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Lack of ambition could be traced to childhood

Childhood influence can determine a person’s choices. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Childhood influence can determine a person’s choices. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

My brother appears to have no ambition, no interest in marrying and is happy to idle around home even though he is already in his 40s. He is not interested in going out there and looking for work. We are worried that this won’t end well. What should we do?

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Your question raises a number of concerns, which are premised in your sense on what is normal. Starting with the simplest part of your considered normal, you tell us that your brother is in his 40s and is not yet married.

For the record, a number of people in public life in Kenya married in their 50s, and from what we can tell, went on to live perfectly happy family lives.

We also know a number of their age mates who married early and went on to have rather unhappy marriages. In a sense, the timing of one’s marriage is not a pointer of whether one will be happy or not (in their marriage).

In a similar vein, you will know a number of men and women (not Catholic priests or nuns) who have, for whatever reason remained single and seem happy with their choices. It is, however, also true that there are some single men and women who are unhappy. One is then led to the conclusion that being married or not, is not the only factor that leads to a happy or unhappy life.

For completion however, it is important to say that some studies suggest that marriage has some health benefits to both spouses. We now come back to the body of your concerns about your 40 year old brother who seems to lack ambition and who seems happy to idle around.

It is important for us to determine the duration of this state of lack of ambition. The duration of any condition is critical to the correct diagnosis.

It might be, for example, that he has from childhood been one without ambition (at least in your eyes). If that be the case, then what you are dealing with is a lifetime challenge that could have biological or social origins.

Put differently, in dealing with his case, one might have to clarify if there was say a birth defect that could explain his being idle and without ambition. On the other hand, it is possible that his childhood was caused by major psychological trauma that left him scarred for life. A common example of this type of childhood trauma is sexual abuse that is sometimes perpetrated by a family member such as an uncle, cousin, grandfather among others.

Other forms of trauma from parents and others close to the child could lead to similar type of personality challenges. A detailed history right from the pregnancy, birth, infancy, childhood all the way up to the present is a most helpful way of understanding what happened and when.

It is, however, possible that your brother grew up well, cleared his way through high school and university and that his problems are of relatively recent onset. If that is what is happening to your brother, then you must get him to a psychiatrist as soon as possible. A brief story will make this point.

Some years ago, we saw a young man who had graduated as an architect in a local university. He worked well for two years but as his parents were to confirm later, he began to change. At first it was small things. He stopped going to church and claimed that God did not exist.

His parents made nothing of this. In time, he seemed to become more suspicious of things than usual. He claimed that the neighbours were looking at him “badly” but could not explain further. In time, a series of househelps were sent away because he thought they were planning to harm him through food. His parents remained most supportive and accepted his complaints at face value.

A girl he had been seeing for two years became the next suspect and he dropped her. On account of fear and suspicion, he (like your brother) spent a great deal of time idling, watching TV all night and sleeping during the day.

One day his mother read a newspaper article and in a light-bulb moment, realised that her son was showing classical signs of schizophrenia. It took six months to get him back on the straight and narrow. A treatable condition had festered for about a year. They all called him lazy and without ambition.

Which one of the two situations describes your brother; the one of recent onset in adulthood or the one in childhood? The approaches are different.

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