Dec. 16, 2022

Exploring the Myth of Normal Mental Health with Dr. Gabor Maté

In this episode, we sit down with Dr. Gabor Maté, a renowned expert in the field of addiction, stress and childhood development. Dr. Maté discusses the myth of "normal" mental health and how our society's narrow definition of what is considered "healthy" can actually be...
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In this episode, we sit down with Dr. Gabor Maté, a renowned expert in the field of addiction, stress and childhood development. Dr. Maté discusses the myth of "normal" mental health and how our society's narrow definition of what is considered "healthy" can actually be harmful. Tune in to learn more about the complex relationship between mental health and the world around us, and how we can work towards a more holistic understanding of well-being. Don't miss this thought-provoking and important conversation on the Think Unbroken Podcast.

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Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation! Hope that you're doing well wherever you are in the world today. I'm very excited to be back with you with another episode with my guest, bestselling author, Gabor Maté. My friend, how are you today? What is happening in your world?

Gabor: Well, I'm very excited as you might imagine, cuz two weeks from today, actually my new book, The Myth of Normal Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture is published. So, there's a lot of activities surrounding that and you're an out there yourself, you know what that is like, where you're just waiting for that birth to finally happen, after all those years of gestation, you know?

Michael: Yeah, very much so. And you mentioned before we started recording, it's taken you a decade to research and to create, publish and launch this book. And I love so much of the foundation of it, especially built around this concept of like, what is normal. You look at the world through the scope of trauma, I would dare say nobody makes it out of childhood unscathed, obviously there's different levels of that, but what I'm curious about is what is this myth? Like why is normal now become this ideation that everyone is constantly pursuing, if not more often than not, to our own detriment?

Gabor: Right. So, there's a valid use of the word normal, which is that with beyond a certain range, life doesn't exist. So that if your blood pressure was too low or too high, you don't live. If your blood acidity was too high or too low, you don't live. If your temperature was too high or too low, you don't liv. So, that there's a legitimate use of the word normal but we've come to apply the word normal to everything that happens regularly, whether that's healthy or not. And so that, in this society 70% of adults in the United States are at least on one medication, and more and more kids are being diagnosed, left, right, and center with ADHD and anxiety and depression and suicidal ideation and so on. And the belief is that there are these people that are abnormal with this diagnosis then there's the rest of us that are normal. And what I'm actually saying is that these manifestations of physical and mental illness are actually normal responses to what is an abnormal society. And what I mean by abnormal society, from the point of human evolution and human nature, this is no longer a society that meet genuine human needs. So that pathology or pathology is actually a normal response to abnormal circumstances which include how children, the inequalities, the racism, the stress that some people, these are usual, but from the point of view, human needs, they're not normal.

Michael: And you know, it's funny cuz you look at the quote unquote normalcy of rearing children, especially in this society and you often find, well leave the child in the corner to cry. Let them be angry by themselves. Stop nursing when they're nine days old. Right. You know, whatever that thing may be. And you look at that creating really the framework and the baseline of traumatic experiences. And this is just my own research and due diligence, I look at the way that I was raised and the way that I grew up having an ACE score of 10, my normal is trauma. And I look at the fact that what you just mentioned, statistically 70% of people in the United States are in some kind of pharmaceutical that would have to lead you to believe that maybe the normalcy of Western society is United States particularly is that of toxicity.

Gabor: That's my point. And there was an article in New York Times just two days ago about this teenager who's on 10 different psychiatric medications. Now, the things that you mentioned about kids being lefted out to cry and not being picked up, and they're crying and and so on. Can you imagine a mother baboon or a mother cat doing that? No, you know, like mammals were created for contact and connection and especially the infant of the species. Now, the way parents are told to raise their kids these days run cons completely contrary to nature, to their own parenting instincts and to the child's developmental needs. And then, so we basically, and in the United States, 25% of women have to go back to work within two weeks of giving birth, can you believe that? Now that that amounts to an abandonment of 25% of American kids at two weeks of age, ‘cause that's how the child experiences it, and that's traumatic, and this is considered normal. And then we wonder why so many kids are being diagnosed with all these so-called diseases, which are not diseases at all, they're normal responses to what I call is a toxic culture.

