The blame game

September 5, 2010 at 3:47 am Leave a comment

So I’m translating a book I helped publish a few years back. The author was a psychiatrist for 30 some odd years and writes for the lay person about the various different people and disorders he faced in his practice. The chapter I’m working on currently is about how we as humans love to play the blame game. According to the author, people especially love to blame their upbringing for their problems. That way they can avoid taking responsibility for their own decisions and choices. He argues that we can’t really say, for example, that a criminal became that way as a result of the violence and neglect he or she experienced growing up, because there are plenty of people who had horrendous upbringings who turned their lives around and became great successes.

While I appreciate the validity of his argument and agree that no matter how crappy a childhood we may have had, we ultimately have a choice as to how we want to live our lives, I think that we shouldn’t discount the influence a childhood can have on forming the adult. To do otherwise is to ignore and deny the accomplishments of those who, despite sad beginnings, were able to transcend their formative years. After all, most of us take a while to figure out what kind of person we are and want to be. If, in those crucial years when we are still figuring this out, we do not have strong role models to guide us, it doesn’t take much to see how someone can be pushed in the wrong direction.

In the chapter I’m working on, the author describes a certain patient of his who blamed his alcoholism and his lack of success in life on his being sent to an orphanage in his early teens. As he describes it, it was certainly not an easy existence, but interestingly his older siblings (2 brothers and a sister) both credited their stay in the orphanage with their later life successes. They claimed that the orphanage taught them to stand on their own two feet. For context, I should mention that both of his older brothers also had a history of heavy drinking and his sister’s marriage was an unhappy one (he was divorced). Acknowledging the challenges they faced in the orphanage is important if we are truly to appreciate their later life successes. Success, after all, depends on your point of departure.

What I find especially fascinating is that children can grow up in the same household but they take widely divergent life lessons along with them into adulthood. What makes one sibling succeed where another buckles under the pressure? Is it personality? Biology? Individual sensitivities to certain triggers? Is environment, in fact, irrelevant? Or rather do those who transcend their upbringing demonstrate the importance of faith – in their own abilities and in the meaningfulness of their life?

Faith is hard to teach. But as the Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl (who survived a Nazi death camp) once wisely said: He who has a why to live can bear almost any how. So, if we are serious about helping the downtrodden, the broken down, the meek and physically weak, we must commit ourselves to helping them find that faith or confidence that can allow them to move forward, to move beyond the painful past.


Entry filed under: Mental Health, Uncategorized.

Homophily, or birds of a feather… The Aftermath

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