When the Body Says No — by Gabor Maté

Title: When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress
Author: Gabor Maté
Year: 2019
Publisher: Vermilion

“Can a person literally die of loneliness? Is there a connection between the ability to express emotions and Alzheimer’s disease? Is there such a thing as a cancer personality?”


The first time I saw Gabor’s work was just by coincidence, when I was looking for videos about trauma for college. His book is among the best that I’ve personally come across so far, it reminds us that we are all humans. “When the Body Says No”, is an incredible book about past traumas, repressed emotions, and its consequences.

In overview, the book talks about how hidden stress can affect you in the long term and how trauma emerges in our adulthood as simple-but-deadly symptoms or even just ‘details’.

Some of the examples given are people who died from cancer which, as kids, went through hell without saying a single word about it, neither during, nor after.

You Don’t Have to Wait Until You’re on Your Deathbed before You Start Speaking Your Mind

People that, once they were on their deathbed, started being who they truly were inside, stopped being pleasers and started speaking their minds; they lived a life as sheep…but died as lions fully embodying the old saying “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”Benito Mussolini.

The main point of this book can be summed up by the following quote: “You cannot split mind from body.”Socrates. (Chapter 1: The Bermuda Triangle). It’s funny how, in this generation, that we’ve lost all our connection to the big thinkers, our wisdom roots.

That simple quote is the best critic to today’s society, we can see it in documentaries like “Take Your Pills” on Netflix and how badly we treat people with serious problems, we treat the symptoms not the root causes of the problems per-se.

Prescriptions Come from the Outside, Transformation Occurs from Within

With “When the Body Says No”, Maté hopes “this book serves its readers as a catalyst for personal transformation”, rather than just as a book recommending prescriptions. In other words, what he is trying to say is that we do not need to be fixed, to be human is not that simple, but instead, we need healing, we need to learn how to listen to our bodies and minds, and we need to learn how to make them work together.

He’s taken some scenarios and examples from other books, and well-known authors, but most of the cases are from his own clinical experience and interviews.

Why the Double Standard?

Would you treat yourself the same way you treat your friends? Some of the patients used as examples in the book showed this double standard of being the first person to help and advise someone but, when being in that same situation, doing the complete opposite.

Maté mentions how this coping mechanism is a compensation for emotional needs ignored in childhood.

This is one of the examples and situations where we can see our traumas showing up in our adulthood. We can see how they affect us until the point where it’s like we just don’t matter anymore, or at least in our eyes that we are not enough, or that we do not deserve help.

Why Will the Same Bacterium or Virus Spare One Person but Fell Another?

Another chapter in the book,“The Power of Negative Thinking” shows how our thoughts and the way we use them can affect us in a deep unconscious way.

When we only focus on what is wrong, we numb our vision and we lose sight, what Gabor proposes is not compulsive, positive thinking (which will lead us to the same dark hole or to bury those emotions) but genuine positive thinking, which leads us to never be afraid of truth and to express “negative” emotions like anger in a healthy way.

The Seven A’s of Healing

In the last chapter of the book, Maté mentions how not everybody develops a healthy emotional competence, defining it as “the capacity that enables us to stand in a responsible, non-victimized, and non-self-harming relationship with our environment” and follows with explaining how important that is for facing life’s sufferings and then being able to heal.

There’s no shame in recognizing that the lack of this competence is the first step to transformation and development. The seven A’s are:

  • Acceptance: Willingness to recognize and accept how things are.
  • Awareness: Learning what the signs of stress are in our bodies.
  • Anger: Not the expression but the repression of it, we must learn to express these emotions in healthy ways.
  • Autonomy: The development of an internal center of control.
  • Attachment: Seen as our connection to the world and focusing on when and how they form.
  • Assertion: A simple-but-powerful declaration “we are” and “we are who we are”.
  • Affirmation: Making a positive statement and following something of value, focusing on two values: creative self (expression of oneself) and universal self (our connection with all).

My Personal Experience

I’ll share my personal experience in relation to what the book talks about…

When I was in Argentina, about to come to Ireland, all manner of stress was going on in my mind; thoughts like “what am I doing?” “I am going to leave everything that I know, my friends, my family, my club, my team!” Plus all the “what ifs,” and because I never shared anything about what was going on in my story, my body registered it all instead, with the result that my left leg stopped working!

