Gabor Maté

“Central to any understanding of stress, health and disease is the concept of adaptiveness. Adaptiveness is the capacity to respond to external stressors without rigidity, with flexibility and creativity, without excessive anxiety and without being overwhelmed by emotion. People who are not adaptive may seem to function well as long as nothing is disturbing them, but they will react with various levels of frustration and helplessness when confronted by loss or by difficulty. They will blame themselves or blame others. A person’s adaptiveness depends very much on the degree of differentiation and adaptiveness of previous generations in his family and also on what external stressors may have acted on the family.

The Great Depression, for example, was a difficult time for millions of people. The multigenerational history of particular families enabled some to adapt and cope, while other families, facing the same economic scarcities, were psychologically devastated. “Highly adaptive people and families, on the average, have fewer physical illnesses, and those illnesses that do occur tend to be mild to moderate in severity,” writes Dr. Michael Kerr. Since one important variable in the development of physical illness is the degree of adaptiveness of an individual, and since the degree of adaptiveness is determined by the multigenerational emotional process, physical illness, like emotional illness, is a symptom of a relationship process that extends beyond the boundaries of the individual “patient.”

Physical illness, in other words, is a disorder of the family emotional system [which includes] present and past generations. Children who become their parents’ caregivers are prepared for a lifetime of repression. And these roles children are assigned have to do with the parents’ own unmet childhood needs — and so on down the generations. “Children do not need to be beaten to be compromised,” researchers at McGill University have pointed out. Inappropriate symbiosis between parent and child is the source of much pathology.”


Gabor Maté, When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress
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When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress by Gabor Maté
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