Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fibromyalgia and Child Abuse

Hi all!  Thank you to those who emailed to let me know you missed my blog entries. While I have planned to write a number of times, I have been dealing with a severe Fibromyalgia flare which has interfered with many of my regular activities.  Since fibromyalgia has been occupying much of my thoughts I decided it would make a good blog topic. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with fibromyalgia, it is "a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points — places on your body where slight pressure causes pain."1

Until fairly recently Fibromyalgia was considered a Psychological disorder.  Patients were told the pain was "in their head", and did not really exist.  However, in the last 5-10 years new research has shown that the pain fibromyalgia patients suffer has an actual physical basis.  This physical basis is referred to as "central sensitization".1 It is believed that "repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). In addition, the brain's pain receptors seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals."(emphasis added) 1

While current scientists cannot explain what causes Fibromyalgia, many recent studies show that previous physical, sexual and severe emotional abuse are risk factors, at a minimum.  A few organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic,  have gone so far as to list "Emotional and Physical Trauma"1, as one of the factors with the potential to cause Fibromyalgia.  One recent clinical  study concluded that Fibromyalgia patients were three times more likely to have been emotionally or sexually abused, and four times more likely to have been physically abused than the non-fibromyalgia control group.2 Others studies can be found which place the statistical association even higher.   

So why does this matter?  Most individuals must deal with some sort of medical condition at some point in their lives, whether Fibromyalgia or something else.  That is absolutely true.  There are a number of reasons why it matters that child abuse leads to an increased risk of Fibromyalgia (among other medical disorders).  I will limit myself to two: more evidence that early intervention is needed in abusive family situations; and the need for greater awareness that child abuse affects an individual for life.

First, what constitutes early intervention?  In this case, I am not referring to the police or social workers swooping down on a parent that swats a child's hand for trying to touch the stove.  Our culture seems to have a fear that "the authorities" are watching, waiting with baited breath, to remove our children from home.  I hate to burst your bubble, but "the authorities" do not have the time, money, or inclination to do so.  Actually when I say that early intervention is needed, I am referring to something that you and I can do.  We come in contact with people everyday.  Do we care enough to really connect with those people?  Oftentimes the abusive spiral can be prevented before it gets started if we are aware and willing to become involved.  Think about yourself raising your young children. Do you remember how easy it was to become overwhelmed and frustrated?  Did you have a support system- someone to talk to about your frustrations, or someone to trade babysitting?  Go over the last few days in your mind.  Did you notice anyone in your community who seemed particularly stressed with their children?  Could you have helped in some way? Did you offer an encouraging word?  It is amazing how even a simple word of encouragement can make us aware that we are not alone on the world.  The few minutes you give up to speak kindly and show compassion may be enough to make a difference in their life and the lives of their children.

Sometimes the situation is more drastic.  I recall noticing that a young father seemed to regularly speak to his three year old quite harshly.  I tried to gently point it out to no avail.  Finally, one Shabbos, I was in the sanctuary, the doors were closed, and the outer building's doors were closed, yet I could hear this father outside, berating his son.  I went outside to speak with him.  I admit, I was quite angry, but I did not want to yell at him and have him become defensive.  Instead, I tried to relate to him.  I tried to explain that I knew what it was like to be angry and frustrated by your child's behavior, but that I was concerned about his pattern of yelling and speaking harshly with his son.  I expressed my concern that this could easily permanently damage his relationship with his son, even if it never went beyond yelling.  I asked him to notice the fear on his son's face.  And, yes, I did mention that I was concerned that his anger could lead to him physically harm his child if he was not careful (being sure to mention that I realized he had no desire to harm his son).  He was angry with me.  Okay, I'm a big girl.  I can take it.  He was so angry he talked his wife about it- great!  One positive step.  She and I spoke about it, as well- uncomfortable, but, not too bad.  And, best of all, over time I noticed significant changes in the father-son relationship.  If I hadn't, and things continued, I would have spoken to them again, or called social services.

