Authenticity Can Heal Trauma | Gabor Maté, MD

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From How To Academy: “[Attachment is] a very powerful dynamic in adult relationships, for example . . . The child has an absolute need to belong to the parents and to be cared for by the parents. That drive to be close to somebody in order to be taken care of, or to take care of the other, for that matter, is called attachment. And mammals are creatures of attachment. They can’t survive without attachment; without the caring relationship, obviously, the young cannot survive. So attachment, that’s fine.

But then we have this other need that’s also determined by evolution, which I call authenticity . . . being in touch with ourselves, being in touch with our feelings and our bodies and our emotions . . . Gut feelings are essential for survival. We evolved out there in nature for millions of years, the humanoid ancestors of our species lived out there in nature, as did our own species live out in nature for most of our existence as a species. Like out of the 150-, 200,000 years that homo sapiens has walked the Earth, if that can be represented in one hour, then until about five minutes ago we lived out there in nature. How long does any creature in nature survive if they’re not in touch with their gut feelings? So that being in touch with our bodies and our emotions is essential, also.

Terrific. But what happens is if, for the sake of fitting in with the family or with a culture that doesn’t particularly support our authenticity, we have to give up our connection to ourselves, our authenticity, for the sake of attachment? Then being inauthentic, being out of touch with ourselves, is how we survive. We’re afraid to be ourselves because we associate being ourselves with a threat of being rejected. And so this means that for the rest of our lives, we’re going to be in relationships where we’re afraid to be ourselves, to really say what it feels like for us. Now that has terrific implications — and when I say terrific, I mean significant implications. A study I quote in the book, they followed 2,000 women over 10 years. Over a 10-year period, those women who were unhappily married and didn’t express their feelings were four times as likely to die as those women who were unhappily married but they did talk about their feelings.

So that inauthenticity — which is not a moral judgment on my part, it’s something people do in order to survive their childhoods — but that exacts a major cost in terms of physical and mental health. Not to mention your relationships, where you’re afraid to be yourself, where you’re in a relationship and . . . your partner doesn’t even know you, because you’re afraid to be yourself, so you feel alone even when you’re partnered. Because if you’re not known, you’re going to feel alone; it doesn’t matter how many people surround you. So the price that we pay for inauthenticity is huge and yet [that’s how] so many of us survived our childhood . . . I mean, have you ever met a one-day-old baby that wasn’t in touch with their gut feelings? ‘Oh, I’m tired and I’m hungry and I’m uncomfortable and I’m wet, but Mom and Dad are working so hard, I better not cry,’ you know — come on. In other words . . . something happened between the day you were born and a few years later when you no longer listened to your gut feelings, because you couldn’t afford to. Something happened.

. . . As a parent, because I was quite out of touch with myself and based on my own history, I was never comfortable playing with kids. I kept thinking, well, once they learn language — because I’m good at words, you see — so I thought, once they learn language, then I’ll be able to… But I missed the whole point, is that the real development happens before words even come along. The emotional part of the brain, the holistic, you might say more feminine — although it’s not gender-determined at all — holistic, emotional part of the brain, the right side of the brain, both in terms of the evolution of the species but also in terms of the development of the individual, the right side of the brain, the emotional brain, develops first. And it’s the template for everything. If we get the right side of the brain right, the left brain will follow very nicely. If we don’t get the right side of the brain, if we don’t establish the emotional relationships which children require for healthy development, then they might become very intellectually developed on the left-brain side but they’ll be very underdeveloped, there won’t be a proper template for it  . . . So that in this culture, the left brain really rules. But the left brain divorced from a healthy emotional underpinning, where does it get us? It gets us to where we are [today], which is, we’re the only species that creates environments that are destructive to its own species. That’s what the left brain has gotten us, because the right brain is underdeveloped.

