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Gabor & Maté - Wisdom of Trauma Series

I just wanted to highlight this discussion between to greats in the trauma sphere - Porges & Maté. It's very much worth the viewing/listening. They talk about trauma, state regulation, touch upon parenting, talking boldly at the risk of losing peer groups and more. It's a lot jam-packed into about an hour.

I put together a bunch of quotes for you after the video jump. I've been publishing these on my Instagram and also created a quote compilation poster as I continue to practice my Swiss grid design fundamentals. It's a free download and you can even print it out on an 11x17 page if you have the means. Enjoy!

Quote Poster:


We broadcast our feelings and our physiological state in our voice… and we express it in our face. (P)

Instantaneously, our body responds to another who has suffered trauma, not just in seeing them, but in feeling their facial expression and feeling their voices. Our nervous system evolved to detect those features. (P)

We have… turned off our natural gifts of connecting with each other through voice and through expression. As we superimpose on that, this pragmatic view that words carry meaning, only all the meaning. (P)

[Words] only carry a small aspect of the meaning of life. Our voice, our intonation, our facial expressivity are really the cues to tell the other person that we’re safe to come close to and we’re there to help them co-regulate. (P)

If you go to the Chinese language and look at the word ‘listen,’ it uses the symbols of ear and heart. And we have to understand that to listen is to be embodied. (P)

We think that everything is due to intentionality, due to learning and due to higher executive functions. We do not respect the more permanent bodily reactions that are linked to survival.

…if our body feels under a state of threat, it kind of determines all the higher brain structures, how they function… We’re not deep thinkers. We don’t make good decisions. We can’t solve big problems. (P)

… our society is under chronic threat. And that society shapes the individuals because the physiological state of individuals are now threat-oriented and they can’t utilize their evolutionary given privilege of co-regulating and feeling safe in the arms of another. (P)

…our underlying physiological state shifts our perspective of the world. So if our body’s in a state of mobilization or fight flight, we see the world more negatively. If our body is calmer… we see the world optimistically.if we’re shutting down… we are literally withdrawing from society, we have no contact with the world. (P)

…you have to become very respectful of your reactions to the other. And you can’t interpret it from a level of intentionality. (P)

So the fallacy of our culture is that as soon as we feel bad, we attribute it to someone else. Our narrative says that other person has intended to be hurtful to us or should have been sensitive to us. And the answer is highly unlikely. (P)

So we literally have to become our own, let’s say, own parent in a way, and observe ourselves and say, “Look, I’m feeling this way. Now, how do I manage than within the complexity of a social interaction, a marriage, a family, a work environment…?” (P)

The potent cues were not my words. The potent cues was my ability to be a supportive person in their lives. And I was saying, I now have an excuse for not being a supportive person in your lives. (P on his lab, but this applies to parents)

…when a person’s face is flat and they don’t appear to be there, it’s not like they’re thinking about what you’re discussing. They’re dissociating. (P)

Virtually every vertebrate has a queueing system, which I call ‘neuroception,’ where the nervous system detects risk. They had one for danger or threat and they react to that. But on this phylogenetic journey to sociality, mammals had a unique autonomic system, a neuroception of safety. (P)

Our nervous system evolved with this capacity to down-regulate threat reactions with cues of safety. (P)

Two bodies co-regulating in space and time. That’s our nature. That’s our biological imperative. (P)

What made mammals different is this biological imperative. They had to connect, they had to co-regulate to survive and we still do. (P)

Trauma can be both when bad things happen to people that shouldn’t happen. But also when good things that should happen, don’t happen. (GM)

I realized that the CDC and all these other places including ACEs work were all event-related. And Polyvagal theory says events are important but the real issue is the body’s reaction, the body’s response. (SP)

The issue is - does the body shift state into a chronic state of threat? [That is] what trauma is, the body has been retuned. (SP)

What we’re calling “smothering” or “mothering” or “parenting” is really exercises in co-regulation. (SP)

Ask any parent, “When you’re feeding or dealing with your child, how does it make you feel?” It’s a co-regulatory experience. (SP)

As you mature, your explorations can go on for longer and longer periods. And you don’t need the mother, but you need friends or a spouse, or you need a dog… you need an appropriate mammal to c-regulate with. (SP)

Play is systematic reciprocal behavior… play with an individual has all the queuing of intentionality and reciprocity, and that’s a complex neural exercise. (SP)

The face to face interactions enable [our] nervous systems to know that the movements are not aggressive. And that in a way defines play. (SP)

Think about the school systems. They should really be emphasizing play during the first few years. So the children develop that resource to self-regulate. And instead, they’re being told to self-regulate without the neural exercise. (SP)

The nervous system gets retuned to a chronic state of threat. And the manifestations are both mental health issues but also physical health issues. (SP)

Stephen Porges: As a physician, how much time was spent discussing neural regulation of visceral organs?

Gabor Mate: *holds up a zero with his fingers*

Once we accept that social interaction is as potent as a neural stimulator, we’ll start inviting sociality into treatment models. (SP)

Part of our Western world is everything has to be new and original. Part of my thrill of actually unfolding the Polyvagal Theory is that it has continuity with the history of humanity. (SP)

The issue is continuity, giving a language that is neuroscience-based and contemporary to create validity, to provide a validity on our ancient knowledge. (SP)

Sometimes I laugh about it because… we get a lot of attention for our work… but what we’re saying has been known by human beings for how long? (GM)

Polyvagal Theory provides literally an umbrella to start rechanging how we treat the human condition and that it should be understood in terms of how we create school or regulate or develop educational models. (SP)

Polyvagal Theory provides organizational properties or principals. And it doesn’t throw out the content that has been established but puts it into the context of human interaction. (SP)

In medicine… people are treated as if they’re objects. Both by the physicians but also by the treatment that physicians are administering and the individual feels marginalized from the get go. (SP)

We have the elderly but we no longer have elders… There’s wisdom in eldership and we just don’t recognize it. We don’t honor it. We don’t listen to it. (GM)

You and I may be getting older, but we’re listened to for our expertise. But Elders, even without expertise, have a lot of wisdom. (GM)

Ideally, we can be both authentic and attached. In other words, we can be ourselves and still be in a relationship. But what happens if we are ourselves and our relationships will reject us? The child is in no position to choose authenticity because they can’t live without attachments. (GM)

Most people make this tragic unconscious choice. “I’m gonna do whatever I can to fit in and therefore surrender my authenticity.” And I think much of life’s journey afterwards is actually rediscovering our authenticity. (GM)

As an adult, I no longer have to give up myself to be in a relationship. And if I have to give up myself to be in a relationship, I’d rather not be in a relationship. (GM)

We have a responsibility to our children, but we are not our children and our children are not us. And we do what we can do. And as long as we do it with a degree of humility and gratitude, I think things work out really well. (SP)

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John Rok
John Rok
Aug 31, 2022



Rhys Ramey
Rhys Ramey
May 20, 2022

Yes! I paid to watch that series when it aired live. What an education. Thank you for pulling these great quotes out.

Justin Sunseri, LMFT
Justin Sunseri, LMFT
May 21, 2022
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You’re welcome!

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