Ever since psychology emerged as an established discipline, debate has ensued concerning the causes of emotional suffering and mental illness. This is sometimes called the nature/nuture debate, and involves whether or not heredity or the environment influences the growth of personality and the possible development of psychic difficulties. During certain time periods, researchers and leading practitioners assert that it is nature – biology and genetics – that determine our psychic fate. At other times, leaders in the field have asserted that it is nurture – our families and other interpersonal experiences – that shape us as human beings. During at least the last three decades, the nature folks have held sway, possibly influenced by advances in the fields of neuropsychology and pharmaceuticals.
Like so many things in life, however, we come closer to the truth when we think in terms of both/and rather than either/or. While there is no disputing the reality of a genetic code, we also know instinctively that our families and our communities have a significant effect on who we become, and are becoming, as individuals. For example, biology may give us a predisposition, an “allergy”, to a certain condition (for example, substance abuse), while love, support, and good modeling will, in a sense, inoculate us against developing it; or, conversely, trauma and isolation will render us more susceptible. Human beings are so infinitely and wonderfully unique that establishing causation will always be difficult. Luckily, problems can be addressed, issues can be resolved, and life can be treasured, in spite of a lack of absolute scientific certainty.