Review and Reflection on “The Myth of Normal” by Gabor Mate, MD

Pastor Matthew Best
11 min readMay 24

I was excited to read this book, based on the title alone. The subtitle is “Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture.” This is what we are living in. I have often said that we don’t do health care in America, we do sick management. We don’t do proactive medicine and prevention, we do reactive care only after a person is experiencing dis-health. And we’re so stuck on just physical ailments, that often the more abstract things like mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual health are ignored by our culture, much to our detriment.

In my own situation in life, I started reading this in the fall of 2022, soon after this book was published. I was suffering from long COVID systems constantly (pain from migraines and brain fog) and I wanted to read something that would help in my healing. My situation has changed thankfully and while I still suffer from long COVID systems, they are much more manageable than they were in the fall. I’ve been able to tap into a variety of ways to find some healing and peace.

As I said, I was drawn to the title because ever since the pandemic started, the question that we have all been faced with is “what is normal?” So many people have said they wanted to “get back to normal,” but was exactly is that? And is normal healthy? And if not, then why would we want to go back to it? These are questions that Mate deals within his book.

Mate makes the claim early on that our culture is not healthy. “…chronic illness — mental or physical — is to a large extent a function or feature of the way things are and not a glitch; a consequence of how we live, not a mysterious aberration.” (Pg. 2). Mate then goes on to describe what we are experiencing is a “toxic culture.” (Pg. 3). “We could also understand ‘toxic’ in its more contemporary, pop-psychological sense, as in the spread of negativity, distrust, hostility, and polarization that, no question, typify the present sociopolitical moment.” (Pg. 3). Thank you, Dr. Mate, for naming it clearly. And for defining health beyond just physical symptoms or the lack of those symptoms. Health is more wholistic after all. If your emotional state is not well, it has an impact on your physical state. All the different parts of who we are, are interconnected and affect one another. And far too often we approach health in compartmentalized ways that just end up maintaining a toxic status quo.

Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.