In this podcast (episode #481) and blog, I talk to renowned physician, speaker and bestselling author Dr. Gabor Maté about his latest book The Myth of Normal, common misconceptions of what makes us sick, how to manage childhood trauma, parenting and mental health, and so much more!
Dr. Maté is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including addiction, stress and childhood development. Rather than offering quick-fix solutions to these complex issues, Dr. Maté weaves together scientific research, case histories, and his own insights and experience to present a broad perspective that enlightens and empowers people to promote their own healing and that of those around them.
After 20 years of family practice and palliative care experience, Dr. Maté worked for over a decade in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side with patients challenged by drug addiction and mental illness. The bestselling author of four books published in over thirty languages, Gabor is an internationally renowned speaker highly sought after for his expertise in addiction, trauma, childhood development, and the relationship of stress and illness. His book on addiction received the Hubert Evans Prize for literary non-fiction. For his groundbreaking medical work and writing he has been awarded the Order of Canada, his country’s highest civilian distinction, and the Civic Merit Award from his hometown, Vancouver. His books include In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction; When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress; Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder; and (with Dr. Gordon Neufeld) Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.
Gabor is also co-developer of a therapeutic approach, Compassionate Inquiry, now studied by hundreds of therapists, physicians, counselors, and others internationally. More on his books and programs can be found here.
His latest book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture, co-written with his son Daniel, is a groundbreaking investigation into the causes of illness, a bracing critique of how our society breeds disease, and a pathway to health and healing. Dr. Maté eloquently dissects how Western countries that pride themselves on their healthcare systems are actually seeing an upsurge in chronic illness and general ill health. Prescription drug usage, high blood pressure, mental illness, and so many other troubling issues are on the rise.
Over four decades of clinical experience, Maté has come to recognize the prevailing understanding of “normal” as false, neglecting the roles that trauma, stress, and the pressures of modern-day living exert on our bodies and our minds at the expense of good health. For all our expertise and technological sophistication, Western medicine often fails to treat the whole person, ignoring how the toxicity of today’s culture stresses the body, burdens the immune system, and undermines emotional balance.
In this book, Dr. Maté brings his perspective to the great untangling of common myths about what makes us sick, connects the dots between the maladies of individuals and the declining soundness of society, and offers a compassionate guide for health and healing.
At the core of Dr. Maté’s work is the realization that our responses to life are largely influenced by our past and the way our minds interpret events. This means we tend to react not so much to what happens as to our perception of what happens, which is shaped by our history and even the history of our ancestors.
These interpretations are shaped by the impact of our trauma, which often has roots in early childhood. As a result, we have trouble staying in the present; our minds and brains relive the past without intending to, which affects not only how we deal with what we are facing in the present but also our mental and physical wellbeing.
Indeed, we are not just beholden to our genes and biology. We are not just broken beings with broken brains. Our genes respond to our environment—what happens to us has a huge impact on not just our mental health but our biology as a whole. And the more sensitive we are to our environment, the greater impact it can have on us, shaping our genes and our responses to life’s circumstances, which, in turn, affects our health.
Our biology is influenced, shaped and impacted by our psychological experiences, social circumstances and emotional connections from as early as in the womb. The mind affects the brain and body, and our minds are affected by our social environment and culture—we cannot separate what happens to us from what happens within us, as it is all connected.
Unfortunately, so much of modern society is designed to distance us from ourselves, which makes it hard to see this connection and find true healing. It is easier to focus on superficial events like a sports game than the events and experiences that have a true and lasting impact on who we are, how we respond to life, and our health and longevity. No wonder so many people are suffering from mental and physical health issues, despite the many advances in medical science and technology!
It is important to understand that trauma is a psychological wound that hasn’t healed that affects our psychology and physiology until we come to terms with it. This can show up in mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and ADHD, as well as physical health conditions. Most (although not all) conditions can be traced back to life experiences under traumatic circumstances.
Thankfully, there are ways we can use the mind-body connection to find healing, which Dr. Maté discusses in his book The Myth of Normal, including how we as parents and guardians can create a healthy environment to help our children build a strong foundation for their mental wellbeing. This starts with letting our children know that “they are precisely the person they love, welcome and want.”
It is important to understand that what happens in early childhood environments has a huge impact on brain and personality development. This is not about parent blaming. Rather, it is about recognizing how our environments affect us from youth so that not only can we find healing from our own childhood traumas, but also create environments that help our children thrive and build up their mental resilience so that they are better prepared as adults to handle life’s many challenges.
For more on mental health and the myth of “normal”, listen to my podcast with Dr Maté (episode #481) and check out his amazing work. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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3:30 The past impacts the present
5:00, 8:00, 53:30 Why childhood is so important
6:30 Dr. Gabor Maté’s incredible story
10:44 How the genetic revolution has failed us
16:30, 41:30 Why we need to change the way we understand mental & physical health
21:30 Why the mind is so important
26:30 How modern society impacts our wellbeing
32:20 Trauma & the mind-body connection
48:20 Why we need to improve our current system of healthcare
51:00 The power of people’s stories
53:30 How to help your child with their mental health
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