Michael: Yeah. And their coping mechanisms and their biological responses to the chaos of childhood and look at my life, I turned to drugs when I was 12 years old. I mean, the first time I got high, I could barely tie my own shoes. And it's like you look at that, and that's such a subculture of society whether you have this group of parents who are perhaps helicopter and overbearing or totally avoidant, dealing with their own traumas like mine, it's that I found at a very young age I was seeking peace. Right. You look at the intersection from people who have had these experiences and addiction, and it's like we have this short-term relief, but there's such dire consequences on the backside of it. If we're living in this quote unquote normal society, how is it that we're not having a deeper conversation about the root cause of not only addiction, but trauma as a whole?

Gabor: Well, exactly. And if you look at the US, your country, I live in Canada, but last year there were over a hundred thousand overdose deaths from drugs, over a hundred thousand people, that's twice as many as died as Americans who died in the Vietnam War, this is in money. And just as you say about yourself, all these addictions, as I point out in the relevant chapters in my new book. Addiction is not this disease that we inherit or somehow choose. All addictions are attempts to escape some emotional pain that's rooted in trauma, and I'm talking about whether it's addicted to drugs, addiction to drugs, or caffeine or nicotine or sex or pornography or gambling or shopping or eating self-harm to work, these are all attempts to temporarily escape the inner discomfort. The Keith Richard said; “thecontortions we go through just not to be ourselves for a few hours.” And he should know cuz he is the world's most famous former heroin addict. The question we have to be asking ourselves is, what is it about this culture that makes so many people distressed in their own skin that they have to escape into all these addictive behaviors?

And that question is not being asked be medical students are not taught about trauma. Politicians understand nothing about it. Social policy doesn't take it into account, and so we end up basically shunting aside, punishing or treating very inefficiently people who are simply trying to run away from their pain.

Michael: Yeah. And to that question, you know, I watched the wisdom of trauma again in preparedness for this conversation. I look at the story that you share briefly with Joey pulling him off the street and his experience with drugs and you go, well, what is the root cause? Like, what does it really, that makes people want to avoid being themselves? Like, is that because we don't want to face the pain of the reality of who we are, of our experiences, of our past like where does it come, where's the intersection I guess between here I am today, but I'm going to step into drugs, addiction, whatever that thing may be, because that satiates something in me, where is that crossroad?

Gabor: The joy from the film, the wisdom of trauma is a good example. He's an indigenous Canadian. Now, indigenous people make up the indigenous, I mean, what they call Indians in the States, but you know, Indians is a very poor word for people that have nothing to do with India. But indigenous Aboriginal Canadians, first Nations people, we call them, they make up 5% of the Canadian population, they make up 30% of the jail population. Indigenous women make up 50% of our jail population. When I was working with a heavily addicted as a physician working with a heavily addicted population here in Vancouver, British Columbia, 30% of my clients were indigenous, know why? Because they're the most traumatized segment of the Canadian population, they were for hundreds of years oppressed, killed their children were abducted from their homes. The Pope was in Canada recently apologizing for this infernal church run residential schools where kids were abducted from their families, physically, sexually, emotional, abused every category of had elder's Child experience was visited upon them, thousands died, and were still looking for their bodies. And you wonder that population has most heavily addicted in Canada, ‘cuz addictions, well, first of all, they're not wanting to be ourselves. Here's the thing, like no infant doesn't wanna be themselves, infants are themselves, that's the only way they know how to be. But when they start suffering, then unless there's somebody to help hold them in that suffering and to help them relieve that suffering, it becomes too uncomfortable to be connected to your emotions and even to your body. So, the disconnect, as you suggested earlier, is an adaptation, you adapt to the painful circumstances of your life by disconnected from your body and even from your emotions, which makes life then very, very difficult. And when the pain gets too much, then you need to soothe it and when the pain breaks, as it did for you at age 12. And by the way, when you told me, Michael, that at age 12 you started using drugs, I could've predicted two things without knowing anything about it.

One is that you were deeply traumatized in your family or origin. And number two, you had lost nurturing contact with your parents and you were very much ensconced in the peer group and you took your sense of belonging and direction from your peers rather than from nurturing adults. But those are adaptive responses and then you do the drug, whatever drug you did. And maybe you'll tell us what exactly you felt up what most people tell me the first time they do heroin or something like that, they feel normal for the first time in their lives.

