Dr. Gabor Maté is a writer and speaker who has tried for decades to tell the truth about the connection between traumatic experiences and the damaging effects they can have on our lives. He spent a good chunk of his earlier career as a physician, delivering babies and as a general practitioner. However, slowly but surely things began to click and he wrote a number of extremely deep and important books on ADD, the body’s capacity to deal with trauma, and more.
Gabor has done his most recent work with unique candor, never separating himself from the arduous journey of self-exploration that he advocates for. Time and time again he has afforded a particular dignity to the process. His work is deeply moving, possibly life-changing, and something I recommend you all look into.
I recently had the chance to talk with him about a recent concern of mine around those who are being shamed in our society. When we talked, he also did a deep dive into just how traumatized our leaders are and by extension how numb we are as a society to dismissive and aggressive actions towards children.
If anything cuts to the heart of his message, it’s a call to action to be aware of how impactful our behavior is to each other and in particular to our young ones. He distills this down into one simple statement: if you treat human beings well, they’ll be okay; if you don’t treat them well, especially when they’re children, they’re not going to be okay. Keep reading to learn more about trauma and how to become more informed about it.
How Politics is Heavily Infused with Trauma
Whenever a big movement occurs in the West, it seems like all of a sudden things just return to the shadows. There’s an initial explosion of guilt but the conversation about emotion and pain usually ends there.
A good example of this is when Trump won the election. Hillary vilified all of Trump’s supporters after his victory, revealing an incapacity to hold tension.
Clinton and Trump are also two extremely traumatized people but this goes largely unrecognized in the West. Pieces of their childhood trauma are narrated on national television and seen by millions of people but no one notices what’s actually going on. That’s how trauma ignorant this society is.
Similarly, though the refugee crisis is infused with trauma, it’s all trauma uninformed. People inflict their trauma onto others to the level of mass murder but then when those people try to escape their situations, we regard them as foreigners trying to overtake our country.
Childhood trauma is particularly damaging. When a child is mistreated or made to feel unsafe, it can stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Often when couples come into my office they are so hurt and angry, they have a hard time staying regulated and connected. I have to take the time to learn where they come from so I can understand the chain of attachment in their ancestry and what the memory of safety in their family was.
Safety is the main issue here. For many, when they enter my office they have never had an example of emotional safety in their lives, at least not one that was repeated with any predictability. If they had the safety to be themselves in their formative years, therapy would not be as crucial for their emotional survival. This is unfortunately one of the main reasons we therapists make a living: people aren’t treated well as children.
Truly, we don’t need more research to confirm that maltreating people–especially children–causes damage. We simply have to get on with the work of making space within ourselves to be able to respond in compassionate and understanding ways, especially with those who are in our care.
How to Heal From Trauma
Because we are so trauma uninformed in the West, we often assume that Western medicine is the only way to receive healing. However, the possibilities go way beyond Western medicine. The best it does is mediate the symptoms of our trauma or other mental health issues but we never get at the heart of it.
Mental health is indeed a biological problem in the brain. However, what creates that biology is life experience. Just because your medicine helps you with your mental health problem, that doesn’t prove that your mental health problem was caused by the biology of your brain.
Psychedelics have seen a resurgence as a viable therapy for trauma, with major federally approved studies taking place in the US. Part of how they affect change is by relaxing the amygdala and therefore circumventing defenses. This allows us to experience our emotions more fully and can be seen as an expedited way to come into contact with powerful effects.
If you want to learn more about all of the ways trauma impacts our daily lives and our world, check out Episode 008: The Depths of Our Traumatic Experience: An Interview with Dr. Gabor Maté.