The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture

“Trauma is not what happens to you: it is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you.”

From The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture, by Gabor Maté, M.D.

This exciting new book about trauma published last year by Maté, a Canadian physician and therapist, provides an interesting look at trauma and trauma therapy from a new perspective. In the above quote, Maté differentiates very clearly between trauma and traumatic stress reactions, e.g. the traumatic event and the traumatic stress reactions resulting from experiencing a traumatic event.

Furthermore, Maté recognizes that there is much popular confusion about what trauma is and provides a new way of looking at trauma, as “big-T-trauma” and “small-t-trauma. Big-T- traumas are usual conceptions of trauma such as natural disasters, abuse, violence, extreme neglect and war.

However, Maté suggests that trauma pervades our culture from personal functioning through social relationships, parenting, education, popular culture, class and racial discrimination. Small-t-trauma is described as widespread in our culture on a spectrum of trauma such as bullying by peers, absent emotional connection or neglect by parents, daily discrimination experienced by marginalized groups.

Maté also makes the very helpful point that trauma is not the same as experiencing highly stressful situations. That traumatic events are stressful but not all stressful events are traumatic.

I am grateful for Maté’s new contribution to the field of trauma by recognizing that trauma happens in the context of a toxic culture, how this toxic culture affects us and offers hope for ways of healing in such a toxic culture.

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