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When the basic needs were not met, "I am who I am"

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

The 5 Levels of Compassion, Gabor Maté

Interview with Alex Howard

Trauma Super Conference 2023


The below is a summary of an interview between Alex Howard and Gabor Mate on The 5 Levels of Compassion.


In the interview, Gabor discusses the impact of unmet basic needs during childhood on our adult lives. As an infant, when your parents fail to provide you with love and safety, you directly express your need for it. However, this direct expression can frighten adults, leading them to reject you. So what happens next? Your body develops various strategies to protect you from the pain and trauma and ensure your survival.


You begin to behave in certain ways to attract the affection and care that you long for. You may try to please others, striving to meet the perceived expectations of your parents. You might serve them, making them feel good, and taking care of their needs in the hope of receiving attention and praise in return. But if something is missing, it's simply not there - the genuine truth.

mechanisms that ensure our survival, protecting us from trauma

As you grow up, these strategies and mechanisms remain with you, and you continue to employ them in your interactions with others to obtain what you lacked in your childhood: love, safety, attention, and understanding. You shape your existence around attracting others to fill the emptiness that resides within. You become overly focused on your physical appearance, going to extreme lengths and posting pictures on social media to gain more likes and "hearts." You prioritize your career, pursuing money and status to compensate for the appreciation you never received. You strive to please your partner and friends, pretending to be someone you're not, all in the hopes of being liked and feeling important, rather than being ignored.


Throughout all of this, you suppress your true emotions and never directly ask for what you have been missing all along: to be loved, appreciated, and seen.


"And our whole society runs on those false attributes. Those attributes that are really just displacements over genuine attachment needs, and then we identify with them. And as Gordon points out, these traits are runaway addictive because they don't satisfy addictions, that it's hard to get enough of something that almost works. So heroin makes you feel warm and loved and open for a while. So it almost works. So you gotta have to go and get some more and get some more and get some more. The more you do, the more addictive it gets. It's the same as being attractive. It's the same as being nice. They never totally satisfy, because underneath it there's always a niggling suspicion, do they really like me or do they like what I do for them? Am I getting their attention because they really care about me? Am I getting it because I presented an attractive package to them? So it never fully satiates. And satiation, by the way, can only come from within, which is what Hameed's work is all about. But it's very addictive and so we have people in their 50s and 60s doing Botox so the wrinkles don't show, what a sad thing.” say Gabor.


Once you begin to ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?" the truth starts to emerge. It has always been there, buried deep within you, hidden away so that no one would see. This truth was first revealed when you were a vulnerable baby, expressing your needs and desires, only to be met with rejection. So, why should it be any different now?


Throughout your life, you have built your existence around these behaviours that were shaped by your unmet needs. And it has worked. Society rewards you for conforming to these patterns, just as others do the same. But at what cost?


Gabor Maté eloquently states, "I am who I am," which is the simplest statement of truth one can possibly express. Ignoring this truth only leads to suffering, not only for yourself but also for those around you. When we reject the truth, we are ultimately rejecting ourselves and denying who we truly are.


Embracing the truth is essential for healing and growth. It requires acknowledging the impact of unmet needs and the coping mechanisms we developed. By facing the truth, we can break free from the cycle of seeking external validation and build a life that aligns with our authentic selves.

The truth is a powerful force that cannot be ignored. It holds the key to our healing and the potential for genuine connections with others. When we accept and express our true emotions and needs, we open ourselves up to the possibility of finding love, appreciation, and understanding.

In conclusion, the truth is of utmost importance. Ignoring it only perpetuates our suffering, both individually and collectively. By embracing the truth, we can begin the journey of self-acceptance, healing, and creating a life that reflects who we truly are.


The five levels of compassion are:

1. Ordinary human compassion: This level involves feeling empathy and not wanting others to suffer.

2. Compassion of understanding: In addition to feeling empathy, this level involves a desire to understand why someone is suffering.

3. Compassion of recognition: At this level, one sees themselves as not fundamentally different from others who are suffering. It involves recognising that we are all in the same boat.

4. Compassion of truth: This level involves being willing to share the truth, even if it may be painful. It is about not protecting others from pain but believing that the truth can liberate them.

5. Compassionate possibility: This level involves seeing the full potential and beauty in others, even in their current state of suffering. It is about recognising the possibility for transformation and growth.


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