Authenticity Can Heal Trauma | Dr Gabor Maté, MD

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 man 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, 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, too.

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 said they followed 2,000 women over 10 years. Over a 10-year period, those women who were unhappily married and did not 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 processed 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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