This is an important post. It is about how our response to stress learned in childhood can result in chronic disease. We’ve all heard how stress can kill you, but until I was exposed to the work of Dr. Gabor Maté, I never fully grasped just how just how much we now know about the role of stress in disease. It is huge.
Perfect Health Diet recently linked to the first part of the lecture Bio-Psychosocial View on Neuro Degenerative Diseases. I found the second part, even though these videos are unlisted, which makes me think they might get taken down at some point. I highly encourage you to watch both. There are some sound issues with the second part, but it is still valuable.
Part 1 http://youtu.be/MuZMSZ1_8o4 (53:41)
Part 2 http://youtu.be/po3cVvxzcRA (56:07)
After watching the above videos, I read the doctor’s book When the Body Says No.
Two Kinds of Stress
When we think about stress, we think about our response to events that disturb us. Someone cuts us off in traffic or we have a personal conflict. So when we engage in stress management strategies, we are working on responses to these events. But stress can come not only from explicit memories, but implicit memories. Implicit memories are often those events that happen in childhood where we can’t recall the event, but we can recall the emotion. What happens in our childhood sets us up for chronic illness later.
Children need attachment and they need to be themselves. Dr. Maté calls it being authentic and for survival purposes, attachment will always trump authenticity. When children are trained to suppress their emotions for their survival, it sets them up for much higher rates of illness later on. He further states that children are not born with a personality, but develop one as a coping strategy.
The psychology of children is programmed by the emotional states of their parents.
Dr. Maté calls this the story of chronic illness. What diseases are affected by stress from our childhood?
- Crohn’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic Fatigue
Dr. Maté discusses how people with MS universally share a trait in common in that they can’t say no. They place the emotional well being of others above their own. And as the title of his book says – when you don’t know how to say no, the body will say it for you. Children that are abused have a 50% higher risk of cancer. That is huge! Swapping out the canola oil for coconut oil is trivial by comparison.
Risk Factors in the Stress Disease Connection
Dr. Maté lists a few personality types that are at risk.
- Those with a compulsive regard for the emotional needs of others while ignoring their own emotional needs.
- Those with a rigid and compulsive identification with duty, role, and responsibility while ignoring their own needs.
- Those that repress anger.
- Those that feel the need to never disappoint anyone.
Stress triggers include:
- Lack of information
- Loss of control
- Conflict you can’t handle
- Loss of something you perceive you need (attachment)
The final chapter of When the Body Says No provides seven strategies for addressing the stresses that leads to chronic illness. I highly recommend this book. It has really helped me understand how my own responses to stress were molded by situations that happened very early in my life. The most important lesson I got from his work is that you can only manage the stress you are aware of. Since many of us will not recall the stressful events that happened during our childhood, Dr. Maté teaches that the details of what happened to us aren’t important. What is important is recognizing our reaction to stress and responding in an authentic and compassionate manner.