Monday, January 9, 2012

Physical Health Problems Experienced by Adults Who Suffered Childhood Mental and Physical Abuse

An excerpt from the Afterword
"The Body's Silent Weeping"
by Cindy Kunsman
in Hillary McFarland's

(Note: This copy of pre-edited text 
which was not previewed by the editor of the book may differ
from the published version.)

Depression precipitates neurohormonal imbalance in the brain which heightens the experience of pain and fatigue, and the physiologic effects of depression are also associated with a cluster of other physical health problems. There is a strong correlation between depression and overlapping health problems in children who live in highly stressful conditions.  For example, parents with personality disorders that cause erratic parenting styles have children with a high incidence of allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and headaches.  These types of findings were general and based upon anecdotal information that was not specifically subject to statistical analysis.  New research indicates also specifically that children who experienced neglect, mistreatment and abuse also manifest a higher incidence of both migraine and osteoarthritis. 1, 2

Other studies that require more intensive and specific investigation report strong preliminary correlations of childhood mistreatment with cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammation associated with elevated C-reactive protein which mediates all sorts of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke. 3

Based on what we now understand about the effect that our emotions have on our body medicine now recognizes that our minds and our emotions are intimately connected to our physical health.  As one specialist in trauma notes, “the body keeps score,” 4 and our physical bodies will grieve and mourn if we do not deal effectively with our psychological and emotional baggage.  Our bodies will cry through illness and pain if we do not learn to do so ourselves.   

Unfortunately, it seems that once our minds learn to translate our emotional pain into physical illness, the damage can never completely be undone. The body then learns to cope by way of disease and this survival and coping mechanism opens up a Pandora’s Box of health issues with lasting consequences.  Because we tend to fall back to our more basic weaknesses and "paths of least resistance" when under great stress, translating emotional and psychological stress into pain and illness tends to recur for those who experience it, an immature but familiar means of coping that the body tends to recall.   A person can best deal with this tendency by working through their underlying emotional and psychological pain and by sharpening their emotional and physical awareness, learning to see this tendency as the body's way of voicing what may go unrecognized. Unfortunately, many parents have caused physical diseases in their children despite their best intentions of fostering their child's spiritual wellbeing.

  1. Fuller-Thomson E, Stefanyk M, Brennenstuhl S. A robust association between childhood physical abuse and osteoarthritis in adulthood: findings from a representative community sample. Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Nov 15;61(11):1554-62.
  2. Tietjen GE, Brandes, Jl, Peterlin BL Eloff A, Dafer RM, Stein MR, Drexler E, Martin VT, Hutchinson S, Aurora SK, Recober A, Herial NA, Utley C, White L, Khuder SA. Childhood Maltreatment and Migraine (Part I). Prevalence and Adult Revictimization: A Multicenter Clinic Headache Study. Headache 2010; 50:20-3
  3. Danese A, Moffitt TE, Harrington H, Milene BJ, Polycanczyk G, Pariante CM, Poulton R, Caspi A. Adverse childhood experience and adult risk factors for age-related disease: depression, inflammation, and clustering of metabolic risk markers. Arch Pediatri Adolesc Med 2009 Dec; 163 (12): 1135-43.
  4. Van der Kolk B. The body keeps score: memory and the evolving psychobiology of post traumatic stress. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 1994 Jan-Feb; 1(5):253-65.

The Effects of Stress on the Body

Additional related information
from a previous post at Under Much Grace:

Our thoughts and emotions have a profound effect on our automatic body systems, and these systems are regulated and balanced in a steady state or “homeostasis” by the Autonomic Nervous System or “ANS.” This information from our thoughts and emotions informs the ANS, automatically preparing to help us adapt and survive. When we feel threatened or if we think about and anticipate circumstances, our mind stimulates the immediate release of certain neurotransmitters and/or “stress hormones” that are mediated by the ANS. Our neurotransmitter levels fluctuate to help our bodies respond, doing things like raising our heart rate so that we can pump plenty of blood and oxygen to our muscles in order to run from danger. Our pupils widen so we can take in more light and see more clearly. Our bowels can either become less active or more active, depending on our emotions and how the ANS responds to threat or information (like worrying about taking a test the next day). The ANS stimulates the adrenal glands to release both epinephrine to bathe the whole body in stimulation as well as cortisol (a natural steroid) which regulates inflammation and affects blood sugar, making more fuel immediately available for energy production. The system works quite well when we experience only limited episodes of periodic excitement and when we have the opportunity to discharge the energy that our body produces in response to this excitement.

Chronic stress is quite different, and it creates a high degree of ANS stimulation all the time. Some of these symptoms are more well known, contributing to problems like high blood pressure or irritable bowel syndrome, all due to the stimulation of these body systems by the ANS, a system informed by the mind and the emotions. Healthcare is now learning more and more about the “less immediate” effects of stress on body systems that are effected by this high degree of ongoing stimulation, particularly on the hormonal system. This includes high cortisol production and altered action of insulin, now a major problem in the US because of the dramatic rise in obesity, diabetes, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and immune system disorders like chronic fatigue (all of which are also aggravated and exacerbated by poor diet). Cortisol in high amounts alters how the body regulates sugars, insulin release, blood pressure, immune function, and inflammatory response. The release of too much cortisol on a continual basis results in diabetes, immune system disease, heart disease, arthritis, chronic pain syndromes, autoimmune diseases, headaches, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, female reproductive disorders and depression. We see effects of this kind of chronic stress in populations of people like children of parents that have certain personality disorders. For example, children of parents with Borderline Personality Disorder demonstrate high degrees of allergy, asthma, headaches/ migraines and irritable bowel syndrome, likely owing to the effects of chronic high levels of cortisol (Roth, Friedman & Kreger, 2003).

Researchers have identified a new field of study of “Heart Rate Variability” (HRV) as an indicator of the function of the ANS in order to identify those at high risk for later development of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes (diseases linked with high cortisol and stress). HRV measures certain subtle electrocardiogram findings and characteristics, evaluating the electrical impulses generated by electrical system in the heart. Certain groups of professionals with high degrees of daily stress manifest greater degrees of HRV, as do those who suffer with certain psychological problems including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and panic disorder. Based upon more than 30 years of the objective, rigorous scientific study of thought reform, we know that those who emerge from certain controlling relationships and spiritual abuse settings demonstrate high degrees of PTSD and other related psychological disorders such as anxiety and panic. Though no studies have focused on spiritual abuse victims and survivors directly, we can speculate that because of the overlap in findings between the psychological symptoms of spiritual abuse with those who experience documented high levels of chronic stress, PTSD, anxiety and panic disorders are also subject to a similar risk for the development of cortisol-related physical disease.

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