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Gabor Maté and the Reason We’re All Addicted

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This is my most personal episode so far, but it’s really about the wisdom of Dr. Gabor Maté. The author, physician, and public speaker reminds us all how we sometimes become too comfortable with self-criticism and regret. We talk about parenting, collaboration, and addiction, and I leave the interview feeling a level of gratitude that I don’t know what to do with. Here’s that conversation.

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David Duchovny, Gabor Maté

David Duchovny  00:00

So I wrote this book Bucky Fucking Dent, which takes as its backdrop, the 78 pennant race between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The book is about loving the losers really. And it’s really, in many ways, the same kind of philosophical bent is this podcast. It’s about how failure in this case the Boston Red Sox losing every year since 1918 teaches you to be a better human being teaches you to be a more empathetic human being teaches you more about life than winning, winning, winning. So that’s kind of what what I’m dealing with there. And also there’s one of the underpinnings of the book is the the disruption of a father son relationship that happens very early on in the child’s life, the child gets sick, the father gets scared, there’s a disruption. And when I was reading Alborz book, The myth the normal I was thinking about these things, and how how he’s writing about these things in a clinical or philosophical or or Dr. Lee way of issues that I’m going at artistically or as a novelist that are novelistic way. And I thought that’s an interesting place where we can find common ground. So I wanted to send Gabor the copy of the movie that I made about he fucking that, which I did, and I felt a little […] out because it is a weird thing to send your work to somebody whose work you’re going to be talking about, it was a little like, hey, look, we’re gonna be looking at you, but let’s first look at me. But I overcame that might not have been hard enough to overcome it. But I overcame it. And he he liked it so much. So I’m gonna take him on the press tour with me.


David Duchovny  01:54

I’m David Duchovny, this has Fail Better, a show where failure not success shapes who we are. So Gabor Maté, his latest book is called The Myth of Normal. And it really kind of reframes the narrative over what is normal and what is abnormal from society’s point of view. And the big premise is basically that we’re sick because society sick, our mental health, our physical health, our addictions are all linked to the pressures of modern day living. But Gabor also talks about parenting. And as a parent, I was fascinated and fascinated with how God were talks about parenting. And I was struck by the discussion of parenting and attachment. And how break in the attachment, especially at a very young age could be very detrimental traumatic is what he calls it, specifically between zero and three. And this book has been a huge success, Forgotten War. And it’s what I wanted to talk to him how do we deal with these pre verbal injuries in a verbal way? So all right, here’s my conversation with Gabor.


David Duchovny  03:02



Gabor Maté  03:04

Hi, nice to meet you.


David Duchovny  03:05

Nice to meet you as well.


Gabor Maté  03:08

I don’t know sleeping right away, if I may.


David Duchovny  03:10

Yes, please.


Gabor Maté  03:11

My wife when I watched Bucky Fucking Dent last night?


David Duchovny  03:16



Gabor Maté  03:17

And first of all you love to just both poignant and humorous, you don’t know is that my son and I are writing a new book called Hello Again, a fresh start for parents and adult children. And that movie was right along the theme of that film.


David Duchovny  03:36

Thank you, and that’s why I wanted to send it your way because, you know, it’s a thinly veiled kind of account of my spiritual landscape at the time. And why I thought you might appreciate the story is because when I read what you’ve written about attachment between a parent and a child, and you know, your your kind of regrets over or your guilt over, not being completely present at that point in your life for your children, not being completely self regulated, I think is a word you use. For me, my daughter, she got her first cold when she was nine months old. Very much like in the movie, the standard.


Gabor Maté  04:19

Movie, yeah and the parents overreact.


David Duchovny  04:23

Parents overreact, take the kid in, but the kid is very sick and needs to get a spinal tap and my, my daughter, I was working, I was working on The X Files at the time, and Los Angeles and my daughter was and my, my wife were in the hospital for a week. And, you know, there were nights where I went home, alone after work, and I started to think about the world without my daughter in it. And I realized I would never get over it.


Gabor Maté  05:00

Which is what the Father character in your movie pretty much articulates just that fear.


