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The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture (2022)

de Gabor Maté, Daniel Maté

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Medica Psycholog Nonfictio HTML:The instant New York Times bestseller
By the acclaimed author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, a groundbreaking investigation into the causes of illness, a bracing critique of how our society breeds disease, and a pathway to health and healing.

In this revolutionary book, renowned physician Gabor Maté eloquently dissects how in Western countries that pride themselves on their healthcare systems, chronic illness and general ill health are on the rise. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug; more than half take two. In Canada, every fifth person has high blood pressure. In Europe, hypertension is diagnosed in more than 30 percent of the population. And everywhere, adolescent mental illness is on the rise. So what is really ??normal? when it comes to health?
Over four decades of clinical experience, Maté has come to recognize the prevailing understanding of ??normal? as false, neglecting the roles that trauma and stress, and the pressures of modern-day living, exert on our bodies and our minds at the expense of good health. For all our expertise and technological sophistication, Western medicine often fails to treat the whole person, ignoring how today??s culture stresses the body, burdens the immune system, and undermines emotional balance. Now Maté brings his perspective to the great untangling of common myths about what makes us sick, connects the dots between the maladies of individuals and the declining soundness of society??and offers a compassionate guide for health and healing. Cowritten with his son Daniel, The Myth Of Normal is Maté??s most
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This book gives the best diagnosis of the state of our society through the prism of mental health. It is by no means an easy read (took me months to get through it, chapter by chapter) and doesn't provide an easy way out, so it's not a prophetic answer to all our troubles. But if you want to have a better understanding of why things are so bad and why a holistic, systemic change is the only way out - this is a book for you.
What I love about Gabor Maté is his ability to show true compassion. I don't think I have ever read an author who is as compassionate to people who are dealing with trauma (and we all are, whether we are aware of it or not). The trauma he describes is not only "the bad things that happen to us", but all of that withheld from us that should be a part of our human experience, even if we are seemingly happy. Maté is very open in identifying the toxic dynamic of current late-capitalist societal trends as being the core issue in the mental health crisis.

While these ideas are not new if these topics are something you are interested in and Maté has written about them before, this is by far the most comprehensive work on this subject with an incredible bibliography. It is scientific, but also philosophical and provocative. I don't agree with everything Maté claims in this book, but it is good to be challenged and reflect.
This is a seminal work that people should read and talk about. ( )
  ZeljanaMaricFerli | Mar 4, 2024 |
This book is mostly about trauma, but the brilliant author discusses and comments on various other subjects. I will be reading his other books if I can get hold of them.

Sadly, I had to return the book to the library as soon as I had read it, so did not have time to write a detailed review.

His main point seems to be that, although we generally regard a trauma as resulting from a dramatic event, in actual fact we can get trauma from all sorts of seemingly minor events both in childhood and later.

In the author’s own case, he tells us that in 1945 when he was 14 months old, his mother felt obliged to send him away to his aunt’s in order for him to live in relatively safe circumstances.

Dr Maté explains how losing his mother at such an early age resulted in such a trauma that it affected him for the rest of his life in such a way that he reacted unwarrantedly strongly to minor events which triggered his trauma.

I would highly recommend the book to every thinking person. ( )
  IonaS | Jan 30, 2024 |
A somewhat disappointing book from the author of the quite revelatory and impressive In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction.

In this book, Dr. Maté, with help from his son, set out to chart the ways in which trauma and “inauthentic” lifestyles trap us in illness and depression, and keep us a state of spiritual paralysis, unable to make positive personal and societal improvements.

They set out to prove a) That we live in “toxic” culture, and b) We generally fail to take the basic steps needed to make ourselves deeply happy and fulfilled.

Dr. Maté, I’ll give him credit, is a physician. And I get why he is obsessed with healing us.

And I kind of agree with him, things could be better on many levels.

But this book is so interlaced with personal anecdotes that I feel it rises neither to the level of the expertise nor clear-eyed biography to be taken entirely seriously. It’s a self-help book, and not a very original one.

In Close Encounters the personal anecdotes explicate the author’s personal revelations about addiction, his own included. In this book there is a lot of name-dropping and cute but ultimately unsatisfying literary allusions.

A good part of the book seems to about medical pathology, and shortcomings in the practice of medicine. But what the title of the book “The Myth of Normal” is actually about, well, I’m not really sure. Is it that medicine tells us we’re normal when we’re really not? Or the other way around?

In his earlier volumes Dr. Maté made a good argument that what looks like maladaptive behaviours such as addiction make perfect sense when viewed through the prism of childhood trauma. This book attempts to generalize that insight across many aspects of society and life.