Michael: I mean, you're spot on. And I look at so much of now the understanding of the journey that I've been on as causation and correlation. My mother was a drug addict and alcoholic, she was in and out of rehabs and avoidant. Stepfather, incredibly abusive, put me in the hospital multiple times. I'm biracial, my grandmother is an old racist white lady from a town you've never heard of. So, the first time I did drugs, it was both, it was a – get the sense of normality for once and b – it was with my peers because guess what? They're having the same social economical experience that I'm having as well.

Gabor: Exactly. And so that's the trajectory. So, it's not like you made a conscious choice to be an addict, nobody ever does. You just found some refuge in the peer group and then you found some relief in the drug. And that's perfectly natural human drive just to find connection and contact and to find relief from the pain. So, my mantra under addiction is not why addiction, but why pain? And you know, so it's not about a choice and it's not about this inherited disease, it's about the distress of life.

Michael: You know what's really fascinating about that? In childhood, even though I was doing drugs and drinking, got expelled from school, the whole nine, I would always point fingers at my mother and I would say, you're an addict, you're making a decision to do this. And here I am literally going through the same thing. Why is that so much the nomenclature of this conversation?

Gabor: Because society is completely uninformed about trauma. So, the average medical student doesn't get a single lecture in trauma in all their years of training. I mean, it's hard to believe, but that's how it is, despite the fact that trauma has been shown to be at the heart of most mental health conditions certainly addiction, a lot of physical illnesses as well. Because we have this, in this individualistic society, we have this belief about free choice, but we don't understand that the choices people make are very often driven by unconscious dynamics. So that when somebody does a drug and for the first time, they feel some nps, they didn't choose not to be at peace. Their lack of inner peace and in their turmoil was caused by their life circumstances. So, there's nothing, again, more natural than to want to escape from all that. So, there's no choice involved and in any kind of conscious sense. And you also, I think you mentioned brain development earlier and the other point we don't realize is that the human brain develops an interaction with the environment. So, already in the room would've passed on her stresses onto you which means that her cortisol and adrenaline, those stress hormones were already shaping your nervous system even before you were born. What choice did you have in that?

Michael: Yeah, you look at that and you're very much set up for failure. And then if you add in the socioeconomic aspects of that, growing up in government, housing, church food, you know, if we were lucky, our new clothes came from the Goodwill or Walmart. And so going through that, it was just, you witnessed that and the organism responds accordingly and high stress, like I remember just having this really intensive thought process in all of my childhood, that once I'm an adult, things will be different. And one day Gabor, I came to a recognition, I was 25, almost 26, I hit this massive rock bottom moment. I was 350 pounds, two packs a day, drinking myself to sleep, cheating on my girlfriend. My brother had literally said, you're not my brother never talked to me again. My friends ostracized me. I'm about as low as I could be, and it hit me. I am treating myself the same way that they treated me. And what I'm curious about is why do we do that?

Gabor: Well, because when you're traumatized, that has certain consequences. So, one of the effects of trauma is that we believe there's a shame-based view of the self, it's one of the greatest impacts of trauma. So that we actually are ashamed of our very existence. We don't believe we deserve very much or very, very much good. So we seek out situations that'll reinforce our negative view of ourselves, that's the first point.

The second point is that we already talked about trauma disconnects us from ourselves. So, you no longer know what's good for you cause you're not listening to your body. Your body was screaming at you all this time not to stuff it so much with food and, and not to treat it the way you were treating it. But because it was too painful to be in your body as a child, you disconnected. Not consciously. This is your organism doing it to protect you, but that disconnect will then lead you and talk on the situations that are harmful to you without you even realizing it. So, trauma will do that to people and trauma of course, will also make you suspicious and wary and it'll give you a lot of pain that you have to soothe so that and trauma interferes with the proper development of the brain. You know, and you mentioned you're biracial. Well, I don't know if this is true or not, but my guess is that in this society where everybody has to be labeled. Most people, many people would look at you as colored, is that, would that be the case?

Michael: Yeah. You're very accurate. And that was a battle I fought in childhood to be like, Nope, I am biracial.