David Duchovny  05:07

And then she, she lived she she’s going to turn 25 any day now. And she’s wonderful. But in those first few weeks and months of having her back, I felt afraid of her power over me in a way. I felt I felt afraid to reattach, I felt I felt an inability to reattach.


Gabor Maté  05:35

To open your heart again.


David Duchovny  05:37

Yeah, and I go over and over in my head. How do we how do we deal verbally with these pre verbal failures that we that we perpetrate on our kids? You know, that to me, that’s another big bridge to cross is how do we address pre verbal trauma? And you say, and you say in your book, would you say?


Gabor Maté  06:02

I just don’t know if I can talk to you about this?


David Duchovny  06:06

You’re like saying shut up. Please, yes, please.


Gabor Maté  06:11

Okay. First of all, the language that you perpetrated. That’s a self judgment.


David Duchovny  06:23



Gabor Maté  06:23

It’s the self accusation. Would you talk to me in the same way?


David Duchovny  06:30



Gabor Maté  06:31

How come? You wouldn’t?


David Duchovny  06:34

Because I would be able to see that you hadn’t. It wasn’t an aggressive action. It was an action taken out of of hurt and fragility, and, and emotion and not, and not anger or aggression.


Gabor Maté  06:48

And it wasn’t a conscious deliberate decision either, was it?


David Duchovny  06:52

Right? No.


Gabor Maté  06:54

So the language of self accusation, okay, just notice that, okay. That’s the first thing. The second thing is what happened, as I understand it, is your heart was really hurt. And, and the risk, or the fear of losing your daughter was just overwhelming for you. And so your heart, you didn’t decide to shut your heart down. You didn’t wake up one morning and say, I, David, I’m going to shut my heart go into my daughter now. It was an automatic movement inside you wasn’t it? wasn’t conscious wasn’t delivered.


David Duchovny  07:37

I was terrified, I think.


Gabor Maté  07:40

Yeah, but you, you didn’t deliberately say to yourself, I want to shut down my heart to my daughter.


David Duchovny  07:45



Gabor Maté  07:46

Okay, therefore, it was an automatic dynamic in you. I’m telling you that only happened for one reason is that this wasn’t the first time that your heart had been hurt, and you had to shut down to protect yourself. Had I know nothing about your history, I still would have said, something happened to you when you were very small. When your heart was very open, and he got hurt, and your defense was to shut down. And so all that happened was that when that pain that we triggered, you went back to your childhood self protection, which is to close down your heart? Now what blame is there? You know, and so the guilt is inappropriate here. There’s no guilt, you didn’t do anything wrong consciously. And no parents. Most parents don’t actually. That’s 1 point, 2 other points one is, I often say to people, when in your life, did you not feel guilty? And when did you when did you like, did you not feel guilty?


David Duchovny  08:52



Gabor Maté  08:54

Okay, well, except the first day you were born maybe you didn’t, you know. In other words, the guilt long preceded the birth of your daughter. So that guilt has nothing to do with your daughter. It was there long before it just is naturally triggered with Orion or parenting, but it doesn’t belong there. So that’s the second point. The third point is the last thing our children need from us. And believe me, I get this message from my kids all that is the guilty parent. They don’t want to be seen through the eyes of our guilt. Nobody wants to be seen as somebody else’s mistake. You know, right. My son, my kids are not mine. But for the all the years that I carried his guilt, and I just saw them. That’s actually only seeing myself I wasn’t seeing them at all. I wasn’t seeing their creativity, their wonder their their their capacities, their resilience. I was just seeing what I had done wrong. And so that that’s a very guilt is very narcissistic that way. And it keeps it keeps you from seeing the other person. So that’s my little sermon app if you if you can take that out.


David Duchovny  10:01

I will I will be unpacking it for a while, but yeah, I appreciate that, you know, you talk about most of the damage that we do as parents, you know, if you get them past three years old, you know, without any, then you’ve done a, you’ve done a great job and and I get back to my feeling about, you know, generational trauma and trauma, being pre verbal, how do we get to the pre verbal healing? How do we bounce back from those kinds of failures that are that are not just hey, you know, it led me to a good place?


