Linking Stresses and Symptoms (2)

The biggest shock of my medical education was learning that stress in childhood could make an adult physically ill.  Symptoms may be mild or can be so severe that hospital treatment is needed.  (I cared for one 35 year old childhood stress survivor in the hospital for 77 days.  It took five years, but she is now entirely well.)

Could your childhood be playing a role in your illness?  Try imagining a child that you care about growing up exactly as you did.  If this thought makes you sad or angry, then your experience as a child may be capable of causing symptoms.  The following are clues that a dysfunctional childhood is still affecting you today:

  • Experiencing long-term relationships with partners who mistreat you
  • Addictions (tobacco, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, work, gambling, shopping, exercise etc)
  • A quick temper
  • Abusing your own children or fear that you might abuse them
  • Eating disorders or self-mutilation
  • Mental health problems including poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts (contact a health care professional right away if you have these)
  • Being detail-oriented (sometimes perfectionist), hard-working and compassionate, sometimes to the point of neglecting your own needs
  • Physical illness that started around the time of your first truly positive, mutually supportive personal relationship (the “good partner/bad illness” syndrome)

If one or more of these issues are familiar, you may benefit from consulting a mental health professional with interest and expertise in helping people overcome the prolonged effects of childhood stress.  Ask your doctor or the mental health department at  a local medical school for recommendations and then call the therapist to ask about their work with childhood stress recovery.  Many of my patients have found that their physical symptoms improved significantly with this treatment.  Another resource is my book, described elsewhere on this web site, which has a chapter with much more detailed information about this issue.

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