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  • David Bloomfield

Dr Gabor Maté - Why we get sick

If only every Friday morning was like this...


Today I had the absolute privilege of attending a talk by Dr Gabor Maté on how to prevent and heal illnesses related to hidden stress.


Dr. Gabor Maté is a leading expert on the role the mind-body connection plays in illness and health. Drawing on scientific research and decades of experience as a practising physician.

Here are my notes from the talk with Dr. Maté


Traditional western medicine treats disease as a separate entity, not related to the body. The person is typically viewed as an unlucky victim or the illness is identified as being caused by genetics or lifestyle choices. Treatments are then targeted cells, organs and body systems. Physicians don’t ask what your body is saying no to, and fail to treat the real cause. They don't ask: Do you value yourself as a human being? How is work? How are your relationships? And how we typical treat inflammation - through steroids - cortisol the stress hormone…


During his time as a family physician and whilst working in palliative care Dr Maté spotted patterns that showed people with certain characteristics were disease prone and that it was not accidental, identifying some of the following major risk factors to illness and stress:


Interestingly when reviewing obituaries these are the things that are often celebrated as being wonderful about people and is what also kills them…

  1. Impulsive concern for the needs of others and ignoring yourself

  2. Identification through duty - Compulsion to identify self with work rather than the needs of self, leading to an obsession to keep working

  3. Repression of healthy anger - Inability express negative feelings and suppression of how you feel

  4. Living out expectations: Never wanting to disappoint and responsibility for how everybody feels

In a behavioural study of patients with ALS (motor-neurone disease) patients were found to be cheerful and nice, they exhibited the same characteristics and also spotting that they wouldn’t ask for help, usually covering up the early stages of the disease. Giving an example of how people supress their true nature and put their body under constant and continued stress for incredibly long periods.


When you don't know how to say no, your body will say it for you


These are not insights and have continually been shown to be factual with a continued wealth of studies and evidence that is not new, just our failure to adopt it into clinical practice.


In a study of women who had experienced and had been exposed to racism, found that the more racism that they were exposed to the higher the incidence of asthma

Research has also shown children with highly stressed / depressed parents also have a higher likelihood of asthma


Whilst the Whitehall study of British Civil servants showed the greater the power and agency, the greater risk of premature death


Biopsychosocial which was first developed by George Engel in the late 70's - Shows one super system that connects and impacts everything not individual separate systems or components. It shows that a person's medical condition is connected by biological, physiological and social factors / environments. They are all linked and therefore we have the agency to take control of our illnesses. This is incredibly powerful when we discover that we are responsible for our illnesses but not to blame.


Responsible in the fact that our beliefs, behaviours and what we allow ourselves to be subjected to is the cause. But not to blame, as we are not conscious to this.


We develop our second nature during childhood, that becomes our personality. With these beliefs and behaviours we forget our first nature until the body says you can't do this anymore - which is a totally different way of looking at illness. It becomes a friend that teaches you and brings you closer to your true self. Maybe helping to look at it as the part that loves you more than anything else and will go to extreme measures to wake you up - what other choice does it have?


How and why do we supress our true nature? This is developed during childhood because we have no choice.


Children have 2 main needs:

  1. Attachment - Seeking closeness and proximity to love. During childhood we are utterly dependant and truly helpless, when a child is without attachment we don’t survive. We carry attachment through our lives - its our biological drive

  2. Authenticity - To be in touch with ourselves, our gut feelings, in touch with our emotions and able to express them. Another survival instinct. So many of us dull our authenticity and if we don't keep in touch with it we suffer.

So why do we give up our authenticity? In order to maintain our attachments… For example if as a child is sad and the parents can't handle it because it threatens them too much they supress their sadness, because you are always meant to be happy and nice to be accepted.

When we supress our authenticity to get attachment we repress our nature and it becomes our personality - a compound of our defences and the true cause to illness


When a small boy gets angry we tell them to sit on their own and calm down - telling them good little boys don’t get angry - what they learn is angry boys don't get loved so they supress their anger not consciously but to fit into the environment, it’s a coping mechanism to survive.


Attachment wins every time… we supress our authenticity in order to maintain attachments - its automatic


That’s how we get sick

Healthy anger is a boundary defence, an example of a negative emotion it keeps out unwanted, dangerous, toxic things, good emotions on the other hand allow love and good things to flow in.


Emotions and the auto-immune system operate in the same way, when you supress healthy anger you stop the defence of unwanted and dangerous toxicity….


Stress is made up of 3 components:

  1. External stressors - the event

  2. The response

  3. Physiological - Internal interpretation of the stressor


Long term stress leads inflammation particles circulating within the body, it’s the biological response and what western medicine will point to as the cause of illness, but its not the true cause.


To recover - we have to find our true selves, understand our beliefs and get deep into where they come from. In answer to how we can be the best parent to our children and not feel the burden of responsibility is to simply to look after ourselves first and be the greatest gift to others.

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