Gabor Maté  10:36

Well, so that depends on how we understand trauma. So this is the distinction that I really insist upon. Trauma is not what happened to you or happened to somebody else. Trauma is what happened inside us. So the word trauma itself originates from a Greek word for wounds or traumas a wound that’s not healed. That’s the good news. If the trauma was what happened to you and I, it’s over, it’s done, it never will not have happened. But that’s not the trauma. The trauma is not what happens to us, the trauma is what happens inside, there’s the traumas the wound that we’re carrying. And so that, you know, if I can use the analogy, if I get a blow on the head, the trauma is not to blow in the head, the traumas, the concussion. And the wounds can be healed in the present moment, it doesn’t doesn’t mean that you have to go back to the past. And those people who have old traumas that you talk about and they’re just universal, almost, we carry them in our bodies today, it shows up in our body language, in a tone of our voice, in the tension in our chest, or our bellies, or in our muscles, tightness of our throats, that our jaws are clenched or not. It shows up in many, many, many ways. And when I work with my teaching my students on how to work with trauma, it is far more than just talking exactly about being present, to what the whole body’s experiencing in this moment, because the portal to healing is through the body. And so that trauma healing isn’t just understanding something intellectually, it’s actually working through the emotions and emotions are physical events that are present for us at all times, if we know how to pay attention to them, so I don’t know any trauma, psychological trauma that cannot be healed.


David Duchovny  13:05

I’d love to talk about addiction. How did you get into that area as a doctor?


Gabor Maté  13:10

My first job after I graduated from medical school, and I did my internship was with a highly addicted population and records don’t tell any side. And I worked there for six months. And something in me knew that I’m gonna come back here that this is my place, but I wasn’t ready for it yet. Something in me always knew that I belong there. These people I worked with in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, which is North America’s most notorious and concentrated area of drug use. I know it, I know, it does nothing about them that I didn’t recognize myself. The addictive compulsions, the capacity to be dishonest and to manipulate the shame, the lack of freedom in the face of my addictive drives, there’s nothing that they didn’t have that I had, or vice versa. Now, the degrees were different. And my addictions are much more socially acceptable and right and rewarded. But the you know, but the problems that are causing my marriage and my parenting, you know, it was a matter of degree, but, and people often say how can you compare your addictions to their heroin use? Well, the differences are obvious. But what always struck me was the similarities, which are much more interesting. That’s the first thing that drew me there. And I understood these people, you know, is because I saw myself in them, number one, number two, there’s something about that population, that they lie and they cheat in the manipulate they have to that’s how they get their drugs. But they don’t pretend not to lie and cheat and manipulation, you know, they’re really authentically themselves. I mean, you know, you’ve been in the clearing word of world of Hollywood and you know, elsewhere and you know, all the facades that people erect and hide behind and behind them this I’ll just misery but on the surface, they’re just beautiful people, you know, and that the degree of authenticity of not having to pretend anything that just so it’s so refreshing atmosphere to work in so.


Gabor Maté  14:52

And so would you identify your addictive vector as being workaholism and […] ?


Gabor Maté  15:20

Work on one yeah. And which meant that I, it doesn’t matter how busy I was I was always take on new patients, because that needed to be needed. So I would never say no, you’re gonna come to me, my patient, the whole, I must be a good guy, you know? Well, underneath that is the belief that I’m not worthwhile, you know, to prove my worth to my work. But I also the severe shopping addiction, particularly to music and people laugh, you know, but no, they’d be, I’d spent 3, $4,000, Sunday on classical music, and I had to go back the next day, or even even the same day. And naturally, I would lie about it to my wife, and I wouldn’t even ignore my kids to pursue my addiction, it has significant consequences for my family life. So the addiction was to acquiring more and more that was so possessive.


David Duchovny  16:10

Exactly, so for me, it was workaholism. And then there was there was a sex. You know, for me, that’s where I felt.


Gabor Maté  16:18



David Duchovny  16:20

I guess that was the one area, you know, coming from the relationship with my mother, she, I was her agent in the world, you know, I was her badge of honor. She, she raised me without my father. And, and I was to, I was to reflect on her, that she that, that she could do this alone. And so my achievements were not my own, whatever I did, whatever grades I got, whatever I did, in basketball, whatever. It was always a reflection on her, in a way, in a way it felt that way. And sex was the one area where I was in the dark to her, you know? And it became.