. . . Here’s the other thing. We think that we have this one brain up here. And what’s a brain? A brain interprets stimuli from the environment, processes them, and responds. That’s what a brain does. So yeah, we have the cerebrum up here, but there’s also — it turns out there’s a brain connected to the heart. There’s a nervous system that surrounds the heart which is in communication with this brain here. And of course the gut has been called the second brain; the gut has more neurochemicals than the brain does in some ways. And gut feelings are not luxuries, as we’ve demonstrated — they’re actually a form of knowledge. So the gut is processing stimuli from the environment. When these three brains are in sync with each other, then you have true wisdom, then you have true awareness. When this one is unmoored from the other two, you can have all kinds of logic and all kinds of science and all kinds of technology, but you’re not going to have wisdom.”

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Psychiatry is the antithesis of authenticity. The only thing real about it is the damage it causes to virtually every aspect of a meaningful life: physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially, professionally, and culturally. It’s label-fixated, drug-obsessed, medicalized puppetry, and psychiatrists are the puppet masters.

    Definition for puppet master: a person that uses their actions or words to control someone or something of a lesser will, also known as pulling the strings.

    And most psychotherapy isn’t much different, as it’s based on a synthetic relationship.

    • Indeed. And that lack of authenticity in the field is a reflection of the repressed childhood trauma of those practitioners and academics who keep up the charade. This points to how widespread and serious of a problem childhood trauma is in our society, how far-reaching its effects. It’s not just the “patients” who are suffering from it; it’s the “authorities” and “helpers” who are avoiding dealing with their own pain by passing it off (inflicting it) onto their patients and others. Alice Miller wrote a fantastic chapter in her book Breaking Down the Wall of Silence that goes into this, explaining how psychiatrists et al. are avoiding dealing with their own trauma by traumatizing their patients and living in denial. It’s chapter 3, “The Psychiatrists’ Campaign Against the Act of Remembering,” and I believe the following chapter “Blindman’s Buff and the Flight from Facts in Psychoanalysis” continues the same theme https://archive.org/details/breakingdownwall00mill/page/26/mode/2up?view=theater

      • Thank you for mentioning Alice Miller. I think her theories tell the whole story.

        It’s beyond unfortunate that those trained to help people in emotional distress aren’t taught or refuse to accept this fundamental reality. And I think most professionals (and definitely most psychiatrists) use their work as a way to continue denying (unconsciously) their own unconscious traumas.

        Anyone with issues should read one of Alice Miller’s books before seeking “professional” help. Reading “The Drama of the Gifted Child” was all I needed to make sense of things and stop “therapy” and numbing “psych meds”, both of which were traumatizing. I think everyone should read one of Alice Miller’s books as soon as they turn twenty-one, and definitely before having children of their own.

        • Per Alice Miller, the only thing that would distinguish a “good therapist” from a “bad therapist” would be the degree to which they are aware of and have processed their own childhood trauma, so that they would not act those needs out on the client. The “school” of therapy or the degree of the therapist would have essentially no impact on the outcome. Which I think is why they found that talking to a friend is just as likely to be helpful as talking to a professional. Not all friends will be helpful, only the ones who have dealt with their childhood trauma, but the odds of finding someone who has are not improved by seeing a “professional.”

        • Oh yes, I will always mention Alice Miller, because like you I think her theories (explanations) are complete and were almost everything I needed to be able to heal the longstanding issues/trauma that I couldn’t find proper therapeutic help for, or couldn’t afford. Reading her books was the best-quality therapy I’ve ever received, and certainly the cheapest. If everyone could read and understand her books we’d have a much different world. She’s apparently “world-renowned” in some circles but not nearly as well-known as she should be. I’m with you on the reading requirement for all young adults, it’d be more important than all the other required reading students are made to do put together!

          • I agree 100%. Alice Miller’s insights are absolutely indispensable. And I firmly believe that the world would be a much better place if everyone read her books.

            I’m so sorry you ever felt the need for therapy. But I hope I’m not out of line for saying this: consider yourself lucky if you had limited access to it, because you probably avoided a lot more trauma.

            Therapy just gave me more trauma. And all it’s really about is learning to be your own best friend, or parent, so to speak. And reading Alice Miller helped me learn to do this in a way therapy never did.