But it’s a very difficult argument to make, in my opinion, if you don’t have a lot of hard data to back it up. And you need either a lot of first hand data or a very persuasive meta-study arguing the point. This book flits from anecdote to anecdote.

It is entirely possible that this book was really not meant for me, for a general reader. Its climax is a kind of cumbaya moment when Dr. Maté recounts a shamanic experience to let go of his own ghosts.

He generalizes upon therapeutic methods to solve societal problems and lost me on the path to Nirvana. And on one too many metaphors for society’s ills. ( )
  MylesKesten | Jan 23, 2024 |
4 stars: Very good

Mate' was born in 1944 in Hungary, and his experience with extreme trauma and attachment issues informed his experience. Specifically, this book is a critique of how society breeds disease and how can we move towards healing. "Western" medicine ignores cultural stresses, is steeped in racism, sexism and ageism. Other systems look more at the whole individual and their place in the larger "village" as well as "mind body connection" for a path to healing. His theories are not without controversty but this was a compelling read.

Description from amazon:

"In this revolutionary book, renowned physician Gabor Maté eloquently dissects how in Western countries that pride themselves on their healthcare systems, chronic illness and general ill health are on the rise. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug; more than half take two. In Canada, every fifth person has high blood pressure. In Europe, hypertension is diagnosed in more than 30 percent of the population. And everywhere, adolescent mental illness is on the rise. So what is really “normal” when it comes to health?

Over four decades of clinical experience, Maté has come to recognize the prevailing understanding of “normal” as false, neglecting the roles that trauma and stress, and the pressures of modern-day living, exert on our bodies and our minds at the expense of good health. For all our expertise and technological sophistication, Western medicine often fails to treat the whole person, ignoring how today’s culture stresses the body, burdens the immune system, and undermines emotional balance. Now Maté brings his perspective to the great untangling of common myths about what makes us sick, connects the dots between the maladies of individuals and the declining soundness of society—and offers a compassionate guide for health and healing. " ( )
  PokPok | Jan 2, 2024 |
Gabor Maté's rich book synthesizes newest scientific data on the connection between trauma and chronic illnesses and relates it to the pressures of the environment created by capitalism. The problem that the latter poses to medicine (and sciences involved in biomedical research, my own field) is enormous and only getting worse, as the main objective of healing the sick is routinely undermined by the infinite greed of "for profit" mindset.

The vast majority of humanity is getting poorer by the day, no matter how many jobs they hold, as wages keep dropping, benefits keep getting cut, the environment keeps deteriorating. That this chronic state of stress is spreading even to the "well off" since the triumph of neoliberalism, is no news either. Note that "stress" here doesn't mean simply some vague "state of mind", akin to the "vapours" of Victorian damsels, but measurable physical state expressed in various kinds and degrees of discomfort, pain, illness. Hunger, fear, humiliation, rage, exposure to the elements, cold, heat, to say nothing of physical violence and chronic insecurity, all induce stress acutely and, over long term, chronically.

A society is doing only so well as its most disadvantaged citizens. Ask yourself what happens to those in yours. Why is poverty and food bank use on the rise in the wealthiest countries on Earth, the US, the UK, Canada? Why are we seeing a flood of homelessness and public displays of mental illness? At such blessed times when billionaires like Jeff Bezos, who restricts his workers' pee time and took Covid tax breaks, is rocketing off into space? Where's YOUR jetpack, mate?

When Maté says we're living in toxic and insane societies, he is merely being descriptive. All the conditions of our lives bent to the ideology of capitalist consumption are toxic and unhealthy. The social contract is broken, and we've destroyed the natural world before ever acknowledging its rights.

And we're witnessing wholesale destruction of humanity for the sake of the 1%. Capitalism turned our food, our work, our cities, our schools, into pure shit, but apparently we'll sooner go extinct, gullets filled with pills, than we'll manage to demand a society dignifying every human being.

Addendum: at the time of writing there is a disparaging review of the book by someone who doesn't seem to understand cancer biology. Nowhere does Maté say, suggest or imply that it's "all" the enviroment's doing. Most common cancers depend on several steps or discrete events in order to develop, and in this are greatly influenced by environmental factors. Genetic disposition for cancer may entail a more or less definite outcome. As for animals such as dogs, they are in fact subject to stress and used as models in a number of cases (as are rabbits, rats, mice etc.) ( )
  LolaWalser | Aug 20, 2023 |
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Maté, Gaborautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Maté, Danielautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
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“We are used to seeing disease as a thing to get rid of or a foe to battle against -- as, for example, in the ‘war on cancer.' (Which ‘war,' for the record, has been far from victorious.) Someday, we tell ourselves, with enough research, we as a society will ‘beat' cancer and wipe it out; in the meantime, we maintain a tenaciously defiant attitude, as expressed in the viral hashtag #FuckCancer. Our everyday language gives voice to our combative stance: we hear of a friend or a family member courageously ‘battling MS' or some other illness; they will either prevail in the struggle or else ‘succumb.'

