Throughout history psychologists have debated whether our personalities and behavior are as a result of our environments and upbringing or merely a result of our genetic makeup. Various social studies have been done over time to try and understand this further.
The recent Netflix documentary Three Identical Strangers, is an intriguing and shocking true story about three identical twins that were separated at birth, put into very different social environments, and studied over the course of their childhood, completely unaware of the fact that they were one of three triplets….
These days the Nurture versus Nature discussion seems rather redundant. After all the studies that have been done on this, scientists have realized that how we behave is as a result of a complex cycle of both genetic, and environmental factors. The study of Epigenetics has shown us that our genes are directly impacted by our physical, social, and emotional environments, which then in turn influence our behavior.
A simple example of this would be; a predisposition to depression due to a genetic factor, which causes us to make decisions that may not be the best for our well being, which then perpetuates the whole cycle.
Furthermore, our social environments shape us from birth, often unconsciously. Those growing up in dysfunctional families, or having experienced some sort of trauma or abandonment, may lack a fundamental sense of self-worth, causing them to seek a sense of significance in ways that are unhealthy and unsustainable. We then often re-create the whole cycle with our own children because of unhealthy communication due to our own dysfunctional pasts.
The following short story, illustrates how our own perceptions due to possible unmet expectations can shape and influence our identities.
Meet Amy, a sweet 7 year old, who is eager to please those around her and is polite and well mannered. Amy’s mommy Lisa, is a very busy corporate executive, she is also a single mom and does not get much support from her ex-husband. Lisa does her best to be there for Amy but life is so busy, and her job is extremely demanding, so she often gets home late after Amy has gone to bed. Amy has asked her mommy to find another job, and told her how much she misses her. But Lisa, feeling cornered and defensive responds to Amy by telling her that she mustn’t complain, ‘Mommy works very hard so that you can have all the nice things that you have’ but Amy would give it all up in a heartbeat, just to have her mommy around.
Lisa often feels guilty about leaving Amy alone with the nanny so much, and often comes home with pretty gifts and treats for Amy.
One day, Amy has a very bad day at school, she spills paint on her clothing in Art class, her best friend won’t play with her, and she gets into trouble for bending a book she was reading. Lisa has also had a bad day at work, her boss is putting huge pressure on her to meet a deadline on a particularly difficult project. She is feeling stressed and overworked and hasn’t had a holiday in a long time.
That night Amy stays awake waiting for her mommy, all she wants is the comfort of a cuddle. Lisa comes home, stressed and irritable, ready to jump straight back to work on her laptop. The nanny shows Lisa the ruined uniform. Lisa irritably tells Amy that she needs to be more careful with her things, and that money doesn’t grow on trees. Amy’s eyes fill with tears and she turns to pour herself a glass of water. As she puts it down it slips from her hands, spills all over Lisa’s important papers, and shatters on the floor. Lisa’s emotional reserves are depleted, and she goes off like a rocket at Amy, telling her that she is careless and irresponsible, she shouts and curses as she picks the glass up off the floor. Amy is beside herself. She apologizes for breaking the glass and runs to her bedroom crying. She cries herself to sleep, alone and sad, her need for a cuddle from her mommy completely unfulfilled. She goes to bed believing that her mommy cares more about the broken glass and ruined uniform, then she does about her. Lisa is stressed out about her work and ruined paperwork so she cleans up the mess and carries on working. Completely unaware that her child’s identity, security, and self-worth, is being compromised in the room next door by the conclusions she is formulating in her heart related to what she has just experienced, based on her own perspective.
Lisa’s perspective is that it’s just a glass, she was more worried about her paperwork, she knows she shouldn’t have reacted so badly but was stressed out and tired, and was running on low reserves from an emotional perspective.
Amy’s perspective is that she gone to bed after a bad day with her needs unmet. She has drawn a final conclusion about her relationship with her mother that her mother cares deeply about ‘things’ which is why she works so hard, never spends time with her, gives her gifts instead of spending time with her, and reacted so badly about the broken glass.
Every single time anything happens after this incident along similar lines, Amy’s self-talk reaffirms her conclusion for her, and cements her views even deeper in her heart and mind. The truth is, Lisa loves her daughter more than anything else on earth, and would move heaven and earth to make her happy, but so long as Amy views her mother through the hazy fog of the lies that she has believed, she will never really believe her mother when she tells her how much she loves her.
Amy grows up with her self-worth being shaped around this specific incident, and every single one thereafter. She builds a wall which grows bigger and stronger over time, between herself and her mother. Cutting off Lisa’s ability to meet her daughter’s emotional needs completely. Amy’s self-talk is that she is not good enough. Amy’s dad is mostly absent, which reaffirms her belief about herself. When Amy gets older she is a very pretty young girl, and attracts much attention from the opposite sex. She falls easy prey to the flattery and attention from a young boy Clinton, who also comes from a home where his father was absent. They find they have much in common and discuss their feelings deeply. Soon they have fallen madly in love, and struggle to resist falling into a sexual relationship. Clinton becomes Amy’s sole reason for existence, when he is around she is on top of the world, when he is not she falls into a deep depression. Amy and Clinton are only 16 and are not emotionally mature enough to handle a committed relationship. Clinton starts to find Amy clingy and emotional and he begins to withdraw from her. The more he withdraws the more worthless she feels, and the more she cries and tries to reach out. Clinton breaks up with Amy, and because of her already damaged sense of self-worth she falls completely to pieces. Amy starts hanging around with the wrong crowds at school and experimenting with drugs to numb the pain and fill the void. Amy continues to spiral downwards through cycles of bad decisions, and more hurt and damage to her Identity, eventually she only identifies herself as someone who is broken and abused, she doesn’t know who she is outside of the series of lies she has believed, and bad choices she has made as a consequence.
We can see in this story that Amy has over a period of time become entangled in a web of lies that she has believed about herself and her parents, due to various unmet expectations in her childhood. Most of us can identify with this story on some level, and often times as adults we may reach some sort of understanding that the way we saw things as children, while our perception of the situation, may not have been completely true, or, the complete truth for all parties involved. Sometimes the hardest thing is to accept that the thing that hurt us so deeply and changed the course of our lives entirely, may not have been the whole truth. However, once this realization has been reached, it does make forgiveness and, ultimately, restoration a whole lot easier.
The most wonderful thing about all of this is that the adverse effects of our beliefs and choices are 100% reversible even at a genetic level, according to Epigenetics. Our brains can be rewired (see neuroplasticity) and we can unravel the lies we have believed about ourselves, and others, in order to return to the original blueprint, and find who we were always meant to be.
You are not a product of your past, and you are more than just your emotions. There is Hope for a bright and beautiful future, because you were made for a purpose. Reach out to us today so we can help you begin the journey to becoming all that you were designed to be.
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