Second, as a culture and community we need to accept the fact that child abuse affects an individual for the rest of their life.  It's not just those who have suffered catastrophic abuse leaving them physically crippled, or the person who becomes a drug addict, criminal or falls into the cycle of abusing their own children, but even the person who has "overcome" their abusive background and built a healthy family.  We need to stop assuming that once a child is removed from an abusive home they will be fine.  These children (or adult survivors) need compassion from those around them, physicians as well as friends.  We must stop minimizing the physical pain survivors experience because we do not understand. They are not attempting to "play the victim".  The scars run deep, and apparently science is catching up to what we as survivors already knew, the pain is not only psychological, but can be physical as well.   

On a personal note, I understand that it can be frustrating to deal with someone with Fibromyalgia, or any chronic medical condition.  Please know that we are at least as frustrated as you are with our limitations and pain.  For you it is an inconvenience because we have to reschedule plans or bow out of activities we would like to participate in.  For those of us who are abuse survivors, it is also a reminder that our abuser still affects our lives no matter how many years ago the abuse ended. Thank you for being patient with us!

You will see that I have quoted the Mayo Clinic numerous times throughout my entry. This is not because this is the only source, but rather it is the source which uses the most user friendly language to discuss Fibromyalgia.  I will list additional articles for further reading below the footnotes.

1 "Fibromyalgia." 23 Jan. 2009. Web. 1 July 2010.

2 Katz, Robert S., et al. "Adverse Childhood Environment In Fibromyalgia Patients". Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL.

Websites/Articles of Interest
"Understanding Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia: A Review of Recent Discoveries" by Robert M. Bennett MD, FRCP, Professor of Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University

"Childhood Trauma and Diurnal Cortisol Disruption in Fibromyalgia Syndrome" by Inka Weissbeckera, Andrea Floyda, Eric Dederta, Paul Salmona, Sandra Sephton


  1. I am 62 years old male. I was abuse physical, sexual and severe emotionally. When I married I found myself emotionally abusing my on children.I was divorce before my anger turned to violence. Since then I have recovered but the flash backs still come. Not as often as they use to but they still come.

  2. I'm sorry for your pain Anonymous. I hope you can overcome your own abuse and find healing in your relationship with your own children.

  3. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gretchen Paules and I am the Administrative Director for a newly formed nonprofit called the Let Go...Let Peace Come In Foundation. Our mission at LGLPCI is to help heal and support adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse worldwide. We are actively seeking adult survivors who would be willing to post their childhood photo & caption, their story, or their creative expressions to our website By uniting survivors from around the globe we hope to provide a stronger and more powerful voice to those survivors who have not yet found the courage to speak out or have been cast aside with disbelief.

    I am writing to you today to ask you to please consider sharing our website with survivors you may come in contact with. Worldwide there are more than 100 million adult survivors living with the effects of childhood sexual abuse today. It is through the support of courageous advocates like you that we will succeed in our effort to help one survivor at a time. Our organization offers survivors a safe and judgment-free place where they can tell their story and continue their healing process. We realize that customs differ from culture to culture and we offer to post any stories anonymously, if the survivors so desires. Please check out our youtube video at If you have any questions please feel free to e-mail me directly at Together we can; together we should; together we NEED to stand up and be counted.

    Warmest Regards,
    Gretchen Paules
    Administrative Director
    Let Go...Let Peace Come In Foundation
    111 Presidential Blvd., Suite 212
    Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

    1. Dear Gretchen,

      I just stumbled across this site today and wanted to thank you and the author of this blog for the work you are doing. I, too, am an adult survivor of childhood abuse--physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. I am a married woman in my late (very late-ha!) 40's and am also a psychotherapist. I've been diagnosed with fibromyalgia since 2000 and have had migraine headaches since the age of 12 (thankfully they are less frequent the older I get). Not only is it frustrating to cope with this on a daily basis and have to function at such a high level (I am also a church musician), but it grieves me deeply that it has taken such a toll on my marriage and my children.

      It has been extremely difficult for me to trust anyone, but I thank God that I am learning to trust God and let go. Faith, which requires some degree of courage, sustains me even on my darkest days. I've also developed a keen sense of humor and am thankful I can use that to encourage/entertain friends!

