Gabor Maté thinks so, and you may also think so (if you don’t already) by the time you finish The Myth of Normal.1
Dr Gabor Maté is internationally known and respected for his work on stress, addiction, and other psycho-emotional states of mind.
Written with his son, Daniel, Gabor Maté draws on more than four decades of experience, meticulous research, and dozens of personal stories, to present a picture of suffering stemming from within the very culture within which we live.
Maté is not the first to make the assertion that our (westernised) culture is a toxic one. He is not the first to join the dots. This book, though, may be the first to make the lines between those dots clearly, and undeniably, visible.
The victims of this toxic culture do not show up just in the mental health wards, counselling rooms, and psychiatrists offices of the world. Dr Maté acknowledges all of us as victims, suffering (often alone) in the kitchens, bedrooms, corporate offices, and manufacturing floors of the world.
At some stage the stresses, unhealthy expectations, and pains generated by our normal culture will show up in our bodies and minds. Our harmful responses and reactions to this will be inflicted upon ourselves, other people, and the planet.
Too often, Maté states, these stresses, and especially their causes, are not recognised. They are so normalised that they are so effectively suppressed that we do not realise they are eating away at us. Maté says this well:
‘If you go through life being stressed while not knowing you are stressed, there is little you can do to protect yourself from the long-term physiological consequences.’
It is hardly surprising that we do not know we are stressed. Health care professionals are not taught to ask the right questions. Questions are not asked about the environment within which sufferers live. More crucially, questions are not asked about the earlier periods of one’s life – especially childhood. The source, says Maté, of our present-day suffering is to be found within the culture in which we were raised. Yet, our health care system does not acknowledge this, and so the appropriate questions are not asked.
In such a culture, can healing (coming back to wholeness in its true sense) take place? Maté believes so. He offers four As of self-healing: 1. Discovering our authentic self, 2. Realising we have agency, 3. Acknowledging anger, and 4. Moving into acceptance.
Later in the book, Maté offers two more As – this time aimed at healing the underlying cultural system: activism and advocacy.
If we can see through the myth of normal and begin a healing process for ourselves, others, and the planet then Maté is hopeful. His final paragraph briefly outlines this healing journey:
‘We are blessed with a momentous opportunity. Shedding toxic myths of disconnection from ourselves, from one another, and from the planet, we can bring what is normal and what is natural, bit by bit, closer together. It is a task for the ages: one that can redeem the past, inspire the present, and point to a brighter, healthier future.’
1. Gabor Maté with Daniel Maté, The Myth of Normal: trauma, illness & healing in a toxic culture, Vermillion (Penguin Random House), London, 2022