healing of emotional trauma is largely missing from our mainstream culture.
* Our culture has a lot of BS about it being good to tough out hard situations ourselves.
* We tend to go for comfort and avoidance of hard issues rather than facing them.
* We don’t get healing to our abusers.
* We don’t support our victims well enough.
* We also abandon all kinds of people who aren’t strong or wealthy or normal enough.
* We have a lot of child abuse going on that gets hidden by taboos and fears and denial, generating more abusers.

Pretty much everyone has some traumas from childhood. Even people who feel they had great wonderful unproblematic childhoods, generally still have issues they’ve forgotten about, and that it will benefit them to remember and heal. It’s not about how bad the situation actually was on some objective scale – it’s about the experience of the child, and can to an outsider (or the adult person looking back) seem trivial, but it’s the child’s experience that matters and goes on to form patterns around it for the rest of the person’s life.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I have a tough time accepting irrational fear as a trait yielding advantage to those inheriting it.

Zaku's avatar

Examples I’ve seen tend to include parents who couldn’t trust their parents, e.g.:
* Adult who is hyper-analytical and watches everyone and notices all details and tries to “figure out” everyone and everything. One parent was very arbitrary and there was a mutual lack of understanding.
* Adult who is very kind and loving and talented and charming, but also terrified of financial loss, suspects everyone of being a molester, and insists on complete open honesty with everyone. Was abused by parent who had impoverished past, molested by others.
* Adult who is very competitive and makes tons of money, but is also wreckless, can’t stop competing and needing to win and dominate and shame others even with children. Was abused by siblings and parents.

CWOTUS's avatar

No, of course not.

Paranoia is an irrational fear. Being afraid when someone is attempting to kill you is not at all irrational (although “being afraid and doing nothing to attempt to remedy the situation” is also irrational, even if sometimes understandable).

zenvelo's avatar

Much of mental illness involves conditions that affect one’s thinking and behavior and ability to handle stress and anxiety. To the extent that interferes with one’s living in difficult circumstances, it would be a detriment, not an enhancement.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Paranoia is not a mental illness. It is in some instances a symptom of a mental illness. Paranoia is a coping mechanism.

The causes of mental illnesses are unknown. Full stop.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Isn’t Paranoia in the DSM as a diagnosis? I haven’t looked at a DSM in 25 years, so I’m not up-to-date. There is also Paranoid Schizophrenia.

Cupcake's avatar

They can also contribute to demise… I’m not sure which would be more likely.

We do know that trauma can be passed on not only through shared environment and parenting, but also through epigenetic changes. Fascinating research.

So it’s possible, but, as I’ve mentioned, the alternate is possible as well.

imrainmaker's avatar

They might appear physically stronger when in full swing but doesn’t mean they have better chances of survival.

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