      Grace and peace to you and to all who visit here--

  4. I love this post! Thank you for writing it and pointing out the need for support. Would you mind if I post it on our website, listing you as the author, with a link to your blog as the site of the original post? You can check out our blog at Thank you again! Nora

  5. I am the 62 year old male who posted earlier. My name is Billy Foote and I live in NC. I wrote a book, "The Child Convict " telling of my abuse. I found a measure of peace by letting the whole world know what went on behind closed doors

  6. Chronic pain that transmits the disease makes our defenses are so weak that the slightest movement, the pain grew much more; therefore, we turn to prescription drugs the doctor for health care as the narcotic drug opioids very good if used correctly.

  7. Wow, wow, wow!!!! I was diagnosed with fibro among other things 4 years ago. I have never been physcially abused, but I have been emotiomnally, mentally, sexually abused repeatedly, over the years by different men in the family and family friends. I am 39 and last year my pain management doctor told me I needed to begin rape therapy, because I never had it. My mom only knew about 1. I went into a talespin nervous breakdown because I knew I had to face the rest of my attackers that she(my mom) didn't know about. I was being counseled by my Pastor, and she invited herself to one of my counseling sessions one day. Needless to say, it was a relief that I needed, because it all came out. I had a lot of anger towards her, because I felt she didn't protect me! It all started when I was 4 years old and last time was when I was 18. The last one I didn't even fight! Didn't see the point. 34 years later I faced the first person who started it all, and I am not that little child anymore, trapped in the corner of the room. He never apologized to me and don't expect him to. But I faced him and showed myself I am a survivor!!!! Not a victim anylonger!

    I say to all of you who are sexual abused victims. Forgive the one who victimized you! Not for them, but for yourself! As long as you hold onto the past, they control you still!!!
    When you are able to let the horrible visions, smells, flashbacks, touching sensations go, you have survived!!!!

    I pray for all of you, from a former victim, to a future survivor!!!! You are FREE!!!


  8. More and more research says that we (survivors) should not forgive the perpetrators.

  9. Just finished reading 'The Source of All Things' by Tracy Ross. It is about her sexual abuse as a child thru her teens. She said scientists have found nerve damage linked with child abuse, which lead me to Google child abuse + Fybromyalgia, which lead me to this blog. So glad it did. I hope to find support here, as well as get help in my area. Her book really helped me realize I need to do this. If you've asked yourself if you could have imagined the abuse or exaggerated it, read her book. If you feel shame or anger or guilt, read her book. Thank you for this blog!

  10. I'm 55. My doctor diagnosed fibro 5 months ago. I was sexually abused by my uncle when I was 9. My mother wouldn't let me tell my dad because it was the abuser was my mother's sister's husband. She worried about my dad's reaction. Today my doctor said I should begin therapy because I'd never dealt with trauma. I'm afraid to open 'pandora's box' because it may have an effect on all my current relationships. I've lost 3 jobs in the past year. I fall asleep at my desk, I can't remember procedures/tasks. I hurt and I just want to be whatever normal is - clean my house, sleep through the night, walk without pain, feel strong and in control of my life. This is my first post about my diagnosis. I'll remember each of you in prayer. Be well.

  11. Wow! first I want to say every comment has touched my heart! I feel your pain beside my own! I am very interested in let go and let peace come in and will pop over for a visit later.

    I found your blog through a link on facebook a friend posted following a note she had written about suffering and how it brings us closer to Christ but in the most real way I have ever heard.

    I have ME. I have had it for over 20 years but was only diagnosed about 5 years ago. My mum has just been diagnosed with Fibro and reading the info I can see I have it too and have probably had it as long as the ME if not longer! I can't remember a time when I didn't wake up tired, I have pain in the back of my neck and shoulders and sensitivity to light touch :-( I also wonder if something I suffered in the past is related. I would be walking (generally in the cold) and no matter how many layers I had on I would get to a point where my skin in between my thighs burned so bad I didn't think I was going to be able to go any further even if my destination was just 200 yards away! as soon as I got insode the pain went! please let me know if you ahve experienced this too.