Gabor: Yeah, so, but you're not allowed to be yourself. You're labeled and as a black American psychologist called Dr. Ken Hardy, who talks about the assaulted sense of self, where you take on other people's view of you which is very much a problem for any racially ostracized minority in any society. And that racial labeling and viewing of people has physiological impacts. It affects the brain, it affects the physiology of the body so that black American women, the more episodes of racism, the experience, the greater the risk for the onset of adult asthma, for example. And you can look at various measures of biological aging, comparing people of color in the states to people by the way, I never understand this language of color ‘cause who the hell isn't colored? I mean, you know, why am I considered non-colored? And it's nonsense to start with, but using that language people of color are aging more rapidly by all kinds of measures than people, not so-called not of color. This has got nothing to do with gender, nothing to do with racial urgent. It has to do with the stress of living in a society of inequality where race is one of the factors that determine your status so that all these social factors have a huge role to play in human health, mental health, and physical health. And so that, as those economic circumstances but of course, I'm not saying that any class in this particularly toxic society escapes pathology, they don't. But there's an unequal distribution of ill health. For example, during COVID who were more likely to get covid and to die of it. There were people who were poor, obese, and people of color, and often the three go together.

Michael: And again, it feels very much so like, you look at life through this scope of, my hope is that people will ingest so much of this information with creating a new foundational baseline to just have an assessment and an acknowledgement, because ultimately, I felt like that was the very thing that changed my life forever. You know, one of the things I've shared on, on this show before, and this is heavy, obviously we don't know each other, but I want to create context I'm gonna share this. When I was four years old, my mother cut off my right index finger. And so, I had multiple surgeries, multiple skin grafts, and one of the things that I did, Gabor, is I would stuff down the emotional response of this every time I'd have to look at this thing I literally cannot hide from. And it came to a realization that actually, and this is my definition. Trauma isn't the pain and the cuts and the scars and the burns that's not what I think about. It's like it was the theft of identity and realizing that the very thing that healed me was the willingness to say, no, this is who I am, whether you like me or not. How much does the role of identity play in the healing process for people?

Gabor: Well, first of all, I completely agree with you. Our first chapter in the book is on what trauma is and what I point out is trauma is not what happens to you. Trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you, including, and especially the beliefs that you develop about yourself. And me, with my particular trauma as an incident, I developed to believe that I wasn't lovable and that for a long time, determined who I behaved in the world with all kinds of negative consequences, you know, for myself and for people close to me. Now, when it comes to identity, here's the thing. Identity can be authentic or identity can be false. So, children of this human beings have a need to be themselves, and that means being in touch with their feelings. For example, you say you stepped on your emotions around this assault on your body by your mother. Well, your genuine emotions would've been rage, you know, but can a four-year-old afford to be in a rage all the time when he depends on nurturing and caregiving from the person that hurt them. So, self protectively, you stuffed on a rage, but that means you're stuffing down on an authentic part of yourself ‘cause our brains are wired for anger. Anger is a healthy response to a boundary invasion.

So, we lose a part of ourselves. So now you have an identity that's no longer authentic and your decision at some point in your life was, what I hear you relate about your story is you decided I have to become who I truly am, not the persona that I identified with, not the behaviors that I took on, not the emotions that I no longer feel, but I had to figure out who am I really and who get in touch with your authentic self. So in this society, a lot of people carry an inauthentic identity because that's the way of being accepted, of being liked or being respected, of being valued. And they're afraid that if I was truing myself, if they really knew who I was, all that would be lost to me. So, there's a real battle in the society between the reason authenticity is important, by the way, think of our evolution out in nature which is where we lived for millions and hundreds of thousands of years. How long do you survive in nature if you're not in touch with your gut feelings?

Michael: Yeah, about five seconds.

Gabor: So, we're not talking about some luxury here. We're talking about a survival need. But in this society, a lot of people, for all kinds of reasons get divorced from who they are, trauma is a big factor in that, and now they don't even know who they are, and that has all kinds of consequences, both from mental and physical health. So, the reclaiming of our authentic identity is a major task in this culture.

Michael: Yes, especially now, probably more so. I mean, I haven't been alive for history, but I probably will say more so than any time in history, access to information, lack of wisdom, looking at the fact that there's just so much posturing everywhere you go. How can people be more authentic in a society that actually punishes you for doing so?

