Can we really break free of the nature/nurture influence?

Last Sunday Sadje posed a question to the blogging community – “Do you think how we turn out is in our control?”. It was an interesting question, and after some careful consideration, I don’t have a yes/no answer, my feeling is it depends.

I believe genetics gives us a foundation of traits and characteristics, but who we become is shaped by our environment and the kind of people we interact with during our formative years. Our community – whether that’s parents, extended family or the wider community – ensure we develop and have an understanding of the values of that society. What is and is not acceptable in terms of behaviour.

I can see how nurture can influence heavily the way in which we grow and develop, depending on the people who are around us and input they provide.

I do wonder, though about the type of traits we inherit from our parents. Looking at my siblings, I can see that we are three very different people in terms of our interests, aptitudes and personalities. Where I’m friendly and outgoing, my sister is socially awkward and would prefer to be on her own and not have to interact with others (I can see she got that from my dad). What that then got me to thinking about was whether the traits we’re born with and the interactions of others as we’re growing up have some sort of inter-dependent relationship.

If we are born with specific traits, characteristics etc and we learn our values and acceptable behaviours from our community (parents, family and extended community) then it could be, thinking about Sadje’s question – that the answer is ‘it depends’.

If you have a child who inherits their traits from their parents that makes them shy and lacking confidence; then if they are primarily shaped by parents who do not encourage that child to think for themselves; makes all the decisions and just tells them what to do; the child may grow up to be happy following others and will not step out of their comfort zone, and therefore may not be able to push against the influences of nature and nurture to change who they are. It may not even occur to them to try.

Conversely, if you have someone who has benefitted genetically from traits that make them outgoing, more confident and determined; that coupled with a range of influences from different sections of society who encourage the child to ask questions and seek answers, to question beliefs, then it could be that this child will become a person who will continue to grow, look for opportunities to develop and become better throughout their life. They may be more self aware. However, while they are able to push beyond the influences of nature and nurture, I wonder if the spark to do that would not have been lit had the initial support not been there in the background.

I see a bit part of my role as a college lecturer working with young adults as helping them build their self-confidence. They don’t believe in themselves, so they need reassurance and to see where they are achieving, where they are succeeding. It may be that they’ve never had someone who believes in them before; and they just need that encouragement, but that’s still nurture. Sometimes you get through, sometimes you don’t (so again, the influences of nature and nurture combine to influence outcomes). Learning and personal development are things that should happen throughout life; I’m not sure I want to live in a world where things are as clear cut as having people who will never achieve because they don’t get the support and encouragement as a child. With the right environment, even as an adult that person has the potential to change, but someone else (the nurturer) needs to be the catalyst.

When drafting this, I had come to the conclusion that yes, we can go beyond the influences of our childhood to control how we turn out, but now I’m thinking its more that our genetics give us a baseline starting point; but the influences of those around us is a major factor shaping things like our curiosity, inquisitiveness, tenacity and self-confidence to believe you can achieve – these things can be shaped greatly by our families and others who interact with us. If we are encouraged and supported, if we know the people who are for and about us believe in us, then we are more likely to push ahead than if that supportive framework isn’t there.

Thank you Sadje, for providing such a thought provoking subject, that really challenged my own thinking and made me explore a lot of my own upbringing and seeing the wide range of people who had a part in shaping who I am now – the good and the bad. Sunday Poser #118

I’d love to hear, via the comments, what others think. I know this is going to be a topic to trigger lots of discussion.

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  1. Thanks Brenda for your detailed response. I agree with your analysis that we are a product of both our heredity and upbringing. And yet a few people also surpass both to become something totally different.

  2. I think you bring up some great points in your response to Sadje’s question. It’s clear that both nature and nurture play important roles in shaping who we are and how we develop as individuals. I particularly agree with your thoughts on the role of nurture in shaping our self-confidence, and the influence that supportive environments can have on our personal growth.

