From the author of some of the most profound and life-changing books on relationships, trauma, parenting and child development, Gabor Mate, here are just 40 of the many life-changing lessons to learn from him.
40 Life-Changing Lessons to Learn from Gabor Maté
1. The attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain. ~ Gabor Maté
2. The greatest gift a parent can give to their child is his or her own happiness.
“The greatest gift a parent can give to their child is his or her own happiness. And when you’re restless and unhappy, on your kids as I have been, they get a message that it’s about them…” ~ Dr. Gabor Maté
4. Temporary breaks in the relationship with the child are inevitable and are not in themselves harmful.
“As parents, we may as well accept that we will “lose it” at times. Perfect equanimity is beyond us. Temporary breaks in the relationship with the child are inevitable and are not in themselves harmful, unless they are frequent and catastrophic. The real harm is inflicted when the parent makes the child work at reestablishing contact, as in forcing a child to apologize before granting “forgiveness.” Gabor Maté,
5. We think that children act, whereas what they mostly do is react.
“We think that children act, whereas what they mostly do is react. Parents who realize this acquire a powerful tool. By noticing their own responses to the child, rather than fixating on the child’s responses to them, they free up tremendous energy for growth.”
6. Love felt by the parent does not automatically translate into love experienced by the child. ~ Gabor Maté
7. A lot of children suppress themselves to be accepted.
“If our environment cannot support our gut feelings and our emotions, then the child, in order to ‘belong’ and ‘fit in’ will automatically, unwittingly and unconsciously, suppress their emotions and their connections to themselves, for the sake of staying connected to the nurturing environment, without which the child cannot survive. A lot of children are in this dilemma – Can I feel and express what I feel or do I have to suppress that in order to be acceptable, to be a good kid, to be a nice kid?” ~ Gabor Maté
8. The screen affects the developing brain of the child.
“The screen affects the developing brain. The more time the kids spend watching screens the more it depletes their dopamine receptors. And dopamine receptors are the ones that get implicated in addiction later on…” ~ Gabor Maté
9. The automatic repression of painful emotion is a helpless child’s prime defence mechanism. ~ Gabor Maté
“The automatic repression of painful emotion is a helpless child’s prime defence mechanism and can enable the child to endure trauma that would otherwise be catastrophic. The unfortunate consequence is a wholesale dulling of emotional awareness.”
10. The power to parent will be transferred to whomever the child depends on.
“The power to parent will be transferred to whomever the child depends on, whether or not that person is truly dependable, appropriate, responsible, or compassionate — whether or not, in fact, that person is even an adult.” ~ Dr. Gabor Mate
11. The power of parenting comes from the desire of the child to belong to you.
“Parenting is not a role. The most important this is relationship. Without understanding relationship, any plan of action will only breed conflict. The power of parenting comes from the desire of the child to belong to you.”
Gabor Maté on Addiction
12. Our birthright as human beings is to be happy.
“Our birthright as human beings is to be happy, and the addict just wants to be a human being.”
13. The wondrous power of a drug is to offer the addict protection from pain.
“The wondrous power of a drug is to offer the addict protection from pain while at the same time enabling her to engage the world with excitement and meaning. “It’s not that my senses are dulled-no, they open, expanded,” explained a young woman whose substances of choice are cocaine and marijuana. “But the anxiety is removed, and the nagging guilt and-yeah!” The drug restores to the addict the childhood vivacity she suppressed long ago.” ~ Gabor Mate
14. The very essence of the opiate high was expressed by a twenty-seven-year-old sex-trade worker.
“The very essence of the opiate high was expressed by a twenty-seven-year-old sex-trade worker. She had HIV and has since died. “The first time I did heroin,” she said to me, “it felt like a warm, soft hug.” In that phrase she told her life story and summed up the psychological and chemical cravings of all substance-dependent addicts.” ~ Gabor-Mate
15. There is a huge difference between passion and addiction.
“The difference between passion and addiction is that between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates.” ― Gabor Maté
16. Passion creates, addiction consumes. ~ Gabor Maté
17. It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds in the addictive behaviour.
“It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.” ~ Gabor Maté
18. Not why the addiction but why the pain. ~ Gabor Maté
19. Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer.
“Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer. Along with our ability to feel our own pain go our best hopes for healing, dignity and love. What seems nonadapative and self-harming in the present was, at some point in our lives, an adaptation to help us endure what we then had to go through.
If people are addicted to self-soothing behaviours, it’s only because in their formative years they did not receive the soothing they needed. Such understanding helps delete toxic self-judgment on the past and supports responsibility for the now. Hence the need for compassionate self-inquiry.” ~ Gabor Maté
Gabor Maté on trauma
20. There are two possibilities why your memories of childhood are so hazy.
“There are two possibilities why your memories of childhood are so hazy,” I suggest to people. “Either nothing happened worth remembering, or too much happened that may be hurtful for you to recall.” As we shall see in a later chapter, human beings can tune out entire periods of their lives that were characterized by emotional pain.” ~ Gabor Maté
21. Shame is the deepest of the “negative emotions.”
“Shame is the deepest of the “negative emotions,” a feeling we will do almost anything to avoid. Unfortunately, our abiding fear of shame impairs our ability to see reality.”
22. In present awareness we are liberated from the past.
“Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present…Until you reach that point, you are unconscious.’ …In present awareness we are liberated from the past.”
23. All of the diagnoses that you deal with – depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar illness… even psychosis, are significantly rooted in trauma.
“All of the diagnoses that you deal with – depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar illness, post traumatic stress disorder, even psychosis, are significantly rooted in trauma. They are manifestations of trauma. Therefore the diagnoses don’t explain anything.
The problem in the medical world is that we diagnose somebody and we think that is the explanation. He’s behaving that way because he is psychotic. She’s behaving that way because she has ADHD. Nobody has ADHD, nobody has psychosis – these are processes within the individual. It’s not a thing that you have. This is a process that expresses your life experience. It has meaning in every single case.” ~ Gabor Mate
Gabor Maté on life and living
24. Never be afraid of your own truth.
25. When we flee our vulnerability, we lose our full capacity for feeling emotion. ~ Gabor Maté
26. Our 24/7 self-exposure to noise cannot succeed in drowning out the fearful voices within.
“Even our 24/7 self-exposure to noise, e-mails, cell phones, TV, Internet chats, media outlets, music downloads, videogames, and nonstop internal and external chatter cannot succeed in drowning out the fearful voices within.”
27. People jeopardize their lives for the sake of making the moment livable.
“People jeopardize their lives for the sake of making the moment livable. Nothing sways them from the habit-not illness, not the sacrifice of love and relationship, not the loss of all earthly goods, not the crushing of their dignity, not the fear of dying. The drive is that relentless.” ~ Gabor-Mate
28. Seeing the joy and curiosity of children, we pine for our own lost capacity for wide-eyed wonder.
“Adults envy the openhearted and open-minded explorations of children; seeing their joy and curiosity, we pine for our own lost capacity for wide-eyed wonder. Boredom, rooted in a fundamental discomfort with the self, is one of the least tolerable mental states.”
29. We live in a society that largely denies human developmental needs.
“Since we live in a society that largely denies human developmental needs—doesn’t even understand them, let alone provide for them—you’re going to have a lot of people affected in adverse ways. Most of the population, in fact. And so then to separate out those who meet the particular criteria for a particular diagnosis from the rest of us is utterly unscientific and unhelpful.”
30. The war mentality represents an unfortunate confluence of ignorance, fear, prejudice, and profit
“The war mentality represents an unfortunate confluence of ignorance, fear, prejudice, and profit. … The ignorance exists in its own right and is further perpetuated by government propaganda. The fear is that of ordinary people scared by misinformation but also that of leaders who may know better but are intimidated by the political costs of speaking out on such a heavily moralized and charged issue.
