Maté: Denial of own emotional needs and its connection to chronic illness

Do unto yourself, what you would do for others.

This lecture is presented in this site because it is a good argument for going to psychotherapy sessions that involve working through emotions and childhood traumatic experiences.

Gabor Maté’s message is an important one. As I write this reflection article, I am myself experiencing being in a situation which is teaching me an important lesson: I am forced to take a 5-day unexpected break from a hectic schedule which I had created for myself. I had an accident. I fell from a deep flight of stairs, and escaped with injuries that could have been much worse. Sitting at home nursing a swollen brow and black-eye, I am reflecting on how, for the last couple of months, I had wanted this time off but did not have courage to put appointments aside. I did not want to disappoint other people.

This accident was no accident, but a warning. A therapist myself, I knew what was going on in me, but I really thought that the rest could wait. Wrong I was.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of self denial, because we are programmed to be so. Maté’s lecture, “When the body says no — caring for ourselves while caring for others”, hits the nail in the head.

On premature aging due to stress of taking care of others

2:30 DNA studies show aging in people who live under stress.

Preoccupation for the needs of others, while neglecting the self as a risk factor for chronic illness.

4:20 A story of the personality of a woman who has breast cancer. How she worries about her husband’s emotional state rather than dealing with her own illness.

5:31 He reads obituaries of people who died too soon, to illustrate the self-sacrificial and self-denying behavior of people who have died from chronic illnesses.

Dealing with Anger

7:50 The dangers of suppression and repression of healthy anger leads to autoimmune disease and cancer, while going into rages, which is the polar extreme leads to heart disease.

The healthy way to deal with anger is to notice it, accept the feeling and talk to someone who is willing to listen about your anger feelings. Healthy way to deal with anger is crucial to health.

9:55 Mate describes a study from Australia of married women. Those that were unhappy in their marriages and could articulate them were better off physically than those who suppressed their unhappiness. The issue was not about happiness of the marriage but the ability to express the anger underlying.

Hanging on to roles society imposes on you, trying to please everybody, while forgetting to take care of your health can cause deterioration of health and death.

We cannot separate mind from the body.

14:05 Mate explains to us about chronic illness and the current medical attitude towards these illnesses.

We cannot separate the individual from the environment

16:11 We are shaped by the environment. Environment is not only physical, but also the psycho-social environment. This means that the environment includes the people we live amongst.

To illustrate this, he cites studies where children whose parents are stressed are more likely to get asthma in polluted environment and other illnesses. This is known to be directly as a result of stress since asthma drugs are stress hormones themselves.

We cannot separate ourselves from the mental states of others in our society.

Talking about anger to someone is important reliever of stress

19:10 Studies of breast cancer patients in Australia found that having a stressor in life AND being socially isolated made the subjects 9x more likely to have cancer. Mate explains that connection with another person, talking to others about feelings of anger is instrumental to maintaining healthy life.

Stress from anger is not only mental, stress is also felt in the body. In short term, stress hormones help to escape, long term stress causes chronic ailments.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

23:20 Maté explains the possible cause of ALS .

ALS is a neurological motor neuron disease, which strikes usually healthy people, and is fatal. Mate found these patients to have a personality tendency of denying their negative feelings, denying the experience of the self, while having the overwhelming need to always be there for others-

27:03 He talks about the story and personality of Lou Gehrig. Gehrig’s name is the name for ALS. His personality of selfless ambition and helpfulness is typical of what Mate considers a personality that is typical of patients wit ALS. Lou Gehrig had childhood trauma from growing up a child of an alcoholic.

These are caused by unconscious patterns. Not the fault of the patient’s themselves.

Unconscious self-denying behavior is learnt from infanthood.

19:30 Mate tells us his own story of how unconscious factors affect how he too has a tendency of self denial while trying to protect his mother.

Infants pick up on the stress of the mother and other caregivers. Infants learn to suppress their own pain in order to maintain a relationship with its care-giver. This infantile suppression becomes a memory that is recorded by and stored in the body. It is called trauma.

Making oneself lovable is done by suppressing feelings and denying own needs.

Mind and body are inseparable.

Personality patterns are learnt from infanthood. These patterns translate into physical illness.

36:00 Newborn need to establish these patterns to maintain attachment to adults.

Emotional centers of the brain are attached to the hormone system, and nervous system are connected to the immune system. These systems are connected.

38:40 Mate explains the phenomenon of “gut feeling.

How and why we give up our authentic selves as children

Children read and respond to gut feelings intuitively. Children are born with ability to intuit body language of adults accurately. As we get older, we begin to suppress this gut feelings, and rely on intellect.

41:40 There are 2 great needs of children. One is attachment to the care-giving adults. The other need is to be authentic. This is a need in order to function as an individual human being. In situations where we, as children have to sacrifice our authentic self, because this authentic self endangers the attachment to our parents, leads us to a pattern of having lost touch with our needs and feelings.

Our problem as adults is that we still stick to this need for attachment.

42:48 The Heart-brain Connection predictive activity.

Hence our emotional states is connected to our physical health.

Healthy anger is about knowing your boundaries and expressing it

44:45 Mate demonstrates what boundaries are and how boundaries can be breeched. He explains that healthy anger is necessary for us to communicate to the other that our boundaries have been crossed and to back off.

Immune system is linked to our emotions

The role of our emotions is boundary integrity. To keep out what is unhealthy, and let in what us enriching. The job of the immune system has similar roles.

Autoimmune disease is a way of the body attacking itself.

To prevent illness or overcome illness, we need to exert who we are and to say, “no”.

Saying “no” may trigger fears about attachment, but we have to remember that we are adults.

If you are caring for others, you must demand support also for yourself.  Ask yourself and reflect on this question: in what situations in your life is it difficult for you to say, “no”.