Gabor Mate: Addiction and Trauma Therapist and Author

At the heart of Dr. Gabon Mate’s life work is the following question: “The question is never “Why the addiction?” but “Why the pain?” The research literature is unequivocal: most hard-core substance abusers come from abusive homes.”

“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.”

“The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce in the way a developing child will continue to interpret the world and her situation in it. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives. We create meanings from our unconscious interpretation of early events, and then we forge our present experiences from the meaning we’ve created. Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past…Mindful awareness can bring into consciousness those hidden, past-based perspectives so that they no longer frame our worldview.’Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present…Until you reach that point, you are unconscious.’ …In present awareness we are liberated from the past.”

You Tube has several Dr. Gabon Mate’s talks. Some of them are:

Listen to this first–Dr. Gabor Mate–Compassionate Inquiry

How Addiction Works

The Power of Addiction and The Addiction of Power

How emotions affects our cognitive functioning

Quotations from Dr. Gabon Mate:

1 “Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.”

2.“The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce in the way a developing child will continue to interpret the world and her situation in it. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives. We create meanings from our unconscious interpretation of early events, and then we forge our present experiences from the meaning we’ve created. Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past…Mindful awareness can bring into consciousness those hidden, past-based perspectives so that they no longer frame our worldview.’Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present…Until you reach that point, you are unconscious.’ …In present awareness we are liberated from the past.”

3.“At the core of every addiction is an emptiness based in abject fear. The addict dreads and abhors the present moment; she bends feverishly only toward the next time, the moment when her brain, infused with her drug of choice, will briefly experience itself as liberated from the burden of the past and the fear of the future—the two elements that make the present intolerable. Many of us resemble the drug addict in our ineffectual efforts to fill in the spiritual black hole, the void at the center, where we have lost touch with our souls, our spirit—with those sources of meaning and value that are not contingent or fleeting. Our consumerist, acquisition-, action-, and image-mad culture only serves to deepen the hole, leaving us emptier than before. The constant, intrusive, and meaningless mind-whirl that characterizes the way so many of us experience our silent moments is, itself, a form of addiction—and it serves the same purpose. “One of the main tasks of the mind is to fight or remove the emotional pain, which is one of the reasons for its incessant activity, but all it can ever achieve is to cover it up temporarily. In fact, the harder the mind struggles to get rid of the pain, the greater the pain.”

5.“Why, then, are narrow genetic assumptions so widely accepted and, in particular, so enthusiastically embraced by the media? The neglect of developmental science is one factor. Our preference for a simple and quickly understood explanation is another, as is our tendency to look for one-to-one causations for almost everything. Life in its wondrous complexity does not conform to such easy reductions.”

6.“When I am sharply judgmental of any other person, it’s because I sense or see reflected in them some aspect of myself that I don’t want to acknowledge.”

7.The essence of trauma is that, as a result of the overt abuse or neglect, or because of the relational trauma, we lose the connection to our essence. That’s what the trauma is. The trauma is not what happened; the trauma is not that I was raped, the trauma is not that I was abandoned, the trauma is not that I was hit, the trauma is not that my parents didn’t know how to listen to me.

That’s not the trauma; the trauma is that, as a result of that, I lost the connection to myself. Hence, I lost the connection to my essential qualities: my joy, my vitality, my clarity, my wisdom, my power, my strength, my courage. That’s the trauma!

The good news is, THAT can be healed, because if the trauma is the loss of connection to myself then that loss of connection to myself can be healed. What happened 50 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 15 years ago, or 3 years ago can’t be healed. If you were raped when you were five years old by your grandfather, that’s never going to change. But if the effect of that was that you lost the connection to yourself, that can be changed.

8.“The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce in the way a developing child will continue to interpret the world and her situation in it. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives. We create meanings from our unconscious interpretation of early events, and then we forge our present experiences from the meaning we’ve created. Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past…Mindful awareness can bring into consciousness those hidden, past-based perspectives so that they no longer frame our worldview.’Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present…Until you reach that point, you are unconscious.’ …In present awareness we are liberated from the past.”

9.“Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer. Along with our ability to feel our own pain go our best hopes for healing, dignity and love. What seems nonadaptive and self-harming in the present was, at some point in our lives, an adaptation to help us endure what we then had to go through. If people are addicted to self-soothing behaviours, it’s only because in their formative years they did not receive the soothing they needed. Such understanding helps delete toxic self-judgment on the past and supports responsibility for the now. Hence the need for compassionate self-inquiry.”  

10.“Emotional competence requires the capacity to feel our emotions, so that we are aware when we are experiencing stress; the ability to express our emotions effectively and thereby to assert our needs and to maintain the integrity of our emotional boundaries; the facility to distinguish between psychological reactions that are pertinent to the present situation and those that represent residue from the past.

11.What we want and demand from the world needs to conform to our present needs, not to unconscious, unsatisfied needs from childhood. If distinctions between past and present blur, we will perceive loss or the threat of loss where none exists; and the awareness of those genuine needs that do require satisfaction, rather than their repression for the sake of gaining the acceptance or approval of others. Stress occurs in the absence of these criteria, and it leads to the disruption of homeostasis. Chronic disruption results in ill health.

In each of the individual histories of illness in this book, one or more aspect of emotional competence was significantly compromised, usually in ways entirely unknown to the person involved. Emotional competence is what we need to develop if we are to protect ourselves from the hidden stresses that create a risk to health, and it is what we need to regain if we are to heal. We need to foster emotional competence in our children, as the best preventive medicine.”

“More daunting for those who hope for scientific and social progress, the genetic argument is easily used to justify all kinds of inequalities and injustices that are otherwise hard to defend. It serves a deeply conservative function: if a phenomenon like addiction is determined mostly by biological heredity, we are spared from having to look at how our social environment supports, or does not support, the parents of young children and at how social attitudes, prejudices, and policies burden, stress, and exclude certain segments of the population and thereby increase their propensity for addiction. The writer Louis Menand said it well in a New Yorker article: “It’s all in the genes”: an explanation for the way things are that does not threaten the way things are. Why should someone feel unhappy or engage in antisocial behavior when that person is living in the freest and most prosperous nation on earth? It can’t be the system! There must be a flaw in the wiring somewhere.”

Book review from Amazon:

“Based on Gabor Maté’s two decades of experience as a medical doctor and his groundbreaking work with the severely addicted on Vancouver’s skid row, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts radically reenvisions this much misunderstood field by taking a holistic approach. Dr. Maté presents addiction not as a discrete phenomenon confined to an unfortunate or weak-willed few, but as a continuum that runs throughout (and perhaps underpins) our society; not a medical “condition” distinct from the lives it affects, rather the result of a complex interplay among personal history, emotional, and neurological development, brain chemistry, and the drugs (and behaviors) of addiction. Simplifying a wide array of brain and addiction research findings from around the globe, the book avoids glib self-help remedies, instead promoting a thorough and compassionate self-understanding as the first key to healing and wellness. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts argues persuasively against contemporary health, social, and criminal justice policies toward addiction and those impacted by it. The mix of personal stories—including the author’s candid discussion of his own “high-status” addictive tendencies—and science with positive solutions makes the book equally useful for lay readers and professionals.”

“In the cloudy swirl of misleading ideas surrounding public discussion of addiction, there’s one that stands out: the misconception that drug taking by itself will lead to addiction—in other words, that the cause of addiction resides in the power of the drug over the human brain. It is one of the bedrock fables sustaining the so-called War on Drugs.”

 

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