Why does this bring me pleasure?
July 29, 2011 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Why does thinking about this certain (weird, gross) thing give me a heady, pleasurable feeling?

This is the strangest question I've ever asked and I'm sure that a therapist would have a lot of insight but I'm curious to hear others' as well.
For background, I've had depression for about 20 years, I'm 37, and dealt with anxiety on and off. Lately more anxious, going through work changes and money problems. I've never had any signs of OCD or anything like that.
About two weeks ago, I was reading an AskMe and it mentioned tonsil stones. Being curious I looked them up and found a couple videos of them being removed. I don't have tonsils, so I've never had these apparently annoying little things. But something about watching the videos of people having them removed - digging into these weird little pockets and bringing out these white, yucky stones - it gives me a very satisfying feeling.
In the past couple weeks I've found myself reverting to thinking about those video and about tonsil stones whenever something stressful comes up. When I do that, I get a heady, sort of 'high' feeling - I don't know if it's endorphins but it does remind of of when I took Percocet once decades ago.
The only thing I can come up with is that the pleasure in seeing someone get that crap out of their body reminds me of the negative I need to get rid of, and how satisfying it is to do so.
Maybe I could get the same feeling from cleaning my closets?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about the "why," but you're not alone in enjoying this sort of thing. Entire websites exist with videos of people popping their pimples, for example.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Same reason people like to watch ear wax being dug out of other peoples ears. As well as pimples being popped/cysts being drained. I think this type of question has been asked before, just can't seem to find it.
posted by TheBones at 10:37 AM on July 29, 2011

I think this is a primal leftover from your monkey brain - grooming the tribe is a form of bonding.
posted by yarly at 10:38 AM on July 29, 2011 [9 favorites]

I think I feel this sort of thing to some extent too -- using one of those sticky nose strips to take blackheads out of my nose was simultaneously icky and pleasurable, so much so that I attacked the boyfriend with one of the strips as well. It's just satisfying to see those little black dots that used to be in one's nose now removed, somehow.
posted by peacheater at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2011

The only thing I can come up with is that the pleasure in seeing someone get that crap out of their body reminds me of the negative I need to get rid of, and how satisfying it is to do so.

To build on that, it is also a simple physical act that is clearly over when it is over. Very unlike psychological issues that may resurface long after you believe you've dealt with them.

I get a similar satisfied feeling as you whenever I get to tidying up the accumulated messes in my house. I'll bet closet cleaning will be just the thing for you.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Relational memory is a funny thing. The specific triggers are subjective to each person, but its basic action is more or less standard across people. Basically, your limbic system is getting triggered.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:55 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of Misattribution of Arousal.
posted by Splunge at 11:11 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

If Tell Me No Lies is on the right path, I will add that the satisfaction of mowing the lawn, a wonderfully discrete task, is immense.
posted by still lampin' at 11:35 AM on July 29, 2011

Yarly has it. Totally atavistic. (An ex-boyfriend and I had a game we called "Momma Monkey" that involved ah, ahem, grooming of ingrown hairs.)
posted by thebrokedown at 11:39 AM on July 29, 2011

There's an entire video game series called Trauma Center that I swear is based on this sensation.

Removing icky things from imaginary patients is like the most satisfying thing I've ever done.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:43 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Possibly somewhat related: ASMR. Previously, on the blue.
posted by likeso at 12:02 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

There aren't many things that I can fully focus on. Tweezing, and squeezing ingrowns and blackheads require my full attention and actually get it. It is a weird feeling though and like thebrokedown I also "groom" my boyfriend. It does feel sooooo good. He makes monkey sounds too and pretend to pick things out of my hair.

If I saw a zit on my face it would take all of my power not to squeeze it while I was at work. I'd "save" it for when I got home. Ugh and I would spend forever trying to get rid of a tonsil stone. Thank goodness I don't get them anymore.
posted by mokeydraws at 12:29 PM on July 29, 2011

Oh and I recently cleaned out my closet and get a bit of enjoyment everytime I open the door. I let it get messy though and saved the cleaning up. Never would have connected these things though...
posted by mokeydraws at 12:33 PM on July 29, 2011

I agree with the monkey brain thing, but I think it's about more than just grooming, possibly also about primate skills like digging grubs or something out of holes with a stick?

I personally have a weird obsession with getting peach pits really clean of all those little bits that hang on. And think about how satisfying it can be to shell peas!
posted by crabintheocean at 12:35 PM on July 29, 2011

I think that Splunge is right about the crucial role of arousal, and the arousal seems to come, in turn, from identification with the person who is doing this and going through the experience, which causes your body to react as if it really is happening to, or about to happen to you.

Arousal is mediated and accomplished through the HPA axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis) which depends largely on the actions of a 241 amino acid polypeptide released from the anterior pituitary, and which is cut apart into "as many as ten biologically active peptides involved in diverse cellular functions": POMC (propiomelanocorticotropin).

The most important product of POMC for the purpose of this question, and which I think accounts for the "heady, sort of 'high' feeling - I don't know if it's endorphins but it does remind of of when I took Percocet once decades ago" that happens to you is, as you very acutely intuit, β-endorphin.

That 'high' feeling is dramatically enhanced, however, by the fact that you do not actually go through the experience that produced the arousal. It's often said that opiate-based pain pills don't make people who are actually in pain very high, and the same is true, in my opinion, of the endogenous opioids. You get a lot higher than the people going through the real thing.
posted by jamjam at 1:49 PM on July 29, 2011

Google botfly videos, you would probably enjoy them, too (warning: maggot extracted from human skull).
posted by leigh1 at 2:29 PM on July 29, 2011

Sounds like it just resonates with you that it feels good to get them out, which is totally normal. I think I might as well. Why people like picking off scabs, blowing their nose, doing a dump etc. I suppose you could see it as an analogue of emotional issues, but maybe it's not that deep.
posted by Not Supplied at 2:44 PM on July 29, 2011

I used to be vegetarian, and would get a weird disgusted high from visiting the meat section of grocery stores, or, more intensely, the meat markets in Mexico. I was appalled and disgusted yet enthralled and weirdly high. Brains are weird.
posted by whalebreath at 7:33 PM on July 29, 2011

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