Book Review: When The Body Says No


In this accessible and groundbreaking book — filled with the moving stories of real people — medical doctor and bestselling author of Scattered Minds, Gabor Maté, shows that emotion and psychological stress play a powerful role in the onset of chronic illness.

Western medicine achieves spectacular triumphs when dealing with acute conditions such as fractured bones or life-threatening infections. It is less successful against ailments not susceptible to the quick ministrations of scalpel, antibiotic or miracle drug. Trained to consider mind and body separately, physicians are often helpless in arresting the advance of most of the chronic diseases, such as breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Gabor Maté has found that in all of these chronic conditions, there is a common thread: people afflicted by these diseases have led lives of excessive stress, often invisible to the individuals themselves. From an early age, many of us develop a psychological coping style that keeps us out of touch with the signs of stress. So-called negative emotions, particularly anger, are suppressed. Dr. Maté writes with great conviction that knowledge of how stress and disease are connected is essential to prevent illness in the first place, or to facilitate healing.

When the Body Says No is an impressive contribution to current research on the physiological connection between life’s stresses and emotions and the body systems governing nerves, immune apparatus and hormones. With great compassion and erudition, Gabor Maté demystifies medical science and, as he did in Scattered Minds, invites us all to be our own health advocates.

My Thoughts:

This book BLEW MY MIND. I knew that I had to reduce my stress after being diagnosed with MS but I didn’t really grasp how much. I thought stress reduction was part of a holistic health treatment and not something I needed to dive into to understand how it could be/have been a contributing factor to the development of the disease.

This time last year I was inspired to look at why I had/have the need to be an overachiever and do a lot of things by my Naturopath. She asked me “Why Do You Need To Be SuperWoman?” That question inspired the blog post Stop The Glorification of Doing Things. After that appointment, she recommended I pick up this book. So there it sat on my Kobo for over a year until I was ready to pick it up. I hadn’t really truly dived into how stress could have led to the development of my auto-immune sidekick and how it is creating chronic illness in our society and the world at large. After I read this book my mind was opened up to a new world of research. Here are some quotes that just hit me as I read them:

“When people describe themselves as being stressed, they usually mean the nervous agitation they experience under excessive demands – most commonly in the areas of work, family, relationships, finance or health. But sensations of nervous tension do not define stress – nor, strictly speaking are they always perceived when people are stressed. 

Stress occurs in the absence of capacity to feel our emotions, the ability to express our emotions effectively, the facility to distinguish between psychological reactions, and the awareness of genuine needs that require satisfaction rather than repression for gaining acceptance of others. This leads to the disruption of homeostasis. Chronic disruption results in ill health.

The idea that psychological stress increases the risk for MS is not new. The French Neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot was first to give a full clinical description of MS. Patients, he reported in a lecture in 1868, connect “long-continued grief or vexation” with the onset of symptoms. 

Excessive emotional involvement with a parent, a lack of psychological independence, an overwhelming need for love and affection, and the inability to feel or express anger has long been identified by medical observers as possible factors in the natural development of the disease. 

“before the onset of symptoms… patients experience traumatic life events that had threatened their ‘security system'”

“The common characteristic is the gradual realization of the inability to cope with a difficult situation, provoking feelings of inadequacy or failure.”

A systems model recognizes that many processes and factors work together in the formation of disease or in the creation of health. 

The potential for wholeness, for health, resides in all of us, as does the potential for illness and disharmony. The disease is disharmony. It is an expression of an internal disharmony. The first step in retracing our way to health is to abandon our attachment to what is called positive thinking. In order to heal, it is essential to gather the strength to think negatively. Negative thinking is not a doleful, pessimistic view that masquerades as “realism”. Rather, it is a willingness to consider what is not working? What is my body saying no to? Without these questions, the stresses responsible for our lack of balance will remain hidden. 

Holy Crap.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know I called off my wedding in 2012 and left a toxic relationship. But the thing is… I allowed myself to be in a toxic relationship. I invited this man into my home and my life. I tried to fix a difficult situation until I finally had enough and ended it. And from there I’ve worked on healing myself on a journey of self-care and self-love. I’m not blaming myself or getting mad at myself. I’m just observing this new knowledge.

I am in no way blaming the stress I experienced from the relationship, calling off my wedding, or leaving the relationship for the reason why I was diagnosed with MS. However, I do believe the way I managed the stress is one of the contributing factors to a perfect storm allowing my body to get confused and attack itself. I also believe my need to achieve is also contributing to my disharmony. I didn’t put any quotes about this part of the book above but I urge you to read the book yourself and discover what speaks to you most.

What I’m learning in my healthy journey is that there really isn’t any one single factor that causes MS. I do believe the psychology of how I’ve handled stress and my need to be an overachiever are things I can recognize, deal with, understand, and move forward with to truly take care of myself to my utmost ability. I am embracing the power of negative thinking (what isn’t serving me or hasn’t served me) vs. just positive, sweep it under the rug way of thinking. That clearly hasn’t served me very well. I can always grow and learn and am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Last week on Periscope I came to the realization that stress & my previous relationship could be a contributing factor to my sidekick. After finishing this book, I reached out to my former therapist and will be returning to therapy to truly understand how psychology, past relationships, how I view relationships, how I deal with stress and how I deal with emotions and how my need to achieve are affecting me so I can learn from my past, be present in my present and continue to move towards a healthy, positive future. MS you really are teaching me to be my best self.

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