The Sins of the Fathers, and Mental Health


“We know the Bible speaks of sins of the fathers passing to the 3rd and 4th generations while God imbues his kindness and mercy far beyond that to those who love him and keep his commandments.”

Rosa had no experience in the world of mental health, or so she thought. She had spent her formative years studying the world through the perspective of her church and interpretations of the Bible. As you know, there is a lot in both with a lot to say about emotions and behaviors. However Rosa was taught and modelled that these were moral issues and not biological. An either or, verses, part of the same thing. Could we call it sequent variants, maybe something like genetic alleles? Or maybe something better to describe this is out there, rather than an either or.

Rosa Leticia Montoya, at this point in her development, with her own overwhelming emotions and her husband’s plummet into dark moods, felt forced into considering mental health. She did not want to go there, but here in the space of losing control, not trusting herself or Carl any more, and before she was willing to say she didn’t trust God, she was doing what was a last resort. Considering that she was going crazy was the only thing this chaos could mean.

Before she completely surrendered to the idea that biology was behind this sinister change, she had to ask, “Is this because of our parents?” She had spent her life trying to untwist the bad choices her parents had made and the consequences those choices had on her life. Drugs, alcohol, and cheating were what she had grown up with. Quietly. Hiding it in the church. Rosa there, praying a lot to live well and be forgiven. Praying that bad thoughts would go away. Praying to depend on God and not on herself, as seen through her perseverating worries ever since she was a child. Worried and worried. Not speaking of the wrong Bible-breaking life her parents wore like underwear beneath nice tailored clothes. Would she ever be forgiven? Would she ever stop sinning?

So she asked me, “What do you think?”

That’s a lot to work with as a psychiatrist. So I did what most of us do. Ran to the shelter of medicine. Whew! But there is the added benefit that God created medicine, psychiatry, and all that there is in my tool bag worth working with.

Even so, there was only so long that I could avoid the topic of God and His punishments, per her perspective. It came up every visit.

If you believe in God, at some point within your discovery of mental health, this question will come up. Rosa is not alone. Are the emotions and behaviors gone amok, such as seen in anxiety disorders and depression, secondary to moral weakness? Living with “too little” dependence on God’s power? Is it this? Or is it an “either or”, with our biology? …a matter of cellular grey matter composed of DNA-expressing pathology? And is this something evil woven into my DNA because of what parents did? Well, I’ve spent 30-some years in school and now 15+ years in practice in this space and am still trying to understand.

I’m wondering if you would help me articulate this. It’s fundamental for us in self-care. It’s not possible to be very friendly to ourselves with the dissonance.

So in our self-care question today, please answer us. What is the relationship between “the sins of the fathers” and biology? Please speak!

Self-care Tip: Pursue kindness in your belief systems toward yourself.

Thank you for speaking with us! Keep on!

Forgive to Get Friendly With Yourself


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Self-Care Tip #80 – Forgive.  Be a friend to yourself.

A reader wrote yesterday

Always intrigued by the possible connection between empathy and forgiveness….

Great progression of thought.  From both an anecdotal perspective and some biological considerations, David Mullen PhD and Everett L. Worthington Jr. PhD, are two of my favorites.  Other than Jesus, they have and do say it better than just about anyone.  I heard Dr. Worthington speak when still a resident-physician in psychiatry.  The story he told of his mother’s murder and how he came to forgive her murderers seared into my memory and has ever since been a reference for me in my personal life and medical practice.

The call came on New Years Day, 1996. His brother’s voice was shaky. “I have some bad news,” he said. “Mama has been murdered.”  …Their mother had been beaten to death. Rage bubbled up in him like lava. He heard himself saying, “I’d like to have that murderer alone in a room with just a baseball bat. I’d beat his brains out.”

Here’s where the empathy came in

…He tried to picture the crime scene. He imagined how a pair of youths might feel as they stood in the dark street preparing to rob the house. Perhaps they had been caught at robbery previously. They would have been keyed up. The house was dark; no car was in the driveway. No one’s home, they must have thought. Perhaps one said, “They’re at a New Year’s Eve party.“ They did not know that Worthington’s mother did not drive.  …Worthington imagined their shock when her voice came from behind. “What are you doing in here?”

“Oh, no!” one must have thought, “I’ll go to jail. She is ruining my life.” He lashed out with his crowbar, slamming his mother three times. Panicked, the youths went crazy, trashing the house, both for having their plans ruined and for the shame of having murdered.

This is part of the process that led Dr. Worthington to forgive the murder.  You can read more in his book, The Power of Forgiving.

There is an interplay, between choice and biology/non-choice.  It’s uncomfortable to think and talk about.  I can feel the hackles on the necks of my readers start to stand up just writing it and I humbly acknowledge my limitations in sharing this concept.  It is what I have tried to describe through many of my earlier blog posts.  This unlikely union between such polar concepts.

Being a Christian, I have awareness of the culture that frowns on taking bad behavior out of the church and into the laboratory.  When I think of empathy and forgiveness, I see party-hoppers moving in and out of those very places irreverently perhaps in some people’s minds.

Some other time we will broach further the idea of self-care being Christian v. scientific.

Self-Care Tip #80 – Forgive.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  Does any of this resonate with you?  Please tell me your story.