The first question you might ask is – Can a book really change your life? If you asked someone who has read and followed AA’s “Big Book” (written in 1939, printed in over 70 languages, and still considered AA’s basic text), they would say yes.
That’s how I feel about The Myth of Normal. The book is 500 pages of intense, illuminating, crucial topics that make it, at times, a challenge to keep reading. Not because it’s too professorial but because he exposes our most self-protected places as flawed human beings. And yet his thesis – we are the product of our culture and however we “screw up” (he shares many of his own) – it’s not a blame game.
He invokes one of my favorite scenes in the film “Goodwill Hunting” when Robin Williams, portraying a psychiatrist, breaks through to Matt Damon by saying in a burst – “It’s not your fault.” That is what the entire book is driving us toward – how to begin to heal, from traumas we have experienced, no matter who we are.
What is trauma?
Defined by Maté, trauma is not what happened to you (the injury) but what happened inside you.
Capital T- Traumas are identifiable, hurtful, and overwhelming events, whether in childhood or later. Such traumas give rise to multiple symptoms and syndromes and to conditions diagnosed as pathology. Either physical or mental, regrettably a linkage remains almost invisible to the eyes of mainstream medicine and psychiatry (except possibly for PTSD)
“Small t – trauma is the kind nearly universal in our culture. “Less memorable but hurtful and far more prevalent misfortunes of childhood, such as bullying by peers, the casual but repeated harsh comments of a well-meaning parent, or even just a lack of sufficient emotional connection with the nurturing adults.”
Both traumas are a fracturing of the self and of one’s relationship to the world. We lose connection to ourselves, our families, and the world.
About the Book
This is how Maté’s website describes the book: Over four decades of clinical experience, Maté has come to recognize the prevailing understanding of “normal” as false, neglecting the roles that trauma and 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.
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.
About the Medical System
For me, with a recent experience in the dysfunctional medical system, his question on Page 89 was profound. “What if we saw illness as an imbalance in the entire organism, not just as a manifestation of molecules, cells, or organs invaded or denatured by pathology?”
What if doctors explored all of the connections and conditions that contribute to illness and health? Such a reframing would revolutionize the practice of medicine, starting in medical school.
“Rather than treating disease as a solid entity that imposes its ill will on the body, we would be dealing with a process,” Maté writes. “One that can’t be extricated from our personal histories and the context and culture in which we live.”
Sadly – this reframing or integration of the whole Me not the part that’s hurting would take more than a 20-minute visit. It would be a way of viewing me as a patient that medical schools don’t train students to consider. In fact, they do the opposite – they ask what part of the human body do you want to study?
On a recent interview, Maté was asked, “What is the connection between mind and body?” He answered, “That’s the wrong question.”
He wrote in the book: “We human beings are biopsychosocial creatures whose health and illness reflects our relationship with the world we inhabit – including all of the variables of family, class, gender, race, political status, and the physical ecology of which we are a part.
“In a materialistic culture, we learn that our value depends on what we produce, achieve, or consume rather than on our human beingness. This is one of the myths that we have embraced as normal.”
“When I speak of healing, I am referring to nothing more or less than a natural movement toward wholeness.”
There is too much valuable insight and understanding in this book to explore in one post. Maté quotes a myriad of experts on a range of topics, provides evidence of healing in interviews with known and ordinary people, and offers questions to ask ourselves and steps we can take to begin to or continue to heal ourselves.
Will it heal the world? Not likely. But does the work required to look at our most vulnerable human experiences and behavior matter? Yes. After finishing the book (for now), I believe it’s essential work to be done in my own life and hopefully a benefit for my family, friends, and community.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
It’s worth noting that for whatever reason(s), despite the book being on the NYT bestseller list for seven weeks, Maté has not been interviewed or his book reviewed by any MSM print or video outlet. It appears he has stepped on too many toes – the AMA, Clinton policies, MSM, the tech giants, and contemporary capitalism.
You, however, can learn more about this amazing physician, his books, and interviews at https://drgabormate.com/