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stressful emotions

Dr. Gabor Maté – From Emotions To Physical Disease

Excerpt from Dr. Gabor Maté’s article titled “How to Build a Culture of Good Health” as published in Yes! Magazine.

Mainstream medical practice largely ignores the role of emotions in the physiological functioning of the human organism. Yet the scientific evidence abundantly shows that people’s lifetime emotional experiences profoundly influence health and illness.

We human beings are biopsychosocial creatures whose health or illness reflects our relationship with the world we inhabit. As early as the second century, the Roman physician Galen noted the connection between emotional burden and illness, an observation repeated by many other clinicians over the centuries.

The pathway from stressful emotions, often unconscious, to physical disease, was often driven home to me as a family physician and palliative care practitioner, although nothing in my medical education even remotely hinted at such links.

People I saw with chronic disease of all kinds—from malignancies or autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or ulcerative colitis to persistent skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, and neurological disorders like Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and even dementia—were characterized by certain unmistakable emotional life patterns.

Among these were:

  • The chronic repression of so-called negative emotions, especially of healthy anger. As in the Woody Allen character’s wry confession (“I never get angry. I grow a tumor instead.”)
  • An overriding sense of duty, role, and responsibility; an undue concern for the emotional needs of OTHERS while ignoring one’s own
  • A core belief—again, often unconscious—that one is responsible for how other people feel and that one must never disappoint others.

The expression “the good die young” has—sadly—more validity than we sometimes appreciate.

Compulsive self-disregard and emotional repression are never deliberate or conscious—nobody can be faulted for them.  They begin in early childhood as a COPING MECHANISM.

During our dependent and vulnerable childhoods, we develop the psychological, behavioral, and emotional composite that later we mistake for ourselves. This composite, which we call the PERSONALITY often masks a real person with real needs and desires.

The personality is not a fault—in stressed environments, it evolves primarily as a defense, a defense that can turn saboteur.

A materialistic culture teaches its members that their VALUE depends on what they produce, achieve, or consume rather than on their human being-ness. Many of us believe that we must continually prove and justify ourworthiness, that we must keep having and doing to justify our existence.

When we take on too much stress, whether at work or in our personal lives, when we are not able to say no, inevitably our bodies will say it for us. We need to be very honest with ourselves, very compassionate, but very thorough in considering how our childhood programming still runs our lives, to our detriment.

Ultimately, healing flows from within. The word itself originates from “wholeness.” To be whole is much more than to experience the absence of disease. It is the full and optimal functioning of the human organism, according to its nature-gifted possibilities. By such standards, we live in a culture that leaves us far short of health.

I’m often asked how people should approach their physicians, who may be very adept at their craft but limited by the narrowness of the medical ideology. “It’s the same as going to a bakery,” I reply. “When you enter a bakery, don’t ask for salami, just as when you go to the butcher, it is no use to ask for cookies.” Receive, I suggest, what the physician can offer—and often that can be miraculous—but do not seek what the doctor cannot. Find alternative sources for what most physicians cannot provide: a holistic approach that considers not organs and systems but the entire human organism. Take responsibility for how you live, the food you ingest, your emotional balance, your spiritual development, the integrity of your relationships.

Give yourself, as best you can, what your parents would have loved to grant you but probably could not: full-hearted attention, full-minded awareness, and compassion. Make gifting yourself with these qualities your daily practice.

For the full article, please click here.

Author Info

Dr. Marilyn Tran, ND

Dr. Marilyn Tran is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor practicing in midtown Toronto. Dr. Tran holds an honours Bachelor of Science in Human Biology and Psychology and a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. Her passion for community work led her to complete rotations at the Sherbourne Health Centre (treating patients with AIDS/HIV), Queen West Community Health Centre and Brampton Civic Hospital. She also completed two medical brigades to Haiti with Naturopaths Without Borders providing care to the local community. In 2016, she began work to set up a Global Health Program in El Salvador, Central America, along with her partner who is an Ayurvedic Doctor. Together, they hope to introduce students rooted in natural health to help communities in impoverished countries. When at home in her city of Toronto, she relishes in all the small and finer things her vibrant, multi-cultural city has to offer. She maintains a health and happiness blog on her website

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