  3. Those last conclusions, where it starts from ‘When drafting this…..’ are succinct, insightful and give you time to pause and think. Nature, in the form of being naturally inclined to certain skills that others in the family portray too (artist, musician, acting, engineering, mathematicians, etc) can be genetically reduced or enhanced, but still inherent at some level. Or, from out of the blue, there is born a gifted child with skills in an area not seen within the family. Or the brain being changed in some way from an accidental trauma and showing new skills of an astonishing nature. Maybe emotional inherent make up (bipolar, depression, worriesome thinker, happy go lucky, etc.) can be born from what life throws at you, how others have interacted and influenced you from the day you were born or being in the right place at the right time. Or a chemical imbalance akin to other family members. Or, indeed, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course that myself and two other nurses taught (How to activate your life) there was a one off phrase that resonated. ‘You are not your mind’. You can let life influence you if you let it in. You can also go deep within yourself and change it. Make your own decisions…Good or Bad. Cheers for this interesting observation and reflection Brenda. Nice to proffer some insights that nudge you to think more deeply and keep the possibility of genetically linked or environmental impact of Alzheimer’s possibility at bay.

    • Thanks Gray. You always bring insightful thoughts to the discussion. I hadn’t even thought about the influences you mention, but yes, of course they do have a dramatic impact. I do think the influences of others, good and bad, can still play a role there. Neurodiversity is being recognised more in the workplace than it ever has before, so the environment will hopefully become more inclusive which will encourage us to be proud of our differences, and allow the strengths from those differences to shine rather than being hidden

      • Thank you. Dyslexia was always getting bad press way back when. Learning about how people are affected by inherent unlooked for changes is always going to be treated with naive response until the research shows otherwise. As you state re: neurodiversity with autism,etc. I suppose it does throw a spanner in the debate re: nature/nurture. More enquiry is the stepladder to others achieving freedom of expression. And freedom in life. Cheers Brenda.

  4. There’s no way to separate nurture and nature. I would argue it’s a false dichotomy. There’s no time in our lives where we are ever free of the influence of both. So what we become is a based on how these interact. I could be wrong though

    • Thanks for contributing to the discussion. I agree about the interconnectedness, but I think it also depends on the type of nurture … malign, supportive, controlling etc. I think if we are exposed to different influences which may result in a little conflict, maybe it allows us more freedom to make up our own minds. If different opinions and paths are presented, we get to choose. I think that’s what happened with me, at least to some extent

      • You are right the kind of nurture plays a role. But because there’s no discontinuity between nature and nurture, these keep acting on each other throughout to determine what we become.

  5. Notice I didn’t get mentioned, although you’d probably need a few articles to describe me lol. You got it spot on though about how many things can influence and also the little insignificant things can influence you aswell

    • Lol. It was too long if I’d written with examples … but I did have some examples explaining some of the differences

  6. Love this, Brenda, re: students: “They don’t believe in themselves, so they need reassurance and to see where they are achieving, where they are succeeding. It may be that they’ve never had someone who believes in them before; and they just need that encouragement…”. Oh my, yes. I really found that to be true. Beautifully put! 🥰

  7. I love that you wove in curiosity – it seems fitting giving the name of your blog. It is such a fascinating question and you’ve done a great job teasing out how we are influenced. I love that you feel like nurturing the young adults in your classes is part of your job. Lucky them!

    • Thank you Wynne. I’ve seen so many who think they aren’t capable, who have been put down by others. It just takes one person to believe in them, to ignite that spark. And it’s so rewarding when you see that spark grow into a bright, burning flame

  8. When I look back at my past, I see a clear influence of my parents and family, my classmates and teachers, plus, my own choices, contributed in forming my present life. They provided me favourable environment as well as life advice.

    This comment is not enough, Brenda. I understand this.
    However, it’ll guide our further conversation.

    • It’s important to be in receipt of this advice and guidance. It’s what encourages us to grow further. Thanks for your comments

  9. A lot of our traits, quality, behavior is influenced from what we see and what we consume.
    Then we get attracted towards things that we like.
    Interesting share.

  10. Such a lovely topic. Thanks to Sadje for suggesting this and for, you, taking the time to write and share your valuable insights.

    I tend to think in terms of black and white and when I first stumbled on the difference between aetiology (cause and effect) and teleology (meaning and purpose) as proposed by Alfred Adler I was completely gaga over the idea. Adler proposes that we are fully in control of our lives and even the crazy aspects are choices we have made because they serve us in some way.

    Today I am not so sure. I guess as you pointed out it is a mix of everything. And in this reality all I can do is to have the serenity to accept the things that I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Thank you again for this lovely post.

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