            I’ve heard that talk therapy can be too dysregulating for people who’ve experienced long-standing trauma, especially in childhood, which usually means having had at least one narcissistic parent. It certainly was too dysregulating for me, but what bothered me most is the dynamics of it: power imbalance, labeling, to say nothing of having to pay these people. But the power imbalance was by far the worst (for me), as I found it both insulting and infantilizing.

            (This may sound silly, but I think Alice Miller deserves to have a holiday named after her!)

          • I forgot to mention a fantastic video that backs up what I heard about how talk therapy may not always be helpful.

            It’s from “The Crappy Childhood Fairy” video series by Anna Runkle, and the video’s title is “Talk Less About Trauma”.

      • My childhood psychiatrist got into the business because of his ‘bipolar’ daughter and trying to ‘fix’ her with drugs. Meanwhile the guy doesn’t have an empathetic bone in his body, the stories he tells of his wife are of a dysregulated and highly critical and controlling woman, and the dog in his office literally bites his patients if they try to touch him — he’s that traumatized from being in that house.

        And all the parents are ‘well’ and ‘just human beings’ when they come in and say ‘I got pissed and hurt my kid and I feel bad: my mother threw our game system out a second story window when she was pissed and came in to talk to him about it and he said ‘you’re just human;’ and he medicated her for the express purpose of ‘helping her deal with her difficult children;’ wonder what kind of crazy diagnosis I would have gotten if I’d done the same, and what kind of vitriolic backlash I would’ve gotten if I’d have suggested I was being medicated for ‘dealing with difficult parents!’

        He literally drugged an entire generation of children in order to play out his denial about his own disfunctional family and his role in his child’s distress on a grand scale.

        • Rasx,
          You describe a psychiatrized house of horrors. I think a lot of them probably were, and probably still are. Mine sure was.

          Psychiatry as a profession appeals to people who are already dissociated and are unconsciously looking for ways to dissociate more and get paid at the same time. And psychiatry more than fills the bill. It devised an airtight “biological construct” to hide from emotional reality even though they’ve no scientific proof to back it up. And dealing drugs has become its main gig. It even has a language of its own called “gobbledygook”. It’s a really weird combination of sleazy and pretentious.

          • Rasx says, “He literally drugged an entire generation of children in order to play out his denial about his own disfunctional family and his role in his child’s distress on a grand scale.”

            And psychiatry’s still doing it, BIG TIME.

  2. Steve says, “Not all friends will be helpful, only the ones who have dealt with their childhood trauma, but the odds of finding someone who has are not improved by seeing a “professional”.

    Thank your for mentioning this crucially important truth. And the fact that most “therapists” claim the opposite is, imo, as injurious as the pharmaceutical toxins most psychiatrists (and many other doctors) prescribe. And it’s an especially destructive lie because the psychological effects of being told a therapist’s word is more reliable because of a their “education”, plus an erroneous “power imbalance”, gives therapists the power to further damage a person’s already shaky sense of self, which is unforgivable.

    • Imo, talking to a trusted friend or family member is much more helpful than speaking to a “therapist”, because a personal relationship is the only way to really know who and what you’re dealing with. And speaking with someone on a more equal footing is the best way to ensure you’re not being unduly influenced by someone’s essentially meaningless “qualifications”.

  3. One of the most ridiculous things going is the amount of energy most therapists spend in trying to get people to believe that “seeing a therapist” is somehow more beneficial than talking to a trusted friend. Their insistence is truly pathetic and almost comical.

  4. “I’ve heard that talk therapy can be too dysregulating for people who’ve experienced long-standing trauma, especially in childhood, which usually means having had at least one narcissistic parent.”

    CORRECTION: I’ve heard that talk therapy can be too dysregulting for people who’ve experienced long-standing trauma, especially in childhood, which usually means having had at least one abusive parent.

    I replaced the word “narcissistic” with “abusive” because “narcissistic” has become too stigmatizing. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my oversight.

    If anyone has better word, please let me know.