Trauma for Gabor Maté

Trauma induces very unpleasant internal emotional states. When an infant experiences an unpleasant emotional state, what does she do? She cries, which ought to bring the parent. The parent then, if he or she is well-regulated herself or himself, will then pick up the infant and go, “Aww,” and hold that baby and rock them, or sing to them in a sing-song kind of way. That will regulate the child’s internal state. Then the infant learns that emotional states that are unpleasant come and go. It’s okay. If I can’t handle it, I can ask for help. For the many of us who didn’t have that kind of holding environment, who didn’t have the parents around that could hold us in our unpleasant states and soothe us and regulate us because they were not regulated themselves, we end up fearing that these difficult emotional states are permanent and ‘I will stay stuck in them’, ‘I will never get out of them.’ Then what do we do?


We develop a whole set of behaviours to get us out of those states. If your parents are not able to regulate you, not because they don’t love you, but because they have their own stuff in the way, then one way to cope with it is for you to do work to bring them into relationships with you, to make the relationship work. That becomes your pattern. We develop these patterns then to regulate ourselves inside by what we do for others or in relationship to others. Those coping matters then become our personalities and we think that’s who we are. But no, that’s not who we are. We developed all that only because we had to disconnect from what it really felt like.


Gabor Maté