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'When the Body Says No' by Gabor Maté - Childhood Trauma Therapy Slough

Written by Pamela Lalria

Pam is a childhood trauma specialist who has recently joined us, she works from her therapy rooms near Slough SL1.

Click here to find out more about Pam and to make an appointment with her.


The book “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Mate is a fascinating and illuminating read - some of the questions that the author attempts to answer in this book have been “Can a person literally die of loneliness? Is there a connection between the ability to express emotions and Alzheimer’s disease?

Is there such a thing as a ‘cancer personality’?” (Maté 2019).

Dr Gabor Maté uses not only his own clinical work, but he also pulls from many other studies and scientific research in a bid to answer these critical questions.

Bringing forth the mind and body link and how stress and our emotional complexities from day one plays a part in the development of many illnesses and diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and many others.

Maté uses the idea that our subconscious or unconscious mind can very much affect how we cope with the onset of illness and disease. Maté quotes the work of David Kissen, a British chest surgeon who reported that “patients with lung cancer were frequently characterized by a tendency to “bottle up” emotions” (Maté 2019, page 85).

Kissen’s work is further confirmed by a study that Dutch, German and Serbian researchers conducted in Cvrenka over a ten year period. What they discovered was that the biggest risk factor of death from cancer was something they termed rationality and anti-emotionality, essentially a non-emotional coping style – which would have come from the unconscious as a coping mechanism, something that the participants may not have known at a conscious level, but something that did influence their behaviours as individuals.

Maté further links the role of the subconscious through the case study of one of his patients, Rachel, who had a difficult childhood right from birth, one of humiliation and rejection, although Rachel “recalls the sense of rejection and humiliation she felt [ ] and [even though she] is also aware of her birth history, [ ] she cannot recall it directly” (Maté 2019, page 201). Her subsequent behaviours such as her feelings of hopelessness around intimacy and her desperate attempts to try to make her mother understand and accept her behaviour have represented a memory system that has very accurately recorded what was imprinted in her brain as a very young infant through her early years of development.

It is this very same system of memory that has guided and led to her to behave in the manner that she has done for the rest of her life, eventually leading to the onset of diseases autoimmune in nature. Maté (2019, page 201) goes on to say, “the brain’s stress-response mechanisms are programmed by experiences beginning in infancy, and so are the implicit, unconscious memories that govern our attitudes and behaviours towards ourselves, others and the world”.

Maté emphasises that it is  emotionally unsatisfying child-parent interactions, as is the case for Rachel, which led patients to suffer from a range of illness. This viewpoint has been upheld by an Italian study looking at women with genital cancers in which they found that these women, when compared to healthy controls, felt that their relationship with their parents was not a close one or significantly less so.

This ties in with the underlying concept of the unconscious in the psychodynamic approach and how unbeknown to the person affected, these unconscious imprints have a direct influence on a person’s behaviours and the biology associated with many potential illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

The relationship between repressed emotion and autoimmune diseases – lack of boundaries causing the body to take charge; “when we have been prevented from learning how to say no, [ ] our bodies may end up saying it for us”. (Maté 2019, page 3).

The immune system is negatively affected by stress and this contributes to autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma, scleroderma includes ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Furthermore, the negative effects of stress can also bring forth many other, non-autoimmune in nature, conditions such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes and perhaps Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Maté uses the example of patients with a type of MS called relapsing-remitting, linking the illness to quantifiably extreme stresses such as financial issues or huge relationship difficulties. Further psychological stressors, in particular emotional stress, from situations where there is a lack of psychological independence, being overly emotionally involved with parents, a high need for affection and love and not being able to express or feel anger have “long been identified by medical observers as possible factors in the natural development of the disease.

A study in 1958 found that in nearly 90 per cent of cases, before the onset of symptoms… patients experienced traumatic life events that threatened their ‘security system’” (Maté 2019, page 16).

Our biological functioning is affected by emotional interactions in many subtle ways throughout our lives. “Understanding the intricate balance of relationships among our psychological dynamics, our emotional environment and our physiology is crucial to well-being” (Maté 2019, page 27).

Maté ascertains that disease is followed by the inappropriately triggering of the body’s physiological stress mechanisms. This leads to the body responding by mounting a response of stress, meanwhile the mind is not aware of what the body is responding to. Maté also alludes to the notion that in higher economically developed places society are unfortunately more unaware of the realities of their emotions.

Real or perceived feelings of helplessness, documented throughout much of the stress literature readily available, is a potential trigger of stress at a biological level in the form of stress responses. For example, a person may feel a loss of true freedom if they feel as though they are stuck in a lifestyle that brings them no joy, or they feel trapped in an abusive or dysfunctional relationship or if they are completely exhausted from a stressful job that they don’t think they can leave.

The central argument of the author is that the mind and body are not separate, nor do they work separately, but rather work in a complex and intrinsic manner.

Maté holds up a mirror, so to speak, on how living in our stress induced society can generate many of the illness that we experience. The author hopes that through the documentation of his patients stories we are able to use the book as a way to transform ourselves to bring about healing – to become whole.

My personal view on the book is that I think it is well written, not too technical and written in a manner friendly enough to understand and gain meaning from. I learnt an awful lot from the book, a lot of food for thought.

Remade in therapy

Pamela Lalria

Tel - 07454834041

41 Francis way,






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