Webinar and question session regarding ‘The Myth of Normal’ with Gabor Maté

A week ago, we gathered with a few people to listen to a webinar with Gabor Maté as the main guest, organised by Science & Nonduality (SAND). Gabor answered questions about his new book, ‘The Myth of Normal’, written with his son Daniel, and related themes. I would like to share some of the topics that were discussed.

The session begins with some general reflections. It talks about how important it is to first establish that you are suffering, that you are not happy. When there is pain, it is good to be curious about the source of your suffering without judgment (‘compassionate inquiry’). Compassionately examining your own anxiety and loneliness is the first step to healing. Books, therapy, body-oriented exercises, and spiritual practices such as meditation and the like can also be helpful.
In everything you undertake within a social context, it is good to remember that every system (relationship, family, work environment, society) is intent on maintaining itself, among other things by reinforcing beliefs that guarantee the survival of that system. Beliefs and attitudes that tamper with the system are ‘difficult’. If you do not share the values of the system or oppose them, you are unlikely to achieve a position of influence within that system. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to change toxic dynamics in a system.
There is certainly also a cultural component in this: there are ‘indigenous tribes’ where there is ‘intelligent governance’, leading the community in a way in which it is not tolerated that leaders primarily serve their own goals. If that happens, they lose their position of power.

During the reflections, among the approximately 800 participants, quite a few Zoom hands have already gone up in the air from people who would like to ask a question, which will fill the rest of the webinar.
One of the first questions is about the relationship between parents and children when there is disagreement and constant hassle. How do you handle that? How do you ensure a more harmonious interaction? Who bears what responsibility? It is discussed that parenting is not a democratic institution, since adults simply bear responsibility for their children, whom they supervise and about and for whom they have to make decisions. There is a certain degree of hierarchy and dominance. Where things go wrong is when it amounts to exploitation or coercion, when children obey under the pressure of fear of sanctions. A distinction is made between authoritarian and authoritative parenting: dictatorial or tyrannical (which leads to struggle and resistance) versus naturally inducing respect and showing involvement (with fairness, good sense, and understanding). There is also a difference between the role of ‘parent’, with a certain hierarchy, and the relationship between parent and child, in which equality is the essence.

In this part of the webinar, Gabor also refers to a presentation by him and Daniel together in 2016, entitled ‘Hello Again’, in which father and son both give a talk, are then interviewed and subsequently answer questions from the audience. (Anoter, very recent edition of such a conversation can be found here and there are more.) These conversations are both hilarious and profound. Daniel begins the 2016 interview by saying that he feels blessed to have a father who is so much ‘willing to look at himself’ and is ‘reflective’. ‘Kids’, says Daniel, ‘get the message under the words’ and that is why it is often difficult to have a conversation about what really matters, as there is so much beneath the words that perhaps even the parent is unaware of. It is good and pithy to remember that in an adult relationship there is no 50/50 responsibility for the interaction, but that both partners bear 100% responsibility for their own part.

The mother who asks a question during the webinar about her daughter, with whom everything is now very difficult, feels a lot of powerlessness and anger. When she talks to Gabor, his quickly concludes: “Your child is not your problem. Your trauma is your problem.” A short conversation follows and the mother soon becomes very emotional because she realises that there is indeed still a lot of pain from her own childhood. She gets the warm encouragement to seek help so that she can feel more peaceful and then really be there for her daughter, so that she herself first gets what she can’t give right now.

A young man would like to learn how to drift less, how to master that his ‘tuning out’ is no longer his standard response to complicated situations. Two years after starting his studies he dropped out and he now has a part-time job and is working to discover and heal his trauma so that he can continue on his way through life. He realises that there are ADHD symptoms. Gabor’s estimate is that there was a lot of stress with his parents during his childhood; there also appears to have been anger and shouting. Only by dissociating could his brain protect him against all that. Therapy will be important for his recovery. What also matters, is taking good care of his body, living a life that supports his health. In addition, he can train his mind, for example through meditation. Developing more awareness for the moments when he dissociates is also helpful. These approaches together provide a form of ‘reprogramming’ of the internal environment.

Another woman is also looking for more inner balance. There is a calm exchange of thoughts and then Gabor refers to the idea that had lived in him for so long: “Everybody can heal, but not me.” This idea, he says to his conversation partner, who is now in tears, is a trauma imprint. It is the wounded child in us that struggles to believe that healing is possible, after all those years when things felt painful, when expectations were not met, when fear prevailed, when our needs were not seen and when our brain developed on the basis of those experiences. In addition, it is very difficult for sensitive children to see and perceive things that the important adults around them do not see or do not speak about, while this energy continues to resonate in the system.

Short conversations are held with various people throughout the webinar and it is impressive to see how gently their problems are approached, how they are kept ‘on topic’ and how there is a constant appeal to their inner wisdom.
By no means are all questions addressed – the hour and a half are insufficient for that. Gabor suggests a sequel shortly and Zaya and Maurizio from SAND are happy with that offer.
Last Monday, I received the replay link, but you must be logged in and registered and have donated to watch the webinar again. Sharing that link is therefore not very useful. The email also contained a few resources mentioned during the webinar that I am happy to share:

·       Mari Swingle book: I-Minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media are Changing Our Brains, Our Behavior, and the Evolution of Our Species

·       Dr. Shimi Kang book: The Tech Solution

·       Dr. Gabor Maté book: Hold on to Your Kids

Would you like to join one of the webinars…? Check out the SAND website for the dates and topics. We wish you lots of inspiration with the ‘Hello Again’ conversations linked above and good and loving conversations based on compassion with your dear ones in the week ahead! We look forward to seeing you again in 2023!

Posted in Miscellaneous.