How Negative Stress Drastically Affects Your Bodily Functions

Due to issues with both of my knees, and not being able to jog nor walk properly, I went to a physiotherapist first. At that time, I was regularly playing rugby and watching my last matches from the side, whilst injured and hurt, but I tried to be helpful in other ways, and that kept me sane.

Once I was arrived in Ireland, my leg suddenly became perfect. It turned out it was just a block on my lower back that just went away after a week. My other experience was quite recent.

Let’s Face it, the ‘System’ that is Society is a MAJOR Problem!

The company I work at gives employees free therapy (we moderate online content, so it is fair to say that there is already ‘something wrong’ with us!). Anyway I started doing therapy, and one day I mentioned that I might be suffering from depression. They sent me to a GP. 

Talking with the GP was amazing. I learned a lot, we talked about personality traits that can be described as “depressors” and we talked about Gabor Maté’s book that I’m reviewing here (I talked about Maté with my therapist too) and he mentioned the problem with ‘the system’ and how everybody just gives pills as ‘easy solutions’ regardless of the real causes of the problem or their long-term consequences.


To recapitulate, the chief takeaways that I got from “When the Body Says No” are that you must know yourself and your own psychology; you must learn how to listen to your own body.

We all go through trauma, and we all follow patterns; it’s like following the same steps and rules that we learned at home and continue on with during our lives. The only “tools” that we have are the ones that we build during our childhood.

Now, what if those “tools”, those patterns, and those steps were built on ignorance, a generic education, resentment, negative thoughts, and hate?

Start Checking Your Self-Narrative (ie. What You’re Saying to Yourself about Yourself)

We program ourselves by self talk and come to believe in a certain way, that is why we must learn to recognize and listen carefully to that voice in our head (or rather, mind), and learn its motivations in order to condition it in a positive way. This can actually fix our lives the moment we decide on a new thought script and compound those ideas over time. Try and understand if the current educational matrix is really inadequate – if it was, why do we still have so many problems?

The last lesson in “When the Body Says No”, is about how we are narcissistic kids. We perceive and think that we’re the center of the universe. So if your mother or father says or does something that affects you eventually, do not blame them. Do not blame your parents, they were kids too, they suffered too. They did what they could with what they had.

Nowadays, we come across plenty of articles and people suggest “at the first no, leave your parents” which is not very wise. Every case is different, and every person is running their micro-thought ecosystem within a larger, macro-thought system. Try and see that.

Favourite Chapter

Never Good Enough (Ch.5)

Favourite Quotes

  • Research literature has identified three factors that universally lead to stress: uncertainty, the lack of information and the loss of control.”
  • “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.”
  • “Learn to read symptoms not only as problems to be overcome but as messages to be heeded.”
  • “Why can’t parents see their children’s pain?” “I’ve had to ask myself the same thing. It’s because we haven’t seen our own.”
  • “Everyone has an urge to create. Its expression may flow through many channels: through writing, art or music, through the inventiveness of work or in any number of ways unique to all of us, whether it be cooking, gardening or the art of social discourse. The point is to honor the urge. To do so is healing for ourselves and for others; not to do so deadens our bodies and our spirits.”

Book Rating: 9/10

Have you read “When the Body Says No”? Please share what you thought about it in the comments below, and join in the conversation on FacebookTwitter, & Instagram.

If you’d like to find out more about Dr Gabor Maté’s work, check out our review of his film, “The Wisdom of Trauma“. Click here if you would like to see the film for yourself! You might also be interested to sign up to our unique, FREE, 7-day energy-boosting technique!

Agustin Cardone

Agustin Cardone, from Argentina, currently lives in Ireland, and studies psychology in Mexico. He fell in love with sports when he started playing rugby at 14, soon becoming team captain. He now lifts weights and practices boxing as a way to release stress. He is highly interested in the relationship between body and mind, and is curious about how the brain works and why people do what they do. He would like to help people with addiction, depression, and personality disorders. He believes we all have a story to tell and that we should express it.

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