We talked about nature versus nurture on Wednesday night: how we become who we are. We played with the question, "How much of our 'stuff' (positive, negative, and neutral) comes to us via heredity and how much comes to us from our environment and experiences. High school biology imprinted our impressionable minds with the notion that this magical stuff called DNA inside us accounts for a lot of what makes us us. And since humans are predisposed to try and make sense out of our worlds, and since we often pick the easiest truths—at least at first—a lot of us hang on to this "nature" explanation for how we turned out. In other words, if we can look like our father, or sound like our mother, or be musical like a grandparent, then doesn't it make sense that we can likewise be a little off or troubled or hyperactive or perfectionistic or dysfunctional like one or more of our blood relatives?
I often hear people say that anxiety or depression runs in their family. And, of course, what they mean by that is that, according to the family mythology that's been handed down for generations, their unhappiness is in their blood. When I ask one of these inherently dysregulated folks what their childhood was like, they often say, "pretty normal." And then they tell me, "My parents divorced when I was five," or "My brother was killed when I was ten," or "My stepfather was angry and abusive." And they'll tell me about the tragedies and traumas that befell their grandparents and the upheavals and disasters and turmoil and chaos that goes back as far as anyone can remember. And I am left to wonder, "Huh?"
Addictions. You'll see alcohol dependency on the list of highly inheritable genetic traits. But alcoholism is not like eye color or height, is it? How do you isolate that tendency from environmental and experiential factors? I don't pretend to know. In the immortal words of the B52's in "Dance This Mess Around," I'm just askin'!
And then there are the twins studies. Check out this story about a very strange one: "'Identical Strangers'Explore Nature Vs. Nurture."
You may have noticed that I don't offer any answers here. How could I? Other than to say, "In my professional opinion, who we are and what we do depend on a combination of factors." Gee, how insightful! Well, stark questions often have gray answers. And the hardest questions are ultimately unanswerable. The important thing is that we ask. And that we wrestle with the quandaries.
My main point is that we should not feel doomed by either our ancestry, our circumstances, or our traumas. We can choose to work with whatever we've been handed. That's why people come to group. We all have a hopeful feeling that we can make ourselves and our lives better, regardless of where we came from. It's a matter of finding that apple inside us, the one with the big bite taken out of it, and getting it to a safe place where the ground is fertile, with enough water and sunlight, and seeing what we can grow.