This is a book of case studies – arthritis, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. My childhood issue was a (juvenile) rheumatic arthritis condition and so it was these chapters which grabbed my interest the most.

The chapter on Rachel was informative. In hospital as a premature baby, she was deprived of emotional and tactile deprivation during her first few months of life and gained an expectation of abandonment. As a fellow rheumatoid arthritis sufferer, I was entranced by her swallowing anger, hopelessness around intimacy, need to justify her decisions and need for others to ‘get it’. However, mostly it was her pet rabbit that resonated. Gabor Mate says animals are ‘acutely sensitive to messages from the limbic brain’.

One concept that hit me was the link between rheumatic arthritis and stress. I understood Rachel’s lifetime behaviours had programmed her biology for potential illness. Her rheumatoid arthritis was a culmination of lifelong processes but what about a childhood form of the illness? I was a late Spring birth and told that many of my early days had been spent in a pram under the apple tree. This time sounded idyllic so what was the stress? In whatever form, it came to a head when I was eighteen months old.

Gabor Mate says, ‘the human interactions and biological imprinting that shaped these processes took place in periods of our life for which we may have no conscious recall’. He talks about something positive being withheld, or a biology of loss and ‘the neural circuits and neurochemistry of the brain developed in response to input from this environment.’

As Mate says ‘emotions interpret the world for us’ and signal our internal states. They are filtered through the memory of past experience, and they anticipate the future based on our perception of the past’. Whilst self-regulation ‘requires the co-ordinated activities of anatomically separate brain areas, along with the benign dominance of the upper, more recently evolved regions of the brain over the lower ones.’

At the end of his book Gabor Mate talks about the ‘compassionate curiosity’ or ‘non-judgemental acceptance’ we give to someone who has suffered and needs help. How we react to unconscious expressions – tone, body language, facial mannerisms – and our ability to read the emotional reality. Or in other words which emotional cues or data we notice. He also talks about assertion including letting go of the need to act, attachment and intimacy along with affirmation or paying attention to ourself and our deepest urges and our connection with all that is.

Like my resonance with Rachel’s pet rabbit one sentence hit home. Gabor Mate says it is incredibly ‘anxiety provoking and guilt-producing’ for a person to experience aggressive feelings towards a loved one. The physical body begins to succumb when psychic integrity and freedom are jeopardised. I may explore further!

I found this book deeply interesting. Thank you.

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