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on January 3, 2005
Life and society put an endless series of demands and requests on us. If we can't or won't say "no" to some of them, our bodies may say no for us, by getting sick or even dying. This is not a new idea. Many healers have taught it, and many books, including my own "Art of Getting Well" have described it.

But Gabor Mate explains it better than anyone, with powerful scientific evidence and moving stories to back it up. This Vancouver physician and health writer gives us the latest research on how emotions, thoughts, the nervous system, immune system and hormones work together to create health or illness. He interviewed more than 100 patients with various conditions, and he shows how always giving in to others and denying our own wants and needs makes us vulnerable to a wide variety of illness.

If you or someone you love is living with an autoimmune disease, an inflammatory condition, or cancer, you may find this book powerful and healing. If you are a health professional looking for better ways to help people with these "incurable" illnesses, you may find it here. If you just want to know more about body and mind and how they work, if you want to be entertained and moved, this book is for you. I wouldn't necessarily say buy it INSTEAD of Art of Getting Well, but they're complementary, and they're both great reading.

At times, I felt that Dr. Mate must have read my diary. The stories he tells of people with multiple sclerosis, ALS and other autoimmune diseases all sounded familiar. I'm pretty sure that my own inability to say no - to be open about my own fears and desires - contributed to my MS, although there were many other causes.

Gabor Mate sees the big picture-the combination of genes, physical and social environment, stresses and behaviors that lead to health problems. He doesn't blame us for not standing up for ourselves. He understands and explains the family dynamics and social forces that make it hard to say "No," even when our lives depend on it. He says, "Personality does not cause disease. Stress does. If we speak of a disease-prone personality, it is only in the sense that certain traits - in particular, the repression of anger - increase the amount of stress."

He knows, for example, that many of us feel guilty when we say no to others' demands, and he wants us get over it. He says, "For many people, guilt is a signal that they have chosen to do something for themselves. If you face a choice between feeling guilt and feeling resentful, choose the guilt every time. Resentment is soul suicide."

I had read a lot on PNI, or psychoneuroimmunology, the science of mindbody medicine. But I never understood exactly how these organs and cells all communicated and worked together until I read When The Body Says No. Mate has a gift for explaining difficult concepts in simple language. You will learn a lot, even if you don't completely buy the central idea.

A couple of criticisms - I wish he had written more about economic and political factors that make saying no difficult. The less power you have, the harder it is to protect yourself. Obviously, you can't say no if you're a slave. I write about the power aspects of disease in my new book, The Politics of Diabetes (out in 2006).

But a lot of people have lost their power not by being severely oppressed, but by things that happened to them in their childhood, even their infancy. There may be things we can do to reclaim some of our power and regain the freedom to say no. We may help ourselves heal in this way.

"When the Body Says No" is strong on these issues but doesn't give a lot of advice on what to do about them. The last chapter, the 7 A's of healing, provides some hints. The A's are Acceptance, Awareness, Anger, Autonomy, Attachment, Assertion, and Affirmation. Most of these get fairly short introductions, but I found the section on anger extremely valuable. Anger can be a life-giving force, or it can be a killer if suppressed or acted out as rage. We need to get in touch with the energy of anger and use it to empower ourselves and make needed changes. The other A's could have used some fleshing out, in my opinion.

As someone who has been immersed in mindbody medicine personally and professionally for 20 years, I recommend this book to all of you. It has meant more to me than anything I have read in this area for a long time.

David Spero RN. [...]
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on December 3, 2011
For me this brilliant book has been one small, though crucial, part of a 14-year process of trying to understand ulcerative colitis and the impact it's had on my life. Repeatedly, I've read that stress does not cause this condition, and I would agree with that assessment when I think only of the stresses we encounter in everyday life. But "When the Body Says No" is based on the premise that CHRONIC stress causes auto-immune diseases and that in order to promote physical healing, one must go back to the causes of that long-term stress. My life's experiences, my own intuition and my body have been teaching me that those causes are rooted in childhood, and mine was terribly traumatic, so much so that, after reading Mate's theory, I understand the meaning and process of repressed emotions.

"When the Body Says No" does not delve into solutions. It does not suggest any concrete tools to promote healing save this: the understanding that chronic stress arising from childhood can and does cause auto-immune illness. This book beautifully explains how this happens. If you're looking for solutions, you won't find them externally. Just as our emotions and bodies alert us to danger and imbalance, they also lead us to healing. We have the answers inside and with a little, or a lot, of help (like reading this book) we can access them!

I've tried all sorts of alternative health care and have found the most effective results toward healing myself - my WHOLE self - with the Ayurvedic system of healing. In my very first Ayurvedic consultation, I was told that the colitis in and of itself wasn't as important as the imbalances in my Self that led to its manifestation in my body. I was then asked about my past. To this day, not one GP nor GE has asked me anything about my past nor my emotional and spiritual health. Ayurveda is not a quick fix. In fact, looking inwards, holding up a mirror to how we're living our lives is perhaps the scariest thing we face. It's also the most rewarding.