Gabor: Yeah. Well, that's a huge question. A friend of mine is Peter Levine. And Peter is a psychologist and he is one of the foremost trauma healers in the world. I was talking to him, and this is, I'm quoting him from the book here. He talks about mothers who Botox their faces, and when interact with their infants, they can't respond to the infant smiles. And he says, the internet is a kind of a massive social botoxing. We all present the face that we want to the world, but nobody knows who we actually are. And in fact, we're afraid that if they find out we wouldn't be accepted so much as I said earlier. So basically, this society's Botox is everybody, or at least wants too. So, then the question is, well, look, the first answer to the question is and you talked about hitting rock bottom and the Buddha said once that recognizing the source of your problem is the first step towards healing. And the first thing you have to recognize to be authentic is to recognize in how inauthentic we are, all the times in the day where you suppress your feelings or you pretend to think or say something that you don't really believe or you don't say no to a demand that you don't actually want to say yes to, but you're afraid of the response. You have to notice, and I talk about this a lot in number, but the first thing to become authentic, don't say I'm gonna be authentic, like some kind of a willful self-improvement project instead, notice how you're not being authentic and ask yourself, what is the belief behind my not being authentic?

Michael: Can I go deeper to this with you? This was singularly my greatest struggle in healing because the one thing that I learned at such a young age was that my brain was telling me, never ever, ever be you, that is the most dangerous thing that you can do. And so, all I did was placate, all I did was chameleon, anything it took because not understanding, subconsciously, it was a survival response. Learning to become it was arguably the most difficult thing because it was always shrouded in the fear of the unknown. One of the things that I see with my clients all the time is they say, I thrive in chaos, and Gabor, my response to that is like, why would you want to do that? Right? Why would you not want to thrive in peace and love, joy, authenticity, self-love, compassion, hope. And so, what I'm curious about, if you grow up in this massively traumatic state, or maybe it's not even massive, maybe you've just had some of these things that shifted your identity, but if you're dissociated, if you're hyper-vigilant, if you can't tell which way is up, how in the world do you know if you're being inauthentic?

Gabor: Well, so first of all, I can totally relate to that. Stayed about thriving in chaos. I was the director of a palliative care unit at the Vancouver's largest hospital working with dying people. And the nurses said that working with me was like working in the eye of a tornado, you know, with my agency and my quick mind jumping all over place and, you know, running from place to place. I get it. And that's because that's all I knew. It's not like I'd had a peaceful life before. My life began in chaos, it began in the second war, the Jewish infant under the net occupation. So, chaos is all I knew. So that's what I learned to function, so I had nothing to compare it too now. What usually happens is the same thing that I understand happened to you at some point we get a big wake up call. There's a Greek playwright who wrote 2,500 years ago in one of his plays that the ways the gods created us, we have to suffer, suffer into truth. So, it's not like I had a big epiphany, perhaps you did for one day to the night. I didn't, but I suffered in my life and my children suffered and it doesn't matter how successful I was. And so, I had to actually ask myself, well, what is the source of this? So, it was a painful process, which continues to this day of waking up to who I am not and who I really am. And the more I become who I am, the more peaceful I becomes for some strange reason and the more satisfying becomes and the less anxiety is there is and so on. But it's a lifelong process and as I implied earlier so much in this culture demands that you not be yourself, you're actually moving against the culture. And if you look at the studies, there's one psychologist to study this. It's the people who didn't identify with the culture who were the healthiest. It also means some friends of yours that are used to your authentic self may not wanna stay with you, but you know what? You'll make much better friends who want to real you, so that's, you probably know that game as well, you know, is that the people that really honor who you are, they'll be doubt, they'll be on your side. And some people who, they want something from you, they want the inauthentic other, they may not be so pleased when you show up as yourself.

Michael: Why is it that this is something I've pondered for a long time now. In consideration of now having coached more people than I can count of watching people's lives transform just through the teachings and understandings that I've had and finding many, many of them having great successes, and even I'll include myself in that, obviously. Why is it that some people are able to step into what I'll call a transformational stage of recognizing these very things that you're mentioning, like really calling to attention, I'm not being me, the willingness to go through, do the work, understand like, yes, this is a lifetime journey when you sign on the dotted line and then seeing growth. Why do some people witness that? And some people it's like, here's everything you could ever need right here, and they just don't take it.

Gabor: Well, I think there's three reasons. One is they're so identified with the false persona that they're terrified to give it up because that false persona helped them survive as a child. So, they identify their falseness with survival. The stuffing of emotions, their pretends, the placating, the pleasing and all that, they identify with the very survival. And when you identify something with survival, it's very scary to give it up, that's the first reason.