Gabor Maté  17:13

And if you have if anybody asked, you know, what was wrong with your sex addiction? Because that’s self evident. But what was right about it? What did it give you, in the short term, will give you something that that you craved.


David Duchovny  17:27

They gave me independence? It gave me, yeah, it gave me an identity in a way, you know, as as a sexual being. And as a man, really, as a man, you know, if I was to be crass about it.


Gabor Maté  17:42

That gives us some validation. Maybe also a sense of being wanted, or, you know, independence, validation, these are good things, these are really good things. And so that’s my whole point about addiction is that it’s not a disease that you acquire, inherit, it’s an attempt to solve a problem. And the states of non independence to seen as a state of not being wanted, non validated. These are states of emotional pain. And so my mantra is always not why the addiction, but why the pain?


David Duchovny  18:16

It’s a beautiful question. It’s a beautiful question. And I appreciate it when I read it in your in your work. And I just hope that, you know, you mentioned, you say, Oh, I have this addiction for shopping for classical music and people laugh. Well, people laugh about sex addiction, too, because sex makes people uncomfortable, you know, and people, people will, they’ll, they’ll get pissed off about addiction as a disease, which is it’s just an it’s not a great word for it, you know, because I think I think confuses people. But if we can have as much empathy and, and kind of just that pivot of, hey, what’s, what’s right about it, you know, what was what it works until it doesn’t work anymore. And then and then it fails miserably, you know.


Gabor Maté  19:06

Creates more suffering by its very nature. But it doesn’t begin as a disease, it begins as an attempt to solve a problem of suffering. And then what happened to create the suffering. And that’s where trauma comes in. When it comes to sex, I would even imagine that people’s reactions isn’t simply discomfort, there might even be an element of envy about it. Because a lot of people would love to see themselves as sexually desirable and free and.


David Duchovny  19:39

To be honest with you, when it when when I went through it, and I and I was stripped of my anonymity, you know, immediately which, you know, if you’re, if you’re going to attempt to do 12 step stuff, you know, anonymity is a keystone of that and I was, I was barred from that almost immediately in my my journey there. There was laughter, you know, or people say, I wish I was a sex addict or something like that, you know, and that’s hurtful. And then there was, in my mind, I just didn’t know what people were imagining I was into, you know, I had this, I had a judgment, you know, that was going for me, it’s like, and I wanted to say, you know, I wanted to clear it up and say, you know, I’m not this, and I’m not that I’m this, you know, and it wasn’t just about what you’re saying it’s the dynamic of what it is, I’m using it for it. That’s the point. It’s not what I’m using.


Gabor Maté  20:40

Exactly, and, you know, there’s a reason why we ostracize the identified drug addicts so severely is because we don’t like to see ourselves reflected in their behavior. But when you look at the society as a whole, when I asked the question, it doesn’t matter where I am, home near the head, dynamics, are you engaged in behavior that gave you the temporary pleasure craving and relief, and then you suffer negative consequences, and you didn’t give it up? Almost everybody will put their hands up. So that in this study, which deprives us so, thoroughly over essential human needs for connection, contact, intimacy, love and self acceptance, addictions are the norm. And it’s just that we ostracize a certain segment of the population so that we can deny our own presence on this same addictive spectrum. And it’s so much. That’s the other aspect of my title, the myth of normals is that there’s so many things that are normal in society, in society, that are so common and so ubiquitous as to look like this is the normality, but in fact, what is normal in this society is neither healthy or natural. And, and, and if you look at the many ways in which the society feeds addictions and glorifies them, and profits of them, and how many products and blandishments and seduction is out there out there in the economy, they’re designed to take people away from themselves and give them some temporary soothing, so they don’t feel their pain. And then almost the whole economy runs on.


David Duchovny  22:35

Yeah, and I mean, that kind of brings me to the myth of normal because the economy reflects the world we live in, and the world we live in is wild. I don’t know where I heard it first. But it’s just like, the only the only sane reaction to an insane world is insanity, right? And it’s kind of, you know, kind of working in that area, your book. And I think it’s a very important book in that sense.


