why is it so hard to intentionally hurt yourself

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Like if you walked up to a cliff and think I’ll jump off this but can’t. ( Not suicidal just an explanation) .

I’m astounded that samurais could commit seppuku so easily

In: 3

Survival instinct: your whole being is trying to avoid harm. It would take incredible mental fortitude (or brainwashing, I suppose) to overcome such a primal instinct.

Short answer:
Since your example is physical, the answer is in your question- it’s hard to intentionally hurt yourself because *you know in advance that it will hurt!* Until we are old enough to learn about what exactly causes physical pain, we have the ability to do all sorts of harm to ourselves.

Long answer:
We can risk all sorts of bodily injury easily if we **don’t know** it will hurt, such as the first time you jump out of a tree.

As we learn more about what hurts, we start evaluating if the risk is worth the reward- I know I can jump out of the backyard tree just fine, but can I jump off the roof of the house? I just watched three other kids do it, so chances are good I can too, right? This refining of knowledge is called survival instinct. You learn to judge risk without even consciously thinking about it.

Because we’ve built up our big brains to try to rationalize things and think ahead, we have the ability to overcome our fears of pain, both physical and emotional. How we overcome that fear varies, but most warrior methods use the pain to make the body produce adrenaline, and the adrenaline helps the body ignore the pain- it’s not that that pain isn’t there, it’s that your brain can only focus on so much info at one time. Your example is a highly trained warrior who, to go to that extent, has already considered his options and found a short time of pain (before death) to be the most favorable option.

Billions of years of evolution have resulted in a whole bunch of both mental and physiological safeguards to prevent you from hurting yourself. Creatures without those safeguards died out long ago. You have to consciously override them to do so.

But let’s talk about seppuku.

Samurai do not commit seppuku so easily. If they did, there would be have been no samurai in short order. Samurai died out because they were made obsolete, not because they all committed seppuku, so you can tell it’s not such an easy thing.

The main, real reason they committed seppuku was social pressure and fear of torture. Contrary to the romanticized depiction of samurai that arose from WWII propaganda, they were not chivalrous or honorable. Samurai were very often brutal and abusive to the peasant class under them. **In fact, the idea that the Japanese (or even any Asian culture) care about “honor” is almost entirely a Western conceit.** The best translation of the concept is not “honor”, but “face”. Westerners don’t understand how important “face” is to East Asia and how it drives almost every interaction that the West misunderstands. Fuck honor. Face is what matters. And I have to admit that samurai were among the best at it.

Seppuku is serious – Samurai didn’t kill themselves willy-nilly out of shame and it was not something that happened very often. You had to ask permission from your lord to do it (unless you’re captured, in which permission is automatically implied) and part of the idea is that the lord would often refuse permission so that the samurai could retain both his face and his life. The main thing that Westerners may not understand is that face is **not personal**. Everyone is considered an extension of their family, so the real motivation for committing seppuku (or offering to commit seppuku) is to protect the reputation (and hence wellbeing) of your family, clan, and lord, who could be made to suffer for your mistakes. East Asia is big on communal punishment. I ask you, would you sacrifice your life to save your family or community? That’s what the samurai did.

Committing seppuku voluntarily (as opposed to having it forced on you if you commit serious crimes) was considered a way to wash away all loss of face. If you are willing to take your own life over it, everyone was obligated to assume you had the noblest of intentions. This is why captured samurai committed seppuku – it’s to make sure no one could possibly accuse them of cowardice and surrendering to save their own life.

But there’s an additional dimension: the Japanese (all of East Asia really) had no cultural prohibition in that era against torture or mistreating prisoners – witness how they treated the Chinese in WWII. If you didn’t commit seppuku, you would be considered a worthless, selfish wretch with no face and the enemy had full rights to torture you. Lots of samurai preferred to die than suffer torture and humiliation.