“It may be that these martial metaphors are so appealing because their force matches our feelings of anger and despair; that does not, however, make them helpful. In a previous work I quoted the Canadian oncologist Karen Gelman, a leading breast cancer specialist, who looks askance at the military depiction of cancer care and research. ‘What happens in the body is a matter of flow -- there is input and there is output,' she said, ‘and you can't control every aspect of it. We need to understand that flow, know there are things you can influence and things you can't. It's not a battle, it's a push-pull phenomenon of finding balance and harmony, of kneading the conflicting forces into one dough.' I noticed how closely her use of ‘flow' mirrors V's language -- one woman speaking from medical expertise, the other from hard earned, subjectively sourced insight.

“Beyond the declarations of war, there is another, even more popular class of misapprehensions that cloud our view of disease: ‘I have cancer.' ‘She has MS.' ‘My nephew has ADD.' Embedded in each phrase is the unexamined assumption that there is an I (or a someone) distinct and independent from the thing called disease, which the ‘I' has -- as in the statement ‘I have a flat-screen TV.' Here is my life, and over there is the disease that has encroached upon it. Seen this way, disease is something external with its own nature, existing independently of the person in whom it shows up. Given where that perspective has gotten us, it is time to consider a new one.

“We have already glimpsed the countless hormonal, immunological, neurological, molecular, intracellular, and epigenetic pathways that make our physiology inseparable from our emotional, psychological, spiritual, and social lives. V's understanding of trauma and stress as major founts of the process that ultimately came close to killing her is completely aligned with modern science. In a five-decades-long British study that followed nearly ten thousand people from birth until the age of fifty, it was found that early-life adversity -- abuse, socioeconomic disadvantage, family strife, for example -- greatly increased the risk of cancer before the mid-century mark. Women who experienced two or more such adversities had a doubled risk by midlife.

“‘These findings suggest that cancer risk may be influenced by exposure to stressful conditions and events early on in life,' wrote the researchers, once more employing the carefully reticent language of ‘suggest' and ‘may.' To my clinical sensibilities, concerned as I am with how people fall ill and/or find healing, such results, mirrored over and over in multiple other studies, do not suggest: they scream for attention. The disorganizing impact of stress hormones on the immune system as a risk for cancer is far from a scientific secret. We have also seen how stress and trauma are prime drivers of inflammation, another central gear in the cancer-causing apparatus. Along parallel lines, girls who are sexually and physically abused have far greater risk in adulthood of endometriosis, a painful and often disabling condition that heightens the risk of ovarian cancer and whose origins perplex conventional medical thinking. Considered from the mind-body psychoneuroimmunological perspective, the puzzle becomes rather less puzzling.

“To restate a question essential to our theme: What if we saw illness as an imbalance in the entire organism, not just as a manifestation of molecules, cells, or organs invaded or denatured by pathology? What if we applied the findings of Western research and medical science in a systems framework, seeking all the connections and conditions that contribute to illness and health?

“Such a reframing would revolutionize how we practice medicine. Rather than treating disease as a solid entity that imposes its ill will on the body, we would be dealing with a process, one that can't be extricated from our personal histories and the context and culture in which we live.”
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Medica Psycholog Nonfictio HTML:The instant New York Times bestseller
By the acclaimed author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, a groundbreaking investigation into the causes of illness, a bracing critique of how our society breeds disease, and a pathway to health and healing.

In this revolutionary book, renowned physician Gabor Maté eloquently dissects how in Western countries that pride themselves on their healthcare systems, chronic illness and general ill health are on the rise. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug; more than half take two. In Canada, every fifth person has high blood pressure. In Europe, hypertension is diagnosed in more than 30 percent of the population. And everywhere, adolescent mental illness is on the rise. So what is really ??normal? when it comes to health?
Over four decades of clinical experience, Maté has come to recognize the prevailing understanding of ??normal? as false, neglecting the roles that trauma and stress, and the pressures of modern-day living, exert on our bodies and our minds at the expense of good health. For all our expertise and technological sophistication, Western medicine often fails to treat the whole person, ignoring how today??s culture stresses the body, burdens the immune system, and undermines emotional balance. Now Maté brings his perspective to the great untangling of common myths about what makes us sick, connects the dots between the maladies of individuals and the declining soundness of society??and offers a compassionate guide for health and healing. Cowritten with his son Daniel, The Myth Of Normal is Maté??s most

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