I am often asked, “Dr. Paul, why are people the way they are? What made them into the type of person they are?” My answer is always that one's personality is composed of influences from three sources: NATURE, NURTURE, and CHOICES.
First, nature refers to the fact that each person is born into this world with a certain set of character predispositions. Some people are intrinsically more hardy and resilient than others, less distressed by tribulations, conflict, or stress. Some are more naturally attuned than others to the behaviors and feelings of people around them.
Second, nurture refers to all the experiences that living in the world creates for us. We experience a certain family life (perhaps warm and accepting; perhaps harshly punitive or dangerously neglectful), a certain economic and societal environment (perhaps wealth with many educational opportunities; perhaps wartime, economic deprivation, or ethnic discrimination). We may be treated as attractive and welcomed, or hated and rejected.
Third, whatever one's nature and nurture have been, each person can and does make their own decisions about what kind of a person they wish to be. Most commonly, positive influences from nature and nurture make it easier to grow into a psychologically healthy individual, who behaves responsibly and constructively, seeing and treating themselves and others kindly and fairly. We see a minority of people, however, who, despite having had every advantage in their background, somehow turn into unhappy and unpleasant individuals. Likewise, there are many inspiring stories of individuals who grew up with many strikes against them, and seemingly every justification for becoming bitter and selfish, who nevertheless choose to live a life of cooperation, selflessness, and optimism.
It is this key role of personal choice that creates hope than anyone can turn their life toward a more positive direction. Through effort applied to effective psychotherapy and practice in real life, most people can overcome toxic influences and heal old wounds. Quite often, these people emerge more resilient, mature, and interesting than people who had no old wounds to repair and no toxic influences to overcome! Few things in life give me more satisfaction than being part of my psychotherapy patients’ journey toward this state of being. Remember, we grow and learn our way through life.
“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.