Gabor Maté  23:05

Yeah, well, listen, thank you. I’m really glad the book spoke to you.


David Duchovny  23:07

I think it works beautifully on an intellectual level. But I just want to tell you that for me personally. My response was to go back and think about my relationship to my mother. And let me tell you, I came I came up with the realization that I started to think about why I became an actor. You know, I grew up with a mother who like you was given away when she was very young to be with relatives, and I think was scarred by that forever and was a emotionally fragile and scared person and my job. I like to make her laugh. That’s that’s what I did. Somehow, I was the one who could, who could make her laugh. But the flip sides of that deal was my emotions, my my negative or unsavory emotions, like anger or independence from her, or sadness, or grief or sadness, grief, anything, anything that was difficult for her to handle. I, I knew intuitively I can’t do that. I can’t put that on her, and she was my only caregiver after the age of 11, so I had to keep her safe. And then I walked into acting class, and here were these people. And there was this world where emotions were actually the currency. I had stumbled on into a world of play, as you might say, where all these things that seem so dangerous to me in life, were actually not not not only not dangerous, but they were praised. And I came do this through reading your book. So I just wanted to thank you for kind of opening up that part of myself that kind of led me to a direction that I’m still kind of walking and in many ways.


David Duchovny  24:21

I studied in for a previous book of mine, I studied the life of Gilda Radner, the comedian, did you?


David Duchovny  25:21



Gabor Maté  25:22

And her ovarian cancer had everything to do with herself suppression. And she also, only way she could connect with the mother was to make her laugh. And then in Myth of normal, I thought what Robin Williams. It’s a very common story amongst comedians, particularly. And it doesn’t mean that the comedy isn’t real, that there isn’t really talent there. But the drive, you know. And the other thing about acting is, and plays is that it’s very much like real life. Because when you watch a play, the characters don’t know that they’re scripted. They think they’re free for, but nothing they do is free. Right, and not only that, they go to the same drama every night. And next night, they show up, not having learned a thing, like still back in the same room. And the reality is this, so much of our life is like that we’re scripted. And we don’t learn from experience. And then we keep reenacting the same dramas over and over again.


David Duchovny  26:25

Yeah, and how do we break that cycle? I mean, that, you know, that’s that that’s the life’s work, I guess, isn’t it?


Gabor Maté  26:33



David Duchovny  27:00

In the myth of normal, to me, it’s not just a map of healing, but it’s an actual act of healing for you, because you wrote it with your son so can you talk a little about that as a healing and also as a, how difficult that must have been at some, at some points in the creation of it.


Gabor Maté  27:19

It was a difficult process, and we had a lot of stumbles along the way that we had to work our way through. Daniel is now 48 years old, so this is we started writing a book four years ago, together, I think, or five, this is a boy, about whom I’ve had a lot of guilt as a parent, I mean, I’ve scheduled a lot of guilt as a parent, because my kids are small, I just wasn’t conscious, you know, and not that I didn’t love them didn’t do my best. But many of the ways that showed up was either directly hurtful to them, or create a lot of insecurity for them. So this is a kid who when he was three years old, I whacked him across the face, for birthday to me, you know, so. And as he writes in the book, Myth a Normal in our home, the floor was never the floor, he, he was never sure when the emotional flow would cave and under his feet. And of course, they’ve had this awareness of how my you might say, this functions when they were small, helped to shape my kids lives and, and challenges. And then I get all this guilt about it, you know, so, and that, from my point of view, from Dan’s point of view, I’m the one who helped to shape his nervous system. That’s just what happens. Parents shake the kids nervous systems and their brains. That’s biological science. And sometimes women writing the book, I got into very difficult states, because this is a difficult book to write. I mean, this took me 10 years to research. There’s so much at stake at times I would get despondent or pessimistic about the way that my capacity and finish it, and then my emotional states, he’d had delivered with these anxieties in the part of his father and work with it, you know.


David Duchovny  29:18

Sure what you say there was so much at stake. What do you mean by that? I mean, there’s always something at stake when you’re when you’re putting something out in the world, but it seems like this particular one felt more dangerous to you.


