Still wish I’d taken that Nature vs Nurture course in uni…

It was offered as part of my sociology degree, but I think it conflicted with something else I was interested in at the time and couldn’t pick it up another semester. Ah well. It’s easy enough to figure out what the main crux of the issues would have been in terms of discussion, eh?

What’s reminded me of that is this article out of the Times – that no matter what parents may do, a kid might just turn out to be a bad one.

Richard A. Friedman writes about a couple whose third child was the cause of most of the stress in the home. Repeated trips to psychologists to determine how they failed him resulted in no clear answers. Advice they received from some experts in the field often contradicted answers from others who’d been consulted.

To be sure, they had a fundamentally different relationship with their difficult child. My patient would be the first to admit that she was often angry with him, something she rarely experienced with his brothers.

But that left open a fundamental question: If the young man did not suffer from any demonstrable psychiatric disorder, just what was his problem?

My answer may sound heretical, coming from a psychiatrist. After all, our bent is to see misbehavior as psychopathology that needs treatment; there is no such thing as a bad person, just a sick one.

But maybe this young man was just not a nice person.

These “toxic children” as he calls them are the rod between the gears of a well functioning family unit. He’s not claiming they’re all psychopaths or anything, but there are some people who, for all their good fortune in the parent lottery, still come out of the experience with few redeeming qualities.

We marvel at the resilient child who survives the most toxic parents and home environment and goes on to a life of success. Yet the converse — the notion that some children might be the bad seeds of more or less decent parents — is hard to take.

It goes against the grain not just because it seems like such a grim and pessimistic judgment, but because it violates a prevailing social belief that people have a nearly limitless potential for change and self-improvement. After all, we are the culture of Baby Einstein, the video product that promised — and spectacularly failed — to make geniuses of all our infants.

Yeah, I wrote about that. I’ve touched on the uselessness that is the self-help industry, too.

It would be nice to see an end to that prevailing social belief. People really do need to learn to make do with what they have and make the best of it. But that’s not the kind of message that sells books or moves people to buy tickets to self-improvement guru weekends. Those poor gurus. However would they make ends meet if people truly could learn to be satisfied?

Not everyone is going to turn out to be brilliant — any more than everyone will turn out nice and loving. And that is not necessarily because of parental failure or an impoverished environment. It is because everyday character traits, like all human behavior, have hard-wired and genetic components that cannot be molded entirely by the best environment, let alone the best psychotherapists.

There you go. Some people are just built to be bad asses, like others are built to be patient angels. Sucks when the bad ass is yours, but hey. Take solace in the fact that it was going to happen anyway, no matter what you did or didn’t do or buy. There’s no reason at all to feel guilty.

Okay, that wouldn’t happen. Of course there’s going to be guilt and hurt feelings and depression over it. But you still won’t change anything.

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Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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