I once counseled a woman who was extremely “nervous.” Her spells came on whenever her husband or children ignored her wishes. In short, she was a selfish woman. She had been pampered and spoiled all her life. Her explanation: “I was raised this way. Can I help it if I have this kind of personality?”
Another woman, recalling her past, remembered how frustrated and angry she became as a child because her mother refused to help her button up her jacket. “I would always end up with an extra buttonhole on top and a button at the bottom,” she said. “Ever since, I have gotten mad when people force me to do something. My husband insists that I put his vitamin pill on his plate for breakfast and I just rebel at this. He can do it just as well himself.”
This woman sees red if anyone crosses her, all because she was “buttoned up wrong,” or so she believes. She takes no responsibility for her fiery temper. She dismisses it with a shrug, “It’s the way I am. My husband knows it, and I get upset if I’m pushed.”
These people do reflect their backgrounds. Harry Adams was like his father. The woman who was pampered and spoiled was just like her mother. The other, the one who was “buttoned up wrong,” came from a home where tempers flared when anyone was crossed.
It is true that a child tends to absorb the atmosphere in which he was raised. It is also true that people tend to keep on going in the direction in which they are headed. But the Bible says, “You are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Rom. 2:1).
An unhappy person must come to terms with the people in his past, forgive them, and seek to understand the effect they have had on him. But this Bible verse says he has no grounds for reproducing the pattern, once he understands it.
There are happy, contented people who are considerate of others and who also have had difficult pasts. They too have been mistreated and rejected. But they have come to terms with their pasts, forgiving people who did not deserve forgiveness, charting their future courses as persons responsible for their own conduct. They have not produced the kinds of lives they have been exposed to.
Ours is a land with plenty of good food, the best in educational opportunity, excellent transportation, the finest medical care. Yet in the midst of all this, we have a growing number of emotionally disturbed, unhappy, miserable people. Why?
Part of the answer comes in a recently reported interview with Marvin A. Block, widely recognized authority on problem drinking. Dr. Block said that tolerance of drunken behavior has given impetus to consumption of alcohol in the United States. In the areas where drunkenness is not tolerated, there is little alcoholism. But where the control is lax, alcoholism flourishes. He added that people start using alcohol for relaxation and relief from the cares of the day.
This means that in our day, it is socially acceptable to turn to a sedative rather than learn to adjust to life. When a man becomes addicted to liquor, we call him sick, and say that he has a disease–a medical problem. Yet behind this diagnosis is a person who must turn to alcohol to gain his relaxation and to escape from the strain of daily life. Professor O. H. Mowrer uses the term “dis-ease.”
We regard the poorly adjusted person the same way we do the alcoholic. We say he is not responsible because he is nervous, maladjusted, upset. He has a personality problem. He suffers from a poor background. We make a medical problem out of his case. There is nothing about his malady that we can see by x-ray or microscope, no germ or virus that the laboratory can detect. But we still call him sick.
How can you expect anything of someone who is sick? This man who is at odds with society and at war with himself must be nursed, favored, carefully handled. What is the result? We tend to reject personal responsibility for our conduct. But the fact of it remains.