Gabor Maté  29:32

Yes, and at a certain point, I actually be so desperate that I actually talked to a therapist, you know, and I don’t need a therapist. I am that, but of course, you know, that’s ego. So I reached out to a therapist, and what I learned was, that my problem wasn’t the book. My problem was my relationship to the book. And that I identified myself so much with if the success of this book, so that if this book didn’t succeed, then despite whatever I’ve done before in the world, my failure or incompetence or lacks were, would be exposed to the world. So I had to dis identify from the book, I had to say, okay, I’ll do my best. If it fails, I’m still an okay person, you know, and worthwhile. And this is where my son really helped me a lot. I mean, I’ve written, I’d written four books before, and they were well written books, but this one, I really needed help. And so this is where Daniel came into it, and thank God.


David Duchovny  30:39

And how did you know that Daniel might be able to, to do that. I mean, that’s a, that’s a real act of trust, from father to son.


Gabor Maté  30:49

Daniel, if anybody knows my self limitations, and also to talk to me about them. He can also rein in my, when I get them to get too pedantic, he knows how to call me on that. And he’s just a really fine writer in his own right. And he’s got a facility with words. He’s a lyricist. So he’s got a facility with words that just help to make the message more clear and intimately available to the reader, uou know.


David Duchovny  31:21

Can you give me an example of when you guys kind of butted heads over over a certain aspect or a passage or an idea?


Gabor Maté  31:30

Yeah, here’s what I’ve learned as a writer, that editors, and others will look at the work or right about 95% of the time. You know, but that’s not my initial reaction. My initial reaction is, I’ve written this, and it’s wonderful. And I just want you to admire it. So we’re so damn, wouldn’t University admire what I did, in fact, he called me on stuff, and he’d rewrite it, and I get very tense, and, you know, even aggressive sometimes. And, and yet, here, we were committed to this project together. And actually, what helped us work our way through it apart from our own desire to make it work between us, despite the old stuff that stood in the way. But we had a commitment to the commitment to a publisher that this book would be done so instead of that commitment, eventually I had to let go of my initial reactions. And okay, and, you know, most of the time, what he had to say, or what he contributed, was just a gift, you know, but but my initial egoic reaction is to, to be defensive and militating, on behalf of the way I said it, and what I said, you know, this has to be right.


David Duchovny  32:53

I understand. I mean, for me, it occurs, as, you know, if I’m writing or I’m creating, it’s coming from someplace else, and then my conscious mind or my ego, gets its hackles up. But you’ve said, and I find this to be very interesting, you said that parents should have disciples, you know, in their children. Were you looking for that moment where you became his disciple, you know, was there a blissful turning of the tables at any point of between father and son?


Gabor Maté  33:29

Well, again, in the society, we take this word discipline and be interpreted as punishment or coercion, you know, discipline somebody. Now, when you look at disciple, it just means to follow somebody. In a parent child relationship, it’s not that they don’t mean disciple in the sense of worshiping the other one, the sense of feeling their love and trusting them so that you’ll follow them. And that’s what’s so interesting about the parent child relationship, is that no relationship starts up as unequal. I mean, when you meet a friend, your level of your relative equality when you meet a, you know, intimate partner or potential intimate partner, there’s some level of equality. So yeah, the parent needs to show up in such a way that the child trusts and loves the parent feels the love of the parent, so the child will naturally want to follow the parent. So the parent doesn’t have to exhort and punish and threaten or or hit, the child will just naturally that’s just what happens. And if you look at traditional societies, particularly I’m talking about indigenous societies in the land, that’s pretty much how it worked. Now, as the relationship becomes more equal, as the child individually waits and becomes their own person, that discipleship now becomes mutual. And a certain point, you know, doing that, you know, that cause which throws a Nashawn but Teachers should show, at some point they say teach your parents well, you know, and at some point, yeah, we have to learn from the kids, you know, when it’s appropriate. In fact, you know what, right from the beginning, we have to learn from them. But at a certain point that discipleship becomes very much a mutual exchange.


David Duchovny  35:19

And what a sweet moment for you, I’m imagining,


Gabor Maté  35:23

boy, yeah, no, I tell you. It’s such it’s so satisfying. And it’s such a relief when I can do that.


