The Myth of Normal Book Summary - The Myth of Normal Book explained in key points
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The Myth of Normal summary

Gabor Maté with Daniel Maté

Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture

4.6 (822 ratings)
20 mins
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    The Myth of Normal
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    The clash between attachment and authenticity leads to a fractured self.

    At 27, Mee Ok Icaro developed a rare and painful autoimmune disorder called scleroderma, where the connective tissue throughout the body hardens. It left Mee Ok bedridden and unable to move. She felt so much pain and despair that she wanted to end her life.

    Mee Ok’s condition vexed doctors, so she began looking to her childhood for answers.

    Born in Korea to a single mother, she was given up for adoption at six months. She was then taken in by an evangelical couple in the US, who raised her in a strict environment. For years, she suffered sexual abuse by her adoptive father – memories of which she’d repressed.

    As Mee Ok began to confront her past, she realized how much emotional pain she had been stuffing down. To cope, she had learned to channel her energy into being hyperfunctional and indispensable at work, often carrying the pressures of everyone around her.

    While Mee Ok’s disease is rare, her story is sadly not. Like the ALS patients at the Cleveland Clinic, these traits of self-sacrifice, suppressing negative emotions (especially anger), and high concern for social acceptance are common in patients with autoimmune diseases.

    So what’s going on here? For Dr. Maté, it exemplifies what happens when two fundamental human needs – attachment and authenticity – are put in conflict. Attachment is your core need for emotional proximity and love. But you also need to be the author of your life, guided by a deep knowledge of your authentic self.

    In Mee Ok’s case, the trauma of separation and sexual abuse was so painful and alarming that she had to disconnect entirely from her memories and her emotional self. At some point, she learned that working hard and being useful was a safe way to gain acceptance.

    This is the split self: there are the parts of you that you believe are acceptable, and there are others you reject. When Mee Ok learned to reconnect with those once rejected parts, she began to heal. Today, she is off all medications and can walk, travel, and even hike again.

    Next, we’ll explore how this split self sets the conditions for disease.

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    What is The Myth of Normal about?

    The Myth of Normal (2022) unpacks why chronic disease and mental illness are on the rise. Western medicine focuses on individual pathologies, but what if the key actually lies in our culture? Things we consider normal – like stress, adversity, and trauma – are often toxic and breed disease. The pathway back to health rests in identifying and addressing these underlying conditions.

    Who should read The Myth of Normal?

    • Health professionals who want the bigger picture
    • Lovers of a good social critique
    • Anyone working through health challenges

    About the Author

    Dr. Gabor Maté is a Canadian physician with over four decades of clinical experience, who is known for his work treating addiction in the Downtown Eastside neighborhood of Vancouver. He has written four best-selling books, including In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and Hold On to Your Kids.

    Daniel Maté is an award-winning lyricist and composer based in Brooklyn, who has written several stage plays and musicals. This is his third book collaboration with his father, Gabor.

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