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'When the body says no: The Cost of Hidden Stress'

During the holidays I had finally the time to read the book of Gabor Maté, medical doctor: 'When the body says no: The Cost of Hidden Stress'. It felt like I had to read it because the title already seemed like there was a lot in it about me.

I was right! The book shows that emotion and psychological stress play a powerful role in the onset of chronic illness, which in my case was the burn-out syndrome.

Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1944, Gabor Maté is a survivor of the Nazi genocide. His maternal grandparents were killed in Auschwitz when he was five months old, his aunt disappeared during the war, and his father endured forced labour at the hands of the Nazis. He emigrated to Canada with his family in 1957. He is a medical doctor.

In his book, he explores the connection between mind, body, and spirit through intimate interviews with dozens of people who have lived, died, and sometimes overcome chronic illnesses. The interviewees’ stories are often touching, and are interspersed with chapters dealing with stress, emotional repression, the “cancer personality,” the biology of relationships, and the power of negative thinking.

Maté explains the biological mechanisms that are activated when stress and trauma exert a powerful influence on the body, and he backs up his claims with evidence from the field. Maté emphasizes that to decipher the hidden factors in chronic illness does not blame the victim, but provides the opportunity to address the unintentional transmission of stress and anxiety through the body and across the generations. In my case, my childhood trauma contributed to PTSD together with perfectionist personality. Even if I felt the stress, I was always incapable of saying no, compulsively taking responsibility for the needs of others. During my therapy I tried to get conscious about this, which is the first step. Saying no today is still a huge thing for me, but at least I know that there should be some boundaries to preserve my well-being.

Talking about prevention, I especially loved the final chapter, “The Seven A’s of Healing,” in which Maté presents an open formula for healing & prevention. Let me share them:

1. Acceptance

To heal we don’t need to be perfect, we only need to accept ourselves as we are at this moment and time and see ourselves as whole despite whatever we may feel we are lacking. We approach ourselves with compassionate curiosity, as we would anyone else who was suffering.

2. Awareness

We learn to be aware of what our bodies tell us, and do not necessarily rely on our intellect alone. As we learn to be aware of the internal messages our body tells us, we learn to trust these messages to guide us in our lives and to gauge our level of distress.

3. Anger

Often disease and disorder manifests due to one’s inability to genuinely experience anger. We either learn to turn it inward on ourselves, or outward in rage. However, there is an alternative. We can learn to experience and feel anger deeply, and to let it appropriately inform us of our environment or situation. We then are empowered with a choice of whether or not and how to express this anger.

4. Autonomy

Through the development of appropriate boundaries, we can learn to sense and understand where we begin and end in relation to others. We are then able to identify our internal centre of control, and are able to authentically articulate our life experience.

5. Attachment

Being connected to others and having meaningful relationships is a proven indicator of favorable outcomes in regards to health. When we know and feel that we can truly rely on others and share our vulnerabilities, we are better able to love ourselves and overcome life’s obstacles.

6. Assertion

Assertion does not necessarily mean that we must act out or speak up, although at times this is in our best interest. In this case, to assert one’s self means to truly be who we are in this world. Instead of acting, this notion encourages being, and taking up the space that is our birthright on this earth.

7. Affirmation

There are two values that we can affirm to help us heal. The first value is our creative nature, our need to express ourselves and be connected to some kind of creative energy. The second affirmation is of our connection with the universe, with something greater. We remember that “we are a part of the universe with temporary consciousness, but never apart from it.”

You can read the first chapter of the book for free here:

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