David Duchovny  35:30

Yeah, because, you know, you talk about the way indigenous societies raise their children. And and I see you trying to inform our dialogue about parenting in that way. And I wonder, if you see a possible road for that to happen within our, you know, because I know, what was your alternate title, toxic culture, how capitalism makes us sick, you know, within, within our culture? Can we raise children like that.


Gabor Maté  36:00

If we’re aware that in this society, the gravitational force, pulling parents and children together, has been deeply weakened by social structures, by parenting modalities that go against the needs of the child, by schools, by institutions by cultural expectations, then we can compensate. And we can put that gravitational force of parent child attachment at the center again, but we can’t do that until we become aware of it. So basically, what I’m saying is that gravitational force between parent and child, which is an attachment force, pulling these two bodies together, it used to function in aboriginal cultures, but we’ve lost it. Now we have to be aware of what be lost, then we can compensate, yes, we can do it. But we have to be aware of it. And that means literally going against many of the teachings and expectations and practices of this culture.


David Duchovny  36:57

I agree with you 100%, my fear, you know, and what I vote what I told myself to when I fucked up my job as a parent. . You know, when I gave my kids phones, when I didn’t think they should have phones, shit like that. I said to myself, Okay, I grew up in a world where my mother told me television was the devil, right? So that was that that was the social evil of that time. And my kids are growing up at a time where we’re saying the phones are the devil. But they have to be prepared to live in that world because the phones aren’t going away. And if I try and force a more bucolic vision on them, maybe I’m doing them a disservice. That was my that was the way I justified it to myself.


Gabor Maté  37:45

Yeah. So here’s what I would say to that, first of all, that’s a very understandable way of thinking, but it’s missing something. The phones have not replaced human attachments, very much in the lives of our kids. And the results are disastrous, and even look at the brain scans of children who are on screens and phones, all their brains are not developing the way they naturally would. Nothing wrong with the phones is the question of when do you introduce them? Now, you introduce them, when you have such a relationship with your children, that they don’t need the phones, and that they rely on your guidance, that it doesn’t have to happen before seven or eight or nine, they’re not gonna lose anything, it will take a kid one day to catch up with the technology, believe it then they don’t lose anything. What the gain in terms of self awareness, though, and self discipline and self motivation is much greater than any conceivable disadvantage that you get from not using the phones early. So I would say, yeah, bringing the phones when they’re very forward, until then they’re not. And again, it goes back to the centrality of the parent child relationship. If it’s working, it’s fine. If it’s not working, the phones become the competitor. Yeah, devil, the devil that tempts the child on the wrong path.


David Duchovny  39:11

Or God forbid, they should be bored. I mean, that was always the thing. If I was allowing my kid to be bored, I was somehow a bad parent. But I would say to myself, boredom is good. Boredom is good. Let that let them deal with the boredom, you know, let them deal with the boredom.


Gabor Maté  39:27

Well, that’s funny, because I think you’re familiar with another book I wrote called hold on to your kids. And the main writer of the book is a psychologist, friend of mine, Gordon Neufeld, and Gordon and I don’t believe in timeouts and sending kids to their rooms and all this. And Gordon says, jovially, that the only time you should send a kid to zoom by himself is when he says he’s bored. But let him go and find something. You know, but basically, a kid who is comfortable with themselves, they’re never bored. You know? You give them a paddle and a stick and they’ll be happy to hold a.


David Duchovny  40:03



Gabor Maté  40:04

So the boredom itself is is a sign of estrangement from self.


David Duchovny  40:13

You know, you talk about culture as I really liked the way you talk about culture in the beginning of your book, because you talk about it almost as a scientist, you know, culture is like this petri dish that we swim in, you know, it’s literally a culture that we can grow bacteria in, but it’s also our culture. And you, when you look around at our culture today, what do you see as healing? And I wonder, what are our children? How are they learning how to be adult humans, productive, empathetic humans in the culture today?