The prejudice is evident in the contradiction that some harmful substances (alcohol, tobacco) are legal while others, less harmful in some ways, are contraband. This has less to do with the innate danger of the drugs than with which populations are publicly identified with using the drugs. The white and wealthier the population, the more acceptable is the substance. And profit. If you have fear, prejudice, and ignorance, there will be profit.” ~ Gabor Maté,
31. Settling for the view that illnesses are primarily genetic ‘allows’ us to avoid disturbing questions about the nature of the society.
“Settling for the view that illnesses, mental or physical, are primarily genetic allows us to avoid disturbing questions about the nature of the society in which we live. If “science” enables us to ignore poverty or man-made toxins or a frenetic and stressful social culture as contributors to disease, we can look only to simple answers: pharmacological and biological.” ~ Gabor-Mate
32. No society can understand itself without looking at its shadow side. ~ Gabor Maté
33. Our true nature is to be connected.
“Our true nature is to be connected. In fact, if that wasn’t our true nature, there would be no human beings. The human species – or any species — could not evolve without being grounded in their bodies. You couldn’t have a bunch of intellectuals walking around out there in the wild, wondering in an abstract sense about the meaning of life, when there’s a saber-toothed tiger lurking behind the next bush.” ~ Gabor Maté
34. Self-acceptance does not mean self-admiration.
“So self-acceptance does not mean self-admiration or even self-liking at every moment of our lives, but tolerance for all our emotions, including those that make us feel uncomfortable.”
35. Being out of touch with the emotional side puts a person out of touch with herself.
“Since having a strong core self relies on acceptance of feelings, being out of touch with the emotional side puts a person out of touch with herself. What then remains to be esteemed? Only a false self, a concoction of what we would like to imagine ourselves to be and what we have divined others want us to be.
Sooner or later, people come to realize that this false self — wanting what they think they should want, feeling what they think they should feel — does not work for them. When they look inside themselves, they discover a frightening emptiness, a vacuum, an absence of a true self or of intrinsic motivation.” ~ Gabor Maté
36. We can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.
“We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.” ~ Gabor Maté
37. We judge others because we judge ourselves.
“When I am sharply judgmental of any other person, it’s because I sense or see reflected in them some aspect of myself that I don’t want to acknowledge.”
38. Your worst enemy cannot hurt you as much as your own thoughts.
“Your worst enemy cannot hurt you as much as your own thoughts, when you haven’t mastered them,” said the Buddha. “But once mastered, no one can help you as much—not even your father and your mother.”
Gabor Maté on love and relationships
39. Couples choose each other with an unerring instinct for finding the very person who will exactly match their own level of unconscious anxieties.
“Couples choose each other with an unerring instinct for finding the very person who will exactly match their own level of unconscious anxieties and mirror their own dysfunctions, and who will trigger for them all their unresolved emotional pain.” ~ Gabor Maté
40. Our relationships beliefs reflect no more than our own anxieties.
“The family therapist David Freeman once concluded a public lecture on intimacy and relationships by saying that if there was any one thing he hoped his audience would remember from his talk, it was the awareness that one does not know his or her spouse, his or her children. We may believe we have a perfect idea of why they act as they do, when in reality our beliefs reflect no more than our own anxieties.” ~ Gabor Maté
“The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce in the way a developing child will continue to interpret the world and her situation in it. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives. We create meanings from our unconscious interpretation of early events, and then we forge our present experiences from the meaning we’ve created. Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past…
Mindful awareness can bring into consciousness those hidden, past-based perspectives so that they no longer frame our worldview.’Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present…Until you reach that point, you are unconscious.’ …In present awareness we are liberated from the past.”~Gabor Mate
P.S. Here are just a few of the many mind-blowing books he has written so far:
- Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers
- When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection
- Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder