Doctor Gabor Maté worked as medical coordinator of the Palliative Care Unit at Vancouver Hospital for seven years. It was during that time that he started investigating the connection between emotion, stress, coping styles and disease because he realized that most of his patients only allowed themselves to feel or express anger at those final stages in their lives.
In this book he explores the mechanisms of different kinds of diseases – from multiple sclerosis (first chapter), to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, among others – draws from research, and links these data with the stories and backgrounds of his patients – as well as well-known personalities who suffered from these diseases, such as Jacqueline Du Pré, Stephen Hawking, Béla Bartók or Ronald Reagan – making connections and highlighting behavior patterns.
Apart from being so scientifically informative and accessible, what struck me in this book was some of the heartbreaking stories. A patient tells about her happy childhood and how great her relationship with her parents was, and then, when she starts to describe it, there’s nothing but dysfunction. The truth is, when you’ve been under emotional stress for long during your childhood, you can lose your ability to perceive certain situations as stressful. But you body perceives them. And they damage your body. Another patient is so emotionally dependent that she needs to ask her mother for permission to die, even though she’s a grown-up woman…
I couldn’t read this book as fast as I wanted to because some parts moved me so much that I had to take breaks. I also started reflecting a lot on my own background, my inability to express anger, and all the emotions I keep locked inside. This has definitely been one of the most useful books I’ve read about the link between emotions, stress and disease and I recommend it to anyone who also wants to dive into this subject.
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