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  • Writer's pictureIlin Shieh

[Book Share] The Myth of Normal

The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing In A Toxic Culture By Dr. Gabor Maté, with Daniel Maté, New York: Avery, 2022


Overall flow: An easy read. Not a short read with 500+ pages, but a good-paced one.

Font: comfortable-sized font, a semi-traditional font type.

Languaging: easy to read, conversational in flow, can easily imagine Dr. Maté dictating in his everyday speech.

Vocabulary: intermediate. No difficult vocabulary. Just a sprinkle of professional terms that the author or editor often defines to the side or within the context.

Organization: well-structured chapters with consistency of message and argument that gradually builds up through progressing chapters.

Content: clear, concise, to the point with just enough relevant examples to keep the pace going and non-superfluous. This is as much a successful book in organization and consideration for lay readers as it is in content.

Physical Product: [Avery, 1st Edition, 2022] The publisher did not skimp on the production of the physical product, as in they did not shrink the font size to reduce the bulk of the book, and the paper hue/quality is tactile to the touch and comfortable for the eyes. This means the publisher anticipated success in wide readership, and correctly assumes that a layperson would buy the actual product and read cover-to-cover - as this layperson did with enthusiasm.


5 out of 5. Worth every penny for both fans already familiar with Dr. Maté's work and those interested in healing.


The book’s bottom line is that our collective traumas are systemic, and that without a change in our cultural environment, we cannot expect the seeds of human potential to fully grow and flourish.

At the center of Dr. Maté's discussions is trauma. He argues that there are two types: the trauma with the little-t, and the trauma with the big-T. We often recall trauma in the big-T sense, such as childhood abuse and assault - both physical and mental. But Dr. Maté speaks of the pervasiveness of the little-t trauma in our society that most of us “normalize” in mainstream society. These are everyday traumas such as the numbing of normal human emotions (grief/rage/sadness), working without equal rights or pay, devaluing childcare, or the increasing stress and depression induced by the shrinking of the middle-class, so on and so forth. These little-t’s lead to coping mechanisms such as drinking, binging (food or tv), or drugs (including sugar), which in turn lead to the overhaul of healthcare systems that increasingly treat chronic diseases at a younger and younger age.

We are invited by Dr. Maté to look at these issues of trauma and Trauma systemically, and to also frame healing as not an individual effort, but a societal need to ensure the future health and wellness of the collective, which is looking bleak if we follow the current trends and numbers.

Overall, Dr. Maté paints a sobering picture from Ch.1 through Ch.24 of the toxicity of our current culture, and the destructive path that is leading all of us, not just the selected unfortunate few. He demonstrates through different angles - medical, developmental, ethnic-racial, gender, political, socio-economical, anthropological etc., how we normalize toxicity and take the abnormal for granted. In short, he wakes the readers from a dulled sense of disguised normalcy, so that we can respond to the true destructive bearings of our current path.

It is from Ch.25 to Ch.33 that Dr. Maté shifts gear to healing. And he admits to being more proficient in pinpointing the issues surrounding our culture than the means to fix or transform it. I would agree with his self-evaluation, as the chapters on healing doesn’t begin until it’s three-quarters in and (almost) time to wrap up. Regardless, he leaves no doubt of our responsibility to ourselves and each other to stop normalizing the toxicity of our culture, recognize where the current path truly heads, so that we may begin to change and heal.

Essentially, the book ends where healing begins. And it begins with compassion. Self-compassion and compassion for others as we face the disillusionment together. Dr. Maté makes it clear that he’s not advocating self-blame. In fact, it takes self-compassion in order to face the mounting problems with sustained hope and agency. It is no one’s fault and everyone’s call-to-thrive in initiating an awareness for our collective healing.

To conclude, the "What" has been expertly identified in crystalline clarity by Dr. Maté in this seminal volume. The "How" is where each of our individual sagas meet in mutual exchange and exploration of what dreams may come from a healed society.

Hope this was helpful. Namaste.


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