    So to the abuse issue...Sadly I do have a history of child abuse...sexual from my brothers friend (though not rape unless I have blocked it out. though I would think God would have showed me by now) and physical abuse from my brother. Both in a 3 year period between the ages of 8 and 11. I didn't tell my parents about the sexual abuse for a couple years and it came out accidentally. I didn't have any counselling for it and have just come to terms with it over the years through a series of events that I'm sure God put in my path. The most recent being group therapy where i was told it would not be an appropriate place to discuss this but again God was in control and in a week where there were only 3 of us (one of whom was male) it came out due to the other girl also suffering sexual abuse and needed to deal with it...needless to say her story touched me and I cried (again) I do believe I have forgiven my abuser as someone said for myself. I wish I had been more mature and had reported him to the police because the thing that haunts me is how many more girls have suffered like me at the hands of this man! but I have wrangled with it and still don't feel I could go through that now. I just pray God protects any young girl in his path!

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I will be following your blog from now on. I pray that you will have some relief from your present fibro crisis xxx

  12. My father sexually abused me and beat me as long as I can remember until my late teens. I had to cut off contact with him for it to stop. Besides that, I was neglected physically (we were very poor) and emotionally by both parents, and my mother died when I was just 14. I've spent years in therapy and have made a lot of progress overcoming all of this, yet I suffer from fibromyalgia and an autoimmune condition that has crippled me physically. It's so hard, since all I ever wanted was freedom from the abuse and now I feel that I have to live with its consequences forever.

  13. This article has helped me feel alot less alone and that I am not being punished in my life for something I have done wrong.
    Its just unfortunate that you cannot choose your families personalities and children grow up as a product of their environment so it really is luck of the draw. Its just sad that so many are born into abuse in many forms and suffer for a lifetime even in adulthood. I grew up with a very angry Mother who took all of her emotional issues and anger management issues out on me. She was physically, verbally & emotionally abusive even when I was in my early 20's. OF course when you get bigger the physical abuse decreased but the emotional and verbal increased. 99% of the time I was being punished because she couldnt cope or manage her emotions and im sure had nothing to even do with me. I was an easy target and still continue to be the one who cops it when she's having a moment. I was a pretty good child as I was abosultely terrified of her and lived in a constant state of fight or flight waiting for an outburst. Even still as an adult she is an emotional bully & very dominant and uses intimidation to rule. You cannot discuss or communicate anything with her as she takes it to a whole other place, gets defensive and turns it all around back onto me. So i just dont bother as i cannot be bothered with it and I am still fearful of her reactions no matter how submissive or nice I am in approaching her. She can't help it as that is how she is, shell never change and believes everyone else is the problem not her. Very draining to live with as all i do (like I did as a child) is walk around in fear of what mood she is in or what is going to rub her the wrong way. When I feel trapped and helpless I tense up retreat asap to my space and cry out of frustration and helplessness. My parents also followed a doomsday cult and growing up (& still attend) i was a severe asthmatic however due to their beliefs ones healing and health was in Gods hands as we were not allowed to seek medical treatment. So when i was having a major asthma attack instead of rushing me to the hospital to go onto a nebuliser I sat up nights on end gasping for air. I was annointed by a minister of the church and the congregation was asked to pray for me. God did save me as Im still alive but the the physical stress and trauma that put on my body for over 6 years was tremendous. The emotional trauma from that and the physical abuse & having emotional unavailable parents has definately caused my Fibromyalgia / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Multiple Chemical Sensitivity as and adult. I also turned to alcohol and drugs early on in life to cover the pain of the trauma & to be anywhere but home so I was safe from my Mums issues and temper and for once felt relaxed and good. When you are older you realise it is only a temporary fix but we all do what we can to survive and get through it and protect ourself. So many parents have abused their parental rights and used physical violence and fear to control their children. They either live on in complete denial so they dont have to deal with the guilt or truly believe what they did was right and ok. So no matter what the child that was abused suffers for a lifetime & struggles to overcome the past and constant feelings of hurt and emotional abandonment. And because growing up in this environment causes longterm effects which lead to Chronic Illnesses they not only suffer emotionally but physcially because of someone elses actions. Not really fair and people with this illnesses are not crazy or depressed. People who were beaten up on the street or injured in a car accident are not tole they are depressed and crazy. Can you imagine what happens to your body when it is physically abused throughout your childhood? It goes into overload to protect and heal itself of a regular basis. It is overworked and tired by the time we reach adulthood.

  14. I just discovered this blog, but don't see any recent entries. It this still active? I think it's such a terrific idea to educate those that have been abused as to why they may be suffering from chronic pain.