When the Body Says ‘No’ should be read by anyone who experiences chronic emotional stress in their lives. By reading the book you will understand the impact of your inner world on your health. I read it too, as recommended by my therapist when she learned that I used to painfully clench my leg muscles as a response to stress.
Seek and ye shall find’, one of the great teachers said. The seeking itself is the finding since one can fervently seek only what one already knows to exist — Gabor Maté, When the Body Says ‘No’
Note! Dr. Maté uses a lot of heavy medical terms, but the book is worth reading (granted, with a dictionary aside) because it helps you understand the impact of emotions on physical health. So, as a prerequisite for reading it, get a basic understanding of psychology and medical terms, at large.
Before you dive into it, make sure you set several clear objectives. Read the book with a purpose in mind. Otherwise, the stories alone will not be enough to keep your interest going throughout the book. I, personally, wanted two things out of it:
- To understand how my inner world has holistically modeled me and if there are any childhood grounded consequences that I should be mindful of, and
- To become more self-aware of the impact of the bottled up negativity and beware of it as I am going further up into maturity.
You’ve Been Primed to Stress since Your Childhood
For those habituated to high levels of internal stress since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking boredom and a sense of meaninglessness — Gabor Maté, When the Body Says ‘No’
I don’t know about you, but reading this piece makes me relate to it with my entire core. My childhood was not terrible but it wasn’t great either and I take many of you have been feeling the same with your own families.
I have struggled with my mother’s emotional unavailability for as long as I can remember. She has undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder and has been affected by it ever since I was a child. My mother has had her own circumstances. Her family hadn’t been very nurturing, generally speaking, so when she got pregnant with me — at a young age, they despised her for being reckless and bringing shame over the household. So, she hadn’t had it easy.
Her history had rippled over me. Having a child mother, unprepared for raising a fatherless child, deprived me of the undivided attention a parent should dedicate to a child during their first years of life. My mother had her own issues to deal with and I was too much.
So I fought her. I was an attention-seeking child. An overachiever hoping to conquer my mother’s attention from herself. I did very well in school and have graduated with flying colors. As I was growing up I made everyone in her family proud of my achievements. But I was never enough for her.
This set-up brought a lot of stress on me, as a child. I took it upon myself to care for her needs, emotionally and later on, materially wise. I was always concerned to be of help to her because, so I thought, when I’ll stop, she will not love me anymore. I felt conditioned and scared that I’ll be left alone. No father, and…no mother to love me.
Emotional Stress Is the Culprit for Serious Illnesses
The research literature has identified three factors that universally lead to stress: uncertainty, the lack of information, and the loss of control — S. Levine and H.Ursin ‘What is stress?’ in S. Levine and H. Ursin, eds., Psychobiology of Stress (New York: Academic Press), 17
All stressors have in common the absence of something that the organism perceives as vital. For example, the threatened loss of food supply is a major stressor. Similarly, at an emotional level, the loss of love is seen as a definite source of stress that is believed to disturb homeostasis. Now, the stress itself is not health-damaging, unless it becomes chronic. In its chronic form, a person is exposed to stress over long periods of time either because they don’t recognize it or because they have no control over it.
Emotional stress may lead to numerous affections from rheumatoid arthritis to diabetes, multiple sclerosis, ALS, and cancer.
This is not to imply that correlation involves causation. Maté presents a lot of examples to support his clinical studies where people suffering from chronic illnesses have started looking at their issues, holistically. Understanding their illness from an emotional perspective, by looking back to their lives, has helped them answer the “Why me?” question that people often ask when they get very sick. This situation is especially prevalent when healthy people get sick, more or less, out of a sudden. The mental torment triggered by uncertainty, lack of information, and loss of control, is impairing their focus, which only aggravates their overall health.
Healing Your Childhood, It Might save Your Life
The child of an unhappy mother will try to take care of her by suppressing his distress so as not to burden her further — Gabor Maté, When the Body Says ‘No’
It’s commonly known by now, that as adults we try to fix our childhoods. More often than not we do this by finding partners that resemble what we knew, and who we were raised by. Ending up with abusing partners after a hard childhood looks like plain bad luck from the outside. In fact, it is just or attachment style kicking in and driving us towards “familiar faces”.
I was that child. A good girl. I took so little space and never expected anything for granted. I always worked my way towards her. I had to earn it — whatever it is to be received by a child from his parent, emotionally wise.
And then I became that adult. Over responsible. Stoic to an extreme degree. A perfectionist. An overachiever. I met a guy that was emotionally unavailable. I married him and we’re together for more than a decade. Oftentimes I feel like I married my mother. I felt lonely. Unworthy. I always put 99% in when he only put 1%. And I was yet happy with what I got — for a while.
I didn’t want to grow a tumor. So I got angry instead. So angry that I shattered the wall when I punched it with my fists. I had to let it out. It was boiling inside for too many years. For a lifetime, really.
I know now, after reading Gabor Maté’s book that some people are predisposed to developing chronic illnesses due to emotional stress. I am one of them and I cannot afford to get sick while having a son to raise.
Hence, my mental health has become my priority. I have started this journey since my son was born. If it wasn’t for him, I would have probably continued being depressed and feeling worthless. When he was born, I have become his mother. And since he wasn’t asked if he would like to be born, it’s my responsibility to raise him to be happy. But if I’m not happy, how can he be?
Those of you that are familiar with my stories, you know by now that I vent a lot about my husband. I’m doing it IRL as well as in writing. He probably knows that I write about him, but he is gentleman enough to allow me my privacy. He’s also not asking what I’m talking in therapy about. But whereas I appreciate that he’s respecting my boundaries I can’t help to wonder if maybe is doing this because he doesn’t care enough to ask. It could be a mix.
A thing is for sure. With him, I have the chance to fix my childhood. I won’t leave. Not until I understand it, at my core, that I’m allowed to have needs, to express them, and to receive love. I don’t have to prove myself anymore. I am worthy. And now that I believe it myself, he will believe it, too.
The best thing I learned from this book is that “if you face the choice between feeling guilt and resentment, choose the guilt every time”.
Take mental health seriously. It is the key to your entire well-being. For more insight, read Gabor Maté, When the Body Says ‘No’ — you will thank yourself later for investing the time in it.
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This post was previously published on medium.com.
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