When The Body Says No The Cost Of Hidden Stress Paperback – 2004
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This book equips the reader with some precious intellectual self-defense in recognizing faulty assumptions about the relationship between body, emotions and illness. For example, it becomes clear to the reader that tackling chronic illnesses by treating only the bodily symptoms (an attitude still rampant in a significant part of mainstream medicine) is not the optimal approach; similarly, Dr. Maté clarifies that relying just on the will power (mind over matter) can be dangerous too, especially when one‘s inner resources are over-estimated.
I applaud the respect Dr. Maté shows for the human body and its ability to convey messages that our conscious mind, conditioned by a progressively less natural way of living, sometimes struggles to acknowledge. A disease can be, in some instances, the last resort that the body has to tell us to change our ways in order to fulfill the natural needs which have been neglected, often in order to conform to what other people have demanded.
Attachment is one of those crucial needs. Dr. Maté argues that the quality of the attachment each one of us receives in childhood is a key variable determining how safe and grounded we feel when dealing with the world in adulthood. In other words, the more we felt unconditionally loved in childhood, the more we are likely to be able to cope with stress in adulthood, and less are the chances we are going to be overwhelmed by the demands of the environment around us.
For the sake of survival, a child has no choice but to conform to the adults demands: if necessary, he will overlook his needs in order to obtain the approval necessary by the adults to guarantee his survival. If a child is forced to take this kind of adjustment, he will likely become an adult re-enacting the same pattern (mostly unconsciously) in any relationship and situation he is going to face. He is not likely to be able to say no, even if his basic needs are not met while constantly pleasing others: so at one point his body is likely to say no for him by triggering the disease process.
This appears to be a bleak picture for those of us caught in that trap. However, I believe Dr. Maté’s work provides hope by showing a path towards recovery which outlines and respects the natural laws that govern the human body-emotional complex.
A sustainable, long-term recovery passes through the achievement of emotional competence, defined as the ability to deal appropriately with one’s own feelings and desires. Ultimately, this involves that we learn how to listen to our deep needs and to fulfill them without jeopardizing other people’s needs. We learn to find the balance between autonomy and attachment. We learn to become authentic individuals, and fulfill Nature’s ultimate plan for us, as beautifully explained by Dr. Maté in p. 196:
“Nature’s ultimate goal is to foster the growth of the individual from absolute dependence to independence – or, more exactly, to the inter-dependence of mature adults living in community. Development is a process of moving from complete external regulation to self-regulation, as far as our genetic programming allows. Well-self-regulated people are the most capable of interacting fruitfully with others in a community and of nurturing children who will also grow into self-regulated adults. Anything that interferes with that natural agenda threatens the organism’s chances for long-term survival.“
This book is not only useful for people affected by chronic diseases. It is extremely helpful also for the ‘healthy‘ person to live his life more fully and more vibrantly by understanding and embracing the principles that allow him to embark in the natural development journey and, in doing so, maximizing the chance of long-term health.
Finally, I found the approach provided by Dr Maté highly compatible with the work of Marshall Rosenberg (Non Violent Communication - NVC), which I recommend to everyone willing to build his emotional competence, because of its emphasis on empathy, feelings and needs. I find the NVC approach could be very useful in the attempt of emancipating oneself from certain mental conditioning that can cause some of the inner mechanisms that Dr. Maté describes in this book as threatening to the overall wellbeing of the individual.
We currently live in a society where most of us are emotionally stifled from a young age. To express anger, whether it be in front of our parents, in school, or in the workplace, is socially unacceptable in many cases. We live our lives in a hierarchical system, and often do not feel in control of the direction in which we are going. We're taught to be nice, to not rock the boat.
"If you don't have anything positive to say, don't say anything",
"That's very negative of you".
We are socially isolated, we no longer live in nurturing communities. Most of us no longer do any meaningful work that we actually care about, instead taking a job simply to pay the bills and the debts. We have no real say in where this society and world is heading, and we live under the rule of government, corporations and oligarchs who kindly decide our fate for us.
In such a society, this book is essential reading. The emotional repression of 21st century industrial society is one of the biggest contributors to poor health and disease, up there with the terrible western diet, and the environment saturated with chemicals, heavy metals, and radioactive fallout.
Gabor Maté doesn't touch on the larger social issues that got us into this mess, and focuses more on individual stories and family dynamics that program us for a life of Inadequacy, approval-seeking and low self-worth, creating the perfect storm for degenerative disease. All is not lost, and knowledge does protect, therefore I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
I will post a few excerpts from the book which I found worth highlighting. They're gathered from all over the book, but hopefully placed in a logical and readable order.
"There is a remarkable consistency in people's coping styles across the many diseases we have considered: the repression of anger, the denial of vulnerability, the "compensatory hyper-independence". No one chooses these traits deliberately or develops them consciously."
"... many people spend unwittingly spend their entire lives as if under the gaze of a powerful and judgmental examiner whom they must please at all costs. Many of us live, if not alone, then in emotionally inadequate relationships that do not recognize or honour our deepest needs. Isolation and stress affect many who may believe that their lives are quite satisfactory."
"Chronic stress is activation of the stress mechanisms over long periods of time when a person is exposed to stressors that cannot be escaped, either because she does not recognize them, or because she has no control over them... Chronically high cortisol levels destroy tissue"
"Hans Selye wrote, "that for man the most important stressors are emotional." ... Three factors that universally lead to stress: Uncertainty, lack of information, and loss of control."
"Emotionally draining family relationships have been identified as risk factors in virtually every category of major illness."
"For the child it is no relief to feel sadness or anger if no one is there to receive those emotions and to provide some comfort and containment."
"How much of what I have believed and done is actually my own, and how much has been in service to a self-image I originally created in the belief it was necessary to please my parents?"
"When early environmental influences are chronically stressful, the developing nervous system and the other organs... repeatedly receive the electric, hormonal, and chemical message that the world is unsafe or even hostile. Those perceptions are programmed in our cells on the molecular level. Early experiences condition the body's stance toward the world and determine the person's unconscious beliefs about herself in relationship to the world."
"If we would heal, it is essential to begin the painfully incremental task of reversing the biology of belief we adopted very early in life."
""Positive thinking" is based on an unconscious belief that we are not strong enough to handle reality...
The general belief is that positive emotions must be conducive to good health. While it is true that genuine joy and satisfaction enhance physical well-being, "positive" states of mind generated to tune out psychic discomfort lower resistance to illness"
"If you face the choice between feeling guilt and resentment, choose the guilt every time... If a refusal saddles you with guilt, while consent leaves resentment in it's wake, opt for the guilt. Resentment is soul suicide."
Okay, I wish I could just quote the entire book!
I am currently studying natural medicine and nutrition and although I feel nutrition and diet is a huge factor..Ive always felt its more than that. I have clients on what would be categorised as top exercise and diet regimes.. yet still suffering a variety of ailments…. what I see in common… stress. And a lot of stress. Gabor Mater lays this out precisely and in an easy way to understand.
This book will definitely be staying in my library of references. Thank you again Gabor Mate.