WHEN THE BODY SAYS NO: THE COST OF HIDDEN STRESS
By Gabor Maté
I did not expect to get so much from this book when I ordered it. I heard a podcast interview with Gabor Mate earlier this year and his philosophy of how everything we experience, feel and go through in life is built off our childhood, including diseases we suffer from later on in life. This is obviously an extreme summary of his work, but nonetheless it made so much sense.
This book is essentially a large case study of patients he has had throughout the years, and research that has been done, that ultimately show how our emotions, traumas and mental cycles dictate our health and wellbeing throughout life. Not only does it affect our physiology and way of thinking and perceiving the world, but it shapes our relationships, our behaviours and ultimately our health.
These were the 5 most impactful parts of the book for me:
1. OUR PAST ONLY DICTATES OUR FUTURE IF WE LET IT
We all have the ability to heal, no matter what has happened to us throughout our lives. And yes, even though life is painfully unfair to some and extremely advantageous to others, we all have the ability to live healthy and happy lives unencumbered by physiological trauma and tension if we invest in and let ourselves.
It shocked me to read of the many instances patients who suffered traumas or had negative childhood experiences (even from simple things like negative thinking or self deprecation), were not aware how these behaviours followed them through life, and ultimately not only developed debilitating diseases but lived a life completely focused on past experiences without even being conscious that they were actively doing so.
I always thought therapy was important, but after reading this book I understand that therapy in the form of seeing a professional or self exploration, is as essential as brushing your teeth. We cannot truly understand ourselves or our behaviours until we explore where we are coming from and what we are basing all of our thoughts, judgements and feelings off.
Ultimately he ends the book by outlining that the solution is actually very simple if only you allow yourself to dive deep, express your true physiological self and invest in understanding where your emotional tension is actually coming from.
2. BOUNDARIES ARE SO IMPORTANT
There are many heartbreaking stories in this book, but a theme that I personally saw come up again and again was how patients who had serious health problems (heart attacks, cancers, autoimmune diseases, depression, obesity, diabetes, etc) usually experienced some kind of boundary deprivation and violation as a child.
Boundary deprivation can be anything from sexual abuse to overbearing parents who cannot distinguish themselves from their children and believe their child is a physical extension of their own thoughts, feelings and lives. Essentially they never really understood that their child is an independent being, separate from themsleves. I believe in today's society this is most often expressed as codependence in adults or over-reliance. In the book Mr Mate gives many examples of patients who had boundaries violated as children and went throughout life without the ability to say no, or put their own wellbeing and needs before others.
Essentially it has confirmed the fact that unless you quite literally put your mental and physical health first, you are no good to anyone and are doing more harm than good. Don't feel guilty about saying no, and remember that a mentally healthy and physically strong you is much more use to those you love than an overworked and physiologically tortured version.
3. REAWAKEN YOUR AWARENESS
Direct quote from the book: 'Those seeking to heal, or to remain healthy, need to reclaim the lost capacity for emotional truth-recognition'.
Gabor explains that we are born with such strong emotional intuition that is often 'taught' out of us as we grow older in order to mould us into 'acceptable' social creatures that fit into a man made society.
Animals and babies are highly competent at picking up on real emotional cues. In the world we live in, we often suppress our emotional intelligence in order to avoid arguments or to get along better with the people we are closest to in life (imagine if no one ever lyed!), meaning that we often lose our emotional competence even as we gain verbal intelligence.
Learning to trust your gut feelings, to listen to your body and emotions, is important. If we start paying more attention to our internal states, and learn to trust our perceptions, we would recognise stress in our own bodies and minds a lot quicker. Awakening your inner awareness is a huge step in taking control of your health.
'We can learn to read symptoms not only as problems to be overcome, but as messages to be heeded.'
4. STOP SUPPRESSING EMOTIONS
That does not mean force others to deal with your emotions, act out, or passive aggressive behaviour. But if you are angry, don't be afraid to let it out. Identify your feelings, express them using words and let them out.
Not only does the repression of anger predispose to disease but the experience of anger has been shown to promote healing, or at least to prolong survival. People with cancer who have been able to muster anger at their physicians, for example, have lived longer than their more placid counterparts. It all comes back to the importance of therapy and expressing suppressed emotion that you did not even know was there.
Gabor states that there are 2 basic values that can assist us to heal and remain whole.
The first is to value ourselves: hear your inner self and express, feel and honour whatever your internal urge is.
The second is our connection to the universe itself: the assumption that we are alone and cut off is toxic. We are part of the universe with temporary consciousness, but never apart from it.
He explains how often people with severe diseases seek their spiritual selves almost instinctively.
So why wait for an illness or a symptom when you can start now?