Carolyn Vines, author Black and Abroad: Traveling Beyond the Limitations of Identity
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on March 9, 2008
I agree with the many positive comments made by other reviewers. This is not a self-help book, it's a discussion of the ramifications of stress (as a physiological phenomenon with distinct patterns within the body) for the lay person. The author discusses his experiences and observations with his patients as well offering a highly readable survey of the current research in psychoneuroimmunology.

I think that one of the reasons the author does not offer solutions to the reader is that he's well aware that there are no easy solutions. To change unconscious patterning that's been in place since childhood requires a great deal of motivation and an excellent therapist, or perhaps powerful spiritual guidance. No one is going to be able to shift their own patterns of stress just by reading a book.

But it's a fascinating view of how our environment as children becomes a part of us. The more people who understand the true extent of a child's vulnerability, the better chance any individual child has of getting at least some of what they need to develop a strong, healthy psyche (and body).
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on December 4, 2004
I disagree with the reviewer who said that this book does not offer solutions. Again and again the author reports that people need to be heard, and need to stop repressing emotions to get well. As a counselor working with battered women, I was amazed at the number of them who also had auto-immune disorders such as fibromyalgia. This book is a must read.
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on March 4, 2008
If you think that your body might be trying to talk to you via physical symptoms, you will probably find this book very interesting. My body started saying "no" two years ago, in the form of a serious auto-immune disorder. After becoming ill, I began turning over every stone to find a pathway back to good health. The search turned up many helpful solutions, but I started to sense that the most important "medicine" I could take was recognizing when my body was saying "no" (by manifesting symptoms) to something I was doing and to stop doing whatever was causing the distress. I realized that my body had been saying "no" for years, but at a volume that I was able to ignore. This health crisis had turned the volume up enough to grab my attention -- and I knew that my ways were going to have to change. I was going to have to start putting self-care at the top of my to-do list.

Soon after having this insight, I found out about this book and immediately purchased it (for, as the saying goes, "when the student is ready the teacher will appear.") The book validates my intuition about what has been going on with my health, and suggests some areas that I can pursue to continue healing. To a point, I agree with some of the other reviewers that this book ought to provide more constructive solutions, though. Those of us who are dealing with life-limiting, and sometimes life-threatening, health problems are looking for concrete guidance, in addition to gaining the insights provided in the book. Nevertheless, I found it a worthwhile and helpful read.
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on July 1, 2011
I work at a pain clinic and this book was eye opening. I have always recognized the stress connection in pain and dysfunction but Gabor Mate explained everything so simply and in such detail. I purchased a few of these books to give to my family and have recommended it to several patients at the clinic. We are a product and a chemical mixture of our life experiences. When we don't recognize that component, we certainly miss an important factor in attaining wellness and health.
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on April 26, 2013
I picked up this book at my local bookstore due to the title...I was experiencing some unexpected and inexplicable physical challenges at the time and my body was literally saying "No" when it never had before. I read this book and for the first time was able to see how I was allowing stress to have both short and long-term negative effects in my life. This book helped me become more aware of mental habits and choices that were disempowering and gave me the framework to begin to change my mind and my life for the better. I recommended it to a mentor and bought it for my partner and both began to recommend it to people in their life as well. A powerful read.
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on August 12, 2013
Like many people, I have always believed that stress has a great deal to do with people getting sick, from the common cold to cancer. Dr. Mate offers convincing evidence of that link, as well as the way family dysfunction and damaged or non-existent personal boundaries can make us more vulnerable to disease.

More extensive review on my blog, here: [...]

What I especially liked about this is while pointing out that the things we do - such as repressing anger - can make us more vulnerable to disease, the tone isn't that of blaming the victim, and there are concrete suggestions for becoming aware and working toward emotional competence. EVERYONE should read this book.
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on November 24, 2013
What a brilliant book! It is an excellent depiction of how our bodies function, and that most of us in the Western hemisphere are cut off from the neck. In that, we don't feel our emotions. The answers lie in our bodies, and that illness is not a random condition that affects people. Rather there is a pattern of who gets sick and who doesn't. And most of the reasons lie in our childhood and how we were programmed to deal with our emotions and stress. His teachings closely mirror Alice Miller's theories, who wrote about the exact same teachings in her books: "The body never lies and the Drama of the gifted child., etc." I firmly believe in what Dr. Mate writes, as well as Alice Miller's teachings. In the end, we need to learn to be true to ourselves, and that means feeling our emotions all the way through. It's not stress or emotions that cause sickness, but rather the suppression of our feelings. The energy doesn't go anywhere, but stays in our bodies. And if we aren't conscious of it, and don't deal with the emotion, then it manifests itself in illnesses. If you liked Alice Miller's teachings, then Dr. Mate is the perfect sequel.
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on October 24, 2010
This is a stunning book! The single best one I've read that not only describes but provides data to explain how repressing emotions can lead to disease (dis-ease). The stories and scientific studies paint a very vivid path from childhood incidents and trauma to repression of emotions and the stress brought on by them... to chronic and often fatal diseases. He includes and thoroughly covers various types of cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, asthma, ALS, Alzheimer's, and more.

There are SO many people in my life I would recommend this book to. My only hope is that they would read it and understand how vital it is that they deal with their childhoods before it's too late. Almost NObody had a perfectly serene childhood! Repression = disease. There's nothing good that can come from simply pretending everything is (and was) okay. :-(
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