‘When the Body says No- Caring for Ourselves While Caring for Others’ By Dr. Gabor Mate

Who gets sick isn’t an accident. Our bodies are resilient, but if we don’t treat them with care and respect, they send us signals- and illnesses are those signals.

Falling sick isn’t always an outcome of a poor diet; we could get sick, or sicker, just by trying to push ourselves too much. Studies have shown Mothers that were looking after chronically ill kids had telomeres appear 10 years shorter than their age.

The compulsive need to emotionally be there for another, before yourself, has also proven to lead to illnesses.  In fact, Mate goes on to state that attributes we value and revere about others is usually what kills them: we all know the phrase “The good die young”. The compulsive and rigid identification with duty, role and responsibility rather than the needs of ourselves is a large risk factor. I am sure we can all identify with this, especially in a country like India, where the “self” is very often just a blurry silhouette merging into one’s title- like ‘mother’, ‘daughter-in-law’ etc.

Who would have thought a key factor in considering one’s overall wellbeing is the repression/suppression of healthy anger. Suppressing your anger will repress your the immune system.

Dr. Gabor Mate lists 3 ways to deal with anger:

  1. Repress: as a primary response this is very unhealthy. It can eventually manifest as an Autoimmune diseases. Our immune system and anger work in the same way- so when you suppress anger you are suppressing your immune system. Or the immune system gets so confused it turns against ourselves and that is when you get develop the disease
  2. Give in to the anger feeling and act out in a rage. This again is deemed unhealthy and the risk of heart attack is twice as much within the first hours post a rage
  3. Healthy anger release, which is the ideal way for us to handle the situation. We can address the issue through dialogue and conversation. A study was conducted on unhappily married couples and those women that did not suppress their feelings were 4 times more likely to live longer!

In theory we can’t separate our mind and body. However, in reality doctors rarely question patients about their childhood or life factors that could contribute to their illness. Western health care systems are built to look at treating the body and its symptoms, and usually with allopathy.

Digging deeper, Dr. Mate discusses how we tend to separate ourselves from our environment, which is a rather linear and non-conclusive approach to tackling ‘health’.  He explains an intriguing study that reveals children’s parents who were stressed are most likely to have asthma. This personally hit very hard and close. Our daughter suffered from bronchitis for the quite a few years (she is almost 5), and this talk made me introspect and think back to how I felt when she was conceived and born. With the benefit of hindsight I realised the state of fear and stress I was living in when she was conceived. This only got worse with the added hormones and environment I lived in.

Infants pick up on the stress of the mother. They learn ‘if I stress out my mother it will strain her’, so their instinct makes them suppress their feelings. These emotions are automatically learned by the body without realising and manifest throughout life in conditions like Asthma. Most patients are given an inhaler, nebuliser and sometimes even oral steroids. The inhaler that opens up the airways is a copy of adrenalin. The suppresser is a copy of stress hormones

Here is another interesting study that Dr. Gabor Mate shares: a woman with a lump who’s physiologically stressed increases the chances of the lump being cancerous by 9 times. Stress isn’t restricted to our mind and thoughts, their ripple effects are felt through the body manifesting in different ways.

Here are few facts of what happens when we are stressed:

  • Your heart rate increases
  • Adrenalin increases
  • We are in fight or flight mode
  • Long term the stress hormones depletes your body

Tackling stress could be just as simple (yet difficult to do) as talking about it.

So why do these patterns turn to an illness? As mentioned earlier, the mind and body are inseparable; the emotional sensors in our brain keep us alive (a new born survives on their attachment to the adult); this means brains are wired to attachment: our biggest need. This is connected to our nervous system; drawing on the same example of a child, we cry when our emotional sensors aren’t fulfilled. There are constant neurological communications going on in our body., which proves the brain reads what is happening in our body and vice versa.

Brain – gut connection: the gut sends many more connections to the brain than the other way around. When the gut receives messages from the brain it magnifies them and sends them back to the brain. Young babies react to their gut feelings as they don’t understand language.

Humans have 2 basic needs:

  1. Attachment: (the younger we are, like kids, the more prominent) connection with another being with the purpose of being taken care of
  2. Authenticity

Our fears stem from the thought of what happens if we have to suppress our authenticity to be attached, for example, a 2 year old suppresses her feelings to stay attached and have happy parents- this thought, which transitions to an unconscious behaviour over a period of time, can make us sick! Even as adults we find ourselves agreeing to things we don’t want to, or saying things just to fit in. Eventually these habits catch up with us, manifesting in various forms of illnesses.

I thoroughly enjoyed this talk by Dr. Gabor Mate, and felt it truly gave us an insight to how interconnected and integrated we are within ourselves and to our environment. This is an extremely high-level write up, so I do recommend listening to the full talk by Dr. Gabor Mate on the link below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6IL8WVyMMs