The second reason is that we've already talked about it. Sometimes you have to suffer into truth and maybe they just need to suffer some more before they wake up and this is crucial, and maybe they haven't realized that there's help available. You know that they don't know how to reach out for help, and I think help from another human being is crucial in this transformation. Very few of this very, I mean, the reason, if people could do this on their own, you and I would be out of a job, you know, but the fact is that it's very difficult. There's point, both you and I know, to do this on your own. We're social creatures. We're wired for connection and contact and communion with others. And we were hurt in relationship We're gonna heal in relationship and so some people just haven't found that hearing a relationship and unfortunately, the so-called mental health system and the medical system and the social system is just not designed to give people what they need.

Michael: I'd like to go into some specifics here. I have been fond of the word suffering for quite a while now, recognizing at its definition it's to be in discomfort. And I think all healing comes through discomfort or i.e suffering. What type of things do people need to be stepping into to suffer in a way that creates growth?

Gabor: Well, nobody chooses suffering. Nobody in their mind chooses suffering. Well, actually that's not true. Some people, once they're on the path to truth, will accept suffering as an alternative to falsehood. So that's true, but most of us don't, that's a very high conscious level of choosing of suffering. You know, that I'm gonna feel all the pain that's in me because I wanna transform but that's a high level of commitment to truth. So, for most of us, it's not that we choose to suffer, it's that we do. So, some people it takes an autoimmune disease or a malignancy or an addiction or a mental health crisis or a painful relationship breakup, to say, or maybe there's something in me that has helped to create these crises. And maybe if I can learn about how I did that, not unwittingly but inexorably, maybe I can have a different kind of life. So, that suffering, we don't choose it. But the real question is when the suffering shows up, what do we choose simply just to run away from it and to get rid of it like a pest, or to actually naturally want to heal it, but at the same time learn from it. And I've had people, this is strange to say, and I don't recommend it to anybody, but I've had people even with terminal illness say, Doc, this illness is the best thing that ever happened to me because it woke me up to who I really was and I get to be myself at least for a little while, which is more precious than anything I've ever done in my whole life. Now again, I don't recommend that kind of learning, I'm just telling you that even people at that extreme situation sometimes will recognize the value of their suffering. So, what I'm saying to people is don't wait for the suffering, noticing now where you're not being inauthentic. Notice every day where you're not being inauthentic and ask yourself why. Or if you do suffer, don't just see it as a problem to get rid of. Ask 'em deep questions about how you might have unwittingly based on childhood traumatic patterns ended up in that situation.

Michael: And is there a place in this for a parallel or maybe even a dichotomy, it'd probably be a better way to ask this for both while going through the suffering and acknowledgement of inauthenticity to both be patient, graceful, kind, and compassionate with yourself, while also pushing yourself forward anyway.

Gabor: Well, if you're not kind and patient and compassionate with yourself, you're just not gonna heal. And so, one of the chapters in the new book, The Myth and Normal, have to do with self-compassion, how important it is. And one of the things that trauma does to us is we lose compassion for ourselves. One of the most saddest emails I ever got was a man from Seattle who read my book on addiction in the realm of Hungry Ghosts, and in which I point out that childhood trauma is the basis of addiction. And he writes, this is a very interesting book, but I can't blame my mother, it's my own fault that I'm a shit, you know? Now, total lack of self-compassion. First of all, I never said to blame his mother. His mother, like your mother actually did their best, their best was limited by the trauma that they had experienced. So, I never blamed the mom, but this self-loathing that it's my fault that I became a shit. Well, that's lack of compassion. He's never gonna heal as long as he has that attitude. What you said though about pushing yourself, I would reframe that because just do it. Do an experiment with me. Okay. Lift your both hands and push, put your left hand against the left, the right and then push with your right hand against the left. Push, push, push. What does the left hand do?

Michael: Nothing.

Gabor: Well, it does, it pushes right back.

Michael: Oh yeah. True. Yeah. It's friction.

Gabor: If it did nothing, it would just go like this. So, there's an automatic resistance to being pushed even if the pushing comes from yourself.

Michael: Here's the reason and the rationale in that question. When I found myself at the crux of what now has become my life, 12 years ago, it was a very simple question. I asked myself, what are you willing to do to have the life that you want to have? My response to that was, no excuses. And that to me has always felt like, go forward, no matter what, find a solution, you will figure it out on a long enough timeline.

Gabor: Yeah, sure. We we're just quivering about language here, but I would still not use pushing, I would say it's a calling that you had, that you followed.

Michael: So then if you were to interchange that word, how would you describe the thing that people should do in order to continue to go forward, especially when it's hard?

