Childhood conditions & Adult Mental Health

Oct 10, 2023

Virtually everything that is “wrong with you” or “wrong with your patients” began as a compensation, as a survival mechanism in childhood. Therefore, it deserves nothing but respect and compassion. And by that I mean not only dysfunctional patterns and behaviours, I also mean diagnoses. This quote is from the Journal of Paediatrics, which is the official journal of the American Paediatric Association, published 2012:

Here’s what they say. This is key: “Growing scientific evidence demonstrates that social and physical environments that threaten human development because of scarcity, stress or instability, can lead to short-term physiologic and psychological adjustments that are necessary for immediate survival and adaptation, but which may come at a significant cost to long-term outcomes in learning, behaviour, health and longevity.” 1

In other words what they are saying is that the way children adapt to early stress, helps them endure those difficult times, but those same coping mechanisms that help you endure then become sources of dysfunction. 

Which means you don’t make anybody wrong for behaving the way they behave. And when people make themselves wrong, you actually help them see the value that that same behavioural response played in their life at some point. And that’s the subject of the Compassionate Inquiry, because now it’s no longer the willful execrable dysfunction of an adult who can’t seem to “get it”, it’s actually the desperate survival measure of a threatened child, and as soon as you make that paradigm shift, you’ve got a totally different view of yourself, and a totally different view of the other.

I’ll make one more point about diagnoses. What I’m saying is that all diagnoses, ADHD, ODD, depression, anxiety, even psychosis, begin as coping mechanisms. At some point there’s something about them that served as some survival value. Furthermore, diagnoses don’t explain anything. They describe things but they don’t explain things. The explanation is always rooted in some earlier experience that pre-dates the diagnosis. These diseases are not entities in themselves, they are processes that happen in the individual. When we make diagnoses we make it a fixed entity. I have depression, so there is such a thing as depression and I have it. Rather than, there’s a process in me that’s causing me to depress, push things down in me. Which is a totally different way of looking at it, so diagnoses don’t explain, they describe, number one. And number two, they always begin in childhood as coping mechanisms. ” ~ Dr. Gabor Mate, Compassionate Inquiry teachings

  1. An Integrated Scientific Framework for Child Survival in Early Childhood Development; American Journal of Pediatrics, 2012