“It all starts with waking up… to what our bodies are expressing and our minds are suppressing”
Last fall I was driving home from a retreat in Northern Georgia and happened upon an interview between Tim Ferris and Gabor Maté (transcript https://tim.blog/2022/09/09/dr-gabor-mate-myth-of-normal-transcript/), who, with his son as co-author, had just published The Myth of Normal, Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture. I’m finally listening to my version from the library (which I frequently do to determine if I should buy a paper copy).
In this book, Maté lays out how in Western countries, touting their healthcare systems, chronic illness and general ill health are on the rise. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug; more than half take two. In Canada, every fifth person has high blood pressure. In Europe, hypertension is diagnosed in more than 30 percent of the population. And everywhere, adolescent mental illness is on the rise. We don’t really know what “normal” is when it comes to health.
What is Normal
He has come to recognize the prevailing understanding of “normal” as false. “Modern” medicine neglects the roles that trauma and stress, and the pressures of modern-day living, exert on our bodies and our minds at the expense of good health. Western medicine often fails to treat the whole person, ignoring how today’s culture stresses the body, burdens the immune system, and undermines emotional balance – a key to true health – resulting in chronic diseases, addictions and even pre-mature death.
By his definition, trauma is primarily what happens within someone as a result of difficult or hurtful events that occur; it is not the events themselves. “Trauma is not what happens to you but what happens inside you.” Maté argues that we can start healing by cultivating these four qualities: authenticity, agency, healthy anger, and self-acceptance.
Trauma, until we work it through, keeps us stuck in the past, robbing us of the present moment’s riches, limiting who we can be. By impelling us to suppress hurt and unwanted parts of the psyche, it fragments the self. Until seen and acknowledged, it is also a barrier to growth. When these wounds fail to mend, one of two things will happen: it can either remain raw or, more commonly, be replaced by a thick layer of scar tissue.
Maté recommends the method he calls “Compassionate Inquiry.” This is an open-ended exploration, acknowledging that you do not know the answers or even the right questions. Compassion allows you to gift yourself acknowledgment and understanding – as you would to someone you love.
What You can Do
With this in mind, Maté suggests answering the following six questions in writing—preferably in a journal—daily or at least once a week:
- In my life’s important areas, what am I not saying no to?
- How does my inability to say no impact my life?
- What bodily signals have I been overlooking? What symptoms have I been ignoring that could be warning signs, were I to pay conscious attention?
- What is the hidden story behind my inability to say no?
- Where did I learn these stories?
- Where have I ignored or denied the “yes” that wanted to be said?
Keep in mind that silence can be suffocating and may have gotten you where you are now. Your work here is for no one else but you.
There’s more in the book to discover, unpack and absorb; this is a brief summary and raw start. As I apply these learnings to my own life and coaching, I’m finding better understanding and acknowledgement of some of my own deeply embedded “parts.”