By Sue Nam (Chair) ? Retired Consultant Clinical Psychologist who, when working for the NHS, compiled the Mindfulness course now offered by Valleys Steps.
When I was a child the family pet dog had a litter of four puppies – two boys and two girls. My sister and I played with them all equally but it soon became clear that whereas three of them were naughty and cheeky, the fourth was somewhat highly strung.
When someone came to the door, numbers one, two and three would rush up and try to chew the visitor. Number four would scurry into the lounge and could then be seen peering nervously round the corner of the door.
When the puppies were old enough to leave home, various people came to see them to choose one. Numbers one, two and three soon found new homes – but nobody chose number four! So we kept him. That dog remained ?nervous? for the entire fourteen years of his life.
The question of nature versus nurture has been debated by psychologists for decades – how much of our personalities are due to the experiences we have as we grow up and how much is inherited?
Moreover why have I felt the need to write about it today?
First thing this morning I found myself feeling quite low – some might say depressed even. The cause of this mood was quite obvious once I became aware what I was thinking about. Let me explain.
Last October I offered a home to a rescue horse. This wasn?t totally magnanimous
because one of my horses was ill and was going to be put to sleep so I needed a companion for the remaining one who would freak out if left alone.
Now, this rescue horse has caused me no end of problems over the past four months with her unwillingness to be caught easily when necessary and groomed once she has been caught. These fears of hers are quite understandable given her past, but they make life very difficult because my other horse has now also been copying her behaviour!
I have persevered softly, softly, and can now usually catch both when required so was feeling quite pleased with myself and a small, but happy, bubble had created itself around my relationship with this horse.
Rescue horses are only loaned to new homes, not sold. This means that every six months or so you get a visit from the charity to make sure you?re looking after their horse properly and strictly by the book. Yesterday I had a visit.
When the charity visitor came to the field with me, the rescue horse decided she wasn?t going to trust this stranger who might, after all, be a vet, and wouldn?t come to me until I?d sent the visitor away out of sight.
My bubble lost a little of its puffiness?
The charity is also fanatical about their horses not becoming overweight. Given that this rescue horse was grossly overweight when I first got her, I felt I?d done really well to get her down to a reasonably slim size given the fact that it?s summer and horses who live out tend to put on a bit of weight at this time of year.
No, apparently she was still a little bit too fat and her grass had to be even more restricted. The visitor was very nice about it, didn?t say I was to blame in so many words – but I knew what she was thinking?
More air hissed out of my bubble?
My bubble had originally grown around my need to feel I had control over the care of the rescue horse as well as my own and the fact that I?d made significant progress in that respect. Now it had been punctured twice in one morning. I walked home feeling a little deflated. Feeling I?d been told off for doing my best. And it was this vague unease that was still lurking this morning.
So by now you may be wondering where the relevance of all this is to the nature/nurture issue?
Well, I often had this same sensation as a child especially relating to things that happened at school. I would do anything to avoid displeasing a teacher as to be told off really made me feel down.
One of my grandsons is exactly the same.
There was nothing in my upbringing to make me feel so sensitive to criticism – even very mild criticism. My sister certainly never reacted that way, neither do my other grandsons. Just me and one of them.
This leads me to the conclusion that a tendency such as this is an inherited one rather than something that has been brought about by events in our lives.
Nevertheless that doesn?t mean we can just wallow in misery saying it?s not our fault.
Maybe it?s not our fault we feel like this but
it is our fault if we do nothing about it!
So today, having recognised my low mood, I decided to do something pleasurable and to
focus my efforts on that instead. I went out with my camera. Whenever the memory of the horse visit wandered through my mind I quickly showed it the door.
We are each born with some kind of hang-ups and it?s up to us to become aware of these so we can act to de-fuse them when they threaten to spoil our mood. They are, after all, based on our thoughts, and thoughts are merely things that pass through our minds and are only as real as we make them.