Gabor: I would say to follow the inner calling. I find myself in situations when I push myself to meditate, maybe I'm talking about myself here, but when I push myself to do things I tend to resist. When I notice the inner call and I follow it, then I tend to move forward. So that's why I don't use the language of pushing very much.

Michael: Okay, so I'm gonna go a little bit deeper into this. So, let's say you have that inner call to go forward to something, but you're facing internal resistance, maybe it's about an investment in yourself, maybe it's about joining a course, joining a program, hiring a coach, going to a therapist, buying the next book like how do you navigate that? You know you need to do it, but there's resistance about doing it even though it'll make your life better.

Gabor: Then to get very compassionate and curious about that resistance and to ask, well, you know, there's a part of you that resists, talk to it. What are you afraid of? What are you resisting here? Like, rather than making their resistance wrong, don't make any part of your wrong. It's all there for a reason. So, make friends with it, ask what it's afraid of. It's afraid of something and partly what it's afraid of is losing the identity that identify with all this life, you know? And so, you have to work with it and reassure it, it's okay, I'm gonna be more myself than I ever was. You don't have to be afraid and you'll enjoy it a lot more. What I'm suggesting here is that you work with the resistance, not in a hostile way, but with a compassionate way. There's always a reason for anything that's in us and you see at some point that resistance to be authentic saved your life. So when you notice the resistance, at least treat it kindly. Okay? I get it. At some point, you really had to come along to protect me from more dire consequences. I get it. Thanks, but I don't need your services anymore. You can relax now. You know? In other words, be kind to every part of yourself. That's what I'm suggesting.

Michael: Yeah. I love that and kindness is one of my personal values. I think it's one of the most important assets of the human experience. Kindness for yourself, kindness for others. What would you say to the people who are like, yeah, I hear you. You guys sound great, but I go and destroy myself every single time I spill the glass of milk, that I'm late for work, that I get into an argument with my partner. I have this tremendously negative self-talk that then is reinforced by society. What would you say to those folks?

Gabor: First, I'd say I totally get it and that's the way I used to talk to myself as well. Furthermore, I would say that even that voice that makes you wrong for everything, serve the function at some point. At some point it makes sure that you follow the rules or wanted to make sure they, so that you'll be accepted.

So even that voice that's so critical is still at some point came along to keep you in line so that you'll survive. And it's just another part of yourself that had a function at some point as unpleasant as its voice is in your ears. At some point it did have a survival function, it no longer does. So, be kind to that voice and say, thank you, you're still trying to keep me in line, but you know what? You're not helping me anymore. So don't reject any part of yourself even that voice. Well, that's one way to deal with it.

Another way to deal with it is I hear you enough, wake off and go somewhere else. I don't need you anymore. You know, so whatever you do, don't believe it, just recognize that it's an old message wired into your brain decades ago, it's got nothing to do with who you are and your reality.

Michael: Yeah, I totally agree with that.

Gabor: At some point people have to go to somebody and get some help. So, they have to come to you as a coach or me in my role as a therapist. Not that I take on individual plants anymore, but they have to talk to somebody and I'm sure that much of what you offer people is not just the content of the advice or the coaching that you might deliver, but also the quality of relationship where they feel accepted with all their dysfunctions, with all their negative voices, with all their harmful behaviors, but they feel accepted as a human being. So, at some point I say to people, get into some kind of a healing relationship with someone.

Michael: I think so many people are terrified of that. I mean, I was as well at seven years old, I went to therapy for the first time after being molested, and the therapist told my mom everything that I said, so I immediately learned not to trust them. It took me a long time to get to the place of finding the right person, and what I discovered was the person that was able to best assist me had actually had a similar background. Do you think that actually matters?

Gabor: Well, it does matter and because in the book, when I talk about compassion, I distinguish five levels of compassion, and one level is what I call the compassion of recognition. Now, when I work with this heavily populated, heavy addicted, downtown east side population in Vancouver with their Hepatitis C and their HIV, and there are multiple dependencies on drugs. I saw myself in all of them. There was nothing in them that I didn't see in myself. The craving, the emptiness, the desperation, the capacity to be completely manipulative in my behavior, all that, no, I was luckier. I was not nearly as traumatized as they were, and I was the middle-class physician, but for God's sake, the only difference between them and I was that they suffered a lot more in life and their situation was much more dire from racial economic class and personal points of view. But there was no separation between me and them in terms of recognizing. So, when you can go to somebody who sees themselves in you and you and themselves, that itself is so healing.

