The Psychological Roots Of Illness

Could the secrets to your physical health lie hidden in your emotional past?

In this enlightening video, Dr. Gabor Maté, with decades of experience in family practice and palliative care, explores the profound connection between emotional experiences and physical health. He emphasizes the critical role childhood trauma plays in shaping our long-term health outcomes, challenging the conventional separation of mind and body that pervades Western medicine. Through compelling evidence and personal insights, Dr. Maté reveals how our early environments influence our stress responses, which in turn can lead to chronic physical and mental health issues.

Dr. Maté discusses how Western medicine’s focus on physical symptoms and genetic predispositions fails to account for the significant impact of socio-emotional factors on health. He critiques the medical ideology that overlooks the integrated nature of human beings, pointing out that diseases are not confined to specific organs but are influenced by the entire ecosystem of the body influenced by both internal and external environments. The video sheds light on how emotional states can instantly alter physiological responses, illustrating the constant interplay between our psychological states and physical health.

Highlighting the importance of recognizing the emotional roots of diseases, Dr. Maté advocates for a medical approach that considers the psychological and social environments as integral to diagnosing and treating illnesses. He argues for a shift from treating symptoms to understanding the underlying emotional triggers, promoting a holistic approach to health that fosters healing, growth, and a deeper understanding of oneself. This transformative perspective invites viewers to rethink health and illness through the lens of personal development and emotional awareness, offering a path to more effective healing practices that address the root causes of illness rather than merely managing symptoms.

In the realm of child development, I just wish we’d actually looked at the evidence. But we don’t.

I worked in family practice for 32 years – 12 of them with hardcore drug addicts, the other 20 in a straightforward family practice. And in those years, I found that the people who got sick and didn’t get sick had certain patterns.

There’s one major source of illness and I’m talking about any kind of illness, whether that’s so-called mental illness or physical illness. And that’s childhood trauma. Trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you. And things can happen inside you for which you don’t need very dramatic events.

Growing scientific evidence demonstrates that social and physical environments that threaten human development because of scarcity, stress, or instability, can lead to short term physiologic and psychological adjustments that are necessary for immediate survival and adaptation, but which may come at a significant cost to long term outcomes in learning, behavior, health and longevity.

Because those early coping patterns, here’s the problem with them. They’re meant to be temporary states. If you’re familiar with my idea about ADHD which I’ve been diagnosed with, it’s a coping mechanism of young infants when there is stress around them, and they can’t escape, fight back, or change the situation, they tune out as a way of coping. But then it gets wired into their brain and now it goes from a temporary state, which it is meant to be, to a long term trait. There’s nothing wrong with her coping that way if she could drop it once she no longer needed to be that way. But of course, that’s not how it works. These coping mechanisms are unconscious, therefore they’re not chosen deliberately. Therefore they cannot be released deliberately either. We’re not even aware of them.

The reason these patterns make you ill is because it turns out that as traditional medicinal practices have always known, you can’t actually separate the mind from the body, except in medical school, but not in real life.

Now Western medicine looks at disease from a particular perspective. And you have to understand something about medicine. It’s science, all right. But it’s also ideology. And there’s a difference in science and ideology. An ideology is a worldview that you’re not conscious of, that you have hidden beliefs that you don’t question. And that exists in all realms, whether it is science or politics or history or economics or any field of human thought or investigation. So there’s always ideological biases hidden in any system.

Now, what are the biases of Western medicine? The hidden biases are, number one, that diseases have either physical causes in a sense of genes or external forces like bacteria or viruses or toxins, or the diseases are what we call “idiopathic,” we don’t know what the source of it is. So that’s one bias is that causes are purely physical. The second bias is that diseases happen to organs. So you have a heart disease, and you have lung disease, and you have diseases of the connective tissue or the liver or whatever, and then there’s specialties designated to study in depth the diseases of these organs. So we separate the organ from the whole person. We might acknowledge the role of the physical environment, but we certainly are not acknowledging the role of the social environment.

So I could clearly and trivially change your physiology in a split second. I’d simply would have to utter a piercing blood curdling scream and brandish a weapon at you. And your physiology would change like that. Your hormonal glands would start behaving differently. Your intestines would stop digesting. More blood would flow to your muscles and you can be ready for fight or flight. Now that’s an obvious example where the emotion changes the physiology in a split second. Well guess what, that goes on 24-7. So that interaction between the physiology and the emotions is constant. It’s just that for the most part we’re not aware of it unless it’s dramatic.

In general, the role of the emotions is to invite in what is nurturing and welcome and healthy and to keep out that which is unwelcome, dangerous, and toxic. So with some people, sometimes we’ll invite even greater proximity, and others we never want to be anywhere close to them. That’s the job of our emotions to maintain those boundaries.

Your conflicts, all the difficult things, the problematic situations in your life are not chance or haphazard. They’re specifically yours, designed specifically for you, by a part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part of you that loves you more than anything else has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself. We can look at psychological problems, relationship conflicts, and illness as just problems to get rid of or we could look upon them as opportunities for learning and development and growth.

You don’t say to somebody just diagnosed with cancer, “hey, great, this is a great teaching moment.” But if somebody wants to learn, if they start asking why, it’s a powerful teacher.

And contrary to what my profession believes that these diseases have a life of their own separate from the individual, they don’t. They are processes inside people, and the people have their response ability to affect those processes once they get it and they drop the automatic patterns that have been driving them.

“We need this now, more than ever.”

“It’s fairly simple. the brain can heal the body; of course it can do the opposite too.”

“So important. We must understand the human being in its totality not its separate parts”

“I am grateful to Dr. Mate for connecting the dots. I pray more people will open their minds and see the long reaching effects of trauma on children.”

“So true. This is the kind of thinking that needs to become common within our medical community – if it ever readdresses itself to the mission of actually seeking health for humanity.”

“Carved in Mayhem”by Luke Atencio
“The Light Within” by Blake Ewing

Scientific References:

Jack P. Shonkoff, Linda Richter, Jacques van der Gaag and Zulfiqar A. Bhutta Pediatrics February 2012, 129 (2) e460-e472; DOI:

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