Gabor Maté  40:49

Well, I think in any culture, there’s always a tension between destructive and disorganizing, and then forces on the one hand, and then healing dynamics on the other. So you never quite know where the game’s gonna show up from now. There’s so much compassion in this world. Despite all the negativities and aggression and the terror that we and the rage that directly against each other, there’s also so much compassion, I’m sure you’ve experienced it, I’ve experienced it. Most people, at some point have the capacity to be touched by compassion. So that’s a healing force in itself, you know, don’t create it. It’s that’s a part of who we are as human beings. And then more specifically, in the last few years, and I doubt that you and I would have been having this conversation 15 years ago, you know, right now, there’s so much more awareness of trauma and the need for healing, the need for parenting that’s loving and unconditionally accepting. So as society, in one sense, descends into more chaos and more darkness, the forces of light are also waking up. And so I think healing is a capacity that’s inherent to human beings, and also to human societies. Maybe not the particular forms of societies forms have to change, but, but cultural will go on so. I know, that’s a very general answer, but fundamentally.


David Duchovny  42:29

I don’t think of it as general at all. Okay, well, good.


Gabor Maté  42:34

I see healing is all around us, actually. And I witnessed this so often, I’ve experienced it myself. So I just, that’s just the reality.


David Duchovny  42:46

Yeah, I’m, I’m moved by that. I think we should just end right there. And I want to thank thank you for being so open with me and compassionate and for modeling that. And I hope I can, I can, I can return the favor.


Gabor Maté  43:15

Well, thank you. May I say something there?


David Duchovny  43:18



Gabor Maté  43:20

Where does that come from? The need to return the favor, you know?


David Duchovny  43:26

I almost got away.


Gabor Maté  43:30

Because you know what? You don’t want to do what you’re doing. Whether you turn favorite personally to me, and not that you can’t. But you played forward.


David Duchovny  43:42

That’s what I was gonna say play it forward. But I just don’t I didn’t I don’t love that. I didn’t love that phrase. I was actually.


Gabor Maté  43:50

I was actually I don’t like the phrase either. But I like what it means.


David Duchovny  43:53

Yes, I was actually thinking that. So so thank you for yes, you got me and where that comes from is because I felt vulnerable, you know? And I was I wanted to thank you and it wasn’t enough. Somewhere in my mind to thank you for some way I had to give you something back. Thank you. It’s such a it’s an honor to meet you and I’m I’m so I’m so grateful that you you talked to me and taught me in the way that you did. Thank you.


Gabor Maté  44:26

Thank you.


David Duchovny  44:39

Okay, here’s some thoughts about the interview, podcast, whatever the hell it is. What I’m finding about the podcast is what makes an episode good is if I don’t if I’m surprised it’s like any any any work of art I’ve ever been in Bob and if I’m surprised something good is going on if I’m writing and I’m surprised by what I’m writing, that’s great that that’s a sure sign that you’re in a good place. Same with acting surprises, mistakes, things like that the best they read the best on film. And you know, you go into these boxes thinking I only got such amount of time with this person and I want to cover these things. But you have to leave room to be surprised. And you have to let go of the reins enough to be surprised. So you can you should prepare. But the best moments are they come out of nowhere. And in this case, with Gabor, I believe it was you know, seeing him get emotional over certain things. Seeing him take his time to answer certain things. My outstanding feeling after doing the interview was one of just immense gratitude not only to Dr. Monta but to people who are doing this podcast I’m making like to put me in a position where I can have such a powerful conversation for me personally with somebody that’s what this podcast was in that case. So, chip.


CREDITS  46:42

There’s more Fail Better with Lemonada Premium. Subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content like more of my behind the scenes thoughts on this episode. Subscribe now and Apple podcasts. Fail Better as a production of Lemonada media in coordination with King Baby. It is produced by Kegan Zema, Aria Bracci, and Dani Matias. Our engineer is Brian Castillo. Our SVP of weekly is Steve Nelson. Our VP of new content is Rachel Neil. Special thanks to Carl Ackerman, Tom Karpinski and Kate D. Lewis, the show’s executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova, Kramer and me, David Duchovny, I mean, the company dammit. The music is also by me and my band. Lovely Colin Lee. Pat McCusker, Mitch Stewart, Davis Rowan and Sebastian […]. Special thanks to Brad Davidson. You can find us online at @LemonadaMedia and you can find me @DavidDuchovny, you know what it means when I say at David Duchovny. Follow Fail Better wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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