Michael: Yeah, and it's beautiful and because in that you find not only compassion for yourself but in each other, and I think that ultimately that communal aspect of growth is arguably the most transformative thing that you have. I tried to do this on my own, man, and let me tell you, at 26-year-old shit was not working. Right.

Gabor: Well, the funny thing is I've never had a drug addiction in my life, but I've had addictive behaviors like shopping for example, sometimes I'd spend thousands of dollars a day, you know, on buying compact disc, literally. And sometimes I would even leave my patients in hospital with the room and get a compact disc. I mean, can you believe it? But, so I say this to my daughter and our clients and they just sort of smile and laugh and shake their heads and they'd say, Hey Doc, you just like the rest of us, aren't you? So, they got the similarities. And that's what we have to realize to go back to what we said about normal in this society, we're all addicted to something. We all suffer from inauthenticity, some more than others, some bear the brunt of social circumstances more than others, but basically, as you said earlier, few of us, if any of us escape from childhood unscathed, untouched by the imprints of trauma. And so that, in that sense, we're all on the same boat.

Michael: Yes. And I don't know about you, but I'd be rather rowing with other people than rowing by myself.

Gabor: You know what the funny thing is? When you say we're on the same boat, the fact there's only one boat, you know, we may wanna realize it. And some people really wanna make themselves superior, they wanna, they wanna think they're silly in a yacht, not like the rest of us peons, you know? But you know, they don't know it. They do a lot of damage, by the way, by their drive to make themselves bigger and more powerful and richer and so on. I mean, they do most damage in the world those people have who have who, who buy into that false dream of the individual self that succeeds at the expensive, everybody else. They're the ones who destroying the earth.

Michael: Yeah, that's a dangerous place to navigate, my friend. This has been an absolute amazing conversation. Thank you for being here and your time. Before I ask you my last question, please tell everyone where they can learn more about you and the new book.

Gabor: Well, if I may show the new book, I'm just going into copy of it. It's called The Myth of Normal Again, trauma, illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture. It publishes on September the 13th; it should be available everywhere. My own work is at my website, I have a put of multiple dozens of my talks on YouTube, they don't cost anything to watch. I hadn't put them up there. People did, but they've been seen by hundreds of thousands, in some cases, millions of people fully available. The film that you mentioned, the wisdom of trauma, you can watch it online as well. All you have to do is Google me and you'll get more than you want. So, it's not hard to find me these days and this new book, it'll be even easier to find me.

Michael: And my, hope is if this book does what I believe that it will do, it'll further this conversation that needs to be had. You know, I look at childhood trauma in my first book in the opening, I said, child abuse is war. And we are having this war in this country, in the society, in culture, in the world and ultimately, I hope that more amazing conversations like this can be had publicly, so we can continue to change the scope of the future and ultimately move towards what my very personal mission is of ending generational trauma. My last question for you, my friend, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Gabor: It means to realize your true nature. Let's take something like addiction and people talk about I'm broken and I'm damaged and all that. Well, is that true? When we recover from addiction, what does the word recovery mean by the way, it's a good English word. When you recover something, what do you do? You find it again. Right? Now, when I ask people, what did you find when you recovered, they say, I found myself? So that means that that true self, that authentic self that you and I have been talking about has never been destroyed. It's never disappeared. It can't disappear. It can't be destroyed as long as there's consciousness.

So, to be unbroken is to find your true self that's been never been broken, never been destroyed, never been damaged. You just lost sight of it as a result of what happened to you. But it's here and it's waiting for you and it's speaking to you. As a matter of fact, if it wasn't speaking to you and waiting for you, you wouldn't be watching this show even so the very fact that you're watching this podcast means that that true self is there waiting for you to connect with.

Michael: Yeah, brilliantly said, I have goosebumps. You probably can't see it on the camera, but incredible my friend. Thank you so much for being here, it means the world.

Unbroken Nation. Thank you for listening.

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And Until Next Time.

My friends, Be Unbroken.

I'll see ya.

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Gabor Maté

Renowned speaker, physician, and bestselling author

A renowned speaker and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including addiction, stress, and childhood development. Dr. Maté has written several bestselling books, including the award-winning In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection, and Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It, and has coauthored Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers. His works have been published internationally in nearly thirty languages.

Michael UnbrokenProfile Photo

Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.